China was making a clear and deliberate statement that it will not tolerate challenges to its sovereignty when it sent a destroyer to “confront” a US warship in the South China Sea on Sunday, military and diplomatic analysts said.

The incident happened when a Chinese Luyang-class destroyer sailed within 41 metres (135 feet) of the USS Decatur in an operation described by Washington as “unsafe and unprofessional” and by Beijing as a necessary defence of its territory.

“Going by the normal rules of the road for ensuring navigational safety, there’s no way we would see ships getting so close like this,” said Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies with Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

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