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Op-Ed: Blaming China for US Navy crashes makes a good story, but is far from the truth

By Curtis Stone (People's Daily Online)    09:36, August 29, 2017

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The deadly collision of the guided-missile destroyer USS McCain with a slow-moving merchant vessel near Singapore was the fourth major accident in the US Pacific fleet this year. After the USS McCain collision, the US Navy relieved the commander of the Seventh Fleet "due to loss of confidence in his ability to command," according to the US Navy, but the damage was already done.

While it is unfortunate that the recent collisions involving US Navy vessels at sea have killed more American service members than the war in Afghanistan this year so far, the US Navy only has itself to blame for the string of tragedies. From the “sex-for-secrets” scandal to a pair of deadly collisions involving two warships, the US Navy is facing a range of problems. In addition to being a force stretched too thin, the US Navy is suffering with fraud and corruption, lax discipline, and bad training. With four serious accidents in less than a year, it should be no surprise that the world is starting to see the US Navy more as a threat to than a protector of maritime security.

Like the collision of the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald with a merchant vessel in June, the accident involving the USS McCain was almost certainly caused by human error. Not long before the state-of-the-art warship collided with the massive oil tanker, photos posted on the USS McCain’s Facebook page showed the crew fishing and playing cards on the deck. For some, the photos are proof that discipline within the US Navy is far too lax, and point to the real cause of the tragedy.

"US soldiers are really laid back," one Chinese netizen commented. This shows that no matter how powerful the technology, "the will of the soldier is equally important," another pointed out. "How can the [US Navy] maintain stability and security in the Asia Pacific if it cannot guarantee its own security?" a different netizen asked.

Despite evidence of US military overreach and incompetence, some have tried to hijack the tragedy to paint China as a malicious actor and further their anti-China agenda. "When you are going through the Strait of Malacca, you can’t tell me that a Navy destroyer doesn’t have a full navigation team going with full lookouts on every wing and extra people on radar," said Jeff Stutzman, a former US Navy information warfare specialist. Todd Humphreys, a professor at the University of Texas, echoed a similar concern: "Statistically, it looks very suspicious," he said. "I don’t believe in coincidence," said Itay Glick, a cybersecurity expert. "China has capabilities, maybe they are trying things," he added, suggesting that China may have interfered with encrypted navigation systems or launched a cyberattack with destructive malware to cause the collisions.

That would make a great Hollywood movie, but the reality is much different.

It is ridiculous that some media fabricated a baseless “China threat” conspiracy theory. Wild speculation that China is a malicious actor bent on attacking the US Navy is unhelpful and wildly off the mark. Not only is there zero evidence that China hacked the US warships or manipulated GPS signals, as confirmed by Admiral John Richardson, the US Navy’s top officer, the possibility of a cyberattack was considered unlikely. But for the sake of argument, even if these accidents were caused by China’s growing cyber sophistication, US warships should have been able to avoid a collision. Furthermore, China would gain nothing in the long run from using such a powerful cyberweapon to damage a couple of warships in peacetime. Such baseless claims are a sideshow that distracts people from understanding the truth behind the recent string of deadly accidents.

The problem is not China’s growing sea power and cyber sophistication, but the US desire to maintain its military dominance in all corners of the world. But the major incidents involving advanced warships have left many wondering how the US can project god-like military power when the US Navy steams around in the Pacific like a headless chicken, crashing into commercial ships?

Not long after the USS McCain tragedy, the commander of the US Pacific Air Forces said in a statement that the recent US naval accidents will not interrupt US "freedom of navigation" exercises in the South China Sea. While this might be the case, it is obvious that the US Navy has reached its breaking point. Blaming China rather than the US Navy and treating China as the enemy of the West makes for a good story. But the collisions should be seen as warning signs that US power is limited, and be a lesson for the US Navy that its ships must play by same "rules of the road" at sea as everyone else.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Wu Chengliang, Bianji)

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