A US Coast Guard vessel on routine patrol in the Bering Sea off Alaska has reported an encounter with a Chinese guided missile cruiser which was later discovered to be travelling with two other Chinese naval vessels and four Russian Navy ships.
The Renhai CG 101 missile cruiser was observed some 138km (86 miles) north of Alaska’s Kiska Island by the US Coast Guard Cutter Kimball while on a routine patrol on September 19, the coast guard said in a statement on Monday.
Two other Chinese naval vessels and four Russian ships, including a destroyer, were later observed moving “in a single formation with the Renhai as a combined surface action group operating in the US Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)”, the Coast Guard said.
The Hawaii-based Kimball, a 127-metre (418-foot) vessel, said the Chinese and Russian ships later broke their action group formation – which is an arrangement for tactical missions – and dispersed.
The US Coast Guard said in the statement that the Kimball was now operating under the guidelines of Operation Frontier Sentinel, which designates matching “presence with presence” when it comes to “strategic competitors” who are operating in and around US waters.
A US C-130 Hercules aircraft had provided air support for the Kimball from the Coast Guard station in Kodiak, Alaska.
“While the formation has operated in accordance with international rules and norms,” said Rear Admiral Nathan Moore, Seventeenth Coast Guard District commander, “we will meet presence-with-presence to ensure there are no disruptions to US interests in the maritime environment around Alaska.”
The Chinese and Russian naval encounter with the US coast guard vessel comes a month after NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned of China’s growing interest in the Arctic and Russia’s military build-up there.
Stoltenberg said Russia has set up a new Arctic Command and opened hundreds of new and former Soviet-era Arctic military sites, including deep-water ports and airfields.
China has declared itself a “near Arctic” state and now plans to build the world’s largest icebreaker, he said.
“Beijing and Moscow have also pledged to intensify practical cooperation in the Arctic. This forms part of a deepening strategic partnership that challenges our values and interests,” Stoltenberg said during a visit to Canada’s north.
The encounter off Kiska Island is only the latest between US and Chinese naval ships in the region.
In September 2021, US Coast Guard cutters in the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean encountered Chinese ships, about 80km (50 miles) off the Aleutian Islands.
The first recorded encounter with Chinese Navy ships sailing in international waters in the Bering Sea was in 2015 when a Chinese amphibious ship, a replenishment vessel and three surface combatant ships were reported in the area.
The presence of the Chinese ships at that time coincided with a three-day visit to Alaska by then UN President Barack Obama.