A squadron of American ships was conducting "hydrographic research," which really means mapping the seabed for future submarine operations, inside the 200-mile exclusion zone that China claims stretches from its coastline.
A Chinese squadron sailed out to stand watch, while Beijing used diplomatic channels to demand that the U.S. ships withdraw. And so they did, after Pentagon lawyers drafted a blustering statement that said this in no way recognized China's claims of authority over international waters.
Now Defense Department staffers are wondering if this limp-wristed response emboldened Beijing, once the Navy plane landed in their grateful laps.
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