The voice on the radio in the middle of the South China Sea follows a familiar script for Capt. Eric Anduze, who helms the USS Blue Ridge. It's China on the phone.

"They'll contact us and they'll go — 'U.S. government vessel, this is Chinese Navy vessel' number whatever — 'we will maintain 5 miles from you and escort you as you make your transit,"' Anduze said, describing the English-speaking voice from a rival Chinese warship.

The U.S. response is short: "Chinese vessel, this is government vessel one nine, copy, out." From there on, silence, as the vessels of the world's rival powers steam onward together.