It appeared to be a high stakes game of who dares wins, but in reality it could signal tension between the US and China in the South China sea.
A Chinese ship came close to colliding with a US cruiser on December 5, but it has only just become public knowledge.
The cruiser USS Cowpens, which was monitoring China's new aircraft carrier nearby, managed to avoid a collision by maneuvering out of the way.
"Eventually, effective bridge-to-bridge communications occurred between the U.S. and Chinese crews, and both vessels manoeuvred to ensure safe passage," a defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the UK's Telegraph in an email.
The official refused to speculate whether the incident was as a result of any fractures in China-US relations.
"US leaders have been clear about our commitment to develop a stable and continuous military-to-military relationship with China," the official said.
"Whether it is a tactical at-sea encounter, or strategic dialogue, sustained and reliable communication mitigates the risk of mishaps, which is in the interest of both the U.S. and China,"
The incident comes as tensions deepen between China and the Obama government over just who has control over the south and east China seas.
Recently, Obama chastened the Chinese over a decision to require air defense identification over the East China Sea including islands and airspace also claimed by Japan.
A US official said that Cowpens had followed international law. It is understood the Chinese ship came within 500 metros of the US cruiser.
“Our cruiser was operating in international waters of the South China Sea, not close into the coast and in the general vicinity of the aircraft carrier,” the defense official said.
In a formal statement, the Pacific Fleet based in Hawaii said, “This incident underscores the need to ensure the highest standard of professional seamanship, including communications between vessels to mitigate the risk of an unintended incident or mishap.”