U.S. presses China for ex­pla­na­tion on armed sub­ma­rine en­counter

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Bill Gertz

The ad­mi­ral in charge of the U.S. Pa­cific Fleet pressed Chi­nese mil­i­tary lead­ers to ex­plain why an armed­sub­marinechal­lengedaU.S. air­craft car­rier in the west­ern Pa­cific by sail­ing within five miles of the war­ship, U.S. de­fense of­fi­cials said.

TheChi­ne­sere­spond­ed­by­claim­ing the Song-class sub­ma­rine that sur­faced near the USS Kitty Hawk on Oct. 27 was there by ac­ci­dent, and that it did not shadow the war­ship be­fore mak­ing its pres­ence known, the of­fi­cials said.

De­fense of­fi­cials familiar with re­ports of closed-door mil­i­tary meet­ings in Bei­jing, Shang­hai and Zhan­jiang pri­vately doubted the Chi­nese ex­pla­na­tions and said it is more likely the Song-class diesel elec­tric sub­ma­rine was prac­tic­ing anti-air­craft car­rier op­er­a­tions.

Pa­cific Fleet Com­man­der Adm. Gary Roug­head raised the is­sue of the sub­ma­rine en­counter when he met dur­ing a six-day visit in Novem­ber with Chi­nese mil­i­tary lead­ers.

The Chi­nese sub­ma­rine was not de­tected by the Kitty Hawk, which was con­duct­ing rou­tine ex­er­cises nearOk­i­nawa,or­by­ac­com­pa­ny­ing war­ships. Navy of­fi­cials called it an anti-sub­ma­rine war­fare lapse. Most ships have sonar that con­stantly scans wa­ters around the ships for threat­en­ing ves­sels.

Adm. Michael Mullen, the chief of naval op­er­a­tions, said last month that U.S. anti-sub­ma­rine de­fenses for the Pa­cific Fleet were re­viewed to de­ter­mine how the sub­ma­rine was able to sneak up on the car­rier.

The Chi­nese told Adm. Roug­head that it was a “chance en­counter” and that China’s mil­i­tary had no in­ten­tion of stalk­ing the Kitty Hawk. They also said the sub­ma­rine sur­faced de­lib­er­ately to demon­strate that it had no hos­tile in­tent, the of­fi­cials said.

“The Chi­nese also claimed they did not want the U.S. Navy to mis­take the ves­sel for a sub­ma­rine from Tai­wan or Korea,” one of­fi­cial said. China has a large fleet of sub­marines that sel­dom op­er­ates so far from China’s coast, such as the deep-ocean en- counter near Ok­i­nawa.

An­other ex­pla­na­tion from the Chi­nese mil­i­tary of­fi­cials was that the sub­ma­rine sur­faced be­cause of­fi­cials were wor­ried that be­ing de­tected so close to the car­rier would lead to a con­fronta­tion.

China’s mil­i­tary has re­jected U.S. pro­pos­als to join in an agree­ment that would pre­vent such in­ci­dents at sea. A sim­i­lar ar­range­ment was used dur­ing the Cold War to avoid con­fronta­tions with Soviet naval ves­sels.

Chi­nese of­fi­cials com­plained that the in­ci­dent was made pub­lic by Pen­tagon of­fi­cials op­posed to mil­i­tary ex­changes with the Chi­nese, and­saidU.S.and­in­ter­na­tion­al­press re­portsabout­thein­ci­den­thad­made the mat­ter more dif­fi­cult to re­solve.

The in­ci­dent was first dis­closed by The Wash­ing­ton Times on Nov. 13,adayafterAdm.Roug­head,who is a can­di­date to be the next U.S. Pa­cific com­man­der, ar­rived in China for six days of talks.

The sub­ma­rine en­counter was a main is­sue on the U.S. agenda, and was the only con­tentious is­sue in what were oth­er­wise de­scribed as friendly talks.

The de­fense of­fi­cials dis­closed some de­tails of the meet­ings to counter pub­lic state­ments by Chi­nese gov­ern­ment spokes­men.

Asked about the in­ci­dent, Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry spokes­woman Jiang Yu told re­porters in Bei­jing on Nov. 16 that The Times re­port “does not go along with fact.” She did not elab­o­rate.

Pa­cific Fleet spokesman Capt. Scott Gureck de­clined to com­ment on Adm. Roug­head’s talks in China.

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