U.S. confirms carrier had close brush with Chinese submarine

LEAD: U.S. confirms carrier had close brush with Chinese submarine

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov. 14 Kyodo


Adm. William Fallon, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, confirmed Tuesday that a U.S. aircraft carrier last month failed to detect a Chinese submarine coming within firing range, saying the incident could have ”escalated into something that is very unforeseen.”

The confirmation came after the Oct. 26 incident in deep waters near Okinawa, Japan, was reported by the Washington Times.

According to the newspaper, the Chinese Song-class diesel-powered attack submarine had ”stalked” the Kitty Hawk undetected and surfaced within about 8 kilometers of the carrier before it was spotted by a routine surveillance flight by one of the carrier’s planes.

The submarine was armed with wake-homing torpedoes and anti-ship cruise missiles, according to the Washington Times.

The carrier was not engaged in anti-submarine warfare exercises at the time and thus did not have active patrols for submarines, the paper quoted a U.S. Navy official as saying.

When asked to confirm the report, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said in Beijing she was not aware of it.

”I have not heard about that report,” Jiang Yu told a regular press conference. ”But what I want to tell you is that China is following a defensive military policy.”

Fallon denied the Chinese submarine was ”stalking” the carrier.

”It turns out that the aircraft carrier was escorting ships which were out doing exercises. They were not engaged in any submarine exercises. But if they have been and the Chinese submarine happens to come in the middle of that, it would well escalate into something that is very unforeseen,” he told reporters in the Malaysian capital.

Fallon is attending a three-day conference of defense chiefs from 23 Asia-Pacific countries that began Monday.

He said the incident illustrated the reason the United States is pushing for ”a better military-to-military relation” with China.

”Because the fact that you have military units that are operating in close proximity with one another offers a potential for events that would not be what we like to see, the potential for miscalculation,” he said.

As a ”modest start,” Fallon said U.S. Commander of the Pacific Fleet Adm. Gary Roughead is now in Beijing for the first exercise between the U.S. and Chinese navies.

”(It’s) a modest search and rescue exercise, but it is a start. I think that this is the kind of things that we must encourage and continue so that we can move ahead from what I would characterize as Cold War thinking and to truly bring about dialogue,” he said.

Quoting unnamed sources, the Washington Times reported that the ”surprise encounter highlights China’s continuing efforts to prepare for a future conflict with the U.S.”

The encounter, it added, is ”an embarrassment” to Fallon ”who is engaged in an ambitious military exchange program with China aimed at improving relations between the two nations’ militaries,” the report said.

China is conspicuously absent from the Kuala Lumpur meeting.

Fallon said he had ”personally invited” China ”but for some reasons they have not decided to attend this one.”

The annual Asia-Pacific defense chiefs meeting is an initiative of the U.S. Pacific Command. This year’s meeting is jointly hosted by the United States and Malaysia.

The meeting was opened by Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, concurrently defense minister.

One of the issues that are on the table is North Korea.

”The introduction of nuclear weapons by North Korea is a challenge that concerns us all,” Fallon said.

”We have a reality of a country that certainly has the capability for long-range missiles, that certainly has a history of making statements and doing things that is unsettling to people in Northeast Asia and other parts of the world,” he added.

Countries attending the conference are Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, the Comoros, France, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, the Maldives, Mauritius, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga, Vietnam, Madagascar, Malaysia and the United States.

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