The Navy’s top commander in the Pacific said yesterday that a Chinese submarine risked setting off a military confrontation by closely shadowing a U.S. aircraft carrier sailing near Japan.
“It illustrates the primary reason why we are trying to push to have better military-to-military relationships” with China, said Adm. William J. Fallon, in his first public comments on the U.S.-China naval encounter disclosed Monday by The Washington Times.
China’s government, meanwhile, said it was unaware of the incident.
“I have not heard of such a report,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, when asked about The Times report. China’s defense policy is “based on self-defense,” she said.
A Song-class Chinese submarine equipped with wake-homing torpedos and anti-ship cruise missiles surfaced within five miles of the USS Kitty Hawk in waters near Okinawa on Oct. 26 in what U.S. defense officials said was a provocative act.
Defense officials believe the Chinese submarine was practicing for tracking and targeting carriers.
Pentagon officials said the matter likely will be raised during defense-policy coordination talks with Chinese military officials set to begin Dec. 7 in Washington.
“Maritime safety is on the agenda,” a spokesman said.
A Pentagon spokesman said yesterday he was not aware than any protest had been lodged with the Chinese over the incident in the East China Sea near Okinawa.
According to the officials, China has refused since 1998 to agree to notify the Pentagon about its naval movements, something U.S. officials say could help avoid incidents at sea, such as the submarine encounter, that might trigger a conflict.
Adm. Fallon sought to play down the incident. He said describing the covert underwater tracking of the carrier as “stalking” was “sensational.”
But he acknowledged that the submarine’s unannounced surfacing so close to the carrier was risky and in other circumstances might have produced a shootout.
“The fact that you have military units that would operate in close proximity to each other offers the potential for events that would not be what we would like to see — the potential for miscalculation,” Adm. Fallon said during a break in a 23-nation meeting of defense chiefs in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Adm. Fallon said that the Kitty Hawk and escorting warships were conducting exercises at the time of the incident, but the maneuvers did not include anti-submarine activities.
“But if they had been, and this Chinese submarine happened to come in the middle of this, then this could well have escalated into something that was very unforeseen.” He did not elaborate.