Chinese officials demanded extensive “details” about a collision involving a U.S. nuclear submarine in the South China Sea, which Beijing cited to continue arguing against American military operations in a region that the rising communist power seeks to dominate.
“We are gravely concerned about the incident,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters, per the official transcript. “As the party involved, the U.S. should clarify in specific details what happened, including the exact location of the incident, the U.S. side's navigation intention, the details of the incident, the object the submarine struck, whether the collision caused a nuclear leak or damaged local marine environment, etc.”
U.S. Pacific Fleet officials revealed that the USS Connecticut “struck an object while submerged” last Saturday and emphasized that the submarine “remains in a safe and stable condition.” That incident, which occurred just weeks after the announcement of a landmark agreement for the United States and the British government to provide Australia with nuclear submarines, provided grist for China’s broader objection to U.S. and allied operations in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
“This is just kind of classic Chinese line, right, where they're trying to argue that U.S. operations in the South China Sea are inherently risky and dangerous,” the American Enterprise Institute’s Zack Cooper told the Washington Examiner. “The fact that it was a nuclear attack submarine means that they’ve got a little but more ample reason to try and critique this at the moment, given the AUKUS deal.”
The South China Sea is a vast and important waterway that Beijing is attempting to claim as sovereign Chinese territory at the expense of several neighboring states with South China Sea shorelines.
“The U.S. has long been making trouble in the South China Sea in the name of ‘freedom of navigation,’ which poses a grave threat and major risks for regional peace and stability,” Zhao said in the briefing. “The U.S. and the U.K. recently decided to conduct nuclear submarine cooperation with Australia, a non-nuclear-weapon state, and flagrantly proliferate nuclear submarines in the Asia-Pacific. ... The odds of a nuclear incident will also increase dramatically.”
Australia sought the nuclear submarines as part of a military buildup designed to offset growing threats from China, which built artificial islands in the South China Sea and deployed military assets to those outposts. U.S. and European states have increased their military presence in the region in order to underscore that they are not acquiescing to Beijing’s legal claims, which have been rejected by an international tribunal.
“USS Connecticut’s nuclear propulsion plant and spaces were not affected and remain fully operational,” Pacific Fleet officials said. “The extent of damage to the remainder of the submarine is being assessed.”
Washington Examiner Videos
Original Author: Joel Gehrke