Chinese Submarine Followed U.S. Aircraft Carrier

A Chinese attack submarine stalked an American aircraft carrier for about half an hour last month in the latest episode of tension between Washington and Beijing in the Pacific, according to a U.S. defense official.

The official told CNN the incident took place on October 28 between a submerged Kilo-class fast-attack submarine and the USS Ronald Reagan — a 1,000-foot nuclear-powered carrier that can house 90 warplanes and a crew of 5,000.

Although he would not elaborate on how close the vessels came into contact, he called the situation “more than a brief encounter.”

There was no communication between the vessels and none expressed threatening behavior, said the official. However, a U.S. anti-submarine aircraft monitored the Chinese submarine.

“I actually think it’s the beginning of a tense period,” said Robert Daly, of the Kissinger Institute on China at the Woodrow Wilson Center.  “This is going to be a long process in which there is a mutual testing of limits and sending of signals.”

The encounter comes in the midst of tensions between the U.S. and Chinese navies over Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. A few days after the submarine encounter, a U.S. war ship traveled within 12 miles of one of China’s artificial islands to express it didn’t meet standards for territorial sovereignty. China’s ambassador called the move “a very serious provocation, politically and militarily.”

In September, Chinese navy ships came within 12-miles of the coast of Alaska as they passed through American waters. Officials called it a first for China.

Analysts say the encounter between the Chinese submarine and the U.S. aircraft carrier reflects common examples of nations testing each other’s military capabilities.

“The truth is, we track them tracking us, and we learn about their capabilities,” Daly said. “Chinese submarines are growing in number, but they’re still relatively noisy. They’re at least a generation behind us. And when they track us, we find out what they are capable of.”

Analysts also indicate Beijing has been increasing naval spending, as the U.S. shifts its military interests toward the Pacific.

“The U.S. still remains the military leader in the Pacific,” said Mira Rapp-Hooper with the Center for a New American Security. “But every year for the last 20 years, China has increased its defense budget by double digits, and it is now a serious regional and global player when it comes to its military capabilities.”

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