China and US in sub clash

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A Chinese nuclear submarine and an American aircraft carrier came close to a clash in October, underlining the growing naval tension between China and the US. Chinese planes were scrambled during the confrontation and China has told the US that if such an incident occurs again their orders will be to shoot to kill.

The confrontation occurred in the Yellow Sea on 27-29 October, when the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk sent up planes to drop sonic devices to monitor a Chinese nuclear submarine. Chinese jets based on the mainland took off and flew within sight of the US aircraft.

The incident, revealed by the Los Angeles Times and confirmed by the State Department, is the most serious so far between a US vessel and China's rapidly expanding navy.

The Kitty Hawk was sent to the Yellow Sea in September in a show of strength to persuade North Korea of US resolve during the negotiations on North Korea's nuclear programme. The Chinese may have responded so forcefully because the planes from the carrier came close to violating Chinese air space.

The nuclear submarine is one of five operated by China and is based at the main Chinese naval base at Qingdao. China is expanding its naval strength: it recently bought four conventional submarines from Russia. The Kitty Hawk was at the centre of a US battle group - including three cruisers, a frigate, and two logistic ships - manned by some 10,000 personel.

The confrontatioon started when the carrier detected the nuclear subarmine 200 miles away by using electronic monitoring devices. For much of the time the submarine was at periscope depth or about 35 to 40 feet below the surface. When it eluded US electronic trackers the Kitty Hawk sent up anti-submarine warfare planes, which dropped sonobuoys. It was at this point that the Chinese sent their fighters in the direction of the Kitty Hawk.

The threat to retaliate was made to an American military attache during a dinner in Peking. The Clinton administration's attitude to China has wavered in the past two years, the Chinese leadership rejecting its efforts to link human rights to normal trading relations as a most-favoured nation.

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