Nuclear submarines at ‘increasing risk of colliding in the South China Sea’

Nuclear submarines are at increasing risk of colliding in the South China Sea, an expert has said in a horrifying warning.

Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, issued the warning as the Chinese and US navies continue to step up their deployment in the contested waters.

He fears the new Aukus alliance forged by the US, UK and Australia last month could add to that risk as a key part of the pact is for Australia to develop its own nuclear submarine fleet.

Speaking at an international relations forum in Beijing, Wu also said that non-binding documents signed by China and the US in 2014 on the rules of behaviour for air and maritime encounters "might not be effective in critical moments".

The warning comes after USS Connecticut, an American nuclear sub, was damaged when it collided with an "uncharted seamount" in the South China Sea.

The US Navy last week sacked the vessel’s Commanding Officer, Executive Officer and Chief of the Boat.

Wu said the risk of a submarine collision was "imminent" as both China and the US were both developing nuclear submarines and sending them to the South China Sea, the South China Morning Post reports.

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He said: “The number of nuclear [submarines] in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait will increase. [Are] there some common rules for such vessels to comply with?”

Wu highlighted a near miss in 2018, when a Luyang-class Chinese destroyer sailed within just 41 metres (134 feet) of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Decatur, and they almost collided in Gaven Reef in the South China Sea.

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He said: “Sailing within 41 metres is very dangerous. It is not that we do not have rules, but that the rules are not followed through in [a] critical moment. This is where the risk lies.

“If the same scenario happened to two nuclear submarines, this would become a huge disaster.”

The South China Sea Probing Initiative, a Beijing-based think tank, said the US had deployed B-52H and B-1B bombers over the disputed waters 14 times this year, along with 11 nuclear submarines.

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A new Pentagon report released on Thursday said China’s navy had 355 ships and submarines by 2020.

Wu added: “Establishing a risk-control mechanism with the United States is very urgent. Conflicts in the military and security fields are completely different from those in the economic and trade fields.

“China and the US are both nuclear powers. The frequent sea and air activities that go along with Chinese and US military deployment will create more risk of conflict if there’s no control mechanism.”

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