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US Navy to hold officials accountable for South China Sea submarine mishap if need be, says military representative

November 4, 2021 GMT

A top US military official said on Thursday that the US Navy plans to hold officials accountable for a recent mishap involving USS Connecticut nuclear-powered attack submarine in the South China Sea if an investigation suggests it is necessary.

“The Connecticut, as has been broadcast, had hit an uncharted seamount,” US Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said about the collision that Beijing is demanding more information about.

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“An investigation is under way. I really can’t comment more, until the investigations are complete, but I’m confident that the investigations will determine if individuals need to be held accountable, and if they do need to be held accountable, they will be held accountable.”

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The top naval official was speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in Washington.

The Navy said on Monday that initial investigation had concluded that the vessel collided with a geological formation and not another vessel. The incident has increased tensions between the US and China that had already been building owing to the rapid growth of Beijing’s military presence in the region, an issue that Del Toro addressed at the two-day conference.

The US Navy secretary said his main strategic priorities boil down to “the four Cs”, which “starts with China as our most significant pacing threat”, reiterating a term that other top military officials, including Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, have used to describe the urgency with which they view Beijing’s military ambitions.

“China’s intent to one day take over Taiwan, either peacefully or through military means has a most serious impact on our economic security ... and for the destabilisation of the global economy for that matter,” he said.

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“We don’t take our eyes off the many of the threats that exist, including those presented by Russia, Iran, North Korea and many other countries, and the terrorist threat that always is relevant everywhere around the world as well.

“But China is unquestionably the most significant threat,” he said.

Del Toro highlighted China’s rapid naval expansion in the form of 20 new naval warships built last year and plans to christen another 20 of the vessels this year.

Echoing the concerns that Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed at the Aspen conference on Wednesday, he warned that the US similarly needs to pick up the pace.

“When we look at our shipbuilding capability, I am concerned that we need to make greater investments and shipbuilding in order to get us to par” with plans outlined in the National Defence Authorisation Act, which is Washington’s annual must-pass legislation that funds the US military.

In 2018, the NDAA called for 355 new naval ships, and “in order to get there, we’re going to have to increase resources by at least three to five per cent over inflation”, he said. “That would be an honourable goal for the Department of Navy to be able to do so.”

The other Cs listed by Del Toro were “attention to culture”; climate, which Del Toro said was “an existential threat to our national security”; and Covid-19.

Citing a 99.4 per cent vaccination rate in the US Navy, he said: “Hopefully, I can start talking about, perhaps, the three Cs.”

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

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