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WASHINGTON — The Navy’s top admiral disputed a report that a Chinese submarine and a U.S. aircraft carrier could have clashed during a chance encounter last month.

The Washington Times first reported earlier this week that a Chinese submarine surfaced close to the USS Kitty Hawk in October while the carrier was engaged in exercises near Okinawa.

On Wednesday, the Times reported that the ships risked an armed encounter if the Kitty Hawk had been engaged in anti-submarine operations at the time.

But asked if the encounter could have lead to a “shootout,” as the Times reported, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen said “absolutely not.”

Mullen spoke to reporters Thursday after participating in a panel discussion on the USNS Mercy’s recent mission to Indonesia.

“We don’t consider the Chinese the enemy, and there are none of us who believe that that Chinese submarine was a threat, and there are some issues certainly with understanding how they operate and what they were doing and those are operational matters that I certainly won’t talk about publicly,” he said.

Mullen said the two ships were operating in international waters and the Chinese understand international regulations about how ships approach each other.

He also said Adm. Gary Roughead, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, is reviewing what happened when during the incident.

Mullen’s comments come after the head of U.S. Pacific Command responded to the initial Washington Times story earlier in the week by saying the incident could have escalated into “something that was very unforeseen” if the Kitty Hawk had been conducting anti-submarine warfare operations at the time.

Adm. William Fallon said the incident shows the need for closer military cooperation between the United States and China.

“Because the fact that you have military units that would operate in close proximity to one and other, offers the potential for events that would not be what we would like to see — the potential for miscalculation,” Fallon said.


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