Commenting on the collision of the US nuclear submarine USS Connecticut with an unknown object on Oct 2 in the South China Sea, a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry raised three questions on Monday: Where exactly did the incident take place? Did the collision cause a nuclear leak? Will the accident have any impact on the safe navigation of vessels in the waterway?
These questions are not only China's concern, they are also the concern of all countries in the region and the international community at large.
It is estimated that 80 percent of global trade by volume and 70 percent by value is transported by sea. Of that volume, an estimated 60 percent passes through the South China Sea. What makes the busy global waterway even busier are the so-called freedom of navigation operations of various countries, the United States in particular.
The US uses the pretext that it is safeguarding freedom of navigation in the South China Sea to maintain its military presence in the waters although there has never been anything that threatens navigation, except for the mishaps involving its naval vessels. This is not the first time one of its naval vessels has had an accident. In the past, official investigations have attributed the cause to carelessness on the part of the crew.
In June 2017, the US Navy Destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship somewhere southwest of Tokyo, killing seven Fitzgerald sailors. There was also a near collision between a US warship and a Chinese counterpart in the South China Sea in 2018.
It is natural for China's warships to patrol in its own territorial waters. But for the US warships, freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is just a show of military might, which is part of the US' Asia-Pacific strategy to contain the rise of China.
If anything, the operations of the US navy in the South China Sea have added fuel to the fire of the verbal disputes among neighboring countries over the sovereignty of the waters. There has never been any threat from any country to freedom of navigation in the waters.
The collisions or near collisions caused by the US warships point to the fact that the US military presence in the South China Sea is the real threat to freedom of navigation in the waters.
And what if there was a nuclear leak from the submarine as a result of the collision? That would be a disaster for the South China Sea marine environment.
The US Navy and the US should not beat about the bush about the incident. They should tell the truth and work with related countries to really safeguard the safety of navigation in the South China Sea and its nearby waters.