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Reports: British carrier followed by Chinese subs, possibly for target practice

By Jake Thomas
Reports: British carrier followed by Chinese subs, possibly for target practice
British Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth docked in Portsmouth, ahead of a deployment that has reportedly seen them have at-sea interactions with both Russia and, this week, China. File Photo by Gerry Penny/EPA

Aug. 12 (UPI) -- Chinese submarines may have stalked a British aircraft carrier in a display of military strength in the contested South China Sea, though China claims the ships may have revealed themselves purposely, according to reports.

The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth was followed by two Chinese Shang class submarines armed with cruise missiles, the British Daily Express reported this week.

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The submarines were detected by sonar operators on the HMS Kent and HMS Richmond as the carrier group moved into the Pacific Ocean from the South China Sea, the paper reported.

A third Chinese submarine was detected by a Royal Navy Astute class submarine.

RELATED North Korea criticizes British fleet of warships ahead of port call in South

China has claimed sovereignty over the body of water, which has been disputed by western powers, where it has built several artificial islands.

"Beijing is using technology to locate our positions, but are deploying submarines to reinforce their wider intent to move towards super-power status and dominate trade and security across the Pacific -- contrary to international law," an unnamed naval officer told the paper.

The Global Times, an English language paper controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, responded with a report citing Chinese military experts who said the Express' account is "not credible" and is intended to show off the British anti-submarine capabilities.

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The paper cited military expert Song Zhongping, who said British ships have limited anti-submarine capabilities and the claim was intended to belittle China.

One unnamed expert cited by the Global Times said, however, that submarines don't need to be near a warship to launch a long-range strike, while another suggested the Chinese revealed their positions as a warning or were using the British vessels as an "imaginary target for practice."

Rear Admiral Chris Parry told the Express that the detection of the Chinese submarines was good news, showing that the Navy's anti-submarine capabilities are up to speed after years of decline during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Last month, former Royal Navy Commander Tom Sharpe said in a speech, according to The Portsmouth News, that the China might try to "cause mischief" when the carrier was in the area.

"They have lots of options, all of which do lend themselves to the risk of miscalculation," he said, adding that he expected any interactions "to be entirely professional, entirely cordial, with both sides gathering as much information as they can from each other and then being on their way."

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