China has been adept at hiding military mishaps, involving fighter jet crashes and submarines as the regime not disposed to transparency attempts to hide its incapability in the naval domain The communist regime has rarely been transparent especially in disclosing military accidents with Beijing rarely acknowledging submarine accidents publically and almost never releasing results of its investigations into jet crashes, American magazine The National Interest reported on Tuesday.
In April 2003, a Chinese fishing boat’s crew found an unusual sight, a periscope drifting listlessly above the surface of the water. They immediately informed China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), which sent two vessels to investigate. Initially, the Chinese navy thought that it was an intruding submarine either from South Korea or from Japan. But as they found an apparent derelict, the Chinese navy understood it was one of their submarines, the Ming-class 361.
Nearly 70 Chinese personnel were found dead inside the submarine on April 26. Later in May, former president and military commissioner Jiang Zemin acknowledged the tragic incident. He clarified that the incident was a result of a mechanical failure. After a month, a commission led by the then-president Jiang Zemin dismissed the commissar of the North Sea Fleet. The commission also demoted or dismissed six or eight more officers for improper command and control.
It has been known worldwide that China always hides its military accidents. So experts speculated that Beijing’s acknowledgment of the 2003 submarine incident was an attempt to downplay the SARS epidemic. The 361 entered services in 1995 and its three sister ships numbered 359 through 362 formed the North Sea Fleet’s 12th Submarine Brigade. The 361 was deployed on a naval exercise in the Bohai Sea, the Yellow Sea gulf east of Beijing and Tianjing, reported the National Interest.
The last log of the vessel dated April 16 said that the submarine was practicing silent running while off the Changshang island, heading back to a base in Weihai, Shandong Province. A senior naval officer Commodore Cheng Fuming was also aboard The vessel went missing and was untracked by the Chinese navy for at least 10 days as the 361 was maintaining the radio silence.
However, it remains unclear that how did the PLAN recover the submarine. Reports had suggested that the submarine was submerged but it had probably surfaced as it was quickly towed back to the port. The communist regime never released clear details of the accidents which have given space to various theories.
According to The National Interest, the 361 submarine is a Type 035 submarine that has the capacity of nearly 50-55 personals. But the 361 had 70 personnel on board. The government claimed that these were trainers, however, the presence of a high-ranking naval officer and additional personnel onboard raises speculation that the submarine was not on a routine mission. Poor standard of maintenance, cheap manufacturing and poor crew training result in such leather accidents as happened in China in 2003.