22 October 2016
A US surveillance image appears to show Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands. Photo: Reuters
A US surveillance image appears to show Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands. Photo: Reuters

War ‘inevitable’ unless US backs off, China state media warns

A Chinese state-owned newspaper said Monday “war is inevitable” with the United States over the South China Sea unless Washington stops demanding Beijing halt the building of artificial islands there.

The Global Times stressed that China would finish the reclamation of the islands in disputed territory “no matter what”.

“If the US sets its bottom line on the condition that China must stop its construction work, then military confrontation will start sooner or later,” the newspaper warned in an editorial.

Friction in the region has grown as China has dramatically ramped up its land reclamation work this year, building artificial islands at an unprecedented pace to bolster its territorial claims in the disputed area.

Pentagon officials have said the artificial islands in the strategic waters amounted to 2,000 acres (800 hectares), 75 percent of the total having been built in the last five months.

“China has expanded the acreage on the outposts it occupies by some 400 times,” one US defense official said.

Last week, Beijing said it was “strongly dissatisfied” after a US spy plane flew over areas near the reefs.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Monday that China had lodged a complaint and that it opposed “provocative behavior” by the US.

“We urge the US to correct its error, remain rational and stop all irresponsible words and deeds,” she said.

“Freedom of navigation and overflight by no means mean that foreign countries’ warships and military aircraft can ignore the legitimate rights of other countries as well as the safety of aviation and navigation.”

The Global Times commentary asked the US to respect China’s “territorial sovereignty” and maritime interests in the South China Sea, saying heightened US surveillance could only lead to military conflict.

It went on to say that if the US continued to provoke and “humiliate” it, China will have no choice but to engage.

“The intensity of the conflict will be higher than what people usually think of as ‘friction’,” said the Global Times, which is among China’s most nationalistic newspapers.

“We do not want a military conflict with the United States, but if it were to come, we’d have to accept it.” 

People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the government of China, also had a commentary Monday, this one reminding the US it is not even a relevant party in the South China Sea disputes.

“Unfortunately, the surveillance aircraft incident laid bare, again, the seemingly never-ending aim of the US to contain China and spoil China’s peaceful development, as seen in its efforts to pivot to Asia, moves to incite the Philippines to confront China, and involve other countries with disputes,” the newspaper said.

Its editorial concluded by warning the US that “playing of the South China Sea card has dangerous and risky ramifications”.

A Global Times editorial Friday said as long as China can finish the construction, this round of intervention by the US will end up futile.

It advised Washington to keep in mind that even with the might of its warships and fighters, the US has only a long shot at victory in the face of China’s centuries-old wisdom.

Thankfully, such commentaries are not official policy statements, but they are sometimes read as a reflection of government thinking, Reuters said.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which US$5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.

The US has routinely called on all claimants to halt reclamation in the Spratly island chain but accuses China of carrying out work on a scale that far outstrips that of any other country.

Can China back up its ominous warnings?

Will the US keep pressing?

Will push come to shove?

Many analysts are skeptical about the People’s Liberation Army’s probability of winning any war, owing to its poor command structure, bush-league training, massive corruption, inexperience and inadequate equipment.

But Chen Dingding, assistant professor of government and public administration at the University of Macau, says China has the will to win.

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