Chinese state media outlet Xinhua has published an editorial threatening the Chinese government is open to “use of force” against the United States should it continue to establish a military presence in the South China Sea.
The column was published a day after the USS Lassen, a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Spratly Islands, in international waters that China considers Chinese sovereign territory. China has received no support in the international community regarding their territorial claim, which is actively disputed by Vietnam. Other claims in the South China Sea are disputed by the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei. All consider China an aggressive regional power, with the Philippines comparing the Beijing government to Adolf Hitler earlier this year.
“China will not use force recklessly, even when it comes to issues related to territory and sovereignty,” according to vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission Fan Changlong, quoted in the Xinhua article. The article goes on to warn that “‘not using force recklessly’ does not mean China will renounce the use of force.” The article then proceeds to remind American readers that the Chinese have previously crashed their aircraft into U.S. reconnaissance planes in the region, as a means to warn that China may attack an American vessel it spots in the region. “The U.S. should not be overconfident about its ability to steer clear of collision,” the article warns. “The sea is no less safe than the airspace.”
The article also condemns “Uncle Sam” for making itself part of the South China Sea conversation despite being “irrelevant”:
We should give “credit” to Uncle Sam. As an irrelevant party in the dispute, the country has spared no effort to create fanfare in the South China Sea, accusing China of harming navigational freedom, though evidence has seldom been presented on how harm was done or how shipping lanes have been threatened by China’s island construction, which is primarily used for creation of two lighthouses.
While by far the most aggressive column in English-language Chinese media, Xinhua is not alone in condemning the Lassen’s presence in international waters. A People’s Daily column accused the United States today, for example, of sending the Lassen to Asia as a means of “distraction” from “crises in other parts of the world.” The People’s Daily, also a state-controlled outlet, additionally published a story claiming that “a U.S. guided missile submarine” in the region would create a national security threat for China and Russia.
The Chinese government has also acted. Beijing summoned the U.S. ambassador to China on Wednesday. Chinese vice-foreign minister, Zhang Yesui reportedly spoke to the American ambassador, Max Baucus, condemning the presence of American vessels in the region as “extremely irresponsible.”
In addition to threats of violence in the media, the Chinese government has warned that it would expedite its illegal construction of artificial islands in the region should the United States continue to maintain a presence in the region. “It would be a pity for us to realise that we have to strengthen and speed up relevant construction activities,” said foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang on Wednesday.
American officials have responded to Chinese belligerence towards their presence in international waters by warning that such activity will become “routine” and American vehicles “will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” in the words of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.