The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has published a commentary assuring Chinese readers that it is investing in preparations for potential war with the United States, citing the threat of a more robust American international presence, particularly in the South China Sea.
“The People’s Liberation Army said in a commentary on its official website last Friday, the day of Trump’s inauguration, that the chances of war have become ‘more real’ amid a more complex security situation in Asia Pacific,” the South China Morning Post reported this week.
“‘A war within the president’s term’ or ‘war breaking out tonight’ are not just slogans, they are becoming a practical reality,” the commentary reads, according to the Morning Post‘s translation.
The Chinese government, threatening a potential war over the South China Sea where China has illegally usurped territory belonging to the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, and Malaysia, is neither a recent development nor one new to the Trump administration. The Obama administration repeatedly challenged China’s claims in the region with “freedom of navigation” exercises, which China objected to as an alleged threat to its sovereignty.
The Trump administration has not only promised to keep the pressure on China to cease colonizing its neighbors’ territory. “If those islands are, in fact, in international waters and not part of China proper, yeah, we’ll make sure we defend international interests from being taken over by one country,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer confirmed this week.
The PLA typically keeps away from fanning the flames, however, with that duty falling to Beijing’s state propaganda outlets: Xinhua, the People’s Daily, the Global Times, and China Daily, among others.
A week before Trump’s inauguration, the Global Times warned that the United States “had better prepare for a military clash” in response to Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson asserting he would support blocking China from taking reefs and islands in the South China Sea that were part of other nations’ sovereign territory. Over a year before this objection, the Global Times published a story asserting that “war is inevitable” between China and the United States “if the United States’ bottom line is that China has to halt its activities” in the South China Sea.
The Global Times continued the trend this week, calling Tillerson “arrogant, dangerous and irresponsible” and warning White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who also remarked on the South China Sea, not to follow Tillerson’s lead. “If they launch military intervention in the South China Sea, we have the ability to destroy them all,” the article quotes a Chinese professor as stating.
The article also confirms Pentagon suspicions that the artificial islands China has built in the region are meant for military, not civilian, use. “The islands with airports that we have built in the area are unsinkable aircraft carriers,” says Major General Luo Yuan, vice president with the China Strategic Culture Promotion Association.
Chinese government voices outside of its propaganda enterprises have not so brazenly called for war. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, for example, stated simply in response to Trump administration concern over the region, “China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands… the United States is not a party to the South China Sea issue.”
Chinese ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai, meanwhile, told the People’s Daily that bilateral relations had achieved “tangible progress” and that cooperation was “the only right choice” in all matters regarding tensions between the two. Foreign Minister Wang Yi — Hua Chunying’s boss — said in a recent interview that China seeks to “increase mutual trust, focus cooperation, manage and control disputes” with the United States.