China’s Global Times propaganda newspaper warned the United States in a piece published Thursday that Beijing could “deploy military combat equipment to the islands and reefs” of the South China Sea if Washington continues to reject China’s illegal claims in the region.
China already boasts fighter jets, surface-to-air missiles, and military-grade surveillance equipment on the islands it has illegally constructed in Vietnamese and Philippine territory in the South China Sea. Chinese officials have repeatedly insisted, however, that the artificial islands were constructed for civilian use and they have not militarized the area.
The Global Times article is a response to the United States flying long-range nuclear-capable B-52H Stratofortress bombers in the region this week. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told reporters on Wednesday that such behavior “just goes on” and that the only thing he considers different about the flights from prior years is that China loaded the region with illegal military assets.
“If it was 20 years ago and had they not militarized those features there it would have been just another bomber on its way to Diego Garcia or wherever, so there’s nothing out of the ordinary about it,” Mattis remarked.
The Global Times nonetheless objected to the flights. “There are Chinese islands and reefs, Chinese territorial waters, jurisdictional waters and overlapping waters claimed by relevant countries in the vast South China Sea,” the newspaper claimed, despite international law ruling otherwise. “From a broader picture, more US military provocations against China will stimulate China to input more resources into building strategic military capacity, including advanced nuclear capacity, which is sure to upset the US.”
“China has more cards to play than the US in the waters. If the US military activities continue to increase in the region and threaten the security of China’s islands and reefs, China could deploy military combat equipment to the islands and reefs,” the newspaper warned, despite admitting that “it is unknown whether the US bombers flew into the 12 nautical miles of China’s islands and reefs.”
The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, also accused the Pentagon of attempting to “rally voter support for the upcoming US midterm elections in November” by pressuring China.
As typically occurs, the official agencies of the Chinese government were significantly more tame in challenging the bomber flights.
“What needs to be pointed out is that China respects and upholds the freedom of navigation and overflight all countries enjoy under international law, but firmly opposes the relevant country impairing the sovereignty and security of the littoral countries and disrupting regional peace and stability under the pretext of freedom of navigation and overflight,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters Thursday when asked about fighter jets passing through the South China Sea.
Senior Colonel Ren Guoqiang, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, took a slightly harsher tone on Thursday, demanding the U.S. “take a rational and mature attitude” over China’s military development of the South China Sea.
“We have been positive on maintaining military exchanges at various levels with the US,” Ren claimed. “However, the US side should bear full responsibility for the recent impact on the China-US mil-mil relationship. We demand the US side to take a rational and mature attitude and create favourable conditions for bilateral military exchanges and cooperation.”
The Chinese government appears increasingly incensed with the international consensus that its construction in the Spratly and Paracel Islands, which belong to the Philippines and Vietnam, is illegal. China claims most of the South China Sea, including land and sea belonging to those two countries as well as Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Last week, the United Kingdom dispatched a warship to sail near the Paracel Islands, triggering an incensed Chinese response.
“The relevant behavior of the British warship violated Chinese law and relevant international law and infringed upon China’s sovereignty. China is firmly opposed to this. We have lodged stern representations with the British side and expressed our strong dissatisfaction,” the Chinese embassy in London said in a statement. “The Chinese side strongly urges Britain to stop this kind of provocation lest it should undermine the overall picture of bilateral ties as well as regional peace and stability.”