China Threatens ‘Military Confrontations’ with U.S. in South China Sea

A Great Wall 236 submarine of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, billed by Chinese state media as a new type of conventional submarine, participates in a naval parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of China's PLA Navy in the sea near Qingdao, in eastern China's …
MARK SCHIEFELBEIN/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece the Global Times accused Washington on Tuesday of stirring up maritime “trouble” and threatened to prepare for regional “military confrontations” with the U.S. in response to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement declaring Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea “unlawful.”

On Monday, the U.S. State Department formally endorsed a 2016 international court ruling between the Philippines and China declaring Beijing’s maritime claims in the South China Sea illegal. Beijing refuses to recognize the ruling and has continued to illegally lay claim to island territories, maritime zones, and offshore resources belonging to other Southeast Asian nations surrounding the disputed waters. In recent months, China has ramped up this “bullying,” as Pompeo referred to it Monday, while the world has been distracted by the ongoing Chinese coronavirus pandemic.

“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire. America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law,” Pompeo said.

Responding to the statement on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the U.S. State Department “violated its government’s commitment to not taking a position on the South China Sea sovereignty issue, deliberately stirred up territorial and maritime disputes, and undermined regional peace and stability.”

“The U.S. is the destroyer and troublemaker of peace and stability in the [South China Sea] region,” Zhao claimed.

Military “analysts” warned the Global Times on Tuesday that “the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been preparing” for “military confrontations” with the U.S. in the sea:

[T]he U.S. will stir up more troubles, incite more confrontations in the region and engage in more radical and dangerous moves in stirring up military conflicts with China, and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been preparing for conflicts in the South China Sea and across the Taiwan Straits through military drills to improve its combat capability and information construction.

“[T]he South China Sea is well within the grasp of the PLA through effective strategic weapons, as China’s generations of intercontinental ballistic missiles can fully cover the entire South China Sea region,” Zhuang Guotu, described by the Global Times as “head of [China’s] Xiamen University’s Southeast Asian Studies Center,” told the propaganda newspaper on Tuesday.

This statement echoes a threat the Global Times issued to the U.S. Navy on July 4, when the U.S. Armed Forces held their largest military drills in the South China Sea in recent years, deploying two aircraft carriers and a B-52 bomber to the region.

South China Sea is fully within grasp of the #PLA; any U.S. #aircraftcarrier movement in the region is at the pleasure of PLA,” the CCP mouthpiece tweeted at the time.

China has the sufficient ability to defend its sovereign interests [in the South China Sea],” the CCP said through a Global Times editorial on Tuesday. The editorial further argues that the U.S. aims not to support its “Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights,” as Pompeo stated on Monday, but to use them as “cannon fodder” in a military conflict with China:

For best national interests, ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] countries need to maintain balanced diplomacy between China and the U.S. Yet the latter always wants to cajole and coerce them to pick the U.S. side. It is to turn them into U.S. cannon fodder as part of its strategy to contain China. It won’t succeed … [W]e will not accept any country which uses U.S. intervention as leverage to pressure and harm China’s interests.

Reinforcing this claim that the U.S. seeks to “stir up … trouble” with Beijing in the South China Sea, the CCP argued in another article by the Global Times on Tuesday that Pompeo’s statement on Monday “means that Washington is no longer pretending to remain neutral on territorial disputes in the waters. It signals the U.S. has decided to take a clear-cut position and it wants a showdown with Beijing on the issue.”

“Whatever proactive measures the U.S. carries out next, China will display its ‘reciprocal’ strategy to safeguard its sovereignty,” the CCP mouthpiece declared, later describing specifically how the PLA might respond to a U.S. military threat in the region:

If the U.S. launches military exercises in the waters, be it without arms or live-fire drills, it can expect the very same scale in return … If the U.S. warships come within 12 nautical miles of Chinese soil … China will … send the Chinese navy to intercept them, [and] … consider deploying more anti-ship weapons. If U.S. fighter jets keep buzzing over the region, more air-defense missiles could be deployed. If the U.S. carries out joint maritime drills with regional countries, so will China.

Beijing encroaches on the highly valuable South China Sea for its abundant natural resources, strategic global trade routes, and greater geopolitical importance. Along with China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, and other Southeast Asian nations vie for territory in the sea.

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