Chinese Maj. Gen. Zhu Chenghu told The Wall Street Journal this week that he believes the United States is making “very, very important mistakes” with regard to territorial disputes in the South China Sea and that continuing the approach preferred by the Obama Administration will force China to become a “qualified enemy” of the U.S.
Zhu was speaking in particular about comments Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an international security forum. The United States, Hagel asserted, “will not look the other way when fundamental principles of the international order are being challenged.” “The Americans are making very, very important strategic mistakes right now,” Zhu told the paper, adding that the aggressive language used against China may prompt the government to begin treating the United States as a confirmed enemy, rather than merely using cautious language and pursuing relations with it:
“If you take China as an enemy, China will absolutely become the enemy of the U.S.,” he warned. “If the Americans take China as an enemy, we Chinese have to take steps to make ourselves a qualified enemy of the U.S. But if the Americans take China as a friend, China will be a very loyal friend; and if they take China as a partner, China will be a very cooperative partner.”
General Zhu also accused the United States of not having its “actions match [its] words” and said that the Chinese government “‘is not so stupid’ as to believe that Washington wants to works with China, or that the U.S. government is truly neutral” in territorial disputes with allies.
China’s disputes in the South China Sea with both Vietnam and the Philippines have escalated in recent months, as well as tensions with the Japanese government over a set of uninhabited islands known as the Senkakus. The Vietnamese government recently accused China of ramming ships into and eventually sinking a fishing vessel that had been navigating the disputed waters near a new Chinese oil rig. The Chinese government has asserted that China “cannot lose an inch” of its territory and that drilling will continue over Vietnam’s objections.
The Philippines, meanwhile, disputes a series of reef and island territories in the South China Sea. Tensions escalated as the Filipino government arrested eleven Chinese fishermen for fishing sea turtles against Filipino law, in waters that China asserts belong to it. The Philippines has also accused the Chinese government of beginning to build an airstrip on the South Johnson Reef, which it claims.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Philippines President Benigno Aquino III agreed in May to support each other’s causes against what they deemed to be “illegal” activity on the part of the Chinese government in their territories, issuing joint statements calling for the international community to condemn China over its territorial aggression. The Japanese government has also added its voice to the disputes, extending its support to the causes of both countries.
Regarding the Japanese Senkaku Islands, President Obama asserted during a visit to Japan this year that the United States is bound by treaty to protect the sovereignty of Japan against outside attacks, making clear that any imposition on the islands by China would count as a violation of that sovereignty and something the United States is bound to react militarily to, a statement to whose alleged aggression the Chinese government objected.