Chinese State Media Asks if U.S. Is ‘Mentally Retarded’ for Disputing South China Sea Claims

This photograph taken on October 16, 2019 shows US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets multirole fighters and an EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft (2nd R) on board USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) aircraft carrier as it sails in South China Sea on its way to Singapore. (Photo by Catherine LAI / AFP) …
CATHERINE LAI/AFP via Getty Images

The United States rejected China’s claim to own offshore resources in the South China Sea on Monday, prompting a response from Chinese media questioning the mental stability of the U.S. government.

Chinese state media responded Wednesday by wondering if the U.S. government is “mentally retarded and slow in action.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday announced the rejection of Beijing’s claims to “offshore resources across most of the South China Sea” as “completely unlawful.” He also denounced China’s “campaign of bullying” against other claimants.

“In the South China Sea, we seek to preserve peace and stability, uphold freedom of the seas in a manner consistent with international law, maintain the unimpeded flow of commerce, and oppose any attempt to use coercion or force to settle disputes,” he said.

Pompeo said the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has “no legal grounds to unilaterally impose its will on the region,” contending there is “no legal basis” for the infamous “Nine-Dashed Line” China draws on maps to give itself control of nearly the entire South China Sea. He cited the unanimous decision of a tribunal that ruled against China’s claims under the Law of the Sea Convention in 2016, a decision China has ignored.

Accordingly, Pompeo said the United States rejects all PRC maritime claims outside its recognized territorial boundaries and considers any action to “harass other states’ fishing or hydrocarbon development in these waters, or to carry out such activities unilaterally” to be unlawful.

“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. We stand with the international community in defense of freedom of the seas and respect for sovereignty and reject any push to impose ‘might makes right’ in the South China Sea or the wider region,” he concluded.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia David Stilwell told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday that the United States will no longer stand by while China uses “gangster tactics” to impose its will on the South China Sea.

“We’re no longer going to stay neutral,” Stilwell said, promising “physical demonstrations of support” for the victims of Chinese bullying, including more freedom of navigation patrols (FONOP) and demonstrations of American military capability in the region. 

On the same day Stilwell spoke, a U.S. Navy warship conducted the latest FONOP near the Spratly Islands. 

“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for South China Sea littoral nations,” the Navy said in a statement about the patrol.

Stilwell denounced Chinese bullying of Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines, describing offshore resources in the waters China is trying to take away from those nations as “the inheritance of these people and their children.”

Asked about the possibility of sanctions against China for its aggression in the South China Sea, Stilwell replied that “nothing is off the table” and said “there is room for that.”

“This is a language the Chinese understand — demonstrative and tangible action,” he said.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded angrily to Stilwell’s talk of sanctions, calling it “arbitrary” and “very pathetic.”

“We are not afraid of sanctions,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying declared.

“The United States is not a country directly involved in the disputes. However, it has kept interfering in the issue. Under the pretext of preserving stability, it is flexing muscles, stirring up tension, and inciting confrontation in the region,” charged the Chinese embassy in Washington.

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of China’s state-run Global Times newspaper, wondered on social media if the American government is “mentally retarded” for taking the 2016 international tribunal ruling against China seriously.

“The U.S. issued the statement four years after the South China Sea ruling. Is Washington mentally retarded and slow in action? Who can’t see you want to instigate ASEAN-China clash and make ASEAN the cannon fodder of US’ strategy against China? Do you think other people are fools?” Hu railed, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, whose membership includes the other claimants in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

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