With reports that Beijing is ready to respond to U.S. provocations in South China Sea, China’s jets equipped with missiles have been flying over the disputed islands near Vietnam.
The move appears to be a response to U.S. sending its warships close to one of China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea, which was interpreted as a potential challenge to Beijing’s territorial claims in the disputed waters.
China’s military has recently released photos of its navy aircraft flying from the airstrip in the disputed South China Sea in what appears to be a direct response to the U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen sailing to the disputed area, which Beijing claims to have sovereignty over.
The photos released on Saturday also feature Chinese navy planes, which belong to the South Sea Fleet, training with missiles around the artificial islands, which is interpreted by many experts as a protest to the last week’s patrol of the U.S. warship.
The exact airstrip in the South China Sea was not named by Chinese navy, but military experts believe it was on Woody Island in the Paracels. The military experts also confirmed that the move was aimed to show the U.S. that China is prepared to respond to U.S. warships sailing within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, which is located about 370 miles from Woody Island and is one of seven reefs and rocks in the Spratlys chain, in which China has been building artificial islands.
“Both the defense ministry and foreign ministry have said China would have answers when its sea rights were breached. Such statements need to be followed by real actions,” retired Chinese general Xu Guangyu said, as cited by the South China Morning Post.
U.S. Defense Secretary: China’s neighbors want U.S. military presence
“It’s a signal China sent to the US that it is serious about its claims. This is the minimum level of response China should have, or it will fail the expectation of its people,” Xu added.
Xu confirmed that the training was carried out on Woody Islands, since it’s the only operational airstrip in the South China Sea. “China will spare no effort to make assertive gestures, as long as they don’t touch the bottom line of military conflicts,” military expert Ni Lexiong said, as reported by the South China Morning Post.
Ni also believes that it’s a clear warning for U.S. allies in the region, including Japan and Australia. “They might follow the example set by the U.S.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has recently said that the volatile situation around the territory in the South China Sea has prompted countries in the region to demand U.S. security presence.
“The attention to disputed claims in the South China Sea, the prominence of those disputes, is having the effect of causing many countries in the region to want to intensify their security cooperation with the United States,” Carter told reporters while travelling to South Korea.
Even a minor incident could unleash a war – China’s naval commander
Chinese naval commander warned the U.S. that even a minor incident in the South China Sea could unleash a war between Washington and Beijing in case the U.S. does not stop its “provocative acts” in the disputed waters near China, according to the Chinese navy.
Wu Shengli, China’s naval admiral, made the comments to U.S. chief of naval operations Admiral John Richardson in a video teleconference last week.
Wu warned that if the U.S. continues its “dangerous, provocative acts, there could well be a seriously pressing situation between frontline forces from both sides on the sea and in the air, or even a minor incident that sparks war.”
Wu also expressed his hope that the U.S. leadership will keep itself restrained to avoid these kinds of dangerous incidents from happening again.
Shortly after the incident, the U.S. Navy stated that additional patrols could take place in the coming weeks, which raises concerns whether China will be as restrained as it was a week ago or whether it will be prepared to respond militarily.
These 3 China’s weapons can counter the U.S. threat
In case there is a war between Beijing and Washington, there are three types of China’s weaponry the U.S. is most afraid of: sea mines, diesel-electric submarines and surface warships.
There have also been reports that China may station some of its mines around the artificial islands in the South China Sea. Since the end of the World War II, it was sea mines that have inflicted more destruction to U.S. ships than any other type of weapons. One of the most notable incidents is the multi-billion worth military cruiser USS Princeton, which was seriously damaged during the war in the Persian Gulf.
Diesel-electric submarines could do just as much damage to U.S. warships in the South China Sea. The main advantage of such submarines is the fact that they are difficult to spot.
China has a formidable fleet of such submarines, among which there are Soviet ships of the Kilo class, as well as U.S. submarines of the 039 class.
It must also be noted that when the U.S. warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, it was immediately followed by two Chinese warships.
After the collapse of the USSR, the U.S. took it upon itself to have influence over international waters, but it has not paid much attention to fighting against submarines and other warships of a potential enemy. This mistake would cost the U.S. a lot, if the Chinese warships, which followed guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen, made a decision to sink the U.S. warship.