With reports that Beijing is ready to respond to U.S. provocations in South China Sea, China’s defense minister is urging Washington to stop threatening Beijing’s sovereignty and the country’s national and security interests after last week’s incident of a U.S. warship sailing in the South China Sea.
The warning was expressed by Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan to U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Tuesday in Kuala Lumpur, where the ministers met at the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) defense chiefs meeting.
China’s defense minister also warned the U.S. against sending additional patrols to the artificial islands in the South China Sea, which China claims its own sovereignty.
Last week, the USS Lassen sailed inside the 12-mile nautical zone around Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands archipelago. Subi Reef is one of seven reefs that China has artificially built to claim its sovereignty over the Spratly Islands archipelago and the sea around it.
China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement after the incident, saying that such actions are damaging “peace and stability in the region.” China also says that U.S. provocations in the South China Sea threaten the safety of people living on the islands.
More U.S. “provocations” to take place in near future
“In this regard, the Chinese side expresses extreme dissatisfaction and strongly protests,” the statement posted on China’s Foreign Ministry website says. Political experts also noted the similarity in China and Russia’s approach to allegedly defending the ‘safety’ of people living in the areas of territorial interest.
China’s officials have been outraged over the incident with the USS Lassen mission in the South China Sea, accusing Washington of escalating tensions in the region.
The U.S. then replied to China’s ongoing criticism and warning by saying that it will sail and fly wherever it wants in international waters and airspace. Moreover, the U.S. Navy stated that additional patrols could take place in the coming weeks, which raises concerns whether Beijing will be as restrained as it was a week ago or whether it will be prepared to respond militarily.
“The US has conducted naval operations in the South China Sea in recent days and will conduct similar operations in the future,” Carter said.
A few days later, China responded by conducting training for its naval jets around artificial islands in the South China Sea.
China says it is prepared to take military action against the U.S.
China’s foreign ministry said that it was closely monitoring and tracking the movement of the USS Lassen when it “illegally,” as Beijing claims, entered the area near the disputed islands. The statement by the foreign ministry also said that the U.S. decided to sail into the “sovereign territory of China” despite “repeated warnings” from Beijing.
“China consistently respects and defends the freedom of navigation and flight of any country in accordance with international law. However, it firmly opposes any country harming [China’s] sovereignty and security under the pretext of freedom of navigation and flight,” the official statement said.
Beijing also said in the statement that the nation will defend its sovereignty, security and rights in the maritime space. And the Chinese side is “ready to give an appropriate response to any country’s provocations,” according to the statement.
From the words of official Beijing, China is prepared to take military action as a response to U.S. “provocations,” which Beijing consider U.S. patrols sailing close to the disputed Spratly Islands.
U.S. risks unleashing a nuclear war with China
The media has actively been discussing the so-called ‘Taiwan Scenario’, in which the U.S. and China could fight a war over the democratic island-state that China still considers sovereign territory. Authors of an op-ed published in The Age last week – Hugh White and Michael J Cole – argued over the possible consequences of a conflict in the region.
Whether or not the U.S. is willing to eventually risk nuclear war against China over Taiwan was one of the aspects discussed by the authors.
“For most Americans, their commitment to defend Taiwan is close to sacrosanct, especially as Taiwan is now a vibrant democracy whose people clearly do not want to live under Beijing. And failing to stand up to China over Taiwan would do huge damage to US strategic leadership in Asia and beyond, while immensely strengthening China’s regional sway,” White noted.
The author adds that “the harsh reality” is that by supporting Taiwan against Chinese claims on its sovereignty, the U.S. risks unleashing a nuclear war against China.
“U.S. leaders might have to ask themselves whether they are willing to risk a nuclear attack on the continental US in order to defend Taiwan from China. If the answer is no, then Taiwan’s status quo might become harder and harder to sustain,” the author wrote.
China’s army major advances in military equipment and technology
According to a recent RAND study, which is cited by White in his article, the military balance has shifted in favor of China, particularly if a conflict is short.
The People’s Liberation Army has made quite impressive advances over the past two decades, according to the report. As for satellites, China has “been accelerating its space efforts. Its average rate of satellite launches in 2009–2014 was more than double that of 2003–2008, and more than triple that in 1997–2002.”
As late as 2003, only about 14 percent of PLA Navy Surface Fleet “destroyers and 24 percent of its frigates might have been considered modern—capable of defensive and offensive operations against a capable enemy. By 2015, those figures had risen to 65 percent and 69 percent, respectively.”
As for PLA Navy Submarine Fleet, in the period between 1996 and 2015, China has increased the number of modern diesel submarines from 2 to 37, while all but four of these boats are armed with cruise missiles as well as torpedoes.
RAND modeling suggests that “the effectiveness of the Chinese submarine fleet (as measured by the number of attack opportunities it might achieve against carriers) rose by roughly an order of magnitude between 1996 and 2010, and that it will continue to improve through 2017.”