China accuses US of ‘cold war mentality’ on South China Sea

Beijing says it is prepared for conflict as US Navy patrols near Spratley Islands

A protester holding a sign that reads ‘Americans get off South China Sea’, is confronted by police outside the US Embassy in Beijing. Photograph: Rolex Dela Pena/EPA

A protester holding a sign that reads ‘Americans get off South China Sea’, is confronted by police outside the US Embassy in Beijing. Photograph: Rolex Dela Pena/EPA

 

China has accused Washington of having a “cold war mentality” after it sent a warship into a disputed part of the South China Sea where Beijing has built artificial islands to underline its territorial claims, and warned that the US actions could lead to conflict.

The US Navy sent a guided-missile destroyer on patrol within a 12-nautical-mile exclusion area around an artificial island at the Spratly Islands on Tuesday.

In response, China sent a guided-missile destroyer and a naval patrol ship to the area. The vessels shadowed and gave warnings to the USS Lassen, the defence ministry said.

An editorial on the official Xinhua news agency quoted a senior military figure, Fan Changlong, the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, as saying China would not use force recklessly, even in issues related to territory and sovereignty.

“But ‘not using force recklessly’ does not mean China will renounce the use of force. Misinterpretation by the US may cause more miscalculation and could lead to crisis,” the editorial said.

China has built a series of artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago to underline its territorial claims to most of the South China Sea, a key trade route through which more than $5 trillion (€4.5 trillion) worth of world trade passes each year, including a large part of the world’s oil shipments.

“We should give ‘credit’ to Uncle Sam. As an irrelevant party in the dispute, the country has spared no effort to create fanfare in the South China Sea, accusing China of harming navigational freedom, though evidence has seldom been presented on how harm was done or how shipping lanes have been threatened by China’s island construction, which is primarily used for creation of two lighthouses,” ran the commentary.

While China describes the facilities as lighthouse bases, the US said its intelligence shows runways where bombers can land.

Measured response

Zhang YesuiMax Baucus

Washington has expressed its irritation with China’s growing regional ambitions on many occasions in recent months and it says it will make “freedom-of-navigation” patrols more frequent.

China’s ambitions in the maritime area have led to tensions with its neighbours, many of whom have rival claims to sections of the maritime region, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan.

The Xinhua article mentioned a number of recent incidents in which China and the US have clashed, including the mid-air collision between a US spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet in China’s Hainan Island airspace in 2001, during which a Chinese pilot was killed.