The South China Sea is a powder keg, and one senior Chinese military officer seems interested in lighting the fuse even further.
Dai Xu, a People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) senior colonel and president of the Institute of Marine Safety and Cooperation, suggested last weekend that the Chinese navy use force to counter US freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, Taiwan News reported Sunday. He spoke at a conference hosted by the nationalist, state-backed Chinese tabloid Global Times.
"If the U.S. warships break into Chinese waters again, I suggest that two warships should be sent: one to stop it, and another one to ram it," he said. "In our territorial waters, we won't allow U.S. warships to create disturbance."
Dai, famous for his hawkish rhetoric, argued that U.S. Navy freedom-of-navigation operations, or FONOPS, are provocations aimed at undermining China's sovereignty rather than an actual attempt to ensure freedom of navigation in international waters. The U.S. Navy regularly sails destroyers and cruisers past Chinese-occupied territories in the South China Sea, while U.S. Air Force bombers tear past on routine overflights that often ruffle Beijing's feathers.
The most recent FONOP occurred in late November when the U.S. Navy sent the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville to challenge Chinese claims near the Paracel Islands.
In this May 24, 2014 photo, China's Harbin (112) guided missile destroyer, left, and DDG-139 Ningbo Sovremenny class Type-956EM destroyer, right, take part in a week-long China-Russia "Joint Sea-2014" navy exercise at the East China Sea off Shanghai, ChinaAssociated Press photo
The Global Times is known for its often provocative articles, intentionally designed to appeal to an alternative audience and differ from the more rigid state media outlets like Xinhua. Dai's rhetoric at the conference is consistent with that trend, as he seemed to welcome an increase in tension, suggesting that confrontation in the South China Sea could create an opportunity for mainland China to retake Taiwan.
"It would boost the speed of our unification of Taiwan," he told the conference. "Let's just be prepared and wait. Once a strategic opportunity emerges, we should be ready to take over Taiwan."
Dai's comments about the use of force in the South China Sea comes on the heels of a near-miss incident that occurred in September when a Chinese Luyang-class destroyer confronted the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur during a FONOP in the Spratly Islands.
During the "unsafe" incident, the Chinese vessel reportedly made preparations to ram the American warship, forcing it off course. The showdown was characterized by one foreign policy expert as "the PLAN's most direct and dangerous attempt to interfere with lawful US Navy navigation in the South China Sea to date."
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