China's state-run Global Times tabloid, which is viewed as representing the view of Beijing if with a hyperbolic slant, published an op-ed from its editorial board on Wednesday vowing that China’s military will soon confront the U.S. in a hostile exchange, American Military News reported.
"The US will definitely see the PLA show up at its doorstep in the not-too-distant future," the op-ed said. “The two sides’ warships and aircraft on the seas will carry huge mutual strategic hostility, and the two countries will not yield to each other.”
"Once the situation gets out of control and triggers military clash between China and the US, we must give full play to our home field advantage. China will definitely win once there is a war,” the Global Times op-ed said.
The op-ed came in response to U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold conducting a freedom of navigation operation near the Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea on Wednesday, and follows China's recent abrupt change in protocol according to which starting Sept 1, all foreign vessels (read US warships) must "report their information" when passing through what China views as its "territorial waters" and which most of China's neighbors and Western nations consider contested.
“What the US has done is a naked provocation, and this is obvious to all,” the Global Times op-ed said, adding that the ship “posed a threat” to the “many Chinese people and facilities” on the island.
The op-ed further called on China to take action. “Only by making the US have a taste of its own medicine can we touch the nerves of the US and its allies, and reshape the Western world’s understanding of US bullying in the South China Sea,” it said.
In response, the U.S. Navy 7th Fleet said the U.S. warship sailed in accordance with international law “within 12 miles of Mischief Reef,” an area that China has heavily militarized and reportedly began flying military flights out of earlier this year.
“The land reclamation efforts, installations, and structures built on Mischief Reef do not change this characterization under international law. By engaging in normal operations within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, the United States demonstrated that vessels may lawfully exercise high-seas freedoms in those areas,” the U.S. Navy said.
While the U.S. does recognize China’s claim to the Spratly Island, it rejects any claim China makes beyond a 12-nautical mile limit of the Spratly Islands. Mischief Reef is among the seven island reefs China claims as its own and has been militarizing in recent years. China established 9,000-foot runways on three islands in the South China Sea to accommodate any aircraft in its fleet, including its nuclear-capable H-6 bombers.
Earlier this year, Washington Times obtained satellite images showing PLA KJ-500 airborne warning and control planes, Y-9 transport planes, and Z-8 helicopters on the islands, indicating a now-permanent presence on the islands.
The U.S. has repeatedly denounced China’s militarization of artificial islands in the South China Sea, as well as its construction of military bases and other industrial facilities in the region, and aggressive behavior toward other nations’ ships in the region.
China claims most of the mineral-rich South China Sea, including areas that reach the shores of its smaller neighbors. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to the maritime region.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has vowed to continue its freedom of navigation operations to ensure free passage in the South China Sea despite China’s threats. In July 2020, the U.S. released its first official statement rejecting most of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea as “unlawful.”
The document rejects China’s claims to certain territories, such as James Shoal, located 50 nautical miles from Malaysia, as well as other specific territories off the coasts of Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines. China has claimed some of these territories in its “Nine-Dashed Line” claim announced in 2009, despite these territories being located up to 1,000 nautical miles away from China’s coast.
The U.S. position aligns with a 2016 Arbitral Tribunal decision, in which it rejected China’s claims as baseless against international law. Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised the decision on its fifth anniversary earlier this year, which China swiftly denounced.