China kicks off its second military drill in two weeks in the South China Sea today even as Chinese military leaders warn the United States that its freedom of navigation patrols could backfire and end in "disaster".
In their meeting yesterday, Chinese navy chief Wu Shengli told visiting US Admiral John Richardson that China would never sacrifice its sovereignty and rights in the South China Sea, saying they are China's core interests and pivotal to the Communist Party's governance, national security and fundamental interests of the Chinese people.
He also said that China would not leave construction on the disputed Spratly Islands "half-finished" regardless of external pressure as these efforts are "completely logical, reasonable and legal" given that the islands are China's territories.
"How much defensive facilities we need will depend on the level of threat we face. Those who attempt to flaunt their military muscle to force us into submission will only see their efforts backfire," said Admiral Wu.
But he also said China would never give up efforts to resolve the South China Sea dispute peacefully - despite the "many negative factors now" - through talks and negotiations, and also to manage risks through rules-based mechanisms.
On this note, Adm Wu said China and the US should implement codes of conduct and rules of engagement for aerial and naval encounters to prevent accidental clashes.
Adm Richardson was quoted as saying in the Xinhua report that the US was keen to work with China on improving mutual trust between their militaries. The US chief of naval operations began his three-day visit to China in Beijing on Sunday. He will also visit Qingdao port city where he will tour China's sole aircraft carrier Liaoning.
His visit is the first since last Tuesday's Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague ruling dismissed Beijing's expansive claims in the South China Sea. China, which did not take part in the proceedings in the case initiated by the Philippines in 2013, has refused to recognise the ruling and also criticised countries like the US and Japan for urging it to do so.
China has also blamed the US for stirring up tensions through its freedom of navigation patrols near the disputed Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea.
In a veiled threat to the US, China's Adm Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission, warned that such actions could do more harm instead.
"This kind of military freedom of navigation is damaging to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and it could even play out in a disastrous way," said Adm Sun, speaking behind closed doors at a forum in Beijing on Saturday evening though his remarks were reported only yesterday.
But China will be conducting more military patrols of its own, air force spokesman Shen Jinke said yesterday, after giving more details on recent patrols by its H-6K long- range strategic bomber over the Scarborough Shoal in the Paracels.
Photos of the patrols by the bomber, which can fire nuclear-armed cruise missiles in strategic locations across the Pacific, were released last Friday.
China's maritime safety administration said yesterday it would bar access to an area off the east coast of Hainan island for a three-day military exercise ending on Thursday. There were no details on the scale of the exercise.
In a move likely to reflect China's bid to minimise tensions, the exercise area excludes the Paracels and Spratlys. It is unlike the week-long drill, held in waters near the Paracels, that ended on the eve of the ruling.
Also, in an apparent bid to contain domestic anger that might pressure the government to toughen its hand, online censors deleted media reports on protests against US fast- food chains in several cities. These were reportedly organised by locals angered by US involvement in the South China Sea dispute.