The Chinese media is urging the government to prepare for armed conflict against the United States in the South China Sea or "plan for the worst", talking tough ahead of an international tribunal ruling widely anticipated to go against China's territorial claims.
The Chinese military has taken a similar stance, launching a week- long drill in waters near the Paracel Islands, which will end a day before an arbitration court in the Hague gives its ruling next Tuesday.
China has refused to take part in the arbitration proceedings or accept the ruling, saying the tribunal has no jurisdiction over the case initiated by the Philippines in 2013 over the legality of Beijing's claims.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he expects the tribunal to rule in his country's favour.
"If it's not, then we will accept it as part of a country that honours international commitments," he said.
China has also blamed the US for stirring up tensions through its freedom of navigation missions in the maritime hub, which sees overlapping territorial claims from Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan as well.
The Global Times, a tabloid linked to the Chinese Communist Party, said yesterday that China should be able to "let the US pay a cost it cannot stand if it intervenes in the South China Sea dispute by force".
"China hopes disputes can be resolved by talks, but it must be prepared for any military confrontation. This is common sense in international relations," it added in its op-ed piece.
The state-run China Daily newspaper said it would be "reasonable to interpret the planned drills as reflecting the country's preparedness for a long-term fight to safeguard its sovereignty".
"It has to plan for the worst," it said in an editorial yesterday.
The tough rhetoric marks an escalation in China's propaganda campaign against the tribunal which began around March, with its envoys and officials making remarks outlining the government's stance to ignore the proceedings and outcome.
Seeking to extend the reach of its publicity efforts, China is now even using social media tools that are banned domestically.
For instance, state broadcaster China Central Television last month posted cartoons on its official Facebook page depicting the South China Sea's history, in a bid to back Beijing's claims on historical grounds.
China's military drill - involving at least two guided-missile destroyers and a missile frigate - is held in waters around the Paracel Islands.
It has barred other ships from entering the waters during the period, prompting Vietnam, which has staked a claim on the Paracels, to protest against the drill and demand that China cease it, saying it is a threat to security and maritime safety.
But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a briefing yesterday that the drill was a routine exercise planned in advance, reiterating a line given by the Defence Ministry.
When asked to comment on the Global Times' warning of military confrontation, Mr Hong said: "China will resolutely defend its sovereignty and maritime interests in the South China Sea. At the same time, we remain committed to resolving the disputes with affected countries through dialogue and negotiations."
The Chinese military is also staging a show of force at RimPac 2016, the world's biggest naval warfare exercise taking place off California and Hawaii from last Thursday to Aug 4. China has sent more naval ships and troops than it did at its 2014 debut, making it the third-largest contingent among the 26 participating nations at the biennial exercise, after the US and Canada.
•Additional reporting by Raul Dancel.