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Donald Trump

China ‘steps up preparedness for possible military conflict with US’

Donald Trump’s election as US president has increased the risk of hostilities breaking out, according to Chinese state media and analysts

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 January, 2017, 7:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 January, 2017, 9:23am

China is stepping up preparedness for a possible military conflict with the US as the Donald Trump presidency has increased the risk of hostilities breaking out, state media and military observers said.

Beijing is bracing itself for a possible deterioration in Sino-US ties, with a particular emphasis on maritime security.

The People’s Liberation Army said in a commentary on its official website last Friday, the day of Trump’s inauguration, that the chances of war have become “more real” amid a more complex security situation in Asia Pacific.

The commentary written by an official at the national defence mobilisation department in the Central Military Commission said the call for a US rebalancing of its strategy in Asia, military deployments in the East and South China Seas and the instillation of a missile defence system in South Korea were hot spots getting closer to ignition.

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“‘A war within the president’s term’ or ‘war breaking out tonight’ are not just slogans, they are becoming a practical reality,” it said.

The official People’s Daily said in another commentary on Sunday that China’s military would conduct exercises on the high seas regardless of foreign provocations. China’s sole aircraft carrier Liaoning passed through the narrow Taiwan Strait last month.

The commentary referred to remarks by the US secretary of state Rex Tillerson hopeful that the US should stop China’s access to artificial islands it has built in disputed areas of the South China Sea.

New White House spokesman Sean Spicer told a press conference on Monday that the US would prevent China from taking over territory in international waters in the South China Sea.

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Spicer told the press “the US is going to make sure that we protect our interests there,” when asked about US President Donald Trump’s position on the South China Sea. “It’s a question of if those islands are in fact in international waters and not part of China proper, then yeah, we’re going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country,” he said.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded by telling the US “to be cautious in what it says and does, so as to avoid harming the peace and stability in the region.”

The Chinese military is constantly prepared for possible military conflict whoever serves as US president, but Donald Trump’s possible “extreme approach” against China was dangerous, according to analysts.

Ian Storey, a senior fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said some of the comments from Trump’s key advisors and appointees suggest that the US may pursue a more hardline policy against Beijing in the South China Sea over the next four years

“As it’s highly unlikely that China will compromise its sovereignty claims in the face of US pressure, we can be sure that the dispute will increasingly become a risky point of contention between Beijing and Washington,” he said.

The comments come as President Xi Jinping is overseeing massive reforms within China’s military to improve its fighting capabilities. A huge reshuffle is also underway in the military’s top brass. Vice-Admiral Shen Jinlong, commander of the South Sea Fleet, is to replace retiring Admiral Wu Shengli as chief of the PLA Navy.

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Meanwhile, Vice-Admiral Yuan Yubai, the former North Sea Fleet commander, has been promoted to head the Southern Theatre Command, which focuses on the South China Sea. “Promoting naval officers to command theatres is aimed at utilising them to the maximum and getting ready to win wars,” Song Zhongping, a military affairs commentator at Phoenix TV, said.

The navy has been the focus of recent developments within the PLA, with massive investment and the construction of large numbers of ships, Song said.

China is involved in other disputes beyond the South China Sea, particularly with Taiwan. Sovereignty disputes with Japan in the East China Sea and concerns over the deployment of the missile shield in South Korea are other potential flashpoints.