The state-run Global Times newspaper backed the use of “non-peaceful” measures against Vietnam and the Philippines on Friday, as it considered the possibility of war over territorial disputes in the strategically vital South China Sea.
“The South China Sea disputes should be settled in a peaceful manner, but that doesn’t mean China can’t resort to non-peaceful measures in the face of provocation from Vietnam and the Philippines,” the newspaper, which often takes a nationalistic tone, wrote in an editorial.
“Many people believe that a forced war would convince some countries of China’s sincerely peaceful intentions,” the paper added.
Earlier on Thursday a top Chinese general defended the deployment of an oil rig that has inflamed tensions in the disputed South China Sea and triggered the deadly protests in Vietnam, blaming Hanoi and saying China cannot afford to “lose an inch” of territory.
Watch: Top Chinese general in US amid oil rig dispute with Vietnam
Speaking in Washington General Fang Fenghui also pointed blame at US President Barack Obama’s strategic “pivot” to Asia as Vietnam and China grapple with one of the worst breakdowns in relations since the neighbours fought a brief border war in 1979.
In Beiing, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi called Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh on Thursday night saying “Vietnam bears unshirkable responsibility for the violent attacks against Chinese companies and nationals”, Xinhua reports said.
China also sent a working group, led by Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao, to Vietnam on Thursday to deal with the aftermath of the riots, Xinhua said.
Wang demanded Vietnam take resolute and effective measures immediately to stop violence and ensure the safety of the lives and property of Chinese nationals and companies there.
Anti-China riots in Vietnam erupted after China’s towing of an oil rig into waters claimed by both countries. At least two people have been killed according to the official Xinhua news agency and as many as 21 Reuters reported on Thursday, citing a doctor working at a hospital in central Ha Tinh province. A huge steel manufacturing project operated by a Taiwanese company has also been set ablaze.
General Fang said some Asian nations had seized on Obama’s vows to rebalance military and diplomatic assets to Asia as an opportunity to create trouble in the South and East China Seas.
Fang, chief of the general staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, said that the oil-drilling rig was operating in China’s territorial waters, activity he vowed to protect.
A US official said Vice-President Joe Biden told the visiting Chinese army chief that Beijing’s actions in the maritime disputes were “dangerous and provocative”.
Standing at the Pentagon alongside the top US military officer, General Martin Dempsey, Fang said Vietnam was at fault for stirring up trouble by dispatching ships in an attempt to “disrupt” Chinese drilling activity.
“I think it’s quite clear ... who is conducting normal activity and who is disrupting it,” Fang said, speaking through an interpreter.
Alarmed at China’s military rise and growing assertiveness, Vietnam has broadened its military relationships in recent years, most notably with Cold War-era patron Russia but also with the United States.
China claims almost the entire oil- and gas-rich South China Sea, rejecting rival claims to parts of it from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. In the East China Sea, Beijing is locked in an increasingly bitter dispute with Japan.
Speaking about regional tensions, Fang said Beijing did not create trouble, but was also unafraid of it and suggested China was ready to defend its territorial integrity.
“Territory which has passed down by our ancestors into the hands of our generation – we cannot afford to lose an inch,” he said.
Dempsey did not explicitly criticise China but left no doubt about his concerns over the growing regional tensions.
Asked whether China was behaving provocatively in the dispute with Vietnam and whether he saw the risk of conflict in the region increasing, Dempsey said: “We spoke about the fact that the use of military assets to resolve disputes is provocative and it does increase risk.”
“We had a rich discussion about what exactly is the status quo and who has been seeking to change it,” Dempsey said.