Chinese experts said that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is fully capable of defending the country's territorial sovereignty in the South China Sea and will not tolerate provocations from any Western country outside the region after the UK and France said they will send warships to the region to counter China's legitimate activity.
British and French defense ministers on Sunday told the 17th Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual international security forum held in Singapore, that the two countries would sail warships through the South China Sea, the latest development to "counter Beijing's militarization in the region," Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
China's deployment of defensive facilities on its islands in the South China Sea is a legitimate right granted to sovereign states by international law, which has nothing to do with militarization and does not pose a threat to regional security, said Lieutenant General He Lei, head of the Chinese delegation, at the Shangri-la Dialogue, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
Those who cry out against militarization are exactly those who are militarizing the South China Sea, He said.
With the increasing provocations from Western countries, including the US, the UK and France, in the South China Sea, "Another 'Eight-Power Allied Forces' scenario is re-emerging in the South China Sea. The US and its European allies are determined to contain China," said Xu Guangyu, a retired major general and senior adviser to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.
"Eight-Power Allied Forces" or "Eight-Nation Alliance" refers to invading troops sent by Britain, the US, Germany, France, Russia, Japan, Italy and Austria-Hungary in 1900, to suppress the popular Chinese anti-imperialist Yihetuan Movement.
The British and French defense ministers' remarks echoed those of US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Saturday during the forum, in which Mattis accused China of militarization with artificial structures in the South China Sea, while warning China of potential penalties ahead.
The Western world is using the South China Sea issue to release their pressure and anxiety toward China, as it is an inevitable passageway between Europe and the Asia-Pacific region and the most convenient rallying point for military forces, Xu noted.
Xu described the challenge to China by the Western alliance in the region as a "distorted reaction" that goes against the global trend of peace and development.
Threat of military conflicts
Reuters cited anonymous US officers as saying that the USS Higgins, a US guided missile destroyer, and the USS Antietam, a US guided missile cruiser, came within 12 nautical miles of China's Xisha Islands.
"Twelve nautical miles is the bottom line, and any form of offensive passage over it, such as military maneuvers or close-in reconnaissance, is an infringement of the country's sovereignty, and China will take a firm stand against it," said Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator.
The Pentagon is considering a more assertive program of freedom-of-navigation operations close to Chinese installations on South China Sea reefs, which could involve longer patrols, larger numbers of ships and a closer surveillance of Chinese facilities, including electronic jamming equipment and advanced military radars in the region, Reuters reported on Sunday.
The UK and France are not like the US, Song noted. "Although vowing to sail through the South China Sea, they are unlikely to follow the US' behavior by coming within 12 nautical miles, as they are signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea."
However, if Western naval forces repeatedly challenge China's legitimate maritime rights and sovereignty, the PLA will have to act tougher, which could lead to military conflicts, Song noted.
China in offshore waters will also not tolerate any provocation. Even US warships do not stand a chance against China in the region, Xu said, adding that the PLA is capable of sending its naval forces close to Guam or any other US military outpost, if the US continues to create chaos in the South China Sea.