World / Reporter's Journal

Chinese admiral has not threatened war with US

By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily USA) Updated: 2015-11-02 05:09

"Chinese admiral threatens war with the United States," declared Wolf Blitzer of CNN on Thursday, shortly after a video teleconference between People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy Commander Wu Shengli and his US counterpart, John Richardson, chief of Naval Operations.

The talk was aimed at defusing the tension caused by the USS Lassen's high-profile entry into the waters near isles claimed by China in the South China Sea.

Chinese have seen such a move, less than a month after President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to the US, as a provocative act, while the US proclaimed it's an action to exercise freedom of navigation, something that it will continue to do.

Chinese admiral has not threatened war with US

While hawkish words from retired PLA officers are not unheard of, a threat of war by a PLA Navy commander would be surprising, especially given that Admiral Wu, in the position since 2006, has been widely regarded as being careful in his choice of words.

The 70-year-old Wu has great experience engaging his US counterpart, meeting the past three US chiefs of Naval Operations. In 2014, he met Richardson's predecessor, Jonathan Greenert, on four separate occasions.

In August, the outgoing Greenert introduced Richardson to Wu in a quarterly series of video teleconferences that began in April this year.

In that video conference, Wu extended an invitation for Richardson to visit China, the Defense News quoted Greenert as saying.

Under Wu, the PLA Navy has witnessed growing exchange and cooperation with the US Navy, such as through visits at all levels and joint exercises, including the PLA Navy's participation for the first time in the 2014 RIMPAC, the world's largest naval war exercise held in the waters off Hawaii. China also has accepted the invitation to join the RIMPAC in 2016.

According to a Reuters report, what Wu told Richardson on Thursday during the video teleconference was that "if the United States continues with these kinds of dangerous, provocative acts, there could well be a seriously pressing situation between frontline forces from both sides on the sea and in the air, or even a minor incident that sparks war".

While Blitzer of CNN interpreted that as a threat of war with the US, the Reuters translation could at least be regarded as not totally accurate.

What Wu said is ca qiang zou huo, which literally means "to shoot accidentally while polishing a gun". Although it may not be completely wrong to translate it into "a minor incident might spark war," it is more interpreted as advice or a warning rather than a threat.

The subtle difference seems to be lost in translation.

The good thing seems to be that due to the growing interaction between the two navies, such as the video teleconference last Thursday, they will operate according to the code of conduct in their encounters, thereby a misfire could be prevented or a small incident may not spark a war.

The USS Lassen entered waters near Zhubi Reef without the permission of the Chinese government, despite repeated opposition and representation from China, Wu was quoted as telling Richardson in a Xinhua story posted on the Chinese Ministry of National Defense website.

Considering the big picture for Sino-US relations, Chinese naval ships warned the US destroyer several times following the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES). The warnings were ignored by the US ship and the Chinese navy was "deeply concerned", Wu said.

Wu told Richardson that it is a well-known fact that the country's consistent stance is that China has "irrefutable" sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and its adjacent waters. China's island construction in the area has been conducted on its own territory and falls under the scope of Chinese sovereignty.

"It is reasonable and legal and does not target or affect any other countries. It will not influence the freedom of navigation and flight enjoyed by other countries," he said, reiterating that freedom of navigation in the South China Sea has not been a problem in the past and will not have one now or in the future.

Wu said such a principle does not provide a pretext or privilege for any nation to harm others' sovereignty and security.

He said the US should not force other countries to accept its proposal and must not infringe upon other country's interests in the name of maintaining freedom of navigation.

Wu's message is indeed resolute, but it does not mean at all that he is threatening war, unless when misinterpreted by sensational journalists.

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