China’s war drums | BusinessWorld Online Edition In September 2011, the Communist Partyâ€™s newspaper, Global Times, headlined â€œThe Time to Use Force Has Arrived in the South China Sea; Letâ€™s Wage Wars on the Philippines and Vietnam to Prevent More Wars.â€ It was a call to arms against Vietnam and Philippines for loudly protesting Chinaâ€™s sweeping maritime sovereignty claims over the SCS. In a follow-up op-ed in the Global Times, Liu Rui, a strategic analyst of the China Energy Fund Committee, echoed Long Taoâ€™s â€œuse of force.â€ President Hu Jintao himself exhorted the PLA (Peopleâ€™s Liberation Army) Navy in early December 2011 to â€œaccelerate its transformation and modernization...and make extended preparations for warfare to safeguard national securityâ€. His comments were believed aimed at the US, the Philippines and Vietnam. How his successor, Xi Jinping, the current vice-president, will deal with this remains to be seen, although moderation would come as a surprise since he heads the powerful Military Commission. Vice-Foreign Minister Fu Ying (a former ambassador to Manila) delivered a warning early this year at the height of the Panatag standoff that China is fully prepared to respond to any escalation of the situation by the Philippine side. The Global Times elaborated in an editorial that China was sending a clear signal -- military force is a live option. It said we needed to be taught a lesson for our aggressive nationalism, and should it trigger a military clash, the international community should not be surprised. Xiamen University Professor Shen Hong-Fang spoke recently in Manila of â€œa new upsurgeâ€ in Chinese nationalism. The SCS, she said, is a core interest like Tibet and Taiwan. China rejects UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and refers to its own Law of the Sea that places the Sea of Vietnam and the West Philippine Sea within its territorial jurisdiction. Hardliners in the Academy of Military Sciences (AMS) are raring to teach Chinaâ€™s neighbors â€œa lessonâ€ for their intrusions. AMS is the highest-level research institute and center of military sciences of the Peopleâ€™s Liberation Army (PLA). Professor Zhang Zhongzhao of the PLAâ€™s National Defense University holds the view that â€œChina should have the courage to use the sword to uphold its sovereignty. The government is under pressure to stand firm on the SCS as a matter of national honor; perceived weakness would have severe political consequences.â€ Reports have it that the PLA is aggressively pushing the Central Committee to play the war card to unite its divided society wracked by political, social, economic and cultural fissures. Last week, Beijing divulged its plans to establish a â€œmilitary presenceâ€ in Sansha, a prefecture-level city of Hainan province, to administer â€œChinese territoriesâ€ in the SCS. It also announced the deployment of â€œcombat-readyâ€ naval and aerial patrols to protect its interest. Defense ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said China will resolutely oppose any military provocation in its territorial waters, adding that the PLAâ€™s determination to safeguard its territorial claims is â€œunwavering.â€ The PLA is playing hero and the SCS has, thus, become the first genuine test of Americaâ€™s new Asia policy. Underlying all that is its goal to establish undisputed presence on the disputed claims throughout the SCS to control, or deny access, to sea lanes and resource-rich areas. This directly collides with Americaâ€™s declared national interest that all sea lanes must remain open to all nations, and the national interests of claimant countries as well. Panatag is a convenient target for China to test Americaâ€™s will at a time when it is wobbly from long and costly wars, compounded by the consequences of exploitative capitalism. Americaâ€™s pivot to the Asia-Pacific region has clearly pricked Chinaâ€™s sensibilities. Encouraging Asian states to unite, resist and contain Chinaâ€™s expansionism has incurred its ire; hence, the war drums. Yet, I donâ€™t think the US will allow itself to fight a friendly countryâ€™s battles with China, especially if the former mishandles the situation or rushes recklessly into a brawl, then cries running to Uncle Sam. However, the US needs to publicly reassure allies, who pursue a thoughtful and moderate course, of its full support should Chinaâ€™s assertiveness cross the line. Waging war on the Philippines presents the path of least resistance. It will also test Americaâ€™s resolve to uphold its Mutual Defense Treaty obligations. China has already shown aspects of the asymmetric warfare that it intends to fully wage against the country should it come to that. It temporarily halted tourism, tightened banana inspections and warned its citizens to look after their safety; a dangerous dynamic that could further escalate given Chinaâ€™s aggressive moves. All it needs now is an excuse to trigger a small-scale war (a false flag incident is likely) to suit its strategic aims. Is a US-China conflict inevitable? From whatâ€™s been said and done so far, I believe China wants Americaâ€™s beau geste as it carries out its own manifest destiny and version of the Monroe Doctrine. China, however, hasnâ€™t been saying and doing the things expected of a nascent superpower committed to peaceful rise, so the two giants are talking past each other. Sooner or later they will collide because as Deng Xiao Ping once said, â€œThere canâ€™t be two tigers on the same hill.â€ And we will be caught in the middle because we also believe our claims to be legitimate; weâ€™re allied with the US; and defending our sovereignty is a matter of duty, honor and country. The Philippines is not a vassal state and treating it as a subordinate is insulting. Unless all sides find the right diplomatic recipe for a win-win, there will be war.