Stung by the ruling of an international tribunal rejecting its claims over the South China Sea, China has upped the stakes, with its defence minister warning of a possible “people’s war at sea” and exhorting the nation to be prepared for it.
China’s Defence Minister Chang Wanquan has asked the military, police and general population to be ready to defend the country’s territorial integrity in case of a direct confrontation in the South China Sea – a veiled reference to the US military build-up around the disputed islands.
The seriousness of the national security situation should be recognized, particularly when it comes to threats posed at sea, Chang said while inspecting military installations in Zhejiang Province. The comments by the minister were reported by state-owned news agency Xinhua.
The Chinese military, law enforcement and citizens must be ready for mobilization in the event of a “people’s war at sea,” he added. The general public should be educated about national defense issues because national sovereignty and territorial integrity are at risk, he stressed.
The minister’s comments indicate China’s hardening position and the growing tide of nationalism over the South China Sea issue in the aftermath of the ruling by the Hague tribunal rejecting its historic claims over the disputed maritime region.
The comments are seen as a message to the US, which has been sending warships and military planes close to the South China Sea islands as a possible hedge against China’s military assertion. Beijing has slammed the US’ provocative behaviour in the wake of the tribunal’s ruling.
The remarks by China’s defence minister also underline that Beijing will not yield to international pressure to accept the ruling, but will continue to maintain its military presence on the reclaimed islands.
On August 2, China’s Supreme Court rejected the Hague tribunal’s ruling and reaffirmed the jurisdiction of national courts over the South China Sea and warned citizens and foreigners of criminal liability for violations like illegal fishing or killing endangered wildlife in the zone.
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