Predictions that a possible World War 3 could erupt from a skirmish that occurred last week between the U.S. and China in the South China Sea have come from a particularly troubling and high-level source, according to a report by Reuters on Friday.
That source was none other than the chief of the China Navy itself, Admiral Wu Shengli.
China has long claimed a large swath of the nearly 1.2 million square mile South China sea as its own territory, even constructing artificial islands there, islands that the United States and its allies in the region fear could be used for military bases and air strips.
The region claimed by China, around the three island chains known as the Spratly Islands, Scarborough Shoals, and the Paracels, is a major nautical trade route as well, with an estimated $5.3 trillion in global trade passing through the disputed area annually, including $1.2 trillion from the U.S. alone.
In addition, control of the region is seen by world leaders as a test of the United States and its Asian allies to respond to increased military activity by China in the area of the South China Sea.
On October 26, the U.S. sent an armed warship, the USS Lassen (pictured above, on an earlier exercise), to sail less than 12 miles from the Spratly Islands, claimed by China. China saw the incursion as a deliberate provocation, leading to the ominous predicitons from China Naval Chief Wu.
“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,” the Chinese admiral warned.
“(I) hope the U.S. side cherishes the good situation between the Chinese and U.S. navies that has not come easily and avoids these kinds of incidents from happening again,” Wu continued, in a statement made during a video conference with his U.S. counterpart, Admiral John Richardson.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry also lashed out at the bypass by the USS Lassen, calling the path taken by the American warship “illegal,” and saying that the U.S. had proceeded with the naval mission despite “repeated warnings” by the government of China in Beijing.
University of Macau Professor Dingding Chen, in an article for CNN, also made predictions that further United States actions in the disputed areas of the South China Sea could lead to war.
“Further action would be taken to ensure China’s national sovereignty, the Chinese government promised. Such words should not be taken lightly; after all China regards the South China Sea as one of its core national interests,” Chen wrote on Friday.
“That means, if necessary, China would go to war to defend them — though war is always the last resort when everything else fails,” Chen said.
The dire predictions and atmosphere of war is likely, experts say, to dominate what had been seen as potentially constructive summit talks beginning Sunday in Seoul, South Korea, between leaders of China, Korea, and Japan.
The government of South Korea president Park Geun-hye, despite her country’s close military ties with the United States — nearly 30,000 American troops remain stationed in South Korea, intended as a deterrent against aggression from North Korea — has not taken a side in the South China Sea dispute.
Ties between Seoul and Beijing are at an all-time high point, and experts believe that Park will not want to risk alienating her Chinese counterparts. But Japanese Prime Minisiter Shinzo Abe is expected to raise the South China Sea dispute with China, acting as a mouthpiece for the U.S. in the talks. While none of the parties want to set off World War 3, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang may also bring up the predictions of war on his own, putting South Korean President Park in a dangerous position next week.
[Feature Photo By U.S. Department of Defense Cryptologic Technician 1st Class Carl T. Jacobson, U.S. Navy]