Chinese Rage Over U.S. Warship’s Proximity To Man-Made Islands

Some hurled threats at the U.S. while others stoked fears of conflict

The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Lassen sailed in the South China Sea. — REUTERS
Oct 27, 2015 at 1:32 PM ET

Chinese social media seethed after a U.S. Navy destroyer sailed close to the country’s artificial islands in the South China Sea.

The viral hashtag #USWarshipCruisingTheSouthChinaSea was read more than 6 million times and pulled in more than 5,000 reactions on China’s popular social media site Weibo by Tuesday morning, according to a Vocativ analysis. Some hurled threats at the U.S. while others stoked fears of conflict. “The United States, if you go on like this, we will strongly condemn you!” someone said. “If we go to war, I will serve in the army,” added another.

More China’s Just Finished A Runway On A Reef In The South China Sea

The jumble of patriotism and rage echoed reproach from Beijing, which said the U.S. vessel “threatened China’s sovereignty and security interests” by breaching the 12-nautical-mile area that China claims around its man-made islands.

But Gregory B. Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, said China hasn’t actually been clear about its claims in the contested waters. Therefore, if the U.S. repeatedly threatens China’s self-proclaimed territory, the country is forced to explain what it’s complaining about. “Beijing has decided it can win the long game by refusing to clarify or compromise in any way,” Poling said. “But it makes it a diplomatic cost to China to continue the ambiguity.”

Here’s what Chinese social media users had to say:

Translation: “If we go to war, I will serve in the army.”

Translation: “If we are attacked, I will condemn it.” 

Translation: “When will Chinese warships cruise Hawaii?” 

Translation: “United States, if you go on like this, we will strongly condemn you!”

The U.S. maintained on Tuesday that it was operating freely in international waters. Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, boundaries cannot be set around artificial islands. The U.S. seeks to enforce the law, and officials are also concerned China is attempting to extend its military reach in South China Sea.

“There’s no international basis to take an underwater feature, dump sand on it, and then say it has a 12-mile boundary,” Poling said. “The U.S. has now decided, ‘We need to make China look silly.'”

Approximately $5 trillion of globally-traded goods pass through the sea each year, just one indicator of its geopolitical significance.

More U.S. patrols are expected in the coming weeks, a U.S. defense official has said. That could test China’s patience: The country’s foreign ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, said Tuesday that China might “increase and strengthen the building up of our relevant abilities” if the U.S. chose to “create tensions in the region,” Reuters reported.