An editorial in The Global Times – an English language website owned and run by The People’s Daily, which is the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party – is being widely reported around the world as a threat to go to war with the US over the South China Sea. Examples of the way in which this editorial is being reported can be found in The Guardian.
This is a complete misunderstanding of what the editorial said.
The editorial was written in response to certain comments made by Rex Tillerson – Donald Trump’s nominee for the post of US Secretary of State – in his confirmation hearing before the US Senate. The editorial can be found here, but the words in it which have created so much uproar are these
China has enough determination and strength to make sure that his (Tillerson’s – AM) rabble rousing will not succeed. Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish.
These words are not a threat to the US to start a war over the South China Sea. They are a reminder to the US that it can only impose its will in the South China Sea by starting a war against China.
The editorial however makes it quite clear that China considers the threats coming from Washington to be no more than an empty bluff. The title of the editorial is “Is Tillerson’s bluster just a bluff for Senate?”. It answers the question in the title in the affirmative and also makes clear what it believes to be the reason for the bluff
It is suspected that he (ie. Tillerson – AM) merely wanted to curry favor from senators and increase his chances of being confirmed by intentionally showing a tough stance toward China.
The point the editorial is making is that Tillerson is bluffing because the only way the US can act on the threats he is making is by going to war with China over the South China Sea, which because of China’s “determination and strength” it is not in a in fact in a position to do. The editorial says that Tillerson’s threats are therefore on the face of it”foolish”, but in reality since they are simply intended to help him get confirmed by the Senate they are no more than bluff.
It takes a particular alchemy to twist this cynical but realistic appraisal of Tillerson’s comments into a threat to go to war, but that seems to be what parts of the Western media are seeking to do.