Chinese admiral says U.S. drill courts confrontation

BEIJING (Reuters) – A senior Chinese military strategist called planned U.S. naval exercises in the region a provocation and accused the Obama administration of seeking to encircle China and pursuing a “chaotic” approach toward Beijing.

The commentary in the top paper of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was China’s latest verbal broadside against Washington, which Beijing has accused of stirring tension in the region with a series of military drills near its borders.

“On the one hand, it wants China to play a role in regional security issues. On the other hand, it is engaging in an increasingly tight encirclement of China and constantly challenging China’s core interests,” Rear Admiral Yang Yi wrote in the Liberation Army Daily.

The Pentagon plans new joint naval exercises with ally South Korea that will send a U.S. aircraft carrier into the Yellow Sea, between China and the Korean peninsula.

Those exercises are intended to provoke “enmity and confrontation in the Asia-Pacific region,” Yang wrote.

Yang, who works at China’s National Defense University, warned that friction over the planned U.S.-South Korea naval exercise reflected broader instability in relations with Beijing, and he placed the blame at Washington’s doorstep.

“Rarely has there been such wavering and chaos in U.S. policy toward China,” wrote Yang.

Yang’s commentary came out a day after a similarly angry warning in the paper, suggesting expectations from the PLA for a firm response from Beijing.

“Washington will inevitably pay a costly price for its muddled decision,” Yang wrote in a separate commentary on Friday in the China Daily, the country’s main English-language paper.

“The risks of a collision occurring between the two countries’ navies in seas off China’s coast are escalating,” Wang Jisi, a prominent expert on China-U.S. relations at Peking University, wrote in a recent analysis.

MILITARY TIES STALL

China appears unlikely to risk directly challenging any new U.S.-South Korea drills by sending its ships to the same waters, a step that would risk a dangerous escalation in tensions.

However, its anger with the Obama administration could hold off any upgrading of military relations, which Beijing has curtailed since friction earlier this year over U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan, the self-ruled island claimed by China.

The planned exercises leave scant chance that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will be invited to visit China any time soon, said Xu Guangyu, a former PLA officer and now a researcher at the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.

“It’s natural for the PLA to speak out first on these issues,” Xu told Reuters. “It’s the PLA’s sacred duty to defend China’s territory and interests.”

The U.S. and South Korea last month held a joint naval drill in the Sea of Japan off the Korean peninsula, which brought condemnation from China. It then answered with its own heavily publicized military exercises.

The Pentagon last week said a U.S. aircraft carrier, the George Washington, which joined in the earlier exercise, would participate in a follow-up drill in the Yellow Sea.

The United States and South Korea have said their exercises are aimed at warning North Korea, which they blame for torpedoing a South Korean navy ship in March.

“Anyone clear-sighted can see that this carries something of a warning to China,” wrote Yang.

(Editing by Ken Wills and Miral Fahmy)

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