China Capable of 'Substantially Subduing' U.S. at Sea, State Media Boasts

The People's Liberation Army is capable of "substantially subduing" the U.S. Navy in the waters around China, a Communist Party-owned newspaper boasted this week following a recent encounter in the Western Pacific.

Global Times, the country's nationalistic tabloid, published the fiery response by chief editor Hu Xijin a day after the U.S. Navy released a viral photograph showing two commanding officers casually monitoring China's flagship aircraft carrier Liaoning as it sails by.

The picture taken in the Philippine Sea and shared on Sunday was dated April 4. Its caption read: "Cmdr. Robert J. Briggs and Cmdr. Richard D. Slye monitor surface contacts from the pilothouse of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin."

PLA Navy watchers were quick to spot the lone surface contact in the scene as Chinese carrier Liaoning, with its distinguishable ski-jump—a curved ramp which assists aircraft take-off. The date was also the day before the Chinese military announced its carrier task group was performing "actual combat drills" in the seas near Taiwan.

The photo, which shows the commanding officer watching the PLA warship with his feet up, drew large amounts of media attention in Taiwan after Liaoning's live-fire drills had initially caused some alarm because of their intimidating nature near the island, which China claims as part of its territory.

U.S. Navy Warship Monitors Chinese Aircraft Carrier
Cmdr. Robert J. Briggs and Cmdr. Richard D. Slye monitor surface contacts from the pilothouse of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin April 4, 2021. Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Arthur Rosen/U.S. Navy

Writing on Monday, Hu, China's prominent state media personality accused Taiwan and the United States of "intelligence warfare" against Beijing, calling the U.S. commander's pose "decidedly nonchalant."

"Media from Taiwan emphasized the pose shows the U.S. doesn't take the [PLA] seriously, reflecting some people in Taiwan placing strong hope on the U.S.," his editorial read.

The release of the image, which he suggests showed "arrogance," was a "shallow move" that worked, Hu wrote.

He added: "But the U.S. military's arrogance ... has long been shattered in the coastal waters of China. The U.S. military cannot do whatever it wants in China's surrounding waters where the PLA is capable of substantially subduing U.S impetuousness."

The editor-in-chief predicted that continued U.S. support for Taiwan and its quasi-independence would lead to war across the Taiwan Strait—not because China wants one, but because American backing would embolden Taipei "to engage in reckless moves."

China would be "fully prepared" for possible intervention by U.S. forces in a Taiwan Strait contingency, Hu warned. "We believe that our will to deal with extreme conflicts in the [strait] is far greater than that of the U.S."

Despite China's verbal and military threats, discussions about the commanders on USS Mustin continued in Taiwan this week. Analysts noted the relaxed nature of the encounter, which they said suggested the Chinese navy posed no threat to the United States.

Others also noted the framing of the image, which appeared to display Liaoning alone and without its five escorts.

At a legislative hearing with Taiwan's lawmakers on Thursday, the country's deputy defense minister, Chang Che-ping, was repeatedly asked about the single picture and its significance.

Chang described it as American "confidence" and said it was U.S. "cognitive warfare" against the Chinese military.

He admitted Taiwan did not have the hardware capable of imitating the maneuver, adding: "But even if we could, we wouldn't do it."