China’s leadership is resisting pressure from elements within the military for a more forceful response to an international court ruling against.
Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea, sources said, wary of provoking a clash with the United States.
China refused to participate in the case overseen by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
It denounced the emphatic July 12 ruling in favour of the Philippines as a farce that had no legal basis and part of an anti-China plot cooked up in Washington.
The ruling has been followed in China by a wave of nationalist sentiment, scattered protests and strongly worded editorials in state media.
So far, Beijing has not shown any sign of wanting to take stronger action. Instead, it has called for a peaceful resolution through talks at the same time as promising to defend Chinese territory.
But some elements within China`s increasingly confident military are pushing for a stronger – potentially armed – response aimed at the United States and its regional allies, according to interviews with four sources with close military and leadership ties.
“The People`s Liberation Army is ready,” one source with ties to the military told Reuters.
“We should go in and give them a bloody nose like Deng Xiaoping did to Vietnam in 1979,” the source said, referring to China`s brief invasion of Vietnam to punish Hanoi for forcing Beijing`s ally the Khmer Rouge from power in Cambodia.
The sources requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
President Xi Jinping has assiduously courted and thoroughly cemented his leadership over the PLA and faces no serious challenges to his command.
While he is overseeing sweeping military reforms to improve the PLA`s ability to win wars, he has said China needs a stable external environment as it deals with its own development issues, including a slowing economy. And few people expect any significant move ahead of Xi`s hosting of a G20 summit in September.
But the hardened response to The Hague ruling from some elements of the military increases the risk that any provocative or inadvertent incidents in the South China Sea could escalate into a more serious clash.