Both a Chinese navy admiral and a regime-sanctioned commentator with millions of online followers in China publicly celebrated the collision between a U.S. navy destroyer and a tanker on Aug. 21 that left 10 U.S. sailors dead or missing. The comment is the latest example that at least a portion of the leadership of the Chinese regime and its military harbor hostile intent toward the United States and show no sympathy for even the casualties of a peacetime accident.
The USS John S. McCain, an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer, collided with the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Alnic MC east of Singapore before dawn on Monday, with the destroyer suffering significant damage. The bodies of several of the ten missing sailors are reported to have been found.
The collision is the second incident in just two months involving a U.S. Navy destroyer and a merchant vessel in the hotly contested Asian waters. USS Fitzgerald, another destroyer of the same class as the McCain, collided with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel on June 17, leaving seven U.S. sailors dead.
Zhang Zhaozhong, a rear admiral of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy and a professor at the PLA National Defense University, wrote about the McCain crash in an Aug. 22 post on Weibo (China’s equivalent of Twitter). With 8 million followers on his Weibo, Zhang has been described as the “No. 1 military commentator of China,” and he frequently posts bombastic comments belittling the U.S. military.
“What goes around, comes around,” says Zhang’s Weibo post, referring to the frequent freedom of navigation operations conducted by the U.S. Navy in the contested waters. “The USS John S. McCain has been making a lot of trouble in the South China Sea.”
Zhang brags that he had previously made a policy recommendation to convert the outdated PLAN Type 051 destroyers and use them to ram U.S. Navy ships conducting operations in the South China Sea.
In reference to the USS John S. McCain’s and USS Fitzgerald’s collisions with merchant vessels, Zhang says that the expensive U.S. warships have proved to be nothing more than “pretty decorations” and “paper tigers.”
Earlier on Monday Beijing’s English-language state-run newspaper Global Times also published an unsigned editorial saying that there is widespread “applause” among Chinese netizens who are openly celebrating the accident. “This reflects the sentiment of Chinese society,” says the editorial of the Beijing mouthpiece. Unlike Zhang however, the Global Times editorial nevertheless stresses that the missing and injured U.S. sailors “deserve sympathy.”
While there is no opinion polling to indicate whether Chinese society at large feels the same way, Zhang’s Weibo post seems to provide evidence of hyper-nationalist commentators in China who would openly celebrate any tragedy involving the U.S. military or the United States at large.
Jamestown Foundation, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, published a report in 2013 analyzing the “hawk faction” within Chinese regime’s military apparatus, of which Zhang Zhaozhong is listed as a prominent figure. The report concludes that hawkish media figures such as Zhang are a part of the Chinese regime’s political warfare machine, which seeks to “instill confidence in the military’s fighting spirit among the domestic audience” and also to “influence perceptions abroad.”
The report also points out that Zhang’s hyper-nationalist and often bombastic comments have been prominently featured by China’s state media for more than two decades, which goes to show that the Chinese regime has consciously tolerated and even supported his extreme views to various extents.