BEIJING The United States clearly wants to encircle China, a prominent Chinese military commentator said on Monday in some of the bluntest criticism of President Barack Obama's recent diplomatic push into the Asia-Pacific region.
People's Liberation Army Major General Luo Yuan, well-known for his hawkish views, made the warning in a commentary about Obama's visit to Asia that was published on the website of the People's Daily (www.people.com.cn), the top paper of China's ruling Communist Party.
Earlier this month, Obama told Asia-Pacific leaders that the United States was "here to stay," announced plans to set up a de facto military base in northern Australia and chided China for refusing to discuss its South China Sea disputes at regional forums.
"The United States is making much of its 'return to Asia', has been positioning pieces and forces on China's periphery, and the intent is very clear -- this is aimed at China, to contain China," Luo wrote in the commentary, which quickly spread across the Chinese Internet.
"The United States has committed a fatal strategic error. It has misjudged its foes, it has placed its strategic focus in the wrong location, and its strategic means are wrong," wrote Luo.
The comments do not represent official policy -- Beijing has reacted to Obama's diplomatic push with calls for cooperation.
But they do illustrate the undercurrents of nationalist ire with Washington that Beijing's policy-makers face.
Luo was among several PLA officer-pundits who lambasted U.S. policy earlier last year, before both governments moved to ease tensions over Taiwan, Tibet and other disputes.
Analysts have said that although the PLA is firmly under the thumb of China's Communist Party, officer-analysts have been given some leeway to strike a tougher tone in their comments.
Later in 2010, however, Chinese President Hu Jintao made clear that he could ill-afford a new round of tensions that might sour ties with Washington ahead of 2012, when he retires from power and the U.S. is focused on its presidential race.
Hu admonished the military for letting officers speak on sensitive disputes, a scholar familiar with official discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters earlier.
But Luo, at least, appears emboldened to speak out again.
He said the United States should keep focused on its "war on terror" against Islamist militants.
"China has not provoked U.S. interests, so what are you doing running to Asia to encircle China?," wrote Luo.
"If you shift your strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific, who will protect your own backyard. Don't you worry about a second September 11 incident?," he asked, referring to the devastating 2001 attacks on New York and Washington D.C.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)