South China Sea Conflict
A Chinese coast guard vessel maneuvers to block a Philippine government supply ship with members of the media aboard at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, March 29, 2014. Reuters/Erik De

A professor at one of China’s military universities, the People’s Liberation Army National Defense University, believes that a third World War is a possibility, and China needs to be prepared for it. In an editorial in the state-run newspaper, Global Times, professor and author Han Xudong says that nations are collectively involved in “an era of new forms of global war.”

Previously undisputed territories, like outer space, the digital landscape and the oceans have become part of the international battlefield, Han writes in his op-ed, noting that “the number of countries involved is unprecedented.”

Han points to ongoing maritime disputes as sources of conflict that will eventually escalate into a world war. “Judging from the contention of the global sea space, the Arctic Ocean, the Pacific and Indian Ocean have seen the fiercest rivalry. It’s likely that there will be a third world war to fight for sea rights.”

China is currently embroiled in disputes involving sea rights, particularly in the South China Sea. China lays claim to maritime areas that Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia all also lay claim to. In the East China Sea, China insists that its maritime borders include a cluster of resource-rich islands called the Diaoyu in Chinese. Japan, on the other hand, says that the islands — which it refers to as Senkaku — lie in Japanese waters. With China’s increasing military presence and political rhetoric over these and other islands, some observers predict that maritime claims are something over which China is willing to go to war.

“As the rivalry on the sea grows intense, China’s military development should shift from maintaining the country’s rights on the land to maintaining its rights on the sea,” Han writes, adding that “large-scale military power” needs to be developed in order to prevent being “pushed to a passive position” by strong military forces like the U.S., which is increasingly focusing its attention to the Asia-Pacific region.

This isn’t the first time state-run media editorials have spoken explicitly about wars China would engage in. Last year, pro-government (and hawkish) newspaper Weweipo published an article describing “Six Wars China Is Sure To Fight In The Next 50 Years.” The newspaper estimated that a war over the South China Sea islands would last from 2025 to 2030, driven by China’s desire to “reconquer” areas like the Spratly Islands (which several other nations also claim) and the Scarborough Shoal (claimed by the Philippines). The newspaper unsurprisingly expects the dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku to eventually escalate to a war by 2040.