A war between the United States and China is “inevitable” unless Washington stops demanding Beijing halt its construction projects in the South China Sea, a Chinese state-owned newspaper warns.

Washington accuses Beijing of undergoing a massive “land reclamation” program in the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea, and says China’s territorial claims of the man-made islands could further militarize the region.

“If the United States’ bottom line is that China has to halt its activities, then a US-China war is inevitable in the South China Sea,” The Global Times, an influential newspaper owned by the ruling Communist Party’s official newspaper the People’s Daily, said in an editorial Monday.

“The intensity of the conflict will be higher than what people usually think of as ‘friction’,” it warned.

The paper also asserted that China was determined to finish its construction work in the South China Sea, calling it Beijing’s “most important bottom line.”

Tensions have been rising between Washington and Beijing over China’s activities in the disputed waterway and US surveillance flights over the islands.

“We do not want a military conflict with the United States, but if it were to come, we have to accept it,” said The Global Times, which is among China’s most nationalist newspapers.

Beijing last week said it was “strongly dissatisfied” after a US spy plane defied multiple warnings by the Chinese navy and flew over the Fiery Cross Reef, where China is reportedly building an airfield and other installations.

The Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday that US surveillance flights over its islands and reefs posed a threat to peace in the region, “making it highly possible to lead to misjudgment, which could cause maritime or air accidents.”

Washington does not recognize China’s sovereignty in the disputed areas and is weighing sending surveillance aircraft and warships to test its territorial claims.

“That would be the next step,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said on Thursday.

The Pentagon’s annual report to Congress this month cast China as a threat to regional and international peace and stability. It questioned the transparency of Chinese defense, cyber and space programs.

For the first time, a section was devoted to China’s building projects in the South China Sea, which it warned were expanding rapidly.

China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea overlap with those of Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan, and more specifically the Philippines.

The United States is treaty-bound to defend the Philippines in any possible conflict with China.

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