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“Disband our navy and let all the admirals be kelp farmers!” another tweet said.

Realizing his commentary had gone viral beyond his expectation and possibly jeopardized his reputation, Adm. Zhang two days later appeared on China Central TV to offer an explanation.

“Dear listeners, let me now explain to you the relationship between nuclear submarine and kelp,” Adm. Zhang said in his soliloquy March 26.

“American nuclear submarines could go to the Sea of Japan because it is deep there. But the Yellow Sea is shallow, with an average depth of only 44 meters [144 feet]. There are kelp farming nets everywhere in the Yellow Sea.

“If a U.S. nuclear submarine comes here, it will be difficult for it to dive. Even if it did submerge, it may be entangled with kelp nets on its propellers. Once that happens, what awaits the American nuclear sub is only death,” said Adm. Zhang.

Other military figures defended the admiral, who is known for his sometimes unconventional commentaries on military affairs.

But the most important aspect of the national debate was the involvement of the state-run newspaper the Global Times, known for its xenophobic anti-American editorial policy.

On March 25, Global Times published an in-depth profile of Adm. Zhang and his “kelp-nets” theory. The paper spent a large portion of its report detailing many of the admiral’s past embarrassing remarks, calling him China’s “Chief of Strategic Nonsense Bureau.”

Adm. Zhang became nationally famous during the 2003 Iraq War when he was the chief military commentator on Chinese TV broadcasts. The Global Times recounted his erroneous and comical comments cheering for Saddam Hussein and predicting the American military’s demise in Baghdad, or what he called “America’s Stalingrad.”

The Global Times article also made fun of Adm. Zhang’s consistently wrong military assessment of Moammar Gadhafi. He predicted just hours before rebels killed Gadhafi in 2011 that the Libyan dictator could not possibly be found by rebels.

But the Global Times in the end defended Adm. Zhang for one specific reason: his strong anti-American attitude.

“All in the [military] should be hawks!” the paper quoted Adm. Zhang as saying.

• Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at and @yu_miles.