CHINA IS AMERICA’S REAL COUNTERPART IN FIRST US-NORTH KOREA SUMMIT
Strong displeasure with China’s rule-breaking behavior in the South China Sea again marked this year’s gathering of defense ministers at the 17th Asia Security Council, also known as the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue.
In his keynote address on the first day of the conference, held in Singapore June 1-3, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi noted that “the course of developments in the Indo-Pacific region” will significantly “affect the destiny of the world, ” declaring:
“(When) the oceans are open, the seas are secure, countries are connected, the rule of law prevails and the region is stable, nations—small and large—prosper as sovereign countries.”
Modi’s remarks were a downright criticism of the imperial policies of China under Xi Jinping aimed at ruling the Indian and the Western Pacific Oceans. Beijing claims virtually all areas of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory, while aiming to block American military access by sealing off the seas to its east with the so-called first and second island chains.
Modi said India under its “Act East Policy” has in recent years been actively cementing ties with a bloc of nations–including Japan, Australia, the US, the ASEAN nations, and Russia as well—to unite for the common purpose of building an “open, stable, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.” US Secretary of Defense James Mattis delivered an address the following day.
Mattis, whom Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera describes as “quiet, attentive, and modest,” spoke dispassionately but got to the heart of the matter from the outset.
Attending the conference for the second time as defense secretary, Mattis said he considers it “the best opportunity for senior officials to meet, share perspectives, and reinforce the significance of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.” He added:
“Last year, I came here principally to listen…Today I come to share the Trump administration’s whole-of-government Indo-Pacific strategy that espouses the shared principles that underpin a free-and-open Indo-Pacific.”
The defense secretary spoke in a straightforward manner, making his points without mincing words, which inevitably led to stern criticism of China. He pointed out:
“(The US is) committed to working with Taiwan to provide the defense articles and services necessary to maintain sufficient self-defense consistent with our obligation set out in our Taiwan Relations Act. We oppose all unilateral efforts to alter the status quo, and will continue to insist any resolution of differences accord with the will of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.”
Chinese South China Sea Behavior Contradicts Xi’s Assurances
Mattis thus warned that the US will not sit idly by any unilateral Chinese meddling with Taiwan’s security. There is some important background to this American readiness to protect Taiwan. Last December, Trump signed into law a US$700 billion defense budget that included increased military assistance to Taiwan. The additional funds will allow the navy ships of both the US and Taiwan to exchange regular port calls, while also helping Taiwan to enhance its naval capabilities by developing its own submarines and underwater mines.
Beijing reacted sharply, lobbying in the US Congress to effectively water the measure down. But the White House and the Department of Defense refused to give in. Trump subsequently authorized talks on the export of submarine parts, while Mattis delivered the aforementioned address in support of Taiwan.
“China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness of our strategy,” Mattis observed. “It…calls into question China’s broad goals.” He further noted:
“China’s militarization of artificial features in the South China Sea includes the deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, electronic jammers, and more recently, the landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island…China’s militarization of the Spratlys is also in direct contradiction to President Xi’s 2015 public assurances in the White House Rose Garden that they would not do this. For these reasons…last week we disinvited the People’s Liberation Army Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercises.”
A seasoned professional solider, Mattis matter-of-factly and succinctly listed facts about China’s illicit behavior in the South China Sea. As expected, China reacted bitterly.
He Lei, the vice president of the PLA’s Academy of Military Science who headed the Chinese delegation to Singapore, fumed: “America should know that its Freedom of Navigation operations are themselves a blatant militarization of the South China Sea.” On May 31, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “Hyping up militarization in the South China Sea by some people in the US is quite preposterous…This sounds like a case of a thief crying ‘stop thief’ to cover his misconduct.’”
Fumio Ota, chief researcher of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, a privately financed think tank which I head, noted: “The Chinese, who never admit their faults and constantly blame others for everything, apparently decided to downgrade participation in the Asia Security Summit beginning last year.” He Lei is in fact only a Lieutenant General. Ota explained:
“The last few years, Chinese representatives have found an increasingly cool reception at the Singapore conference among participants from other countries. I assume they have now decided to give up on trying to impose their will at that venue and instead go their own way at the Xiangshan Forum.”
How Will Trump Fare in Coming Summit with Kim Jong-un?
The Xiangshan Forum was founded in 2006. China sees security needs in a far different way than nations like the US, Japan, India, and the NATO members, who honor freedom and the rule of law under shared values. China obviously is set on creating an international military community it can dominate by attracting nations on which it can exert its influence.
Clearly, China wants to create a Beijing-led international security summit that will replace the Shangri-La Dialogue. The Chinese claim that 64 nations have so far applied for membership. Many nations did join the “AIIB” (Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank) and the “OBOR” (One Belt, One Road) initiatives, attracted by China’s financial power. As of now, however, not many nations have found China’s military capabilities or security policies attractive, and China’s influence in this area is still weak.
We should never underestimate China’s intentions, however. For one thing, the Chinese are trying to even create a Chinese version of the International Court of Justice at the Hague. Obviously, they are trying to establish Chinese standards for international laws and regulations in virtually all fields, including economics, finance, the judiciary, and the military, as they eagerly wait for their chance to someday dominate the world.
China is earnestly challenging the free world to a conflict of values. This we must thoroughly come to grips with. I believe the administrative and legislative bodies of the US are fully aware of this—the Congress (especially the Senate), the Department of Defense, and the Office of the US Trade Representative.
That is why the US Congress unanimously passed the Taiwan Travel Act, allowing top government officials of the two nations to exchange visits at will. Geopolitically speaking, the secure protection of Taiwan by the US leads to a stability in the South China Sea. I believe American lawmakers are fully aware that America must protect Taiwan under all circumstances in order to maintain the Indian and Pacific Oceans as open seas.
The values America and China hold are diametrically opposite to each other. Deep is the root of their enmity. Against such a backdrop, how will Trump fare in resolving the North Korean issue with Kim Jong-un? Trump was more than disturbed when he noticed an abrupt change of posture following Kim’s second meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping in China early last month.
Because he is convinced that he has secured China’s support, the North Korean dictator has chosen to never mention “CVID” (Complete, Verifiable, and Irreversible Denuclearization) when talking about nuclear disarmament.
Should Trump fall into Kim’s snare, his negotiations would end in failure, the same as previous administrations. He must solidly bear in mind the need to take a tough stance with China—his real counterpart in his coming summit with Kim Jong-un.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 806 in the June 14, 2018 issue of The Weekly Shincho)