THE TRUTH BEHIND CHINA’S THREAT AGAINST AMERICA
“As the general public of China says these days, ‘A talk? Welcome. A fight? We’re ready. Bully us? No way.’”
So declared China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghi in Singapore on June 2 in a combative speech amid growing tension over the ongoing US-China trade war. Wei was a keynote speaker at Asia’s premier annual security summit, an inter-governmental forum popularly known as the Shangri-La Dialogue.
Was the Chinese general just bluffing, or was he at least half serious? Demonstrating raw hostility to the US before a group of the world’s defense ministers and security experts, Wei raised the possibility of armed conflict depending on what moves the US makes going forward.
This confrontation between the world’s two largest economies that started as a tariff war has escalated beyond the balance of payments into an outright clash of opposing values.
Amid the deepening tension, Beijing sent Wei to Singapore as the first sitting defense minister representing China in the conference since 2011, unlike previous sessions in which lower-ranking army officials were present. What were the reasons for a prominent Chinese defense figure like Wei to make such angry remarks before an international audience?
Patrick Shanahan, acting US secretary of defense, delivered a keynote address on America’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific on the first day of the May 31-June 2 forum. The US Congress is expected to approve Shanahan’s promotion to secretary of defense succeeding James Mattis sometime soon. Shanahan’s address, coupled with America’s Indo-Pacific Strategy Report (released by the Department of Defense on January 1, 2019), gives one a clear understanding of the keen wariness America has about China and America’s resolve to prevent further expansion of China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific at all costs.
The Indo-Pacific report Shanahan introduced to the conference is based on the National Defense Strategy released by his predecessor, James Mattis, in February 2018. The report must have been grossly disturbing to China.
Mattis founded his defense strategy on the conviction that there was increasing global volatility and uncertainty with challenges from Russia and China coming to the fore. Backed fully by President Trump, he switched America’s defense strategy from one based on fighting terrorism following 9/11 to one grappling squarely with its real adversaries in great power competition—Russia and China.
Danger in Trusting China
How uncompromising Shanahan’s strategy is to China is manifested by the fact that the China section of his 55-page Indo-Pacific Report is blatantly titled: The People’s Republic of China as a Revisionist Power. While he has devoted just one page each to describing Russia and North Korea, the China section runs a good four pages.
Shanahan’s address must be scrutinized in combination with his Indo-Pacific report. By doing so, one realizes that every word and phrase in his speech takes on a character more strongly confrontational to China.
Referring to the values pertaining to the Indo-Pacific that Japan is in full agreement with—that the area must remain free and open—Shanahan took up a four-point “toolkit of coercion” that he stressed all parties concerned must absolutely refrain from in protecting the Indo-Pacific:
1) Deploying advanced weapons systems to militarize disputed areas, destabilizing the peaceful status quo by threatening the use of force to compel rivals into conceding claims; 2) Using influence operations to interfere in the domestic politics of other nations, undermining the integrity of elections and threatening internal stability; 3) Engaging in predatory economics and debt for sovereignty deals, lubricated by corruption, which take advantage of pressing economic needs to structure unequal bargains that disproportionately benefit one party; and, 4) Promoting state-sponsored theft of other nations’ military and civilian technology.
Although Shanahan refrained from naming China in his address, the China section of the afore-mentioned strategy report says it all. Also, because China’s expansionist behavior is already well-known across the globe, that Shanahan was critical specifically of that country would naturally have been instantly obvious, whether or not China was mentioned by name.
Shanahan stressed: “We can wish away reality or continue to look the other way as countries use friendly rhetoric to distract from unfriendly acts. Now is the time to call out the mismatch between words and deeds by some in the region and encourage them to work constructively and transparently toward a positive future.”
His remarks reflect the reality so vividly as to make one feel for a moment that he was issuing a warning to Japan as it deals with China, its recalcitrant neighbor. China is engaged in “smile diplomacy” with Japan in an attempt to alleviate some of the burdens of its confrontation with America. But it is too dangerous to trust China’s smile, tears, or “sincerity.”
Beijing has been making overtures to Japan with the sweet words that it wishes to jointly pursue the “one belt, one road” initiative so as to offer a win-win proposition for all parties concerned and that it is eager to promote friendly relations with Tokyo. But Japanese must be aware that, while doing so, Beijing has been deploying four large armed vessels in the waters off the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea 53 straight days as of this writing (June 3), often violating Japanese territorial waters.
The Japan Coast Guard with a fleet of eight smaller patrol boats has been doing its best to protect the islands. China’s intention is obvious: it is plotting to control the Japanese-administered islands by force, eventually creating the impression within the international community that China legitimately has sovereignty over the islands. Japan runs the risk of having its territory in the south wrested away by China just as the “northern territories” have been unlawfully occupied by Russia since August 1945.
China has persistently been making moves to deprive Japan of its land while speaking of “friendship.” As regards the South China Sea, which has never once been Chinese territory, China has even come up with the astounding fiction that the waters “have been ours for the last 2,000 years.” The day after Shanahan took issue with this and other such outlandish Chinese claims, Wei launched yet another fierce attack on the US.
Repressive Rule by the Communist Party
Wei had this to say about the ongoing trade war with the US: “China will fight to the end if the US wants a fight. But if Washington wants to talk, then we will keep the door open.” His bellicose declaration introduced at the outset of this column followed immediately after these remarks.
Wei drew a strange comparison in discussing Taiwan’s “reunification.” Noting that America’s Civil War almost divided the US, but that the crisis was avoided thanks to Abraham Lincoln, he insisted: “The US is indivisible, and so is China. That is why China must be, and will be, reunited with Taiwan.”
But Taiwan cannot be “reunited” with China because it actually has never been part of the People’s Republic of China. One finds no common denominator between the history of the Civil War and that of Taiwan. And yet Wei stresses that support to Taiwan’s “reunification is the sacred mission of the People’s Liberation Army” and that “we will make no promise to renounce the use of force.”
Wei added proudly that the PLA “has fought many wars and is always ready to make sacrifices” and that “Chinese will become braver, the greater the pressure and difficulties they face.” During a tête-à-tête with Shanahan, the Chinese general pointed to his nation’s readiness to not budge an inch against the US, warning Washington not to “underestimate the determination and power of the Chinese army.”
The US, both the White House and Congress, has in due course become solidly poised to pursue a common purpose of grappling squarely with its Asian adversary. In point of fact, Shanahan took nine senators and congressmen to Singapore this time, where they were introduced to the audience as leaders of a bipartisan Congressional campaign to secure the US$718 billion needed to implement America’s new national defense strategy. In the US, which unquestionably is the world’s strongest military power, the government, Congress, and the people alike have banded together to demonstrate a readiness to not tolerate the repressive rule of the Chinese Communist Party, vowing to not give an inch.
It is still possible for the US and China to dramatically bury the hatchet at the last minute, but it is more likely this confrontation will persist longer, with many twists and turns yet to come. Meanwhile, China will continue to attempt to drag Japan into its own camp, as doing so would be beneficial to Beijing both geopolitically and economically. At this important juncture, we Japanese must bear firmly in mind that we should never allow China’s smiles to deceive us into a situation benefiting China alone. The important thing for Japan is to become more self-reliant and stronger as soon as possible. For that purpose, an early revision of our “peace” constitution is mandatory. (The End)
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 855 in the June 13, 2019 issue of The Weekly Shincho)