CHINA SEEKS TO TAKE THE WIND FROM BIDEN’S SAILS
Xi Jinping declared on January 11 that China will realize its historical ambition of becoming a modern socialist state within the next 30 years. He made the pledge while addressing the opening of a study session of a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) school for future party elites. Speaking before a crowd which included members of the Politburo Standing Committee such as Premier Li Keqiang and Vice President Wang Qishan, Xi stated:
“The world is undergoing profound changes unseen in a century, but time and circumstances are in our favor. This fact is the very source of our unflinching power and vigor, as well as our determination and confidence.”
Urging party officials to be constantly prepared to assume overall leadership over China’s socialist modernization, Xi stressed:
“Senior party members must be sure to come to grips with the full picture of our strategy for a great revival of the Chinese people amid the sea changes of the world… You must take to heart this matter of crucial national importance and endeavor at all times to improve your political judgment, understanding, and execution for the effective implementation of the Party leadership’s decisions and plans.”
Put simply, Xi emphasized the need for CCP leaders to make an all-out effort to grab every opportunity to turn the rapidly changing world situation to China’s full advantage.
That the CCP stands on fragile footing is evident from the fact that China has set up a complete national surveillance system for domestic security unprecedented in human history, for which it must allocate a budget far exceeding its military.
As if these measures weren’t enough, the CCP has incarcerated millions of the minority members of Chinese society—predominantly Muslim Uyghurs—in reeducation camps, suppressing their freedom of speech and punishing them for criticizing the government. Many of the internees haven given up all hope and been driven to suicide. On January 19, former US secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared: “I have determined that the People’s Republic of China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China.” Now that Tony Blinken, Pompeo’s Democratic successor, has agreed with his declaration, the Biden administration feels it must work out some measures to cope with China’s suppression of its ethnic and religious minorities.
Meanwhile, China’s economic recovery has clearly been faster than that of Japan, the US., and Europe which are all still struggling with coronavirus flareups. With its economy on the road to recovery, China announced on January 18 that growth in the quarter ending last month rose 6.5% over the same quarter a year earlier, expanding 2.3% for the full year. Economic recovery takes time for nations unable to control citizens’ behavior like China, which can readily do so through its stringent laws. Meanwhile, China may possibly pass the US in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as soon as 2028—much earlier than initially predicted.
Sense of Relief for Communist Party
A confident China is testing the Biden administration from various angles. About the same time President Biden was speaking to the American people about the importance of unity and democracy during a 21-minute inaugural address on January 20, top Beijing officials from Xi down were attending a session of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to discuss plans to thoroughly cripple the democratic forces in Hong Kong. These plans are expected to be taken up during the fourth session of the 13th National People’s Congress in Beijing starting March 5.
As Akio Yaita, Taipei bureau chief of the conservative daily Sankei Shimbun, points out, China is clamping down on Hong Kong’s democracy without any hesitation as regards the US. Internally, China is discussing measures to enhance a system designed to suppress democracy and freedom in Hong Kong with the goal of imposing a totally repressive policy on the former British colony—contrary to what Biden advocated in his inaugural address. Externally, China turns to The Global Times, the overseas edition of The People’s Daily, delivering a hypocritical message of reconciliation geared to Americans the day after the inauguration:
“Biden listed five major challenges faced by the US—a raging virus, a stinging inequity, systemic racism, a climate in crisis…China can be a partner with the US in fighting COVID-19, resolving climate problems and promoting growth.”
China is saying it is ready to help the US resolve its problems, including the pandemic, if it accepts its generous offer of assistance. Mind you, this comes from the communist government responsible for the Wuhan virus having spread across the globe. The daily also had this to say in its editorial:
“US public opinion regards Biden as a ‘weak president.’ And the Democratic Party, which the new US government relies on, has only limited advantages in Congress.”
This is how lightly Beijing regards Biden, who spent 20 minutes of his 21-minute inaugural address discussing domestic issues, including the pandemic, allocating only one minute to discuss foreign policy. In point of fact, he never said a word about China during the address. As the daily pointed out, Biden “talked little about international issues and did not mention China in the entire speech.” I suppose I am not alone in detecting a sense of relief on the part of the CCP.
I cannot but feel that the little time Biden spent on foreign affairs and security issues reflects the low degree of interest he takes in these matters. I wonder to what extent Biden will direct his attention to the wide range of international issues facing his administration, including a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” the South and East China Seas, and Taiwan, among other things. I simple cannot figure that out at this juncture.
As if to test Biden’s foreign policy resolve, a formation of 13 PLA (People’s Liberation Army) aircraft—eight H-6 bombers, four J-16 stealth fighters, and one anti-submarine reconnaissance plane—provocatively entered the southwestern corner of Taiwan’s ADIZ (air defense identification zone) on January 23. Previously, only one to three PLA aircraft had entered the zone at once time. The sudden increase in the size of formation presumably is nothing else but Beijing’s blatant political message intended to test the degree of the Biden administration’s commitment to Taiwan’s security.
China’s Diplomacy of Outright Intimidation
The US government reacted immediately. State Department spokesman Ned Price urged China to “cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives,” emphasizing:
“We will stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values in the Indo-Pacific region, and that includes deepening our ties with democratic Taiwan…Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid.”
On the same day (January 23), the USS Theodore Roosevelt led its strike force fleet into the South China Sea via the Bashi Channel between the Philippines and Taiwan, demonstrating American naval power to counter the Chinese offensive from the air.
The following day, a bigger formation of 15 Chinese aircraft entered the ADIZ. The Global Times had this to say in its editorial on January 24: “The basic framework for mutual understanding between the US and China has already been damaged. It is normal for PLA fighters to fly around the island and across the so-called middle line of the Taiwan Straits. Sooner or later, (PLA) fighters will appear over the island of Taiwan. There are more and more areas where the two sides cannot understand each other, and the probability for each other’s strategic miscalculation is increasing. The mainland has undoubtedly the fastest-increasing force to dominate the situation across the Taiwan Straits. The easing of the tension in the Taiwan Straits should start from the political point of view. It cannot reach a breakthrough through strategy.”
This plainly is China’s diplomacy of intimidation, in effect telling the US to not continue the policies of the Trump administration and instead honor Beijing’s “one-China” policy and threatening the Biden administration with an inevitable armed clash unless the US listens. Will Biden be able to cope with this intimidation? Japan’s readiness to stand by Taiwan with the US is strictly challenged now. Yaita believes China is taking its recent series of provocative actions in order to establish a new ADIZ in the South China Sea, noting:
“Once they manage to set up a new ADIZ, the Chinese will be able to control the whole of the South China Sea more thoroughly. I think they are making preparations now.”
China clearly thinks now is the time to secure hegemony in the Asia-Pacific. Japan may be challenged to a fight to defend its homeland against its belligerent neighbor. Are we Japanese ready for that occasion?
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 936 in the February 4,2021 issue of The Weekly Shincho)