CHINA REVEALS REAL INTENTIONS AMID FIERCE CLASH WITH AMERICA
The high-level US-China talks held in Anchorage, Alaska, March 18-19 prompted Beijing to unwittingly reveal its real intentions. Clearly, it wants to buy itself a little more time.
Observing the harsh exchange of barbs and threats that preceded the talks, one cannot help but be impressed by the better-than-expected thoroughness of the Biden administration in formulating its China policy.
On the heels of the National People’s Congress in Beijing March 5-11, President Biden called an on-line meeting on March 12 of the four heads of the nations committed to a free and open Indochina—the US, Japan, Australia, and India. The US also went ahead with a springtime combined military exercise with South Korea March 8-18 for the first time in two years. Meanwhile, Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin, secretaries of state and defense, flew to Tokyo March 15 for a three-day visit, during which they attended a meeting of the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee (popularly called “2+2”) with their Japanese counterparts. The duo then left for Seoul on the afternoon of March 17 for a “2+2” session with their South Korean counterparts.
While in Tokyo, Blinken and Austin reiterated Biden’s February 4 declaration that America’s commitment to the defense of Japan is “absolute,” including the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The secretaries also condemned China for its breaches of international law and its blatant human rights abuses against Hongkongers, Muslim Uyghurs, and Tibetans.
Some Japanese media outlets commented that America’s seemingly hard posture toward China wavered the minute the Americans arrived in South Korea. But a close review of the remarks Blinken and Austin made tells a different story. It is true that the South Koreans absolutely refrained from mentioning China. But the US side did indeed publicly rebuke China. Blinken told a press briefing prior to his meeting with new South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong:
“China is using coercion and aggression to systematically erode the autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse human rights of Uyghurs and Tibetans, and assert maritime claims in the South China Sea that violate international law.”
Blinken’s remarks overlapped with those Biden made regarding China’s behavior in his February 4 foreign policy speech at the State Department.
“China is the most serious competitor to the US. We’ll confront China’s economic abuses, counter its aggressive course of action to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property and global governance…We will compete from a position of strength.”
China Aims to Reign over Whole World
While showing readiness to work with the Chinese on such issues as climate change, Biden declared he is committed to negotiating with Beijing from “a position of strength” ––America’s new resolution that was vividly reflected in Blinken’s statements both in Tokyo and Seoul. In contrast, the Chinese side responded:
“China agreed to the high-level strategic talks in order to put into practice the spirit of the (February 11) telephone conversation (between Biden and Xi Jinping). We hope the talks will bring China-US relations back to the right track of sound and steady development…When the members of the Chinese delegation arrived in Alaska, America’s most northern region, they experienced the cold not only of the weather but in the way they were treated by their US hosts.” （Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian）
Until up to the start of the talks on March 18, China was wary of what Blinken and Austin would say about America’s new posture toward China. China apparently was looking forward to continuing negotiations with the US, badly hoping these channels would develop into a regular strategic dialogue. Despite the fierce exchange of rebukes at the outset, Yang Jiechi, a politburo member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in charge of foreign affairs, called for mutual efforts to “avoid confrontation, promote communication, overcome differences, and expand cooperation.” In other words, China desires “a stable continuation” of US-China relations.
China has declared it will realize the “Chinese dream” of national rejuvenation by the 2049 centennial of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and “tower over the rest of the world.” To realize this dream, China requires power, but not military power alone. For that purpose, China needs greater economic power to more decisively accomplish its goal, along with the political clout of the CCP’s one-party dictatorship, which manipulates the economy at will.
Strategically, China aims to create a framework designed to control the entire globe, utilizing its economic power in line with its political objectives. A concrete example is its global 5G network, which it has aggressively been developing worldwide. China’s efforts in building this new universal telecommunication infrastructure can be seen in Latin America, which is America’s backyard; in Eastern Europe, where the EU is taking note; in the 50-odd nations of Africa; in Central Asia where America has little influence and Russia’s sway has been waning; and the Middle East and every other region of the world.
Because more than 95% of Internet information spanning the continents is transmitted through fiber optic submarine cables, the construction, maintenance, and management of these cable lines constitute a decisive factor in controlling global communications. Until fairly recently, the US accounted for 40% of the world’s submarine lines, Japan 30%, and France 20%. But China is now rapidly catching up. According to TeleGeography, a Washington-headquartered maker of submarine cable maps of the world, there currently is a total of 406 submarine cables in service worldwide, with new firms like China’s Huawei Marine Networks having joined the ranks to secure a 20% world share as of the end of 2020.
A truly global communications network will be complete when information transmitted through undersea fiber optic cables is connected with points in outer space. The points of transmission in outer space will be the orbiting space stations and future military bases expected to be built on the moon and Mars. China has pulled ahead of the US in lunar exploration in recent years, but the US preceded China to the Mars last year.
China’s Declining Population
In Japan, the clash between the world’s two largest economic and military powers is not somebody else’s business. If the Chinese should succeed in constructing a global communications infrastructure on the basis of their own 5G technology, they will be dominant in every field and able to expand their influence. And in such a world, where it will be difficult to survive without relying on Chinese businesses and technology, the CCP will impose its values on all nations without hesitation. China’s leaders from Xi Jinping down obviously think that China needs “a little more time” before it completes this coveted foundation for global dominance.
“A little more time” for China constitutes an extremely crucial element in a different sense. China’s population, a vital foundation sustaining its economic growth, has already begun to shrink. Its working-age population (15-64 years old) began showing a decline in 2010, with its total population starting to shrink in 2018. The National Intelligence Council (NIC) in Washington noted in its 2020 report that India’s population has been on a significant increase while China’s population is decreasingly steadily. Over the long run, the NIC predicted that the Indian economy will sustain high economic growth, surpassing China by the end of this century.
China claims that “the east wind” will prevail over “the west wind,” that history is giving a tailwind to China. But Xi doesn’t have much time left in which to lock horns with the US with his relative advantages still intact. With this in mind, China is choosing not to fight the US head-on and instead first control impoverished nations and then middle powers en route to completing global supply-chain and communications networks centered around China. When these networks are complete, the US will be powerless to counter China. This appears to be Xi’s thinking. Obviously, by taking Taiwan and the Senkaku Islands when sufficient preparation is made, Xi believes that he will be able to secure the position of the father of modern China, on a par with Mao Zedong.
Conversely, if Xi can be kept at bay for the next decade or so, a coalition of democratic nations will be able to crush the CCP’s ambitions to put the world under its control. Now is the moment for great resolve. In order to face up to China squarely, Japan must enhance its military and economic power with all its might.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 944 in the April 1, 2021 issue of The Weekly Shincho)