In this day and age of the Internet when transparency reigns supreme, despite all its measures to suppress freedom of expression and conceal facts, China’s continued threats against Taiwan and the US can only galvanize world opinion — and, indeed, even unify the world — against any possible Chinese aggression on Taiwan.
Beijing’s latest outburst came on the heels of remarks early this month by then-US Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan during the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. China reacted angrily to US steps aimed at showing solidarity with Taiwan and demonstrating its visibility in the South China Sea, where Beijing is engaged in a massive military buildup, brushing aside the sovereignty of smaller neighboring states that also have claims to islands there.
Chinese People’s Liberation Army Major General Shao Yuanming (卲元明) described Shanahan’s remarks as “inaccurate” and said that he was “repeating old tunes” about the issues of Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Shao even suggested that this was “harming regional peace and stability,” maintaining his silence over China’s aggressive military buildup targeting Taiwan and its tightening grip on the South China Sea.
He also issued a sharply worded warning that China would defend its “sovereignty” at any cost if anyone tried to “separate” Taiwan from its territory.
China regards Taiwan as part of its territory and has on several occasions threatened to use force to return it to the “motherland’s fold,” although Taiwan has, historically speaking, never been part of China.
“China will have to be reunified,” Shao said. “If anybody wants to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will protect the country’s sovereignty at all costs.”
Without specifically mentioning China by name and merely using a general reference to “actors” that cause instability in the region with their constant threats on Taiwan and the South China Sea, Shanahan had said that the US was not going to “tiptoe” around China.
This was clearly a strong message to Beijing that Washington would step up its presence in the region if China engages in any reckless adventure against Taiwan or smaller neighboring states.
The US last month already dispatched a warship near Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島), which China claims as its own, although this is a disputed island.
The act aggravated the already tense relations between the US and China, which are locked in a trade dispute that could escalate and hit global trade.
While the dispute is hurting certain sectors in the US, such as farmers and other exporters to China, it is having a drastic effect on China’s exporters, who cannot find an alternative market as lucrative as the US.
Chinese Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe (魏鳳和), who also attended the Singapore event, accused the US of using “negative words and actions” with regard to the Taiwan Strait.
Wei warned Washington against underestimating the Chinese military’s determination, will and ability to safeguard China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The event, which focused on global security issues, was dominated by the Shanahan-Wei duel. While Shanahan’s “tiptoe” comment was a reinforcement of the US’ determination to stop China from making unilateral territorial changes and create a fait accompli for the smaller states in the region, which are unable to stand up against Beijing, US President Donald Trump’s administration has made it clear that it would not allow China to engage in any belligerence.
China’s argument that the facilities it is building on reclaimed land in the South China Sea are “purely defensive” does not find many takers in the region and certainly not in Washington, which questions the deployment of surface-to-air missiles and other measures of an offensive military character that can hardly be termed as “defensive.”
Many interpret the strong Chinese reaction at the Singapore event as a sign that Beijing would not back down from its aggressive posturing. Indeed, many anticipate the US-China rivalry in the South China Sea, including the Taiwan Strait, to intensify.
A 54-page US military report on the Indo-Pacific region critical of China’s military intentions there also calls for strengthening alliances and multilateral arrangements with nations in the region.
Taiwan is a sensitive issue to China, with Wei describing the US’ stance on Taiwan as “unconstructive.”
Before the Singapore event, a meeting between National Security Council Secretary-General David Lee (李大維) and White House National Security adviser John Bolton, who is known for his hawkish views on China, had enraged Beijing, as reflected in the reporting by its state-controlled media.
Chinese are realizing, albeit slowly, that unlike the administration of former US president Barack Obama, the Trump administration is taking a sterner approach to its military buildup in the South China Sea and deprivation of smaller nations of their territorial sovereignty.
The Obama administration took a “backdoor approach,” resorting to soft back-channel diplomacy, which was, obviously, wrongly interpreted by China as a weakness.
It would be a strategic miscalculation on China’s part to assume that the smaller nations in the region, because of their size and limited resources, would simply kowtow to it.
While the majority of the region’s smaller states are heavily reliant on trade and economic ties with China, they would by no means allow China to carry out its aggressive designs.
An aggression against any state in the region, including Taiwan, will only galvanize world opinion against China and unify the world against it.
The money — or, rather, the loans — China has been giving to poor, helpless Asian states with the promise of reviving their economies under its Belt and Road Initiative will also not help it, because many of these recipient nations see China as essentially exploiting them for its own strategic ambitions.
Manik Mehta is a New York-based journalist with extensive writing experience on foreign affairs, diplomacy, global economics and international trade.
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