Wed, Jul 10, 2019 - Page 8 News List

PRC threat obliges political defense

By Kerry Gershaneck

If the recent Shangri-La Dialogue is an indicator, China’s ability to influence Southeast Asia is achieving continued — and considerable — success.

During the May 31 to June 2 dialogue in Singapore, then-acting US secretary of defense Patrick Shanahan focused on China’s “toolkit of coercion,” and its influence operations to interfere in the domestic politics of other nations and undermine the integrity of elections.

Predictably, Chinese Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe (魏鳳和) counterattacked, presenting China as a force for stability and prosperity, defending the Tiananmen Square Massacre and all other actions the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has taken in its often-contentious relations in the region and portraying the US as a troublemaker.

As one participant said, Wei’s speech “showed China feels strong and comfortable enough to openly say obviously false things and defend even its worst actions without shame or hesitation.”

While a US-PRC face-off was expected, the comments of Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) were unexpected — and even disturbing.

In a departure from Singapore’s past defense of the international order against China’s efforts to uproot it, Lee seemed to assume a more neutral stance.

He asserted what one analyst called a “false equivalence” of US and Chinese actions in the region, and implied that the region was more afraid of China’s actions than reassured by US rhetoric.

Rather than call out China’s expansionist actions, Lee said that the US has “the most difficult adjustment to make” in terms of accepting that “China will continue to grow and strengthen.”

Singapore is a bellwether for Southeast Asia, so it is crucial to examine the roots of China’s increased success of its political warfare operations there, and the impact and opportunities the situation presents Taiwan.

Southeast Asia holds a pre-eminent position in China’s quest for regional hegemony. According to Daniel Kliman, who served as senior adviser for Asia integration in the US Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, the region is “a uniquely contested space” and the outcome of this contest has immense implications for Taiwan’s continued freedom, sovereignty and democracy.

Beijing employs a well-resourced, comprehensive approach to draw Southeast Asia into its sphere of influence. Political warfare is the primary means China employs to achieve its expansionist goals.

Southeast Asia might be considered a primary case study for Beijing’s political warfare operations worldwide. China employs all means of national power to win its political war there. The effect is total war, which goes beyond traditional liaison work and the three warfares to include use of active measures that include violence and other forms of coercive, destructive attacks such as proxy armies.

China is a totalitarian Leninist state that takes a holistic approach, which melds the legal and the covert, in conjunction with persuasion, inducement and coercion, former Singaporean ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan said.

Importantly, Kausikan identified that the aim of the PRC is not simply to direct behavior, but to condition behavior.

“In other words, China does not just want you to comply with its wishes,” Kausikan said. “Far more fundamentally, it wants you to think in such a way that you will of your own volition do what it wants without being told.”

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