As expected, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense earlier this week reacted with indignation at the contents of the Pentagon’s latest report on the Chinese military, released last week.
Like in previous years, Chinese officials deplored what they saw as a misrepresentation and unfair depiction of China’s military development, adding that US officials were “deliberately playing up the imbalance” of military power in the Taiwan Strait to justify arms sales to Taiwan.
At a press conference on Monday, Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng (耿雁生) assured the world that, contrary to what the Pentagon report suggested, the Chinese military is developing “for the exclusive purpose of safeguarding the country’s sovereignty, security and developmental interests,” and that Beijing has “firmly adhered to a peaceful development path and adopted a defense policy that is wholly defensive in nature.”
There is no denying that China is a rising power and that it should be allowed to develop a military that is commensurate with its economic might and growing role internationally. As such, a large share of the billions of dollars it has injected into the military in the past decade has gone toward revamping what not so long ago was a ramshackle army that could no longer meet the requirements of a major regional — and increasingly global — player.
What undercuts Geng’s reassurances is the fact that this development is showing signs that it is going well beyond a purely defensive posture. News that the People’s Liberation Army has embarked on a program to build at least three aircraft carriers over the next seven years — a hugely expensive endeavor, especially as China has no experience building such platforms — raises the specter of a navy that intends to exert its influence well beyond China’s shores. To this we add a growing fleet of modern destroyers, nuclear submarines and an arsenal of conventional and ballistic missiles of various ranges.
Again, critics of the Pentagon report could resort to moral equivalence by pointing out that other countries, such as the US and Russia, have similar — in fact, far greater — military capabilities, and that China is entitled to have those as well.
However, the problem with that line of argument derives from how one defines China’s “defensive policy.” While it is normal for countries to feel jittery whenever a new regional hegemon arises, such apprehensions can usually be assuaged through political signaling and self-restraint on the part of the mightier party.
For the good part of the first decade of the 21st century, China did remarkably well in that regard, behavior that in part was the result of knowledge on Beijing’s part that it had yet to develop a military capable of taking on regional competitors.
This has since changed, especially in terms of naval capabilities, and countries like Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam are now aware that should it decide to do so, China could fight a war with them and expect to win. Consequently, long-simmering disputes over contested islets in the South China Sea and exclusive economic zones, which in the past could not escalate beyond the occasional skirmish, could now be resolved once and for all through military means.
And as a rising power that has observed how other great powers have behaved in the past, China could very well reach the conclusion that it, too, is entitled to use force to achieve desired political outcomes. After all, the US in 2003 launched a “defensive”— or “pre-emptive” — war against Iraq, while Russia did much the same in its war on “terrorism” in Chechnya, or “separatism” in Georgia.
When China’s regional claims encompass pretty much the entire South China Sea, countries with interests in the area can be forgiven for having doubts about what Beijing means when it says “purely defensive.”
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has over the past few months continued to escalate its hegemonic rhetoric and increase its incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. The US, in turn, has finally realized how its “strategic ambiguity” is increasingly wearing thin. Similarly, any hopes the US had that the PRC would be a responsible stakeholder and economic player have diminished, if not been abandoned. Taiwan, of course, remains as the same de facto independent, democratic nation that the PRC covets. As a result, the US needs to reconsider not only the amount, but also the type of arms
Taking advantage of my Taipei Times editors’ forbearance, I thought I would go with a change of pace by offering a few observations on an interesting nature topic, the many varieties of snakes in Taiwan. I will be drawing on my experiences living in Taiwan five times, from my teenage years in Kaohsiung back in the early sixties, to my last assignment as American Institute in Taiwan Director in 2006-9. Taiwan, with its semitropical climate, is a perfect setting for serpents. Indeed, one might say serpents are an integral part of the island’s ecosystem. Taiwan is warm, humid, with lots of
China constantly seeks out ways to complain about perceived slights and provocations as pretexts for its own aggressive behavior. It is both victimization paranoia and a form of information warfare that keeps the West on the defensive. True to form, China objected even to the innocuous reference to Taiwan at April 16’s summit meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Neither leader’s prepared remarks even mentioned Taiwan, out of deference to the Japanese side. Biden’s opening statement was modest: “Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for US-Japanese alliance and for our shared security.
Determined to keep a permanent grip on power, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has abandoned former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) dogma of “hiding our capacities and biding our time” along with the “peaceful development” line that prevailed under former Chinese presidents Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). Instead, he is treading a “wolf warrior” path of diplomacy that resorts to coercion, debt entrapment and hostage-taking. Externally, Xi’s China has claimed that it would never seek hegemony, yet it challenges the free, rules-based international order wherever it can. While insisting that it will not export its ideology, it has