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Warrior China chases alternate realities at Shangri-La Dialogue

2022 Jun 13, 16:50, Hong Kong
China's Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe. Photo- ANI

 Authoritarian China, in sharp contrast to practically every other nation, peddles a far different view of what will bring peace in Asia and the world. This was evident when China's Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe took to the stage at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on 12 June.

The Shangri-La Dialogue, organized by the British-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, brings Asian and Western defense ministers together. It usually occurs annually, but it suffered a three-year hiatus because of COVID-19.

Wei spoke on the final day, which gave him an opportunity to rebut other dignitaries such as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Opening with a military salute, the former commander of the People's Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) was quickly into his stride. "If anyone dares to secede Taiwan from China, we will not hesitate to fight. We will fight at all costs. And we will fight to the very end. This is the only choice for China."

Pause right there. Beijing was publicly promulgating, via a senior government official at an international arena filled with government dignitaries, an intention to invade a democratic country.

In the wake of President Vladimir Putin's bloody invasion of Ukraine, such threats should be roundly condemned rather than being meekly accepted as mere Chinese rhetoric. It is possible that most have already become inured to such Chinese threats.

However, as Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council rightly said, Wei's public threat of military attack at an international event proved Beijing is the real source of regional disturbance. The council called Wei's comments "tantamount to a declaration of war".

Later, answering an audience question about whether the PLA would use force against Taiwan, Wei asserted: "Taiwan is China's Taiwan. It is a province of China ... In the case of secession, China reserves other options."

Furthermore, Wei called Taiwan reunification an "historical trend that that no one or no force can stop". He threatened other parties who might disagree. Thus, he railed against the USA's 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which he described as "domestic law to interfere in the internal affairs of another country". Ironically, an identical accusation could be made about China's fetish with Taiwan.

Austin earlier warned in his speech: "Our policy hasn't changed, but unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be true for the PRC. We're seeing growing coercion from Beijing. We've witnessed a steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activity near Taiwan. That includes PLA aircraft flying near Taiwan in record numbers in recent months, and on a nearly daily basis."

Taiwan was obviously one touchstone in the Chinese defense minister's speech, but it underscores the alternate realty that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has created for itself. Everyone recognizes that Taiwan is a self-governing democracy - except China. Nor is the CCP's call for "reunification" accurate, for Taiwan has never been under CCP control.

Such warlike invective from China's top military man was totally contradictory to what he said shortly thereafter. "Development of the military of China is never intended to threaten others or to seek hegemony. China is never a threat and has never threatened any others. China will not be the bully and we are all clear on who is the bully. China has never provoked a war and never invaded other countries. China pursues a pathway of peaceful development."

Well, it is certainly threatening Taiwan militarily.

Furthermore, such claims are clearly at complete odds with the facts. Modern China has fought wars against Tibet (1950); the United Nations force that defended South Korea during the Korean War (1950-53); India (1962, with a further border conflict erupting in 2020); participated in the Vietnam War (1965-69); had a border clash with the USSR (1969); and invaded Vietnam (1979).

When asked by a Vietnamese scholar to explain how China whitewashed its aggression against Vietnam, Wei responded, "I suggest you read the history of China and Vietnam." He must have been referring to Chinese history books, perhaps the same ones that obliterated the memory of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Similarly, when an Indian academic asked about Sino-Indian border tensions, Wei deflected blame. "Maintaining good relations meets the interests of both countries, and that is what we're working on. But on frictions along the border areas, the merits of the issue are clear ...We have found a lot of weapons owned by the Indian side. They have also sent people to the Chinese side of the frontier."

As another example of China's bizarre take on international rules, news is emerging that Beijing is arguing in private talks with the US that the Taiwan Strait actually constitutes Chinese territorial waters. Beijing claims t the waterway forms part of its exclusive economic zone, in sharp contrast to all international rules such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), of which China is a signatory.

Speaking of UNCLOS, another focus in Wei's speech was the South China Sea. He asserted that China is committed to building it into "a sea of friendship and cooperation". However, that friendship has severe restrictions, since it only extends to regional countries and does not want the USA or Europe to get involved.

Wei criticized the USA for "navigational hegemony on the pretext of freedom" in the South China Sea, which is an absurd notion. As defense policy specialist Blake Herzinger observed: "Beijing's track record in the maritime commons is quite clear - they degrade good order at sea everywhere they sail, whether commercially, environmentally or militarily."

Similarly, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in his keynote speech to open the Shangri-La Dialogue on 10 June, asked: "In the South China Sea, are the rules really being honored?

Neither international law, in particular UNCLOS, to which all relevant countries agreed after years of dialogue and efforts, nor the award rendered by the Arbitral Tribunal under this convention, are being complied with."

Kishida also mentioned China's "unilateral attempts to change the status quo" in the East China Sea and Taiwan Strait. "At the root of all these problems is a situation in which confidence in the universal rules that govern international relations is being shaken. This is the essential and most serious underlying problem."

Japan's leader asked, "Can the rules-based international order we have built through hard work, dialog and consensus be upheld, and the march of peace and prosperity continue? Or will we return to a lawless world where rules are ignored and broken, where unilateral changes to the status quo by force are unchallenged and accepted, and where the strong coerce the weak militarily or economically? That is the choice we have to make today."

Similarly, Australia's newly minted Defence Minister Richard Marles said at the conference on 11 June, "Chinese militarization of features in the South China Sea needs to be understood for what it is: the intent to deny the legitimacy of its neighbors' claims in this vital international waterway through force."

Marles stated that the rule of law, not the rule of power, should govern conduct between states, and that China has a responsibility to live up to that. He also quoted Australia's former prime minister Paul Keating: "As [China]... steps up to a larger leadership role, it will at the same time need to be willing to accept and respect restraints on the way it uses its immense strength, because the acceptance of such restraints by great powers is the key to any successful and durable international order."

China does not want any constraints. The CCP has created a narrative whereby calls for upholding international rules and norms are somehow a Western notion driven by the USA for its own selfish agenda. Therefore, countries like China are not beholden to such standards.

Furthermore, if anyone calls out China for its authoritarian actions, then they are malicious and provocative. According to its officials, China is an aggrieved party. Thus, Wei repeatedly referenced the USA as a bully, and painted China as a friendly neighbor only seeking win-win competition.

The facts are that China is bullying or coercing numerous countries economically and diplomatically, has instigated territorial tensions, is prosecuting the world's most rapid military buildup, and is enacting egregious human rights abuses at home. Throughout, the CCP is acting like it is an innocent victim.

Australia's Marles pointed out too: "Large-scale military buildups must be transparent, and they must be accompanied by statecraft that reassures. China's military buildup is now the largest and most ambitious we have seen by any country since the end of the Second World War. It is critical that China's neighbors do not see this buildup as a risk for them because, without that reassurance, it is inevitable that countries will seek to upgrade their own military capabilities in response."

Wei managed to dodge directly answering pretty much all eleven questions asked of him after

his Shangri-La Dialogue address. One question related to China's construction of approximately 300 silos for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).

Wei's only explanation was: "Many people are interested in the development of China's nuclear capabilities since last year. I have worked for decades in this regard, so I think I'm quite qualified to answer this question ... You asked the purpose and development of China's nuclear capabilities. Maybe you want to hear some confidential information from me. Let me be frank, that China's policy on nuclear power is consistent - we use it for self-defense. We will not be the first to use nuclear power and we develop nuclear capabilities for the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons."

Wei's logic is that, by fielding many more nuclear weapons, China can achieve global nuclear disarmament. This is preposterous logic, showing how twisted China has become to justify itself.

Wei continued, saying, "I wonder if you have watched the military parade in 2019. Let me be honest with you, the new nuclear arms shown in the military parade have equipped Chinese forces, but China has always pursued an appropriate path for developing nuclear capabilities."

With DF-31AG and DF-41 ICBMs debuting in that parade, this is confirmation that both are now in active PLARF service. Another audience question related to China's 2021 test of a fractional orbital bombardment system. China has not officially acknowledged this test, so Wei's explanation could be construed as a tiny step forward.

"For supersonic weapons, many countries are testing weapons. I think there's no surprise that China is doing so. China will develop its military; I think it's natural. As for, is it targeted at anyone, these weapons are for protecting peace and protecting the national interests of China."

Toeing China's official line, Wei refused to call Putin's attack of Ukraine an "invasion".

Trying to reconcile the impossible, he said China respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, as well as the "legitimate security concerns" of nations. Interpreted, that means it approves Russian concerns, but not Ukrainian ones. Indeed, the Chinese official implied that those supplying weapons to Ukraine were merely prolonging the war, and that sanctions would not end the conflict. In other words, the West should allow Russia to defeat Ukraine. Furthermore, he implied that the USA should take the blame for Russia's invasion: "Who is the mastermind, who is promoting peace and who is fueling the fire?"

"China and Russia are close neighbors, important partners," and their relations are developing on a "right and correct path". Wei definitely stated that, during the Ukraine invasion, "China has never provided any material support to Russia."

Referring to Sino-US relations, Wei said they are at a critical juncture. However, things cannot improve until the US accommodates all China's interests. It goes without saying that it is not incumbent on Beijing to consider others' interests!

Indeed, Wei warned that the US must view China's development and growth in a rational way; refrain from attacking, smearing, containing or suppressing China; or interfere in China's internal affairs or harm its interests.

Instead, Wei pointed an accusing finger at the USA's approach to the Indo-Pacific, calling it "a strategy to create conflict and confrontation, to contain and encircle others". There was nothing new in Wei's speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue, as all the old propaganda points were trotted out, and threats were issued. China continues to offer a "new system" that nobody actually asked for. Sadly, there is no letup in China's hubris or militaristic talk.

Wei boasted: "No one should ever underestimate the results and capabilities of China's armed forces to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity." "It will be historic and strategic mistake to insist on taking China as a threat and an adversary."


Warrior China chases alternate realities at Shangri-La Dialogue Hong Kong china peddles a far different view of what will bring peace in Asia
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