China’s provocative tone at Shangri-La


The greatest threat from bellicose China was reserved for democratic Taiwan at the Shangri-La Dialogue. “We will take resolute actions to curb Taiwan’s independence and make sure such a plot never succeeds. Anyone who dares to separate Taiwan from China will only end up in self-destruction.”…reports Asian Lite News

Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an international defence and security conference held in Singapore from May 31 to June 2, Chinese Defense Minister Admiral Dong Jun declared, “We will not allow hegemonism and power politics to undermine the interests of Asia-Pacific countries. We will not allow anyone to bring geopolitical conflicts or any war, whether hot or cold, to our region. We will not allow any country or any force to create conflict and chaos in our region.”

This was fighting talk from China, which has already created immense security concerns in the Asia-Pacific region. Indeed, these words formed a sharp juxtaposition as China Coast Guard personnel, just days earlier, fired water cannons, harassed a medical evacuation and stole and destroyed supplies airdropped to Philippine troops aboard a beached ship guarding Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.

However, the greatest threat from bellicose China was reserved for democratic Taiwan. “We will take resolute actions to curb Taiwan’s independence and make sure such a plot never succeeds. Anyone who dares to separate Taiwan from China will only end up in self-destruction.”

Worryingly, Beijing’s rhetoric at this annual Singapore conference that attracts defence ministers from all over the world reached a new level of intimidation. No other country at the Shangri-La Dialogue issues such blatant threats, and one wonders why China is given an international platform to air violent rhetoric.

Such toxic comments also underscored how Chinese officials have locked themselves in a self-imposed echo chamber sustained by a constant diet of false propaganda and nationalistic jingoism. A Chinese delegate even went as far as saying that recent military drills against Taiwan were designed to “punish separatists” and not the Taiwan people. He added that “Taiwan people call on the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to protect them”.

Such notions are sheer idiocy. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues to fervently spout such nonsense, seemingly believing its own delusions and thinking the rest of the world somehow agrees with it.

This spirit of willful ignorance – and arrogance – was evidenced by PLA officers who used formal question-and-answer sessions at the Shangri-La Dialogue not to ask genuine questions, but to reemphasize Chinese talking points and solidify accusations. Indeed, this is China’s profound difficulty. It wants to come across as a responsible power that cares about others, but it cannot refrain from bullying. For example, Dong said in his speech, “Despite problems and differences that have occurred from time to time, dialogue and consultation have always been our favourite choices for resolving differences and disagreements.”

Furthermore, China’s defence minister said his nation, “As a responsible major country, is ready to share its practices that have proved successful and work together with other countries to embrace a bright future”.

Dong said that Chairman Xi Jinping’s “vision and initiatives echo the trend of history and respond to the longing of people around the world for a better life”. Of course, its “successful” model features authoritarianism, one-party rule, tight surveillance of the populace, mass incarcerations and militarism. Ignoring the glossy language for a moment, very few would like to embrace this future promulgated by Beijing.

Its efforts at statesmanship are continually undermined by threats against any who disagree with it, and nor do its actions match its words. In almost the same breath, Dong warned of the danger of being drawn in as pawns into blocs by hegemonic powers. In other words, China’s neighbours cannot be trusted to make their own choices.

After listening to Dong’s speech at the three-day Dialogue, Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University, could only conclude, “That was the most consistently intimidating speech we’ve heard from China at a Shangri-La Dialogue. Defence Minister Dong Jun warned of ‘resolute’ military action against Taiwan’s ‘fanatical’ forces, then said ‘there is a limit to our restraint’ against the Philippines.”

The overwhelming sense emanating from Chinese delegates is one of tone deafness – only China’s interests matter and everybody else is to blame if their interests do not coincide. This kind of historical blinker is dangerous and echoes the historical “grievances” that Vladimir Putin used as the raison d’etre for attacking Ukraine.

Thus, the Shangri-La Dialogue has become an annual occasion where China can lay out its historically inaccurate and spurious claims, and harangue and threaten others with violence unless they concede to Chinese narratives.

In his keynote address, Dong made five key points. Each highlighted the uncomfortable and increasingly glaring paradox between Chinese word and deed. The first theme was that “China’s strategic culture is anchored on universal love and non-aggression”. Unfortunately, this is difficult to reconcile with its actions in the South China Sea or along the Indian border, nor its insistence on supporting warmonger Putin and refusing to attend a Ukrainian peace summit in Switzerland.

Dong said Beijing has been promoting peace talks, has never provided weapons, and has never done anything to fan the flames in Ukraine. “We stand firmly on the side of peace and dialogue.” However, in a surprise visit to Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he did not meet a single Chinese official despite his efforts to set up meetings. So much for standing on the side of dialogue! Zelensky lamented: “With China’s support for Russia, the war will last longer. And that is bad for the whole world.”

Dong also addressed China’s spectacular build-up of its nuclear-weapon stockpile. “China’s nuclear policy is a highly stable, consistent and predictable one.” China has embarked upon the most dramatic build-up of nuclear weapons the world has ever seen, but this is brushed aside as being “stable, consistent and predictable”! No other explanation is necessary, according to China.

Ironically, Dong said China “advocates settlement of disputes through dialogue and consultation and despises the law of the jungle. When addressing border and maritime disputes, we have never provoked incidents or easily resorted to the use of force.”

However, video footage released by the Philippine government and media shows this claim is utterly unfounded, as Chinese law enforcement vessels resort to growing levels of recklessness and violence. It seems only a matter of time before Filipino seamen are killed.

In fact, the Philippines copped high criticism from Beijing. “…A certain country, emboldened by outside powers, has broken bilateral agreements and its own promises, made premeditated provocations and created false scenarios to mislead the public.”

He warned Manila, “China has exercised great restraint in the face of such infringements and provocations, but there is a limit to our restraint. We hope this country could see where its true interests lie, return to the right track of dialogue and consultation, and work with other countries in the region to make the South China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.”

Moving on to the Chinese defence minister’s second point, he said his regime is “committed to pursuing common security. China champions a vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security.” He added, “Seeking bloc confrontation can only exacerbate tension and provoke war and conflict.”

His third point was that China is “committed to equality and mutual respect”. “China hopes that all countries are equal regardless of their size, and all militaries are equal regardless of their strength … The Chinese military never acts from the so-called position of strength in its relations with foreign militaries.” With all seriousness, Dong said, “On international and regional security issues, China has never coerced others into taking sides or interfered in the internal affairs of other countries.”

Answering a question following his speech, Dong said of Philippine efforts to defend its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea: “I think this is blackmail and hijacking rules because we are always talking about rules-based international order. I think this is not even morally right. And China’s law enforcement is very restrained and in accordance with our law … But I also want to say our tolerance for deliberate provocation, we have a limit.”

He reiterated Beijing’s desire to “build a more just and equitable international order”. Yet, while paying lip service to international law, Beijing continues to flagrantly break it in the South China Sea.

Collin Koh, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore, said of China’s refusal to acknowledge the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s authority and application of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (of which China is a signatory): “[It’s] outright disinfo. Under the compulsory dispute settlement mechanism provisions of UNCLOS, Manila can unilaterally refer the case to arbitration. The tribunal convened under UNCLOS auspices satisfied itself that it could legally hear the case before it proceeded to do so.”

Fourthly, Dong said, China is dedicated to openness and inclusiveness, claiming that the PLA has military exchanges with more than 150 nations. He said, “We stay open to exchanges and cooperation with the US military. But this requires efforts from both sides.”

Dong met US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a 75-minute encounter on 30 June, their first meeting, but he failed to acknowledge that it was China who unilaterally suspended all communications between their respective defence departments for around 15 months until they were renewed last November.

Dong’s fifth point was a commitment to safeguard national core interests. “China always respects the legitimate concerns of other countries, and China’s core interests are sacred and inviolable. To safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is the sacred mission of the Chinese military.” Naturally, what China sees as legitimate is typically completely different from others’ views, preventing any meaningful dialogue or agreement.

Taiwan is the number one core issue for China, and the Chinese defence minister accused the ruling Democratic Progressive Party thereof “pursuing separation in a incremental way”. With gusto, he continued, “Those separatists recently made fanatical statements that show their betrayal of the Chinese nation and their ancestors. They will be nailed to the pillar of shame in history.”

The USA came in for blame too. “At the same time, some external interfering forces keep hollowing out the One China principle with a salami-slicing strategy. They have cooked up Taiwan-related legislation and continued to sell arms to Taiwan and have illegal official contacts with it. In fact, what they are doing is emboldening Taiwan independence separatists in an attempt to contain China with Taiwan. These malicious intentions are dragging Taiwan into a dangerous situation.”

He described Taiwan as an entirely internal affair that brooks no foreign interference. “China stays committed to peaceful reunification. However, this prospect is increasingly being eroded by separatists for Taiwan’s independence and foreign forces.

The danger of national division is still there.” He spoke as though Taiwan was once part of communist China, but it never has been. After his speech, Dong fielded questions from the audience, but he spent the vast majority of his time lambasting Taiwan.

“Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. It is a province of China. I think this fact is very clear.” Rather than admitting that China was militarily coercing and intimidating Taiwan, he laid the blame for the PLA’s ongoing aircraft and naval incursions solely on Taipei.

“I think, facing the strong People’s Liberation Army, their efforts will be futile. And their efforts can only lead to accelerated demise and only undermine the interests of people in Taiwan. And that is the least thing we want to see in China.”

On the contrary, that is the top priority of the PLA, the armed wing of the CCP. Perhaps it is time to ban China from future editions of the Shangri-La Dialogue until it can learn to moderate its vindictive emotions and bullying threats. There would be many who would prefer to invite Taiwan next year instead. (ANI)

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