Chinese military raises tensions wherever it goes

China exacerbates security concerns wherever it goes.
Chinese military raises tensions wherever it goes

China exacerbates security concerns wherever it goes. Almost everywhere, China is ratcheting up tensions and flexing its muscles, whether in the South China Sea, around Taiwan, along the border with India, in the East China Sea, and is steadfastly supporting Russia in a maniacal war against Ukraine, penetrating foreign airspace with spy balloons, buying off governments in the South Pacific, and stealing Taiwanese diplomatic partners.

Last week, Beijing stole Honduras away as a diplomatic ally of Taiwan, as the latter demanded an unreasonable USD2.4 billion from Taipei.

China has also made progress in the Pacific, especially in the Solomon Islands, where Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare appears to be firmly in China's pocket. Yet the more China spreads its influence, the more it opens itself up to the charge that it is imperialist. It constantly accuses the USA of "hegemony" and is harbouring a "Cold War” mentality, while the fact is that China is a deliberate disruptor and routinely crosses the boundary between legitimate and illegal use of force. When the Pentagon complained about the People's Liberation Army (PLA) "harassing" aircraft and vessels of numerous countries including using lasers to dazzle, dangerous aerial intercepts, threatening manoeuvres by ships and intimidating radio messages, Senior Colonel Tan Kefei, spokesperson for China's Ministry of National Defense, gave a barbed reply. "China demands the United States to immediately stop making irresponsible remarks, spreading rumours and slander about the Chinese military, and stop using the so-called 'China threat' to sow discord among regional countries."

This is a typical modus operandi. Instead of calmly dealing with the actual evidence, Beijing rips into anyone who dares to point out its misdemeanours.

China argues that it upholds freedom of navigation and overflight in accordance with international law. This is stated in black and white in a government white paper entitled "China's National Defense in the New Era".

Tan said, “The PLA has been keeping its words with real actions, handling encounters with foreign militaries at sea and in air according to laws and regulations, and always acting as a staunch force in safeguarding world peace".

However, such denials are meaningless and blatant lies, since the facts speak for themselves. Numerous fishermen and law enforcement personnel of countries like the Philippines and Vietnam have discovered how harsh and bullying the PLA and China Coast Guard are. As an indisputable example, Qantas issued a flight standing order on March 16 warning aircrews of "unwarranted VHF communications interference from persons purporting to represent the Chinese military".

Qantas said that such interference has occurred "in the Western Pacific and South China Sea". As if this was not enough, the Australian airline reported aircraft experiencing GPS jamming "suspected to originate from warships operating off the northwest shelf of Australia".

Qantas is not alone, either. The International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations (IFALPA) issued a safety bulletin on March 2 saying it was aware of airlines and military aircraft in the Pacific, South China Sea, Philippine Sea and Indian Ocean being ordered to divert flight paths to avoid airspace over warships. "We have reason to believe there may be interference to GNSS (global navigation satellite systems) and RADALT (radar altimeters) too," IFALPA added. The organization advised pilots not to respond to these warships, and to report all interference in international airspace. That is not all, for the PLA got up to all kinds of shenanigans when a British aircraft carrier task group sailed through the South China Sea in 2021. Not only was the multinational task force, comprising up to 28 vessels at one point, shadowed by the PLA Navy, but the latter deliberately attempted to jam their communications. An industry source told ANI that PLA Navy warships "contested and tested communications", primarily using their radars to jam communications and electronic systems on these vessels sailing perfectly legally in international waters. However, the source revealed that the Chinese military was unable to interrupt the Skynet satellite communications of the Royal Navy, and the allies learned a lot from these Chinese activities.

China military is clearly not a responsible actor, and no matter how vociferously Chinese government officials argue otherwise, the country is deliberately throwing its weight around and spoiling for a fight. There is no end to its ambitions either. Now Cambodia is establishing an air defense center and radar network at Ream National Park adjacent to Ream Naval Base. For several years, Washington DC has been warning that China is attempting to establish a naval base at this Cambodian facility. There are claims that a secret deal was signed in 2019, purported to last 30 years with ten-year automatic extensions thereafter. If correct, this would give China its first overseas naval base since establishing one in Djibouti in 2017.

While Phnom Penh denies Beijing will be allowed a military presence, many doubt such guarantees. While it is logical that Cambodia might want to protect its main naval base, the aforementioned radar and air defense equipment is likely to come from China anyway, and it will definitely enhance the value of the naval base for any Chinese naval vessels deploying there in the future.

Satellite images of Ream Naval Base show considerable development after expansion work funded by China commenced in mid-2022. Two new piers were built, probably to bring in construction materials, while China is also building a dry dock, slipway, hospital and several other buildings. Apart from spewing vitriol and playing the hurt victim, Beijing is doing absolutely nothing to alleviate tensions either.

Admiral John Aquilino, head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, speaking at a recent event hosted by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, complained that he has had no contact with PLA counterparts regarding a request to speak to commanders of the Eastern and Southern Theater Commands. Aquilino said: "I have not yet received a response for a year and a half to accept my request for a conversation. I've not received a 'no.' I've not received a 'wait, could we adjust?' I've just received no answer." He added, "We have continued to ask because I do think it is important. But it's concerning to me I don't have the ability to talk to someone, should there be a reason to talk."

Similar sentiments were expressed by General David Berger, Commandant of the United States Marine Corps. He lamented, "It's even more challenging because right now on our side...normally we would have communications with their military. It doesn't exist right now; and they won't communicate with us. So the normal channels when you have to quickly defuse something, they're gone. They're not gone, but they're suspended right now. So I worry, I do." The PLA is playing hard to catch, feigning innocence and labelling the USA as a warmongering bully. Minister of Foreign Affairs Qin Gang warned in March that war with the USA was inevitable unless it "changes course ". Yet China refuses to change its impetuous and sullen course, and certainly, the words coming out of Chinese officials' mouths cannot be trusted.

China has a particularly bad chip on its shoulder regarding the USA, and the West in general. It constantly refers to its "century of humiliation" at the hands of these powers long ago, and routinely accuses them of trying to "contain" China. Yet, bizarrely, this is merely a narrative of convenience concocted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It refuses to move on, because it gains benefits by painting the USA and its allies as a competitor and threats.

Any look at history proves that China's relations with Russia have been just as woeful. However, the CCP has conveniently forgotten this aspect of its history, because Chairman Xi Jinping decided to create a friendly alliance with like-minded strongman Vladimir Putin. Various Russian treaties took advantage of Chinese weakness, including the Treaty of Kulja (1851) which gave access to trade in Xinjiang; the Treaty of Aigun in 1858 where China forfeited more than 600,000km2 of land; the Treaty of Tientsin (1858) that gave Russia a right to trade with treaty ports; and 1860's Treaty of Peking where the decrepit Qing Dynasty ceded large swathes of northeast territory to Russia. This lost area of Outer Manchuria gave Russia key cities such as Khabarovsk and Vladivostok.

There is more among these so-called "unequal treaties" too, for the Treaty of St. Petersburg in 1881 saw China pay nine million silver rubles in penalties, and gave Russia duty-free trade in Xinjiang and Mongolia. Next was the 1896 Li-Lobanov Treaty of 1896, where Russian warships gained access to Chinese ports, and it built a railway through the Heilongjiang and Jilin Provinces and protected it with Russian troops. In 1898, Russia was granted a lease of Port Arthur (in modern-day Dalian) and extended railways to it.

The Boxer Protocol forced China to pay 450 million taels of silver to eight foreign powers, but the kicker is that the lion's share (29%) went to Russia. Why then does the CCP sweep all this suppression by Moscow under the carpet, while constantly blaming Western powers for historical wrongs? It shows the CCP's memory is extremely selective, and for now China ignores all Russian involvement in its humiliation.

China even fought a border war with the USSR in 1968-69. Multiple skirmishes, including at Zhenbao Island, saw 72 Chinese killed. Russia exploited Chinese weakness for decades. One wonders, with Putin now embroiled in Ukraine, whether Beijing might be giving thought to regaining some lost territory. Although extremely unlikely at this juncture, because Xi does not want to unnecessarily alienate his main ally, Russia's weakness and depletion of military units to support Putin's war in Ukraine may well have knock-on effects. Will China dust off old maps and contemplate scenarios where it might one day attempt to recapture lost territory from Russia?

Certainly, China has not been recalcitrant about antagonizing other neighbours such as India, which is in accord with a belligerent foreign policy and ambition to extend territory wherever it can. In a report entitled "India-China Border Tensions and US Strategy in the Indo-Pacific", published by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), authors Lisa Curtis and Derek Grossman concluded: "India faces an increasingly aggressive China on its border, and, as a result, the United States must be prepared to deal with future India-China border conflicts and crises. In recent years, China has upped the ante through infrastructure development, military deployments and periodic efforts to encroach into territory claimed by India." They continued, "To its credit, New Delhi has handled the situation with calm and patience, focusing on finding diplomatic solutions to the periodic flare-ups. But the situation remains tense and far from resolved, suggesting that India must constantly reconsider and fine-tune its approach to achieve continued success. Meanwhile, Beijing's initial motivation for launching the Galwan Valley attacks remains unclear, as does its long-term strategy for the region. Thus, India must remain vigilant."

The CNAS report recommended that the USA should "support New Delhi diplomatically and militarily, yet not trumpet this assistance. Washington should find creative ways to bolster India's position without seeking to mediate the conflict." General Charles Flynn, commander of the US Army Pacific, warned of PLA intentions along the Indian border too. "The activities of what's called the Western Theater Army in and along that area have been concerning for a number of months." It is understood that the USA provided India with pre-emptive intelligence during last November's confrontation in Arunachal Pradesh. The PLA has been probing and testing Indian resolve, no doubt seeing how well the Indian military might respond to a future conflict. Xi continues to urge the PLA to "be prepared to fight and win wars", a phrase actually invoked by Hu Jintao in around 2009. One reason why Xi continually hammers this point is that the PLA is not fully prepared to fight a major war. However, the other chilling side of the coin is that Xi wants the PLA ready to take on any nation in the world militarily, including the USA. Xi has already jailed the two most senior generals of the Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao era, while he arrested thousands more PLA personnel for alleged corruption. Of course, this is relatively easy to do given the engrained culture of graft within the institution.

Xi launched an incredibly disruptive restructuring in 2015 that still causes reverberations today, yet it seems Xi still does not have confidence in the capability and loyalty of the PLA. The picture is a gloomy one. China, a global power with a slanted view of history and a hubris that believes it is in the ascendancy, is eager to assert its new-found military, economic and diplomatic prowess.

Not even the USA is seen as too strong a foe, it is willing to ride roughshod over any smaller nation that stands in its way. The result is multi-faceted tensions everywhere that China seeks to expand its reach and military presence, with Taiwan representing the crown jewel in Xi's beady eyes. Is there anything he and the PLA will not do to conquer as they always "prepare to fight and win wars"? (ANI)

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