China Will Mock Australia’s Nuclear Shift By Saying America’s Lackey – But Beijing Has Only To Blame Itself | Richard mcgregor
The instinctive reaction of many analysts to the new military rapprochement between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia has been to ask: How will China react?
No surprises there. As defensively thought out as this question is, every foreign policy decision must be calibrated against a response from other parties.
But far fewer have focused on what might be a better, albeit more uncomfortable, question.
Over the past decade, China has embarked on one of the fastest peacetime military reinforcements in recent history, focused on the expansion and modernization of the Navy and Army of the air.
China now has a larger naval fleet than the United States, largely concentrated in the seas surrounding it, as Washington’s deployments span the globe. In 2016, China commissioned 18 new vessels; the United States only five.
The enhanced capabilities of the Chinese Air Force are on display more than ever, especially as part of Beijing’s efforts to pressure Taiwan to accept some form of unification.
The nationalist party’s tabloid, The Global Times, reported – given its statue, one might say, reported – this week that Chinese fighter jets will soon begin regular flights over Taiwan and the waters between it and the mainland, although much of that airspace is nominally under Taipei’s control.
China has built massive new islands in the South China Sea and turned them into military bases to highlight its territorial claims there. New silos are being built in western China, presumably to house missiles as part of an expanded nuclear deterrent.
At its border last year, China and India engaged in a military clash, shocking strategists in New Delhi, who still do not understand why Beijing has decided to reverse a long-negotiated separation of forces.
Which brings us back to the kinds of questions that countries in a region currently engaged in a massive arms race should be asking themselves.
Let’s start by turning the question that many Australians have asked themselves upside down: how will China react?
On the contrary, when Beijing launched its own military build-up, Chinese leaders and strategists wondered: How will the United States and its allies like Japan and Australia react?
With Thursday’s announcement in Washington, London and Canberra, the answer to that question is clearer.
In the United States, competition with China has become the key organizing principle for political, military, scientific, and commercial establishments that have been otherwise divided and aimless.
Australia, a close ally of the United States, is also reshaping its military, economic and trade policies based on the overwhelmingly bipartisan belief that Beijing intends to shape the region according to its own strategic views.
The answer is also becoming clearer in Japan, where the battle to succeed Yoshihide Suga as prime minister has been dominated to an unprecedented degree by debates over how to stand up to China.
In the case of Japan, there are two foci: Taiwan, its former colony, with which it maintains deep ties, and the Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, which Tokyo controls but which Beijing claims as its own. (The islands are also claimed by Taiwan, but that’s another story.)
The opacity of the Chinese political system means that we have limited insight into similar debates in China. But even without such ideas, Xi Jinping’s leadership is clear and relentless.
Beijing will not compromise on any territorial issue. As Xi has told many visitors in recent years, China will not give up “an inch of land left by our ancestors.”
Some would argue that China’s military build-up is just a response to being surrounded by American allies and bases in the region. In other words, that it is purely defensive.
There is some truth to this. The United States has been the most powerful country in Asia since 1945. For years, China has taken advantage of the stability offered by the United States military to develop its economy.
But there was no way a country of the size and history of China would ever accept a secondary role to the United States in Asia once it was powerful enough to push back.
Beijing won’t like the Australia / UK / US ad and will no doubt laugh at Canberra as Washington’s lackey. It is already doing this with Japan, while rekindling Tokyo’s crimes against China during its invasion and occupation in the 1930s and 1940s.
But Xi’s hard line, along with a political system that generates no disagreements at home and abroad, means that, in the process, Beijing has alienated many of its neighbors in the region.
So it’s no surprise that democracies like Australia and Japan are looking for options to deal with China’s rise to power. In different ways, South Korea and many countries in Southeast Asia are too. The United States is indispensable in all of their calculations.
Australia stands out as a country that has been willing to push back, often awkwardly, against China, and it has paid the price. This price could increase in the years to come.
But it is also increasingly clear that Beijing will have to fight many battles and punish many dissidents, on the way to achieving what Xi kindly calls “the Chinese dream.”
As if anyone needs a reminder, Thursday’s decision makes the fault lines even clearer.