Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe told the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Sunday that Beijing is prepared to use military force to back up its claims on Taiwan and disputed islands in the South China Sea.
“The PLA has no intention to cause anybody trouble but it is not afraid to face up to troubles. Should anybody risk crossing the bottom line, the PLA will resolutely take action and defeat all enemies,” said Wei.
He added that China will never “yield a single inch of the country’s sacred land,” a description the Chinese have lately used for almost the entirety of the South China Sea, even though other nations have territorial claims in the region and have won judgments against China in international courts.
On the subject of Taiwan, Wei said Beijing will inevitably take full control of the island and is prepared to go to war if the Taiwanese declare independence. The United States has long assisted Taiwan in developing effective defenses against an invasion from mainland China.
“China must be and will be reunified. We find no excuse not to do so. If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military has no choice but to fight at all costs, at all costs, for national unity,” he said.
“We will strive for the prospect of peaceful unification with utmost sincerity and greatest efforts, but we make no promise to renounce the use of force,” he added.
In a bizarre passage of his speech, Wei compared China using military force against Taiwan to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln preserving the Union in the Civil War.
“American friends told me that Abraham Lincoln was the greatest American president because he led the country to victory in the Civil War and prevented the secession of the U.S. The U.S. is indivisible, and so is China. China must be and will be reunified,” said Wei.
Wei insisted China has only constructed “limited defense facilities” on the South China Sea islands it claims, when in fact some of those islands have been expanded in size and converted into veritable fortresses, in violation of promises made by Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping to former U.S. President Barack Obama.
“It is only when there are threats would there be defenses. In face of heavily armed warships and military aircraft, how can we not deploy any defense facilities?” he said, repeating an excuse commonly given by Chinese military officers when they are confronted with satellite photos of their immense military buildup in the region.
Wei’s remarks fell perfectly in line with China’s strategy of changing the facts on the ground until their territorial claims are impossible to refute without a full-scale military conflict, and then urging all other parties to avoid such a terrible outcome by pursuing “non-confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation,” as the defense minister put it. China takes what it wants, then insists the U.S. and its allies must avoid confrontational rhetoric by accepting Beijing’s position.
Chinese media went into overdrive praising Wei’s “strong” and “confident” performance, as the state-run Global Times described his speech. According to the Global Times, the audience was “stunned” by Wei’s determination and his blunt promises of military retaliation if Beijing’s agenda in the Pacific is challenged.
“If the People’s Liberation Army cannot safeguard the unity of the motherland, what do we need it for?” Wei asked in a line the Global Times seemed particularly fond of.
The Chinese paper also applauded Wei for blowing off questions about the Tiananmen Square massacre by insisting it was merely a case of the Chinese Communist Party taking “decisive measures to cease political turbulence” and preserve “stability.”
Another Global Times editorial played up the carrot part of China’s carrot-and-stick approach, restating the common Chinese formulation that those who challenge Beijing’s agenda will be the parties responsible for any unpleasantness that might ensue:
The Belt and Road Initiative attends to Asia-Pacific countries’ desire for progress. It could be an ideal platform for China to show its openness and inclusiveness and build broader regional cooperation. China’s rapid economic growth can back neighboring countries to withstand pressure from the US and not take sides.
China should also accelerate its pace in coordinating specific issues with neighboring countries, such as consulting on the development of the 5G network, upgrading the free trade zone between China and ASEAN, properly settling the China-India trade imbalance, and pushing forward the negotiations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
This is the biggest difference between China and the US in coping with the trade war. China doesn’t engage in cold war confrontation but in common development. Asia-Pacific countries should keep their eyes sharp and see that the US is not only splitting the region but also adopting economic unilateralism and economic terrorism.
Yet another Global Times article was brimming with applause from Chinese analysts who praised Wei for laying down red lines on Taiwan and the South China Sea islands. They saw him as making a push at the Shangri-La Dialogue to define the United States as a “foreign power” that has no legitimate business in the Pacific; at one point he airily dismissed the U.S. Taiwan Relations Act because it is an American law calling for the defense of Taiwan, not a law ratified by Chinese or international courts.
These Chinese analysts praised Wei for his criticism of American and allied Freedom of Navigation Operations, which are conducted with growing frequency to prove that China cannot control passage through the South China Sea.
The Chinese characterize these patrols as destabilizing actions that could lead to military conflict, an absurd apprehension if China is truly committed to freedom of navigation and the People’s Liberation Army is as professional and well-equipped as officials like Defense Minister Wei claim it is.
At the Shangri-La Dialogue, Wei noted China has not threatened any of the 100,000 ships that sail through the South China Sea every year.
“The problem, however, is that in recent years some countries outside the region come to the South China Sea to flex muscles, in the name of freedom of navigation,” he said. “These large-scale shows of force and offensive operations in the region are the most serious destabilizing and uncertain factors in the South China Sea.”