An offended Beijing has retaliated over ‘malicious’ moves made by the US but it turns out they were totally confused.
“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) held exercises in all major Chinese sea areas over the past week in moves that displayed the PLA’s determination and preparedness,” Chinese state-controlled media proclaimed.
At the heart of the storm was Taiwan. Beijing believes it is getting above itself.
It has accepted at least two US military flights carrying supplies and diplomatic envoys. It has also dared to open a diplomatic office in Lithuania under the name of “Taiwan”.
Beijing blames Washington for both sets of “malicious” activities.
“Such adventurous and provocative action has seriously undermined the political foundation of China-US relations and the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” an editorial on the People’s Liberation Army’s official website asserts.
“China does not oppose normal economic and cultural exchanges between other countries and the Taiwan region, but the fact that ‘Taiwan’ is used in the naming of the new mission instead of the normal reference of ‘Taipei’ shows the malicious intentions of the island’s separatist forces,” accuses the state-controlled Global Times.
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But Beijing was most offended by Washington’s sea and air activities around Taiwan and for daring to land there.
“Any unauthorised entry into China’s territorial air space by foreign military vessels and aircraft will lead to serious consequences,” said Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Colonel Wu Qian. “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory, we solemnly urge the US side to stop playing with fire and immediately quit such hazardous provocative actions.”
Storm in a teacup?
The cause of the most recent crisis appears confused.
Beijing reacted with anger at the weekend, accusing the United States of landing a military aircraft on Taiwan. This was a clear breach of a longstanding “red line”, it insisted.
But the aircraft was not military.
It was an L100-30 Hercules. This is a civilian version of the 67-year-old C130 Hercules military transport aircraft. And it had been chartered by the civilian American Institute in Taiwan (AIT).
Beijing attempted to maintain the rage regardless.
“Even if the aircraft is used by the AIT for civilian purposes, the fact that it is military in nature is a huge provocation,” the Global Times quoted “mainland military aviation expert” Fu Qianshao as saying.
It then quoted an anonymous “military analyst”, using a Western term used to describe Beijing’s tactic of making small but ever-increasing steps of provocation: “The US is using another salami-slicing tactic of using military aircraft in civilian disguise”.
The anonymous source also reportedly accused the United States of disguising military aircraft as civilian. “(This is) for close-in reconnaissance operations on Chinese coastlines, islands and reefs, some of them deployed by defence contractors and some of them faking their identification codes as civilian aircraft,” he said.
The US Air Force had openly sent military aircraft – a C-146A Wolfhound personnel transport and a much larger C-17 Globemaster – to Taiwan in preceding weeks.
This rattled Beijing, which is determined to keep Taiwan isolated from the world.
“The Chinese mainland could expand its air defence identification efforts near the island, assess the situation of the aircraft near it, and send warplanes to identify, track and drive them away when necessary,” Fu reportedly said. “The Chinese mainland should not allow this serious condition to become routine, and there should be counter-measures.”
A snap drill was conducted in waters off Guangdong Province to Taiwan’s south on Tuesday. Warships and aircraft fired live weapons some 300km off Taiwan’s Pratas Island at the northernmost tip of the South China Sea.
Beijing-controlled media says this was in direct response to the L100 Hercules landing in Taiwan just days earlier.
Beijing says another “confrontational exercise” was held in the South China Sea shortly after the US guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold passed through the Paracel Islands on July 12.
And, on Friday, July 16, a snap amphibious landing exercise was conducted on the mainland side of the Taiwan Strait in Fujian Province. At the same time, there was another no-notice drill off Zhejiang Province in the East China Sea, on the northern entrance to the Taiwan Strait.
This was one day after the landing of the C-146 Wolfhound at Taipei.
“Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and any foreign military aircraft landing on Chinese territory must obtain the permission of the Chinese government,” Colonel Wu insisted.
China Arms Control and Disarmament Association advisor Xu Guangyu told state-controlled media the US moves were “very risky”. “It is stepping on China’s red lines, and China has to take action”.
Fu was much more wolfish in his Global Times interview. “Depending on the level of the threat, we could take different measures, including expulsion and fire warnings … We have the right to shoot down any foreign military aircraft with combat capability that trespasses upon China’s airspace to carry out military missions.”
‘Utterly smash independence’
“There is only one China in the world, Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory, and the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the only legitimate government representing China. This is an internationally acknowledged fact and a basic norm of international relations,” the PLA editorial asserts.
The problem is, it isn’t that simple.
Taiwan has reacted with horror to Beijing’s brutal crackdown on fundamental human rights and freedoms after seizing control of Hong Kong. The fledgling democracy has, if anything, become more determined to carve out a destiny separate from the Chinese Communist Party.
The uncertain separation of unconquered Taiwan from the Communist mainland became a diplomatic norm in a world consumed by the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
The consequences of that desire to shove the issue under the carpet are now apparent.
“The Taiwan question is purely China’s internal affairs,” the PLA insists. “China resolutely opposes any form of official exchanges and military connections between the US and Taiwan, resolutely opposes the policy of using Taiwan to control China. China resolutely opposes Taiwan to rely on the US and resist reunification by the use of force.”
China also threatened Lithuania with economic and diplomatic sanctions for dealing directly with Taiwan. But it blames the United States.
“(Washington’s) evil political plan (is) to encourage smaller countries to test China while Washington itself dares not to bear the consequences as it knows well how serious Beijing is on the Taiwan question,” the Global Times accuses.
Colonel Wu reasserted Beijing’s determination to assimilate Taiwan, against its will if necessary.
“China must be and will be reunited,” he said.
“No one should underestimate the resolve, will and ability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army keeps on high alert and will take all necessary measures to utterly smash any attempt toward Taiwan independence.”
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel
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