Chinese leadership agitated over American foreign policy in the far east
Deputy Editor-John Donnelly
Ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Chinese Communist Party has watched with apparent interest to see what way the war would go and presumably to see if Vladimir Putin’s initial hopes of a quick victory could act as a template for the possibility of achieving a take-over of the Island of Taiwan. The significance of Vladimir Putin’s meetings with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the showcase Winter Olympic Games in Beijing cannot be ignored as it set the stage for Chinese passive reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, in a twist of irony, Russia’s delaying the invasion start date probably fatally harmed their initial objective of reaching Kiev and replacing the Zelenskyy government.
When the American initiative to focus on the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue known as the‘Quad’ comprising the United States, Japan, Australia and India, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said of the group in 2018:
“It seems there is never a shortage of headline grabbing ideas.”
It would appear that the Chinese policy of brief dismissive remarks approved by the Communist Party propaganda machine has not changed as, back in 2018, Minister Wang summarised the party line saying of the ‘Quad’:
“They are like the sea foam in the Pacific or Indian Ocean: they may get some attention, but will soon dissipate.”
More recently, Foreign Minister Wang has described the ‘Quad’ as an “Indo-Pacific NATO” and labelled it a mechanism for “trumpeting the Cold War mentality” and “stoking geopolitical rivalry.” The Chinese leadership have probably recently felt somewhat uneasy about their stalled growth following lockdowns which have resulted from their ‘zero-COVID’ policies. Perhaps feeling outclassed by the approach of Western governments with their more effective vaccination programmes, the Chinese certainly seem on the back foot and appear to be offering up only defensive statements such as that from Minister Wang as President Biden concluded his time in South Korea and headed to Tokyo:
“It claims that it intends to ‘change China’s surrounding environment,’ but its purpose is to contain China and make Asia-Pacific countries serve as ‘pawns’ of US hegemony.”
The Chinese are no doubt concerned that geopolitics have changed since 2007. Japan’s Prime Minister at the time, Shinzo Abe, failed to progress any agreement on promoting shared interests with Australia after pressure from Beijing, influenced by closer trade ties with China, resulted in Australia withdrawing from the grouping. A lot has changed since then as Chinese President Xi has become more adventurous, building air strips on islands constructed in the South China Sea and sending Chinese Coastguard vessels into the area around the contested Senkaku Islands known in China as the Diaoyu. Tensions have built between China and Australia as a result of Australia’s backing for an investigation on the origins of COVID and with India over clashes between Chinese and Indian military units on the disputed Himalayan border.
Against this background, there has been increasing awareness in Japan that the country’s tendency towards pacifism prevalent since World War II is unsustainable. The complexities of China’s relationship with an increasingly aggressive North Korean dictatorship cannot be reassuring in the region and is probably a driver to Japan’s added security concerns. However, one of the biggest shared concerns for Australia and Japan has been Beijing’s backing for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It may be nearly 80 years since Japanese Zeros and British Spitfires battled high in the sky over Darwin in the Australian Northern Territories, but it certainly seems entirely of China’s making that these two erstwhile enemies now make up the cornerstones of a four-part alliance. As Susannah Patton, a research fellow at the Lowry Institute in Sydney put it:
“How it [the Quad] evolves will in large part depend on China’s behaviour. If China continues to undermine regional norms and coerce other countries, the Quad will respond.”
As with the conflict in Ukraine, it shouldn’t really surprise the autocratic regimes in either Moscow or Beijing that their aggressiveness will eventually be met with consequences for them. If their calculations infer that the free world has learned nothing from past conflicts initiated by dictatorships then, as Vladimir Putin is learning, democracies and the free world will eventually push back and assist those resisting military adventurism and aggressive war. The Chinese leadership should only blame their policies for building up a coalition capable of resisting intimidation and coercion.
This article first appeared in the Sark Newspaper : May 27th 2022