Originally posted at The Hill.
China has taken great umbrage as the Biden administration continues its predecessor’s pushback against Beijing’s decades of barely-disguised aggression and significantly expands outreach to allies and security partners.
After the visits by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, Biden’s third major outreach effort was directed toward America’s European allies and economic partners. His team managed to obtain language for the first time from both the G-7 and NATO organizations expressing the same concern over Taiwan it had extracted from Tokyo and Seoul, while also taking Beijing to task over its human rights record.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his colleagues saw each multinational statement supporting universal principles as an anti-China affront requiring a stern response. After the G-7 meeting, China flew the largest number of aircraft ever through Taiwan’s airspace. That followed a 10-day hiatus in such flights that some observers had wishfully viewed as Chinese moderation induced by the Suga and Moon visits. The incursion by 28 military aircraft told a different story.
So did Beijing’s moves on the propaganda front. Xi recently called on Communist Party leaders to develop a more “trustworthy, lovable and respectable” national image. His message evoked the lament of the trained assassin in the 1962 film, “The Manchurian Candidate,” that he was “not lovable.” Yet, brainwashed American POWs in the movie described him as “the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being.” Xi obviously would like to pull off the same mind-altering feat for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — without any change in CCP behavior.
Xi’s message was mistakenly perceived as scaling down China’s acerbic and confrontational “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy that Chinese officials attempted in Anchorage against Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
But days after Xi’s speech, Chinese spokespersons disabused Western observers of false hopes. They made clear that Beijing was not stepping back from its hard-edged campaign against the West, described as “political warfare” in a new book by Kerry Gershaneck.
China’s unofficial military spokesman, retired People’s Liberation Army (PLA) senior Col. Bao Ming, was brutally graphic and unambiguous in describing China’s intended responses to any U.S. intervention to defend Taiwan: “It is necessary that China make an explicit statement to the world of the consequences the U.S. and Japan will face in the event of their military intervention in a Taiwan Strait conflict.” He proceeded to identify China’s target list for its long-range weapons, starting with U.S. military bases in Japan and South Korea. Next, Japanese supply and logistics bases that support the U.S. “would be destroyed instantly by the PLA.” In the final phase short of all-out war, Japanese military units supporting U.S. military forces would be “destroyed indiscriminately.”
Moving up the escalatory ladder, Bao said if Japan were to fully engage in defending Taiwan, China “shall declare war on Japan [and] totally wipe out” Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. “China will even destroy Japan’s war potential at all costs. The Japanese should understand this.” Though he didn’t carry his threats to their logical conclusion, the last scenario Bao described presumably would leave Japan defenseless against a full-scale invasion from China.
The main target of Bao’s verbal fusillade was clearly Tokyo after Suga’s visit to the White House, where the joint U.S.-Japan statementmentioned “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” Though cursory and far short of what the U.S. side hoped for, it was the two capitals’ first official joint reference to Taiwan since 1969.
But even that bland statement was further diluted when Suga said a few days after the summit that the statement “did not presuppose [Japan’s] military involvement at all” in a conflict over Taiwan. Of course, Washington’s commitment to the defense of Japan does “presuppose” American military involvement to protect Japan’s claim to the barren rocks of the Senkakus.
The reward for Suga’s diminishing the perceived significance of his statement in Washington was not a dialing down of Beijing’s fiery rhetoric but a compounding of it. It remains to be seen whether Suga will now go all the way in disavowing “the importance of peace and stability” over Taiwan.
That Chinese leaders consider such crude threats effective, despite Xi’s call for a more “lovable” CCP image, was explained by Lu Shaye, China’s foremost exponent of the aggressive Wolf Warrior approach and current ambassador to France. In a recent interview, he said, “The West has launched a public opinion war against us. How can we not fight back? China’s image would be tarnished as they desire if we do not strike back.”
The argument is analogous to Beijing’s decades of paranoid (or contrived) complaints that the West was “containing” China or “keeping China down” even as Western policies were striving mightily, out of fear or greed or both, to help build China’s economy, diplomatic clout, and even its military power.
Now that many in the West have had their eyes opened to the multidimensional China threat, Beijing has created the very “ganging up against China” that it long feared. So its answer is to double down on its aggressive policies and rhetoric and charge that it is only responding to others’ assaults. As Lu succinctly put it, “It is them who are the real aggressors and not us. We never actively attack or provoke others. What we do is justified defence to safeguard our own interests.” Such paranoia or deceit is as much in the CCP’s DNA as it was in Nazi Germany’s and the Soviet Union’s.
Lu did utter one incontrovertible reality — yet one too few in the West seem to recognize — when he said, “The public opinion war is a strength of the West but a weakness for us.” He was right, but not for the reason he offered: “We need to have long-term planning, just like Chairman Mao talked about the protracted war,” and more diplomats, media workers and academics to carry out the project.
The West has an inherent advantage because it is easier and more persuasive to tell the truth. Beijing’s having more people tell lies more efficiently will not succeed in this information age — unless the West is as derelict as it has been in the past in telling its story, warts and all, and exposing the absolute evil of the communist dictatorship.
Lu said, “Our style has changed and you need to get used to it.” Let the West’s own information war begin in earnest. It beats the shooting kind.