Beijing has been beating the drums of war with ever-increasing vigour. Now two top US and UK military commanders warn the world must take this very seriously.
The message is being broadcast from the very top.
China’s Communist Party (CCP) Chairman-for-life Xi Jinping told a recent gathering of politburo officials they must “fight the bloody battle against our enemies”. He also told a parade of marine troops to: “focus your minds and energy on preparing to go to war and stay highly vigilant.”
It’s a sentiment reinforced at every level of the CCP messaging machine. ‘Wolf warrior’ diplomats are assaulting opponents. Twitter is aflame with their undiplomatic bluster. And state-controlled media is filled with party-approved academic belligerence.
Amid near constant Chinese military ‘war-game’ activity on land, sea and air, the US Pacific Air Forces commander has now warned his troops to be ready for conflict.
General Kenneth Wilsbach addressed his command over a COVID-safe Facebook Live address last weekend, saying Beijing’s behaviour was “disturbing”.
He said Beijing’s “coercive activity that’s frequently not in accordance with international law,” had become his greatest challenge. “We’ve got to challenge and compete with them in accordance with the national strategy, but we also have to be ready in the event we get called to go fight tonight,” he said.
British Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter also pressed a metaphoric action-stations button, saying the threat of world war was real. “I am saying it’s a risk and I think we need to be conscious of those risks,” he said.
Beijing has continued its relentless assimilation of Hong Kong. All elected opposition members this week quit after new rules prevented them from contradicting Communist Party policy.
This “crackdown on the democratic process” was, General Wilsbach said, part of a pattern of disturbing behaviour.
There is Beijing’s arbitrary claim to own all of the South and East China Seas. There’s its land grab along the borders of India, Nepal and Bhutan. There’s its rapid and enormous military expansion.
“All that maligned activity is causing a lot of consternation with us and with our allies and partners,” he said. “(We) are looking for a free and open Indo-Pacific, which includes open commerce, open seas, open skies to be used in accordance with international law.”
Beijing, Wilsbach says, is making up its own rules as it goes along.
“(Beijing is) making new islands in the South China Sea and saying that it’s always been that way and it’s Chinese territory — and it hasn’t. That’s revisionist history.”
To counter this military assertiveness, Wilsbach says the region has to join forces. Train together. Operate together. And that process has already begun with India, Japan and Australia.
“That’s something that our adversary really has to calculate through if they want to have a conflict with us,” Wilsbach said. “In short, it becomes a deterrent value before the fight starts.”
Chief Master Sergeant David Wolfe contributed to the call by telling his aircrew: “If you don’t think that you’re participating in conflict, you know, kind of below that kinetic level right now — you are. You absolutely are.”
Britain’s General Sir Nick Carter says he believed there was a real risk global tensions could suddenly flare. He did not, however, name Beijing.
“I think we are living at a moment in time where the world is a very uncertain and anxious place,” he told UK Sky News. “I think the real risk we have, with quite a lot of regional conflicts that are going on at the moment, is you could see escalation lead to miscalculation and that is a thing I think we have to guard against.”
The combination of diplomatic bluster and widespread military manoeuvres were creating an environment where one mistake could trigger a disastrous chain of events.
“I think the real risk we have, with quite a lot of regional conflicts that are going on at the moment, is you could see escalation lead to miscalculation and that is a thing I think we have to guard against.”
And a reliance on nationalist rhetoric to promote political posturing makes such escalation more likely.
“The protagonists, either because they don’t realise the implications of their actions, lead to an escalation, which means that more people perhaps get involved, more weaponry gets involved and before you can contain it, it leads the sides ending up in a full-blown war.”
Sir Carter says the world is engaging in a disturbingly familiar cycle of posturing, intimidation and brinkmanship.
“We have to remember history might not repeat itself, but it has a rhythm,” he says. “If you look back at the last century, before both world wars, I think it was unarguable that there was an escalation that led to the miscalculation which ultimately led to war at a scale we would hopefully never see again.”
China could be triggered by US special forces training on Taiwan
For the first time in 40 years, Taiwan has confirmed a contingent of US special forces is on the island to train its troops. It’s a move that could further trigger tensions with Beijing.
A statement from Taiwan’s Naval Command is the first time such high-level military co-operation has been admitted in decades, reports Taiwan News.
“In order to maintain regional peace and stability, the military and security co-operation and exchanges between Taiwan and the US are proceeding normally,” the Navy Command said in a statement.
Groups of US special forces attending annual joint training operations in the small democracy is nothing new. What is new is the acknowledgment of this arrangement.
“This marks the first public confirmation of US military exchanges involving US Marines in Taiwan since the cessation of diplomatic relations between Taiwan and the United States in 1979,” the national news service reports.
Beijing has, so far, refrained from commenting on what is a direct slap in the face for the aggressive Taiwan assimilation message being broadcast by its ‘wolf warrior’ diplomats.
But the move comes as the 20 million-strong island nation reacts with increasing alarm at Beijing’s brutal suppression of Hong Kong and a dramatic step-up in Chinese military activity around its borders.
The Communist Party-controlled Global Times news service responded by declaring: “The US military’s presence in Taiwan used to be an open secret, and neither side actively gave publicity to related developments.
“But this time, Taiwan announced it in a high-profile way because the DPP wanted to give the impression that it has the US support, no matter who wins the US election,” it quoted a defence analyst as stating.
The response is tame in comparison to Communist Party messaging in September.
“Returning US forces to Taiwan will trigger reunification by force,” the Global Times declared.
The US military presence, however, is only temporary.
Taiwanese Marines will reportedly work with the US Marine Raider special operations unit for the next four weeks at the Tsoying Naval Base in the Kaohsiung district. The US Marines undertook a two-week COVID-19 hotel quarantine before being released for the exercise.
Much of the operation will take place at sea and along the coast. Troops will use new assault boats and personal equipment. Taiwan’s military has stepped up its preparations to resist an invasion, with exercises including urban warfare and dispersion tactics.
The presence of the US Marines isn’t the only joint exercise with Taiwan this year. US Navy Seal frogmen train their counterparts annually in Operation Flash Tamper. The annual Balance Tamper exercise places US Army Green Berets special forces among elements of the ROC Army Aviation and Special Forces Command. While these are also never publicly recognised, the US Army released a video earlier this year showing a specialist reconnaissance unit working with Taiwanese troops.
But analysts have pointed to the timing of the US Marine visit.
Taipei has invested an extra $US29 million in modernising and strengthening its small naval marine force. The unit is expected to defend Taiwan’s South and East China Sea island assets, as well as to conduct counter-terrorism and counter-incursion operations.
Washington formally recognised the Chinese Communist Party control of Beijing in 1979. Since that time, it has adopted a policy of diplomatic ambiguity over the sovereignty of Taiwan.
The “One Nation, Two Systems” argument was accepted in the hope of further encouraging Beijing to open up and engage with the world economy.
With the rise of Chinese Chairman-for-life Xi Jinping, those hopes have turned sour.
In late October, US and Chinese military commanders held talks to establish channels for “crisis communications” in the case of an “event” in the disputed South and East China Seas.
The two-day video conference also addressed Beijing fears that Washington was about to launch a sudden drone attack on its illegal South China Sea artificial island fortresses.
“The two sides agreed on the importance of establishing mechanisms for timely communication during a crisis, as well as the need to maintain regular communication channels to prevent crisis and conduct a post-crisis assessment,” a Pentagon statement said.
Meanwhile, Beijing has been hardening the language used to communicate its demand that democratic Taiwan is isolated from international trade, diplomacy and defence networks.
“If the US does deploy troops to Taiwan, it not only breaks the Three Joint communiques fundamental to China-US diplomatic relations but also triggers articles in China’s Anti-Secession Law and enables the state to employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Communist Party military television commentator Song Zhongping said in September.
“Despite that, the US has been enhancing military co-operation with Taiwan island, including sending military consultants, the US military has remained cautious in stationing troops in the island because it knows this kind of action will send China-US relations back to pre-1979 level, a status of confrontation.”
By Jamie Seidel