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  World   Asia  18 Feb 2019  China is 'greatest long-term strategic threat' in Indo-Pacific

China is 'greatest long-term strategic threat' in Indo-Pacific

Published : Feb 18, 2019, 4:13 pm IST
Updated : Feb 18, 2019, 4:13 pm IST

The reason is that China has been tacitly protecting JeM’s leader, Masood Azhar.

China was slow in condemning the latest attack in Kashmir, taking a day to issue a guarded statement that mentioned neither Pakistan nor JeM. (Photo:ANI)
 China was slow in condemning the latest attack in Kashmir, taking a day to issue a guarded statement that mentioned neither Pakistan nor JeM. (Photo:ANI)

Hong Kong: India was appalled at the terrorist attack that killed 40 paramilitaries of the Central Reserve Police Force in Jammu and Kashmir on 14 February. Even though Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing, fingers of blame are also being pointed in China’s direction.

The reason is that China has been tacitly protecting JeM’s leader, Masood Azhar, also responsible for an attack on India’s parliament in December 2011 and an assault on an Indian Air Force base in January 2016, by blocking a United Nations declaration of him as a “global terrorist”.

China was slow in condemning this latest attack in Kashmir, taking a day to issue a guarded statement that mentioned neither Pakistan nor JeM. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said, “We firmly oppose and strongly condemn all forms of terrorism. We hope relevant regional countries will cooperate to cope with the threat of terrorism and jointly uphold regional peace and stability.”

However, this statement is at complete odds with it single handedly blocking Indian efforts to label Azhar a terrorist. Just a week before the terrorist attack, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong justified China’s stance in the UN: “China is opposed to all forms of terrorism. There should be no double standards on counterterrorism, nor should one pursue own political gains in the name of counterterrorism.”

Despite support for India from the USA, UK and France, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi previously said at the UN General Assembly, “Whether these people are terrorists or not, there should be solid facts and proof. If there is irrefutable evidence, no one can turn its back on it. I don’t think Pakistan will do that.”

Despite willfully ignoring evidence and JeM’s own claims of responsibility, Beijing’s position is rife with double standards.

It has twisted the situation of the purported threat from the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) to initiate draconian security measures in Xinjiang Province. Indeed, as part of its mass subjugation of a minority ethnic group that would have made Comrade Stalin proud, China has arbitrarily imprisoned at least a million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Why does China technically block the UN’s bid to declare Azhar a terrorist, especially since the UN had already added JeM to the list of banned terrorist organizations? It began doing so at Pakistan’s behest as far back as 2016. China describes Pakistan as its “all-weather friend”, while it remains antagonistic towards India. It thus achieves the twin purposes of showing support to its ally and needling Delhi.

China is investing heavily in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that will give it access to the Indian Ocean, and it wants to maintain its largest military export market. At the UN, Islamabad and Beijing have a cozy relationship supporting each other.

India and the rest of the peace-loving world should be rightly angered by Pakistan’s hospitality of JeM and Azhar, as well as China’s unqualified support for Pakistan.

The fact is that there is increasing awareness around the region that China is not at all benevolent, but rather that it poses a credible threat to security in the Indo-Pacific region.

For example, it can be seen from the foregoing that Beijing’s hard message against terrorism can be watered down overseas for reasons of political expediency, even though it maintains an iron fist at home. In other words, Beijing is not at war with terrorism at large, but rather only terrorism that might threaten communist party rule.

China offers an ideological and conventional military threat to the region as well.

For instance, Admiral Philip Davidson, commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), described China as “the greatest long-term strategic threat to a free and open Indo-Pacific and to the United States”. He testified thus at a Senate Armed Services Committee about the posture of his command on 12 February.

While China might be the greatest long-term threat, the commander noted that “North Korea will remain the most immediate challenge” to the USA, however.

While the cynic might say that American military commanders use such opportunities to exaggerate the threat in order to gain greater levels of funding, Davidson was blunt when assessing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). He stated: “The PLA is the principal threat to US interests, US citizens and our allies inside the First Island Chain – a term that refers to the islands that run from northern Japan through Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia – and the PLA is quickly increasing its ability to project power and influence beyond the First Island Chain.”

China’s military is casting its eye far beyond the First Island Chain, however. Davidson testified, “The PLA maintains a high operations tempo, primarily in and near China, but is quickly expanding its operating areas beyond the region,” as exemplified by its anti-piracy task force off the Horn of Africa and its overseas military base at Djibouti.

Taiwan received substantial attention in the testimony. “…China is focused on achieving reunification as a part of the PRC’s national plan of rejuvenation…We continue to be concerned with China’s military build-up across the Strait, Beijing’s opaqueness about its military capability and capacity, and its unwillingness to preclude the use of force to resolve the cross-strait issue.” He further warned, “President Xi’s solution of one country, two systems approach to reunification does not reflect the wishes of both sides.”

Unsurprisingly, the South China Sea received attention from the US Navy (USN) admiral. He said, “Beijing maintains maritime claims in the South China Sea that are contrary to international law and pose a substantial long-term threat to the rules-based international order.

“In April 2018, Beijing continued militarizing outposts by deploying advanced military systems that further enhance the PLA’s power projection capabilities, including missiles and electronic jammers. These actions run directly counter to President Xi’s 2015 commitment not to militarize these features.”

The hardening of American resolve can be illustrated by the number of freedom of navigation operations conducted by the USN in the South China Sea. Under Obama’s eight-year presidential tenure, they occurred just four times. President Donald Trump, conversely, has completed 12 such operations in just over two years.

China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels “ regularly harass and intimidate fishing vessels from our treaty ally, the Philippines, operating near Scarborough Reef, as well as the fishing fleets of other regional nations”, Davidson commented. The CCG, as well as the PLA Navy, also sends vessels to the East China Sea, “using its military forces to advance its territorial claims”.

China’s employs more than just military power to spread its orb of influence. Davidson warned, “Through fear and economic pressure, Beijing is working to expand its form of communist-socialist ideology in order to bend, break and replace the existing rules-based international order.”

Yet there is growing resistance, he acknowledged. “Over the last year, we have seen that countries across the region are becoming more aware of the threat Beijing’s economic policies pose.” He cited Malaysia and the Maldives as examples. “We must continue to support countries that stand up to Beijing’s coercive economic policies whenever possible,and help those countries offset any economic blowback from Beijing. Our engagement in the Indo-Pacific must truly be a whole-of-government undertaking, in partnership with the private sector and civil society, to counter China’s economic coercion.”

When addressing the PLA, the INDOPACOM chief noted, “Beijing pursues both qualitative and quantitative efforts to transform its military, modernizing its military platforms while simultaneously increasing the number of platforms in service.”

Particular weapon systems were mentioned: an aircraft carrier group centered on the Liaoning, a second indigenously developed carrier that “will likely join the PLA Navy in 2019”, Type 055 cruisers, Fuyu-class fast combat support ships, J-20 fighters plus research into a new sixth-generation fighter, Y-20 transport aircraft and S-400 air defense systems acquired from Russia.

The USA is particularly alarmed at China’s pursuit of high-tech weaponry. “Beijing continues pursuing next-generation technologies and advanced weapons systems, including hypersonic glide vehicles, directed energy weapons, electromagnetic railguns, counter-space weapons and unmanned and artificial intelligence-equipped weapons.”

Furthermore, “The PLA has made significant technological, game-changing developments in its ability to defeat, or drastically reduce, the effectiveness of US sensors and defensive weapons.”

Why does a country, which nobody has ever threatened militarily, need to develop so many weapons? This is more than just building up defenses, for China is going totally overboard to develop a mighty military force that can compete with anyone in the world. This is not the normal policy of a peace-loving country.

The same message of alarm came through in the 2019 edition of the Missile Defense Review recently issued by the USA’s Department of Defense (DoD).

It said, “China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region and reorder the region to its advantage. Offensive missiles play an increasingly prominent role in China’s military modernization, its coercive threats and efforts to counter US military capabilities in the Indo-Pacific. It has deployed 75-100 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), including a new road-mobile system and a new multi-warhead version of its silo-based ICBM. Beijing also now possesses four advanced Jin-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), each capable of carrying 12 new submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), the CSS-N-14.”

Consequently, China can now potentially threaten the USA with up to 125 nuclear missiles, some capable of employing multiple warheads, and its “nuclear forces will increase in the coming years”.

Davidson added detail: “China’s third-generation Type 096 SSBN will be armed with JL-3 SLBMs and will likely begin construction in the early 2020s.”

The Missile Defense Report added, “A key component of China’s military modernization is its conventional ballistic missile arsenal designed to prevent US military access to support regional allies and partners. China is improving its ability to strike regional targets, such as US bases and naval assets, at greater ranges with the addition of the growing number of medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. This includes sophisticated anti-ship ballistic missiles that pose a direct threat to US aircraft carriers.”

Additionally, China has ground- and air-launched land attack cruise missiles. “These and other wide-ranging developments in China’s expansive offensive missile arsenal pose a potential nuclear and non-nuclear threat to US forces deployed abroad, and are of acute concern to US allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region.”

China’s targets are clear. Short-range missiles against Taiwan and US carrier strike groups, intermediate-range missiles against US bases in Japan and Guam, and ICBMs against the USA. Why does China need to bristle with so much weaponry?

Unfortunately, China is also guilty of transferring missile know-how to others. The DoD report asserted, “Chinese entities have assisted Iran, North Korea and others in developing their missile programs…In turn, expertise and technology provided to these states by Chinese sources could be transferred to additional state and non-state actors.”

China strenuously repeats the line that others should “respect the interests and concerns of the Chinese side”. Yet China does not do this itself, as its lack of concern over JeM and Indian sensitivities illustrates.

While China may reconsider its blockage of India in the UN, it will surely entail some hard bargaining with India to draw concessions on other issues. However, it will not want to do so quickly, because that would send a message of weakness to Pakistan vis-à-vis India.

Geng said in a Chinese press conference, “China will continue to deal with the relevant listing issue in a constructive and responsible manner.” Given that Beijing has not been responsible in the matter so far, it is difficult to see any sea change in Chinese policy.

Tags: masood azhar, jaish-e-mohammad, china-pakistan economic corridor, cpec, pulwama terror attack
Location: Hong Kong, Hongkong