China ominously ups the rhetorical ante for war

ANI
·10-min read
Chinese President Xi Jinping (File Photo)
Chinese President Xi Jinping (File Photo)

Hong Kong, October 26 (ANI): During 70th anniversary commemorations of China's entry into the Korean War on 19 October 1950, China's el supremo jarringly promised, "It is necessary to speak to invaders in the language they know: that is, a war must be fought to deter invasion, and force must be met by force. A victory is needed to win peace and respect."

Such comments from Xi are further grist for the mill in terms of martial rhetoric emanating from China. Chairman Xi Jinping's speech was laced with nationalistic jingo, and significantly it was the first time since 2000 that a Chinese leader has given a major speech on the occasion of this Korean War anniversary.

China refers to the conflict as the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea. Chinese leaders often use history to talk about the present, even if their perspective is fundamentally warped by their opaque CCP lens.

Of course, in today's current climate with Beijing and Washington DC at loggerheads, renewing such sentiments suits Xi's purposes perfectly. Effectively, he is urging his nation to resist American bullying and to emulate the patriotism and resolve of that peasant army.

In October 1950, as United Nations (UN) forces advanced north towards North Korea's border with China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) decided to deploy troops into Korea. China's then Premier Zhou Enlai warned: "The Chinese people cannot tolerate foreign aggression against China, nor will they stand by idly when the people of their neighboring country are subjected to wanton aggression by the imperialists." Despite no UN intention to sweep into China, Beijing characterises the war as successfully halting Western expansionism in Asia.

Beijing continues to paint the Korean War as an existential threat to itself, even though it was fought entirely on Korean soil. Indeed, while Xi might strum the heartstrings of the Chinese people with historical references, a more correct view of history would show that the CCP was on the side of a dictatorial warmonger. It was North Korea that wantonly attacked South Korea, which brought the USA and many UN members together to defy Kim Il-sung's aggression.

Last week, He Lei, former vice president of the PLA's Academy of Military Sciences, stated, "The War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea is a war of justice to defend peace and resist aggression," which is certainly a twisting of the truth. In fact, China was supporting a dangerous aggressor and resisting international efforts to restore equilibrium on the Korean Peninsula.

China continues to exult that it "defeated the US-led UN forces and won the war". This makes a mockery of China's present-day commitment to international peacekeeping, even while it continues to praise itself for fighting against the UN from 1950-53.

Xi likened it to a David-versus-Goliath situation, with China standing up to the global bully after the USA "interfered" in natural resolution of a Korean civil war. By the same token, one could equally say that China too was interfering in the natural course of the war.

Written Chinese propaganda pieces designed for the masse spurred, "It is precisely because it was a war of justice that the Chinese people could unite and confront a common enemy ... It is precisely because it was a war of justice that the peace-loving countries and people worldwide could sympathise, support and assist China and the DPRK, which finally won the war and safeguarded peace in Asia and the world."

Xi's October 23 speech, published in full by Xinhua and attended by all seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, was clearly designed for domestic consumption. But to what purpose?

It seems to be part of a wider effort to acclimate the Chinese populace to the need for "struggle", unified behind Xi's sole headship. His references in the speech certainly reinforced a military aspect to this ideological struggle.

While the CCP continually accuses the USA of a Cold War mentality, it is more apt to ascribe such sentiments to China. Quoting Mao Zedong from 1953, Xi enthused that the Korean War "let the world know that the Chinese people are now organised and aren't to be trifled with".

Attracting applause from his audience, Xi warned, "Once provoked, things will get ugly." Without naming the USA directly, Xi took swipes at unilateralism, protectionism and arrogant hegemonic behavior. He was no doubt bitten by last week's US approval to sell to Taiwan air-launched cruise missiles and precision-guided rockets able to reach Mainland China across the Taiwan Strait.

Despite bipartisan toughness against China from campaigning presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the prospects of improving ties with the USA look gloomy any time soon. Knowing this, Xi is urging the Chinese people to double down and get behind him.

Xi threatened that China will "never allow any person or any force to violate and split the motherland's sacred territory. Once such severe circumstances occur, the Chinese people shall deliver a head-on blow." He stressed that China gained the victory with "less steel, more spirit," in the process "shattering the myth of invincibility of the US armed forces".

Xi said this "great spirit" is relevant today, for the Chinese people need to "continue to march forward courageously toward the new journey of comprehensively building a socialist modernized country, and toward the realization of the China dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation".

Xi is advocating "peace through strength," whereby China must defy US superiority and, if necessary, go to war to earn respect. China has stood up to the USA once in the 1950s, and it can successfully do so again, was the unspoken message behind Xi's speech.

Alarmingly, Xi painted the Korean War as a necessary trial by fire so that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) could progress in its modernization, something that might even be necessary today too. In his speech, Xi called for faster PLAmodernization. "Backwardness begets being bullied, and only through development can we strengthen ourselves. Without a strong military, there can be no strong motherland."

The Neican newsletter published by analysts Yun Jiang and Adam Ni appraised: "The Korean War was the last time that China and the US openly faced off against each other in a military conflict. The message that the CCP wants to send through this commemoration appears to be that China is not afraid of the US. This is encapsulated in his quote,'The Chinese people don't go look for trouble, but they're also not afraid of trouble.' And this includes military confrontation."

Of course, the power disparity between China and the USA has reduced considerably since 70 years ago. Neican summarized, "That's why the propaganda at the time spoke so much of sacrifice and endurance, or victory despite adversity. The underlying message is that such power disparity has narrowed, and so China is even less afraid of fighting the US if necessary."

Indeed, the Central Mission Commission (CMC) chaired by Xi seems to be doing everything it can to get its ducks in a row for any future conflict, at least in setting the legal framework and in conditioning the minds of the populace.

China continually tinkers with PLA regulations. For instance, draft revisions to the National Defense Law were published on 21 October for public consideration (not that they will have any choice or influence).

One key update to the National Defense Law first established in 1997 is to mull new reasons for mobilizing the PLA and to get involved in global security governance, including threats to the country's development interests whether domestic or international. Minister of Defense General Wei Fenghe said the current law "cannot fully adapt to new missions and the requirements for the development of national defense and the Chinese military. Therefore, it needs to be amended." He added that China is in a period of "strategic opportunity" for development, presumably while the rest of the world battles COVID-19.

The draft amendment states that when China's sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity and security and development interests are under threat, the country can conduct nationwide or local defense mobilization. Chinese analysts said "having a legal basis to counter threats has significant meaning".

China has a growing reach around the globe, including overseas interests such as trade/energy lines of communication, foreign investments and the diaspora of its population in far-flung places. Threats include terrorism, war, trade embargoes, instability, strategic competition and pandemics.

The proposed law changes allow China to employ its armed forces to protect overseas Chinese citizens, organizations, units and facilities, as well as participating in activities such as UN peacekeeping missions, international rescues, maritime escorts, joint exercises and anti-terrorism operations. The law refers not just to conventional battlefields, but to contested domains in outer space, the electromagnetic spectrum and computer networks.

The law promises that China will participate in "global security governance, join multilateral security talks and push for and set up a set of international rules that is widely accepted, fair and reasonable". Indeed, Beijing continues to push the narrative that it will speak up for and safeguard weaker nations.

The revised draft adds that servicemen must be loyal to the CCP. There is no surprise there, for Xi and the CCP have been demanding unswerving loyalty from the PLA with mind-numbing regularity.

Another oddity proposed in the draft law is improving the esteem with which the Chinese populace holds the PLA. One clause states the law will "make military personnel a profession revered by the whole of society," with the wording changed from the old "respected".

Chinese media gushingly said this will "guarantee that they better accomplish missions in emergencies, war and occasions in which national sovereignty, security and development interests are being harmed". The subtext is that many still view the PLA as corrupt, but stipulating "reverence" seems a backwards way of doing things.

Earlier, on 10 September, the Political Work Department of the CMC held a question-and-answer session on "Regulations on CPC Party Building in the Armed Forces," which had been passed on 29 June 2020. The Regulations are "the backbone of the party's internal regulations for comprehensively regulating party building in the military".

Lyle Morris, senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, commented, "Xi saw it necessary to issue new internal guidelines based on the massive reforms taking place within the PLA, and to reassert the paramount authority of the party over the PLA."

Modifications to the Regulations "highlight the fundamental guidance of Xi Jinping thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era, thoroughly implement Xi's thoughts on strengthening the army, and integrate Xi's important instructions on strengthening party building from the 19th Party Congress."

Such changes illustrate that all is not secure when it comes to CCP control over the PLA. Morris highlighted problems such as corruption, a fiefdom mentality and stove-piping within the PLA. Unsurprisingly, the Regulations assert that the CMC's chairman - none other than Xi - is the highest authority over the PLA.

Morris continued, "This tells me the numbers of political commissars and commissars, and the training required, will need to be drastically changed to accommodate 'jointness' in the PLA. It will also no longer be a math equation, but deployments based on specific skills and backgrounds of political commissars." The Regulations also promise discipline and inspection at all levels to maintain "high pressure" to root out and punish corruption.

Morris assessed, "Reading between the lines, these Regulations tell me all is not perfect in party-army relations, despite much progress under Xi. The party maintains firm control, no doubt, but there are cracks in the facade that Xi is trying to patch. Among them are CMC chairman control over the 15 CMC departments; command over a more diffuse, theater-command PLA structure focused on jointness, which presents challenges for party supervision; and continued corruption in the PLA." (ANI)