Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned US President Joe Biden not to “play with fire”. But analysts say he was the one who introduced a flamethrower into the room.
“Those who play with fire will perish,” President Xi warned Biden on Friday. “We hope that the United States will be lucid on this subject. The United States should uphold the one-China principle and implement the three joint communiques with words and deeds.
It capped a week of warnings about growing belligerence from Beijing.
“We see Beijing combining its growing military might with a greater willingness to take risks,” US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner told a Center for Strategic conference. & International Studies earlier this week.
And he warned his increasingly aggressive behavior in the South China Sea could lead to a “major incident or accident”.
“In recent months, we have seen a sharp increase in dangerous and unprofessional behavior by Chinese ships and aircraft, involving not only US forces, but also allied forces operating in the region,” he said. he adds.
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For its part, Beijing accuses Washington of violating its claim to sovereignty over the entire South China Sea and of violating its diplomatic blockade on Taiwan.
A possible visit to Taiwan by US Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi has prompted Chinese threats to shoot down her plane. The Pentagon has since signaled it is preparing to protect her, ordering an aircraft carrier battle group into disputed waters around the island democracy.
If the trip continues, Ms Pelosi would be the first House Speaker to visit since Newt Gingrich in 1997.
Bonnie Glaser, an analyst at Germany’s Marshall Fund China think tank, warns that Mr Xi is determined not to appear weak. He seeks to cement his rule for life at an upcoming Communist Party conference.
“It is likely, I think, that China will respond militarily,” Ms. Glaser said. “I don’t think they’re going to shoot or try to shoot down Ms Pelosi’s plane. But there are lots of other ways they could try to interfere with the plane she’s on.
Play with fire
Dr Ratner referred to incidents involving Canadian and Australian patrol planes where Chinese warplanes had carried out “dangerous” interceptions. In one example involving an Australian P-8A Poseidon, thin pieces of aluminum used in radar jamming chaff were thrown into its path, causing it to be ingested by an engine.
“These are not isolated incidents,” noted Dr Ratner, adding that it is “only a matter of time” before there is a “major incident or accident.”
US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, told a separate meeting of regional defense officials in Sydney that Beijing had “become much more and noticeably more aggressive in this particular region”.
Chinese Communist Party-controlled media this week confirmed the trend.
The world times a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Defense reported that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force had been ordered to conduct exercises with its new missiles – targeting US aircraft carriers “and ‘other large military vessels that may be involved in Pelosi’s visit’.
Former editor of world times Hu Xijin said he expected to see PLA warplanes intercept Pelosi’s plane over Taiwan itself.
“Sooner or later, PLA planes will enter the airspace over Taiwan in a legitimate and just move to demonstrate China’s sovereignty over the island,” he said. “China will not allow Pelosi’s TW visit to go smoothly, and the PLA will certainly make other plans in response to the US military escort. There will be an unprecedented crisis in the Strait of Taiwan The possibility of military conflict caused by misjudgment increases dramatically.
Ms. Glaser agrees.
“If Chinese planes tried to force Pelosi’s plane out of Taiwan airspace or prevent it from landing, it would only increase the potential for a dangerous incident,” she said. declared. Grid News. “And that would certainly cause a political crisis. Whether that would escalate into a broader military crisis remains to be seen, but it would certainly provoke a political crisis.
The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its escorts, including a guided-missile destroyer and a guided-missile cruiser, left Singapore on Monday. An academic think tank in Beijing later released satellite photos showing it moving northeast toward the South China Sea.
Ms Pelosi had originally planned to travel to Taiwan in April. But the trip was canceled after she tested positive for COVID-19.
The senior Democrat has yet to confirm her intention to visit in August, but said it was “important for us to show our support for Taiwan.”
General Milley said on Wednesday: “If it is decided that President Pelosi or someone else is going to travel and they request military support, we will do what is necessary to ensure that their visit goes smoothly. And I’ll leave it at that.
US officials said it would involve “overlapping rings of protection” for its flight, including fighter jets, ships, surveillance equipment and other military systems. The hospital ship Mercy is also visiting the Philippines.
It comes just weeks after the United States staged its biggest show of force against China.
US warplanes approached the Chinese mainland during maneuvers with Japan in the last week of June. China dispatched its fighters in response.
Those were the circumstances that prompted a two-hour call between Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi on Friday morning.
“It’s about keeping the lines of communication open with the Chinese president, one of the most important bilateral relationships we have, not just in this region but around the world, because it touches so many things,” the White House National Security said. spokesman John Kirby.
“The relationship is in such a toxic state. Mutual distrust is really at its highest. I think people don’t realize how dangerous this particular moment is,” Ms Glaser said.
“Coercion and Harassment”
Dr Ratner told the CSIS conference that the increasingly dangerous movements of Chinese planes “look like a pattern and a policy, not just a decision by an individual pilot”.
“We haven’t seen a similar trend on the water yet, but I suspect it’s coming,” he added.
Chinese ships however actively interfered with their neighbours, including Philippine attempts to resupply and change its garrison on the Spratly Islands.
Beijing’s belligerence compels the region to sit up and take notice.
This week, military leaders from 26 countries attended a conference in Sydney to discuss “a free and open Pacific”. China was invited. He refused to attend.
Instead, his defense spokesman insisted that the continued activities of U.S. and allied military forces in the South and East China Sea “seriously undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China as well as the political basis of Sino-US relations”.
“If the United States moves forward, the Chinese military will never watch and do nothing,” he added. “He will take strong measures to thwart any outside interference and separatist plans for ‘Taiwan independence’ and resolutely uphold national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Now Beijing appears to be preparing a response to any visit from Ms Pelosi.
Satellite photos show the arrival of additional planes at Longtian Air Base in Fujian Province. This air base, the closest to Taiwan, has recently undergone a major upgrade. It is now home to a swarm of Chinese J-11 and J-16 “Flanker” long-range fighters, as well as former J-6 fighter jets converted into drones.
“If the United States insists on going its own way and challenging China’s results, it will surely receive strong responses,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Thursday. “All consequences arising therefrom shall be borne by the United States.”
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel