The risk of a clash between China and the U.S. grows by the day as Beijing flexes it muscles in disputed areas of the South and East China seas, according to a new study by think tank Rand Corp. Photo: AP
A PROMINENT commentator specialising in Chinese affairs has warned there is nothing remotely peaceful about Beijing’s rise to power.
As the emerging superpower prepares to host the international G20 summit this weekend, veteran columnist Frank Ching says China has well and truly emerged as “the dominant power”.
In an article posted by the South China Morning Post, he said the international tribunal’s ruling on the South China Sea last month would do nothing to deter China from its plans to increase its dominance of the region.
“In its imagined world, the realisation of Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream will place China once again at the centre of the world, after a couple of centuries of being disrupted by Western imperialism,” he writes.
“In the Chinese imagination, this is not subjugation of neighbours but simply restoration of the normal order. To some, this is a return to the traditional concept of tianxia, with barbarians benefiting from Chinese civilisation.”
We’ve already seen evidence of China disobeying the West and its allies in this regard.
Since the international ruling on the South China Sea in July, which found there was “no legal basis for China to claim historic rights” over the nine-dash line, China has notably stepped up its presence in the disputed zone.
Pentagon officials say the number of Chinese maritime security vessels near the area has risen sharply over the past month, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
Meanwhile, satellite photos have recently emerged revealing reinforced hangars designed to house combat jets on several of Beijing’s artificial outposts.
The images, distributed by the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, showed military infrastructure being built on Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief reefs, which are all part of the various disputed territories.
The report stated each island would soon be capable of housing 24 fighter jets along with three or four larger aircraft, such as those with surveillance, bomber or tanker roles, allowing Beijing to stage a force of some 70 combat aircraft in the area.
A spokesman for the CSIS said even the smallest hangars are larger than needed for civilian purposes, saying the hangars were “reinforced to take a strike”.
The way Ching explained it, Beijing justifies its actions by “creating an imagined universe” in which its actions are never at fault.
“What China thinks is right must be the law”, he writes. This explains the country’s unruly dominance in the South China Sea, which it continues to claim ownership of.
In mid-August, the state-run Study Times wrote that Western countries were trying to deliberately exclude a rising China and deny it a proper voice on the world stage with schemes like the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“Trying to get back their right to global governance, they are forging a new ‘sacred alliance’, striving to establish new rules,” the influential paper, published twice a week by the Central Party School, wrote in a G20 commentary.
“These new rules will exclude China.”
TENSIONS OVER THE G20 SUMMIT
Amid all this, China will hosts the international G20 summit for the first time in its eight-year history.
The summit, which will be held in Hangzhou, will be an occasion of huge importance for President Xi Jinping, for it will give him and his government the chance to cement China’s status as a global power.
According to The Economist, Hangzhou has been like one big construction site for the past year, with work crews paving new roads and building new hotels ahead of the prestigious gathering.
There are rumours the city is spending up to 160 billion yuan (more than $A30 billion) on refurbishments, although Hangzhou has denied this.
But despite all the fuss, the Chinese government suspects the West and its allies will undercut its discussions on the economy based on the increasingly tense climate around territorial disputes right now, Reuters reports.
“From where China sits, it looks like the Americans are trying to encircle them,” said a senior Western envoy, describing conversations with Chinese officials ahead of G20 as being dominated by the South China Sea row and an advanced US anti-missile system to be deployed in South Korea.
China is vehement that such issues should not overshadow the meeting, which will be attended by US President Barack Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and other world leaders including Malcolm Turnbull.
Meanwhile, tensions are still simmering between Australia and China over Australia’s recent decision to block the $AU10 billion sale of Ausgrid, the country’s biggest energy grid.
Reuters quoted another Beijing-based Western diplomat familiar with the summit as saying: “China is angry with almost everyone at the moment.”
WHAT’S CHINA’S NEXT MOVE LIKELY TO BE?
China may be ramping up its attempt to reclaim the Scarborough Shoal, a key disputed territory in the South China Sea, in what would undoubtedly be a provocative move.
Earlier this month, it was reported that China could begin reclamation work as early as next week.
A source, who requested anonymity, said: “Since the G20 will be held in Hangzhou next month, and regional peace will be the main topic among leaders of the great powers, China will refrain from (acting on the) reclamation plan.”
It said construction could begin anywhere between the end of the G20 summit and the start of the US presidential election in November — the timing of which could make strategic sense, as it’s likely the country would not wish to risk exacerbating tensions at the prestigious G20 summit.
Whether any attempts at reclamation will guarantee military conflict is another question. Ching argues that, despite what many people think, China sees no need to challenge the US militarily, and would prefer to avoid confrontation at all costs.
Likewise, despite some heavy rhetoric last week, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared that war is not an option.
Today, he made a somewhat heartfelt plea to Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua to the Philippines to allow Filipino fishermen to fish in the waters over the disputed area on the Philippines border.
“I hope the Chinese may find a place in their hearts for the Filipinos,” Duterte said in front of the ambassador during a speech. “I hope you treat us [as] your brothers and not enemies and take note of our plight.”
He also stressed the need for civil discussion, saying “I don’t go to war… If I am not ready for war, then, peace is the only way.”
— with Reuters