By Dr Subhash Kapila*
China’s President Xi Jinping unmindful of the geopolitical forces stacked against China in 2021 has in his characteristic propensity for aggressive brinkmanship gambled to throw multiple provocative strategic gauntlets at the new US President Joe Biden within a week of his taking office.
China was expected to make some conciliatory moves to incoming US President Biden to mark its willingness to prompt the Biden Administration to change tack from the Hard Line China-policies of outgoing Trump Administration,
Far from it, China under President Xi Jinping on the contrary has gambled by throwing multiple provocative strategic gauntlets at President Biden encompassing the Western Pacific in which have laid for decades United States crucial National Security strategic stakes.
All of these significantly in 2021 have global geopolitical implications which have the potential to draw-in at some stage other Major Powers against China’s unrestrained brinkmanship to change the status-quo in the Indo Pacific.
China in January 2021 has raised the stakes for the United States new President Biden by escalating tensions against Taiwan, escalating tensions in South China Sea and in East China Sea against Japan. To top it all China has enacted a new Coast Guard Law whose provocative provisions could spark a US-China armed conflict.
Analytically, it appears that China’s President banking heavily on China’s newly found military strengths has thrown provocative challenges at the new American President within a week of his inauguration, this mainly stemming from Chinese strategic desire to probe and gauge President Biden’s resolve and determination to checkmate China’s revisionist impulses.
China noted often for cool and incisive assessment of its adversary’s intentions seems to have gambled wrongly this time on United States likely ripostes to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s strategic provocations.
In 2021 there is a notable bipartisan political consensus that United States must adopt ‘Hard Line’ strategies to checkmate China’s expansionist impulsive adventurism against United States image credibility and erode US influence and standing in Indo Pacific to begin with.
Also noticeable in 2021, is that within United States the weight of public opinion is in favour of any and all US policies that could checkmate China. Public perception of China within USA after the havoc that China Wuhan Virus19 wreaked on American lives and economy have resulted in pronounced anti-China sentiments.
Taking the two above stated factors together, President Biden should feel empowered to not only continue the existing Hard Line policies towards China but also to work for a global consensus in that direction.
The strategic provocations thrown by China at President Biden outlined below need to be resolutely met to inspire global confidence that it should stand with United States against China.
China’s Escalation of Military Provocations against Taiwan
Taiwan has been continuously been subjected to Chinese military provocations and coercion. China with such military provocations has intended to demonstrate to Taiwan that China has both the military capacities and intentions for a military take-over of Taiwan and its merger with Communist China.
Coinciding with advanced military hardware sales and lifting of restrictions on officials visit to Taiwan by the outgoing Trump Administration, there was a marked increase in Chinese military transgressions against Taiwan.
Within a week of President Biden’s inauguration, Chinese Air Force Bombers and Fighter Aircraft have intruded in Taiwan’s ADIZ and buzzed Taiwan’s air defences.
This latest provocation coincides with Taiwan’s Ambassador to United States being seen on Capitol Hill as invitee for President Biden’s inauguration
China seems to have forgotten that years back it was a Democratic Party President who ordered two US Navy Aircraft Carrier groups into Taiwan Straits to demonstrate US resolve for security of Taiwan
President Biden hopefully would exhibit the same resolve for Tawain’s security against any Chinese temptation for military intervention to take-over Taiwan.
China’s Escalation of Military Tensions in South China Sea and East China Sea against Japan
In the run-up to President Biden’s inauguration, China has been escalating military tensions in the South China Sea including large scale tri-service military exercises with participation of Chinese Navy Aircraft Carrier. It also included missiles firings.
Obviously, China was indulging in a show-of-strength to the new US President that it has the military capabilities and intentions to maintain its full-spectrum dominance over the South China Sea.
The new Biden Administration has as yet shown no indications to reduce US Navy FONOPS in South China Sea conducting operations in and around Chinese held islands.
President Biden’s conviction to continue past US policies of a ‘Free and Open Pacific’ is unlikely to be diluted. Moreover, President Biden’s resolve could be further reinforced by NATO’s incorporating China Threat in its perspective strategies. Britain and France have already declared that their Navies would be on patrols in South China Sea.
In tandem, China has also been escalating military tensions in the East China Sea in and around the Japanese Senkaku Islands. This is in addition to Chinese Air Force conducting Joint Air Patrols with Russian Air Force over Sea of Japan.
President Biden despite any inclinations to adopt more softer approaches to China would not be able to disregard the overwhelming global and regional sentiments of keeping the South China Sea as the ‘global commons’ free for navigation and also the skies above it for all air-traffic unhindered by China.
Coming to the security of Japanese Senkaku Islands against Chinese aggression, President Biden’s top Cabinet Dignitaries have already asserted that defence of Senkaku Islands is covered by Article V of the US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty. Implicit in this assertion is that United States would aid Japan against any Chinese military intervention
China’s New Coast Guard Law—A Possible Flashpoint for Military Conflict with United States
China’s new Coast Guard Law promulgated to be effective on February 01 has inherently in its provisions explosive seeds of possible US-China military conflict.
China now empowers the Chinese Coast Guard with the following provocative provisions (1) Coast Guard empowered to open fire at foreign vessels in Chinese waters (2) Board and inspect ships in waters claimed by China (3) Destroy any structures built by other states in Paracel and Spratly Islands Chain (4) Chinese Coast Guard has the right to declare “Temporary Exclusion Zones” to prevent ships from innocent passage through the South China Sea or any other waters claimed by China.
Surely, the United States cannot be expected to comply with the above mentioned dictates mainly applicable to South China Sea whose China sovereignty claims already stand ruled by The Hague Tribunal as “Illegal”
In the same vein any Chinese Coast Guard attempts in this direction to enforce it against Japanese Senkaku Islands brings the US Navy military intervention.
President Biden’s Options against China’s Provocative Brinkmanship
Short of a disastrous buckling down to China’s extremely provocative brinkmanship, President Biden and the United States have no option but to meet the China Threat head-on.
This aspect has been analysed in an earlier Paper of mine and what needs to be stressed is that even if to begin with President Biden wishes to restrict United States strategic gaze to Pacific only, even then there are overwhelming imperatives for President Biden to checkmate the China Threat to US staunch allies of long-standing like South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
Historically, the United States and President Biden needs to etch firmly in his foreign and security policy establishment psyche that the China Threat to United States is there for a long haul and that temporising with Band-Aid applications is not the answer.
United States in 2021, keeping China’s exponential military buildup in all domains coupled with its blazing ascendant trajectories of a ‘Revisionist Power’, is offered no scope to adopt US policies of ‘China Hedging’ and ‘Risk Aversion’ any longer.
The China Threat is live and potent and the time for United States to pro-actively checkmate China is now before history of last century once again repeats disastrously for the United States in the Pacific.
*Dr Subhash Kapila is a Graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College Camberley. Combines a rich & varied experience of Indian Army (Brigadier), Cabinet Secretariat, and Diplomatic/Official assignments is USA, UK ,Japan, South Korea and Bhutan.