On Turning Economic Power
Into Military Might
CJ Werleman sees a menacing trend in Beijing’s repression of human rights at home and abroad and China’s readiness to use military force in alliance with the Kremlin.
The world is currently besieged by an array of stubbornly persistent problems, from climate change to poverty to proliferation of nuclear weapons and arms races more generally, but now it’s faced with a rapidly ascending threat, and it’s one the international community has little or no idea how to handle.
I’m talking about China.
Beijing’s willingness to use and endorse violence against pro-democracy, anti-Chinese Communist Party protesters in Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand in recent weeks are every bit as alarming as Beijing’s seizure and militarisation of island atolls throughout the South China Sea or what the Chinese leadership refers to as the “Nine Dash Line”.
When 300 Chinese nationalists showed up at the University of Queensland to verbally and physically assault peaceful pro-Hong Kong democracy protesters on 24 July, Chinese diplomats praised their “patriotic behaviour”.
When dozens of Chinese nationalists showed up at Auckland University to verbally and physically assault peaceful pro-Hong Kong democracy protesters on 29 July, the Chinese consulate in New Zealand praised their “love of China”.
When hundreds of Chinese criminal gang members, including the triads, showed up to viciously assault pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong itself, Beijing praised them and the police for their “excellent performance” while, at the same time, deploying almost 20,000 uniformed police to Guangzhou, the mainland Chinese capital closest to the island territory, which is “sparking nerves in the White House”.
Last week, Beijing signalled that it is willing to use force to “reunify” Taiwan, vowing to take all “necessary” military measures to defeat “separatists” and then, on Monday, it put a stop to individual travel permits for Chinese mainland citizens travelling to the self-autonomous island.
Then, of course, there are China’s brutally repressive measures against the indigenous occupants of Xinjiang, or what was briefly an independent East Turkistan until 1949, with as many as three million Uyghur Muslims currently being detained in a network of concentration camps.
Essentially, China is carrying out the world’s largest industrial-scale persecution of a religious minority since the Holocaust because Beijing fears that its colonisation of the north-western territory will produce a separatist movement at some point in the future, so its concentration camps and criminalisation of Islam are what it views as pre-emptive measures to protect its “One Belt, One Road” economic strategy.
Equally alarming is the fact that China has been able to successfully build a coalition of human rights violators, or rather, the bribed and coerced to provide diplomatic cover for its barbaric actions in Xinjiang, with 50 countries – including North Korea, Myanmar, and Saudi Arabia – putting their signatures to a letter that essentially praises Beijing for persecuting 12 million Muslims.
Remarkably, a near dozen Muslim-majority countries including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Algeria, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and UAE are now co-signatories to a letter that effectively links Islam to terrorism, thus blaming China’s Muslims for their own fate. That the leaders of these countries have so easily traded the lives of their Muslim brothers and sisters in exchange for continued ties with China speaks to the power of Beijing’s economic might.
Today, China knows it can do whatever to whomever in the knowledge that no world leader will dare speak out of line. That the international community also knows this to be true emphasises just how effectively and dangerously China is reshaping the international human rights system.
Compounding this reality is Beijing’s ever closer military ties with Moscow, which nearly produced a major military incident when four Chinese and Russian surveillance aircraft flew into South Korea’s airspace on 23 July, resulting in South Korean fighter pilots issuing a number of warnings before firing hundreds of warning shots towards the Russian aircraft.
It’s worth remembering that World War Three was largely diverted during the Cold War because of the United States’ ability to maintain a wedge between the Soviet Union and China.
China is carrying out the world’s largest industrial-scale persecution of a religious minority since the Holocaust.
Clearly, China’s period of “peaceful economic prosperity” is over and the international community, particularly the US and its allies, has been unable to articulate or execute a containment strategy – other than President Obama’s now-expired “pivot to Asia” – with regards to neither Beijing’s grotesque human rights violations nor its expansionist and imperialist ambitions.
When China’s economy began to grow in the early 1990s, it needed access to the global economy, particularly access to technology and Western know-how, and – given that the global economy was dominated at that time and still is today by the US – China therefore had a straightforward choice, according to Hugh White, emeritus professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, to “accept American primacy and grow, or challenge it and stagnate”.
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Today, however, China is turning its new-found economic power into military power, thus changing the “calculations” between the US and China, with Beijing believing “it has the power to veto decisions it does not accept, and is willing to use that power,” according to White.
This is the China we face today, one that is willing to use force and the threat of force to get what it wants – while the rest of the world understands it has no choice other than to shut up and accept it.