China --- Its Confidence and Anxiety
Senior Research Fellow
Sasakawa Peace Foundation
Confidence --- What the CPC Wanted to Show
On October 1, 2019, a ceremony was held along Changan Avenue in front of Tiananmen Gate in Beijing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.1 This year's ceremony had several features, which reflected the intentions of the incumbent Chinese leadership. As evidenced by those features, the ceremony this year was intended mainly to show the Chinese people that the CPC is capable of repelling US interference and of achieving China's development. In other words, the primary purpose of the October 1 ceremony was to maintain the domestic authority of the CPC.
The first notable point was Xi Jinping's "important speech." As was expected, it was structured to avoid stimulating provoking the United States too much. Yet, its text was unexpectedly short.2 According to Xinhua broadcast, the number of characters of the speech was less than 900. This is about half of Xi's speech delivered at the 2015 China Victory Day parade held on September 3, 2015.3 The October 1 speech is likely to have been shortened due to some domestic opposition. The portion Xi Jinping had wanted to read aloud may have been struck from his speech. The content of the speech in question is largely different from another speech delivered just a month before.
In another "important lecture" Xi Jinping gave on September 3, prior to the 70th anniversary ceremony, at the opening ceremony of a training program for young and middle-aged officials at the Central Party School (Chinese Academy of Governance), Xi repeated the word "struggle" as many as 58 times.4 The more China develops, HE said IN the speech, the larger dangers it will face, and it will have to struggle in all areas including national defense and military construction. Xinhua emphasizes "struggle" is an explicit core keyword.
However, Xi's speech at the October 1 military parade did not contain the public-encouraging and externally provocative word "struggle." Regarding the Taiwan issue that could become a flashpoint of military conflict with the United States, the speech simply mentioned that "(China will) push peaceful development of cross-Straits relations," instead of using the word "Taiwan." Xi said that China must uphold the peaceful reunion and the "one country, two systems" principle governing Hong Kong and Macao. He did not refer to the unification by military force.
On the other hand, the message that the CPC wanted to convey to the public can be found in the first half of the October 1 speech. "Today a socialist China is towering majestically in the east of the world and there is no force that can shake the foundation of this great nation. No force can stop the Chinese people and the Chinese nation forging ahead." China is now suffering economic loss due to US pressure. Xi Jinping has earlier called on the public to prepare for a long war, but domestically there seems to exist opposite opinions.5 The CPC demands from the public perseverance, but if the people can cherish no hope for the future, the authority of the CPC will be lost. The CPC had to manifest its capability to eliminate US interference.
It is a military parade that can demonstrate such capability. A look at the lineup of weapons that participated in the October 1 military parade may be sufficient to understand that the parade aimed to deter the United States from exerting military force against China. The Chinese military put the greatest emphasis on its nuclear deterrence capability against the United States. China arranged the participation in the military parade of a new-type DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). In its broadcast of the parade, the China Central Television (CCTV) lavished laudatory adjectives on the DF-41, which indicates that the CPC considers the DF-41 to be the most important strategic nuclear weapon. The DF-41 is a MIRV (Multiple Independently-targetable Reentry Vehicle) hypersonic ICBM and can carry up to 10 nuclear warheads. It is difficult for conventional missile defense systems to shoot it down.
Moreover, the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile (not a new-type weapon though) also appeared in the military parade. Mounted aboard the 094 type strategic nuclear submarine that conducts strategic patrol, the JL-2 is a ballistic missile for use in a nuclear retaliatory attack, surviving the enemy's preemptive nuclear attack. The JL 2 is the ultimate guarantee of nuclear mutual assured destruction targeting the United States and the last fortification of nuclear deterrence against the United States.
Besides strategic nuclear weapons, the DF-17 hypersonic weapon attracted attention in the military parade. A hypersonic weapon is a flying object that can travel five times faster than the speed of sound. Existing missile defense systems are almost incapable of shooting it down. The DF-17 is an improved short-range ballistic missile with a range of 1500 km. If it were launched from mainland China, it would not reach even Guam, falling far short of the US mainland. The DF-17 is considered to be a weapon to attack US Navy aircraft carrier strike groups approaching China. The DF-17 takes on a special design based on waverider technology. A rocket needs a special design for hypersonic flight, because it cannot generate lift with a normal airfoil when it travels at hypersonic speeds. The futuristic shape of the DF-17 may have given to the Chinese public the impression that it is a weapon using cutting-edge technology.
Viewers of the October 1 military parade witnessed the DF-26 that China claims to be an anti-ship ballistic missile. A US Congressional Report "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China 2019" states that the DF-26 possesses the capability of attacking US naval vessels in the western Pacific and South China Sea by using conventional warheads. These weapons aim at denying US military access to China. It can be concluded that an important purpose of the October 1 military parade was to show the public the Chinese military's ability to deny US military access.
The Emphasized Leadership --- the Other Side of the CPC's Anxiety
As mentioned above, the military parade on October 1 seems to have been designed to make the Chinese people believe that China has the capability to frustrate US attacks, nuclear or conventional. With this the incumbent Chinese leadership may intend to maintain the CPC authority. The Chinese leadership now bullied by the United States in a series of trade disputes is expected to rely more on military prowess. Superficially, the demonstration of military power seems to indicate the confidence of the Chinese leadership. The true situation may be otherwise, as military demonstration is in many cases the other side of anxiety.
China's anxiety partly derives from the impossibility of war with the United States. China does not believe that it can win a US-China war at this moment. The less confident China is of war with the United States, the more contradictorily it threatens the United States with military force. In the October 1 military parade, a UAV with an eye-catching design also appeared --- the DR-8 stealth supersonic drone. China developed a UAV similar to the HQ-9 reaper operated by the United States, but the purpose of introducing the DR-8 may be different from that of the HQ-9. The DR-8's stealth and supersonic flight capability suggests that the UAV is assumed to travel in the airspace where the enemy's systematic attack is expected. China is likely to operate the DR-8 the way Japan and the United States operate F-35 fighters. China is accelerating the development of UAV combined with AI to replace manned aircraft. Behind such efforts seems to lie the fact that the Chinese military is delayed in providing trained manpower for the rapid development and deployment of aircraft and military ships. Paradoxically, China's development of AI weapons to overcome such a shortage of manpower has won China an asymmetrical advantage over the United States, fueling a sense of crisis among Americans.
Another Chinese anxiety of is domestic instability, which would threaten the rule of the CPC. Xi Jinping has to date repeatedly emphasized how the CPC has governed China with justice, and has given guidance to people, government, the People's Liberation Army.6 In the October 1 ceremony, a civilian parade was organized to particularly emphasize the righteousness of the CPC rule. As indicated by the official title of the 70th anniversary ceremony, preference was given to the military parade rather than to the civilian parade in the ceremony, but it is extraordinary in China that a military parade is followed by a mass parade. Despite the fact that the military parade was part of the ceremony celebrating the founding of the 70-year-old PRC, the flags carried by the honor guard marching before the military parade were in the order, from front to back, the CPC flag, the national flag, and the PLA flag.7 With this peculiar order of carrying the flags, the leadership seems to have wanted to suggest that China's national development would not have been realized without the CPC's guidance and the PLA's support. Incidentally, in the military parade on the occasions of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the PRC in 2009 and the 50th in 1999, the honor guard carried the PLA flag alone.
The CPC's Confidence in Handling the Hong Kong Upheaval
The 70th anniversary ceremony in Beijing attempted to create an impression of how happy the Chinese people are under the CPC rule and how proud they are of their country. However, the situation in Hong Kong evolved as if to sharply deny such efforts of the CPC leadership. The Hong Kong SAR government that had been vigilant of the Hong Kong citizens' protest movement tried to contain it. Hong Kong citizens regarded the National Day of the PRC as a great opportunity to make known the current state of Hong Kong to the world. They spread protests across Hong Kong. Amidst the turmoil, a police officer shot an 18-year-old male high school student in the left chest.8 This incident has revealed that the CPC's "one country, two systems" principle is not working at this moment, and that the "people's happiness" announced by the CPC is a mere fiction.
Raging protests in Hong Kong show no sign of ending. In February 2019, a Hong Kong man who had committed murder in Taiwan fled back to Hong Kong and escaped prosecution by Taiwan authorities. To hand over the murderer to Taiwan, the Hong Kong government proposed an amendment to the fugitive offenders ordinance. The proposed extradition bill would allow the Hong Kong government to also hand over a criminal suspect to authorities in mainland China. This invited the opposition of Hong Kong citizens and led to large-scale demonstrations. The number of participants in the demonstrations reached 1 million on June 9 and then 2 million on June 16.9
Hong Kong citizens' opposition is not directed solely to the extradition bill, but may be based on a sense of crisis that the CPC might deprive Hong Kong of freedom and democracy, and strengthen its control over Hong Kong. The situation in Hong Kong is posing a serious problem that concerns not only Hong Kong but also the future of Taiwan. The current attitude of the Chinese leadership toward Hong Kong shows a change in their perception of China's position in the international community.
The perception of the Chinese leadership has changed in two ways. First, the Chinese leadership has come to deem it to be no longer necessary to handle the Hong Kong issue with caution. The Chinese leadership argues that Hong Kong's contribution to the Chinese economy has diminished. This recognition is mainly based on the fact that Hong Kong's share in China's GDP increased to peak at 27% in 1993; remained barely short of 20% at the time of Hong Kong's repatriation to China in 1997, but plunged to a level of 2% in 2017. Furthermore, that Shenzhen's GDP surpassed Hong Kong's in 2018 may also help create a dwindling image of Hong Kong.10
Secondly, the recognition has spread that even if China resorted to force and violently suppressed Hong Kong protests, it would not be isolated from the international community. The reason why China thinks so is that many countries are expected to support China, taking into account China's economic influence. This recognition would eventually also raise the possibility of China's unification of Taiwan by force.
In fact, there evolved a situation that made China more confident. According to Human Rights Watch, at the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) meeting on July 11, 2019, 22 countries, including Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada and Australia, issued a joint statement, demanding China to stop violating human rights in relation to the mass detention of Muslims in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
Just a day after the international condemnation, UN ambassadors from 37 countries including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Algeria and North Korea released a joint letter,11 which criticized the 22 countries for their political use of human rights issues, while also supporting China's human rights policy. China's relevant efforts were praised as "protecting and promoting human rights through development." The letter also said, "The past three consecutive years has seen not a single terrorist attack in Xinjiang and people there enjoy a stronger sense of happiness, fulfillment and security." On July 21, China released its human rights white paper and strongly opposed Japan and the Western countries condemning China's violation of human rights.12
China to Gain Support through Wielding Influence
Russia, North Korea, Myanmar, Syria, Venezuela and other countries that support China's policy on Xinjiang have been criticized by the international community over human rights issues. But that does not seem to be the only motive of their support for China common to those countries. Among the 37 countries many are participating in China's huge economic zone concept "One Belt, One Road." China is thought to have asked support from those countries with its economic power in the background.
Now that the Chinese leadership has come to believe that the use of force would not isolate China from the international community, the possibility of China's exertion of military force against Taiwan will increase. However, it is a prerequisite to China's unification of Taiwan by force that the international community should admit that Taiwan is part of China. China is quite apprehensive about the internationalization of the Hong Kong and Taiwan issues.
Therefore, China is making use of its diplomacy to prevent Taiwan from being recognized as an independent state. On September 16, 2019, the Solomon Islands decided to sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan and to instead establish diplomatic ties with China.13 Despite US efforts at dissuasion, the Pacific island country gave preference to expected economic support from China. On September 20, Kiribati also severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan.14 As a result, the number of countries with which Taiwan maintains diplomatic relations has decreased to 15. In addition, Tuvalu is becoming likely to terminate diplomatic relations with Taiwan.15 Taiwan's Minister of Foreign Affairs betrayed a sense of crisis in saying that the situation is extremely unfavorable to Taiwan.
The Chinese leadership is trying to carefully address the Hong Kong protests and the independence trend in Taiwan to avoid criticism from the international community. Meanwhile, they have increased confidence in the potential use of military force. This is because the United States did not in the past actively suppress China diplomatically or militarily. While the US presence in Asia and the western Pacific declined, China has increased its diplomatic, military presence against the backdrop of its rapid economic development.
The United States under the Trump administration lately began to be alarmed over the rise of China, and to intensify economic and military pressure on China, while increasing its diplomatic and military presence in the Indo-Pacific region.16 Such US pressure seems to be effective against China. Nonetheless, the recovery of US presence in the region will not take place overnight. Furthermore, the current South Korean problem is adversely affecting the US military presence in East Asia. Taking a sycophantic stance toward China and North Korea and worsening the Japan-ROK relationship, the Moon Jae-in administration is responsible for damaging Japan-US-ROK security cooperation.
In the belief that a bilateral conflict with the United States would not be preferable both economically and militarily, China tries to craft a picture of confrontation of the international community versus the United States, while advancing a military cooperation with Russia to increase its presence. As mentioned earlier, China is attempting single-handedly to ensure nuclear deterrence against the United States by the deployment of the new DF-41 ICBM, and to accelerate the development of hypersonic weapons, thereby improving its anti-access capability against US forces. In addition, power-projection aircraft carriers and naval vessels that compose aircraft carrier strike groups are also being constructed at an extraordinary pace.
Chinese Strategy Heightening a Sense of Crisis
The US government has decided to sell F-16V fighters to Taiwan, in addition to tanks and portable anti-aircraft missiles.17 Confident Taiwanese researchers go so far as to say that the purchase of the F-16V will be followed by that of the latest F-35, and that the US-Taiwan military cooperation will become closer. Moreover, the Hong Kong upheaval has caused Taiwanese people to become skeptical about the "one country, two systems" principle, and has helped raise the support of President Tsai Ing-wen, whose probability of re-election is now rising. That the possibility can no longer be ruled out of "the confluence of independent movements in Hong Kong and Taiwan" is what China most fears.
Alarmed by this situation, China will further its efforts to heighten its economic, diplomatic, and military presence, cultivating support from countries sympathetic to China, and to build a fence around the United States, so that the latter cannot take action. China does not want to have the international community criticize China even if it resorts to force against Hong Kong and Taiwan. Although China strongly insists that there is no confrontation between China and the United States, it is obvious from China's 2019 defense white paper "China's National Defense in the New Era" that China wants to avoid a bilateral conflict with the United States. China wants to create an image of confrontation between the international community and the United States. A senior Chinese official offered the suggestion that US efforts to isolate China will contrarily isolate the United States.
China's influence is based on its economic power. China will develop the Belt and Road initiative and attempt to lure a larger number of developing countries to its side. Developing countries giving consideration to China's economic power will be obliged to support Chinese policies. A new network dominance based on 5G technology also is contributing to having those countries support China. China has built its own networks and invested its resources in, among other things, 5G technology, because China feels uneasy to remain in the US-sponsored networks from the viewpoint of security. Yet, as an increasing number of countries will participate in China's Belt and Road Initiative and in China-sponsored networks, the global networks may be divided into two camps led by the United States and China. Thus, the confrontation might be decisive with the two powers politically and economically opposing each other.
The Belt and Road initiative and Made in China 2025 initiative are more than ordinary economic policies. They are Chinese strategies to gain supremacy. The Made in China 2025 document states that competitive manufacturing industries are essential for China to become a world power.18 China must continue its economic development while eliminating US interference. As long as US interference is feared China will not stop seeking supporters.
In a rather contradictory sense, what the CPC fears most is the Chinese people. If the CPC's authority collapsed, its rule would collapse. Now the CPC is worried about the accumulating dissatisfaction of the people faced with a China that is suffering from US pressure. Without a prompt and effective economic policy, the CPC would have no alternative but to inflame anti-American nationalism and demonstrate its military power in order to maintain its authority. The Xi Jinping administration would suppress independence movements in Hong Kong and Taiwan, while claiming the CPC's legitimacy and vindicating its governance capability through an ostentatious display of military force. The CPC will continue into the future with such propaganda for domestic purposes.
Against the backdrop of the confrontation between the United States and China, the current situation continues to fluctuate due to the interaction between China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. And on top of this, South Korea can be added as another disturbing factor. Russia is already taking advantage of the worsening Japan-ROK relations to increase its military presence more than ever. It is not necessarily harmless to China that Russia exceedingly heightens military tensions in Northeast Asia. China must address a precarious situation where it must exhibit its military strength before the public eye, while it must avoid by every possible means military conflicts with the United States.
(This paper was translated into English by Tsutomu Inuzuka, SSDP Associate)
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Hideshi Tokuchi, Senior Fellow, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS)
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Dr. Satoru Nagao, Hudson Institute
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