When the PRC Tells You Who They Are...
know who they are; know yourself
If you didn’t get a chance to catch yesterday’s Midrats, take a moment to add it to your download list.
We spent an hour talking with Jeff Meiser discussing the People’s Republic of China a few steps back from the “breaking news” and generally excited breathing exercises everyone is used to as of late.
As the author of the 18-yr running “Long Game” series, I’m about as far from a China Dove as you can get - I just don’t see how in 2023 you can see the PRC through that lens anymore, if ever.
Though I am much closer to the “decade of concern” school, I am also open to the “dial it back a bit” approach - an approach we discussed in detail on the Midrats episode linked above.
All that being said, you have to look at the PRC as she is.
For today I’d like to heat things up, then cool it down to where it should be.
The translator is not all that great, but after a careful listen or two, here is what I believe you can hear from State Councilor and Minister of National Defense General Li Shangfu, CHN A at last week’s IISS Shangri-La Dialogue.
“China’s reunification is an overriding historical trend and unstoppable course. The Taiwan question arose as a result of weakness and chaos in our nation. May it well be resolved as national rejuvenation becomes a reality. China will be, and must be unified. It is the aspiration of a people in line with the trends of our times. We will strive for the prospect of peaceful unification with utmost sincerity and greatest (unintelligible) we make no promise to renounce the use of force. If anyone dares to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will not hesitate for a second. We will fear no opponents and resolutely safeguard national sovereignty.”
That was said in context of a week where the PRC’s military was showing a less than accommodating attitude west of the international dateline.
That got a lot of people excited … but I’d caution everyone to take a deep breath.
Not only have we been here before, the behavior of the PRC is actually quite mild in that grumpy corner of peacetime interactions.
For those under-50, and a few over who should know better, the last few weeks have seen a bit too much hyperventilating over the very unprofessional and mildly provocative actions at sea and in the air and waters of WESTPAC.
Yesterday, DOD released the video from this weekend’s naval event involving the USS Chung-Hoon and CNS Suzhou;
A week prior, the PRC’s airforce was doing roughly the same thing.
Though not an everyday occurrence, during the Cold War these were rather regular occurrences between the USA and the Soviet Union. Not quite cricket, but not unusual.
Two of my favorites of many were:
2. When the Soviets decided to give the USS Yorktown (CG 48) a little hip check in 1988 in the Black Sea:
Those are all Cold War incidents, but even in the last few years, the Russian Navy likes to get sporty:
So, what is the big takeaway?
First, if you look at what the PRC is saying and doing, it is clear that they not only are feeling their oats - and to be quite clear they have earned it - they are growing in confidence.
As our budget and fleet shrinks in real terms, theirs continues to grow. As their leadership remains focused on building place, power, and prestige - our leaders seem to be focused on … I’m not sure what they are focused on, to be blunt.
That being said, the words are bellicose and aggressive actions newish - but they are well within the norms of what the US Navy and USAF are used to dealing with on the international stage. This is easily in the yellow zone, and a few more ratchets needed to get near the orange, and fairly far from the red.
Expect more of this - and the ratchet to tighten.
How to respond?
Respond with professionalism, calm, ease, and act as if this is something you are ready for as the premier naval power.
Fake it until you make it … and while the fleet does that, if the people in Congress and the Potomac Flotilla would up their game a bit - we just may push through this “decade of concern.”