China has held a large parade honouring the 90th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). In addition to displays of cutting edge, never before seen weapons, China’s President Xi Jinping clarified the purpose of a large, modern and highly trained PLA in the 21st century.
Speaking at a ceremony after the parade, Xi stated,
“The Chinese people love peace. We will never seek aggression or expansion, but we have the confidence to defeat all invasions.
We will never allow any people, organisation or political party to split any part of Chinese territory out of the country at any time, in any form. No one should expect us to swallow the bitter fruit that is harmful to our sovereignty, security or development interests”.
Xi went on to praise the PLA’s 5 year plan for modernisation which has seen an increased focus on air and naval power while still boasting the world’s largest army.
China’s message is clear, but who is it directed to?
1. The United States
The US has and continues to engage in aggressive policies towards China through the projection of both overt provocations, through geo-strategic meddling and through proxy wars around the world designed to retard the progress of China’s One Belt–One Road global trade, infrastructure and commerce initiative.
a. Direct Provocations
The United States continues to infringe on China’s territorial rights in the South China Sea as well as the East China Sea. What the United States deceivingly calls ‘freedom of navigation’ is merely an attempt to internationalise territorial waters claimed by China.
The US has often co-opted south east Asian nations into an aggressive stance against China in the South China Sea, but this strategy has hit something of a brick wall ever since the 2016 election of Rodrigo Duterte as President of Philippines. Duterte has pledged to work cooperatively with China over the dispute and dismissed all calls for violence as foolhardy and suicidal.
While the US continues to provoke China in Chinese maritime territory, the particular way in which the Trump administration has approached the North Korean issue is more about Beijing than it is about Pyongyang.
China is North Korea’s neighbour, and since the illegal collapse of the Soviet Union, China has been North Korea’s primary window to the wider world although North Korea’s economy is increasingly self-sufficient and looks set to continue along this trajectory.
North Korea is a sovereign state and China and Russia both respect and acknowledge this, it is only the United States which constantly treats the North Korean issue as though it is an issue of a Chinese protectorate. In this sense, North Korea is far more remote from China than is Chinese Taipei, also known as Taiwan. If the US has direct talks with the generally pro-western government of Chinese Taipei, surely on the sheer principles of sovereign foreign relations, the US ought to talk to North Korea which unlike Chinese Taipei is an unambiguously sovereign state as recognised by the United Nations.
By suggesting otherwise, the United States is insulting China, something which under Donald Trump has become increasingly par for the course.
In this sense, by attempting to draw China into the North Korean issue from the view that North Korea is somehow a protectorate of China, while the US continues to sell weapons to Chinese Taipei (aka Taiwan) which China regards as part of its indivisible sovereign territory, the US is accomplishing both a two-pronged insult as well as a two-pronged challenge to China, one which China has responded to sternly in recent days.
b. Military and geo-strategic meddling along One Belt–One Road
China has laid out the preliminary map of the manifold routes which will comprise its One Belt–One Road land and sea super-highways.
It is no coincidence that since this announcement was made in 2013, the United States has stepped up military action and geo-political meddling in key spots along the road.
As I recently wrote in The Duran,
“NATO’s recent land and sea exercises in eastern and southern Europe as well as the Black Sea frontiers of Eurasia are at face value, provocations designed to anger and intimidate Russia. Likewise, America’s presence in Iraq and Syria are at face value, provocations designed to angry and intimidate Iran. But they are also something else: they are provocations designed to anger and intimidate China.
The key element here lies in understanding the geography of China’s massive trade/commerce project, One Belt–One Road, also referred to as the New Silk Road.
A map of the likely final routes of the land and sea trade corridors which China is working to build in cooperation with local nations along the route goes a long way in explaining why the United States is conducting troop exercises, engaging in military conflicts and threatening new military conflicts in key spots along the New Silk Road.
The following map shows the routes of China’s New Silk Road. Each number corresponds to an area where US troops or their allies are either active in a conflict zone or have recently engaged in military exercises.
1. The border between Iraq and Iran.
Kurdish areas in northern Iraq are set to vote in an independence referendum in September of 2017. While it is not clear if the US will officially support the results of the vote which due to a declared boycott of the referendum by the area’s non-Kudish residents will almost certainly be won by nationalists, the US has developed very close ties to Iraqi Kurds over the last decades. The US has likewise supported Iraqi Kurds in their fight against ISIS in northern Iraq.
Iran is staunchly opposed to Kurdish separatism in neighbouring Iraq and has taken Turkey’s side in opposing Kurdish separatism throughout the region. Syria of course also opposes local Kurdish separatists.
Many in Iran are growing increasingly suspicious that the US and Israel plan to use their Kurdish allies as a means of waging a proxy war against Iran and its allies. America seems willing to throw out its historically good relationship with Turkey in order to do just that.
2. North Eastern Syria
The next US hotspot along China’s New Silk Road is in north-eastern Syria. This is also an area in which Syrian Kurds are growing increasingly vocal about independence.
Should America support Kurdish nationalists in northern Iraq and north eastern Syria, this could create two decidedly pro-American entities along the New Silk Road.
Should Syrian and/or Iraqi Kurdish nationalists decide to link up with the Kurdish nationalist PKK in Turkey, the New Silk Road’s journey into Turkey could also be threatened.
Just as Syria and China forge new economic ties, America continues to increase its presence in Syria.
3. Western Balkans
The New Silk Road’s maritime route into Europe is through Greece where it eventually hugs the western Balkans on its route northwards.
This will see the New Silk Road passing by Albania and Montenegro via the Ionian and Adriatic Seas. The western Balkans has become a big hotspot of US mischief for several reasons.
America has been fomenting Albanian extremism in Macedonia (aka Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) in an attempt to weaken the position of the sovereignty minded President Gjorge Ivanov. The threats of Albanian nationalists to Skopje threaten the entire statehood of the small Balkan country.
Furthermore, America has been deeply supportive of the Greater Albania project which would see Albanians annex not only parts of Macedonia but also parts of Serbia, Montenegro and Greece. Montenegro’s recent, deeply controversial ascension to NATO could only exacerbate the problem as a fraternal nation to Serbia is now NATO’s newest and smallest member.
All of the sudden, The New Silk Road’s path into southern Europe becomes perilous and highly unstable.
Thousands of NATO troops are currently participating in military exercises in Romania. This comes after the US sold a $3.9 billion Patriot Missile system to the poor European country.
All of the sudden Romania’s seemingly easy route into Europe along the New Silk Road just became dotted with US military hardware and the presence of many NATO troops who will soon be back for more.
5. The Black Sea
The US has recently conducted its biggest ever Black Sea naval exercises with fellow NATO members along with Ukrainian ships.
This further augments America’s presence along the coasts of Romanian, Russia, Ukraine while also being quite close to Turkey’s shores on the southern sands of the Black Sea.
At present, the post-coup regime which rules Ukraine is ardently pro-America. China and Russia’s close alliance could spur the pro-western regime in Kiev into making life deeply difficult for the New Silk Road, even though such moves would be to their own economic detriment.
The Ukrainian regime is well known for making politicised moves which have hurt its own economic interests, severing economic ties with both Russia and the Donbass Republics being two such examples.
In the coming years, many will ask if the fact that the Ukrainian coup of February 2014 and the formal announcement of One Belt–One Road in the Autumn of 2013 were coincidental events in respect of their proximity in time, not least because Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych visited China in December of 2013 where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. During the meetings which were uniquely successful for Ukraine, China agreed to invest $8 billion into the Ukrainian economy. A few months later a western orchestrated coup removed Yanukovych from power.
NATO troops continue to pour into Poland where they have been largely welcomed by the Polish government. Can masses of NATO troops coexist with Chinese commerce along the New Silk Road? It certainly does not bode well.
8. Bab-el-Mandeb Strait
Ships on the maritime New Silk Road are set to pass through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait which links the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea. Currently, the Strait is under naval blockade from America’s ally Saudi Arabia. The results which have meant a humanitarian disaster for Yemen which is the subject of the Saudi blockade, could also threaten China’s shipping routes to the Red Sea.
9. Suez Canal/Sinai Peninsula
The Suez Canal borders the Sinai Peninsula. Much of Sinai is currently home to ISIS troops that the Egyptian armed forces have had difficulty in ridding from their territory.
The presence of ISIS in the Sinai has led many to worry that Israel could invade and occupy Sinai as Israel did between 1967 and 1982.
It is wise to remember that Israel is not on the New Silk Road while Iran, Iraq and Syria are. This reality will not be lost on the leaders in Tel Aviv.
This does not make for smooth sailing along the maritime New Silk Road”.
Of all the major states along One Belt–One Road, India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been the most obstinate in respect of cooperating with China.
India’s moves to provoke China in the disputed Donglang/Doklam border area at the intersection of India, China and Bhutan combined with overtures to Japan which have little economic benefit to India but fulfil the Modi geo-strategic narrative of projecting Indian power against China, are both symptomatic of an Indian government that is keen to challenge rather than cooperate with China, even though this runs contrary to the short, medium and almost certainly the long term economic interests of India. It is a dangerous game of using and abusing geo-political interactions for the sake of propaganda designed for domestic consumption among Modi’s Hindutva base.
Additionally, India’s purchase of costly American weapons is a further rebuke to China. India could purchase equally effective but much less expensive weapons from both China and Russia. In getting into bed with the US military-industrial complex at a great expensive to the Indian treasury, India is attempting to essentially buy American favour in any major future disputes with China, a plan that will almost certainly not work as America is pursuing China according to America’s own geo-strategic interests and not those of the anti-Chinese factions in India.
Modi’s fanatical approach to China will only draw China closer to Pakistan and the only loser in such a scenario is India which could have stood to gain greatly from Sino-Indian cooperation without sacrificing India’s historical friendship with Russia, nor at the expense of China’s historically good and presently expanding relationship with Islamabad.
China’s message is clear, India can either work with China and win or antagonise China and lose. It is a concept so simple that Modi and his ministers seem to have internalised it and reached the totally opposite conclusion to what logic ought to dictate.
3. Russia and Pakistan
China’s display of military strength is simultaneously an offer to Russia and a reassurance to Pakistan. While China is at times less vocal about its geo-strategic partnerships than fellow super-power Russia, its meaning is equally clear.
Russia and China’s alliance is the most important in Asia and Eurasia, respectively. With two of the three global super-powers in what amounts to a formal alliance in all but name (and occasionally in name based on a number of bilateral agreements), the weight of the world’s aggregate military might is clearly set against anyone who seeks to challenge the Russo-Chinese alliance.
Secondly, although the timing is largely coincidental, China seeks to assure Pakistan that in spite of the recent ouster of Nawaz Sharif, that Beijing and Islamabad’s cooperative endeavours, namely the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, are safe in spite of the internal situation in Pakistan that is currently being handled in a deeply professional way based not only on Pakistani but global standards.
The more America engages in aggressive acts along One Belt–One Road and the more India pushes back against the inevitable inertia of China’s economic and geo-political progress, the more China will subtly but steadfastly push back.
The size and scope of the recent military displays by China in addition to the stern words of President Xi are merely one small but poignant indication of just how serious China takes the challenges that others are unnecessarily sending its way.