Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu told in the Shangri-La dialogue, Asia’s top security summit on June 4 that conflict with the United States would be an “unbearable disaster” and expressed China’s pretence of dialogue over confrontation. He also added that the world was big enough for China and the US to grow together. He asserted that the two sides should not hesitate from “seeking common ground and common interests to grow bilateral ties and deepen cooperation,” notwithstanding the fact that China and the US have different systems.
Does it mean that China has changed its aggressive approach to realize its aspiration to be a global power and instead adopt a more peaceful and cooperative approach henceforth? It is hard to believe in the light of China’s recent militaristic posturing in South China Sea and provocations along its borders with India. China’s denial to respect India’s concerns in BRI projects in disputed Pak occupied Kashmir or military provocations in eastern Ladakh or renaming places in the northeastern Indian province of Arunachal Pradesh give no reason to believe that China has shunned its agenda of expansionism and aggressive intents. China’s statements in Shangri-La Dialogue just aimed at seeking a toned down contain China policy from the US and nothing more.
China’s double standards are apparent in the statement of its Defense Minister in the Shangri-La Dialogue on one hand and its recent overtures in South China Sea, Taiwan Strait and South Asia on the other hand. It is clear from the Chinese military’s criticism of US and Canada for “deliberately provoking risk” after their warships staged a rare joint sailing through the sensitive straight. The US and its allies along with many other countries in SCS region support right to free navigation unlike China’s intent to have an overarching control of SCS including with military installations.
The whole world has witnessed how China has violated international laws and conventions in the SCS for its unilateral strategic control. It has shown scant respect for the sovereignty of other nations in the region as clear from its SCS territorial claims and recent posturing in the Taiwan Strait. China has been compelling the foreign companies operating in the country to transfer technology since long which the US and the other advanced nations find as a great threat to their intellectual property.
The Chinese Minister appears to have just extended an olive branch to the US because Washington is proving an impediment to its assertive approach to be
global power. Washington and Beijing are badly strained over a range of issues, including democratically governed Taiwan, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and Joe Biden’s restrictions on semi-conductor chip exports. All these are seriously weighing on China’s growth and journey to be a global power. Beijing’s reconciliatory postures in Shangri-La Dialogue could not be taken as a shift or change in its overly assertive approach in the global affairs, often tantamounting to provocations which could incite wars.
In his speech, Li said China would not allow freedom-of-navigation patrols convened by the US and its allies describing it as “a pretext to exercise hegemony of navigation.” However, he scuttled the questions of regional scholars on China’s extensive maritime deployments in SCS and blamed countries outside the region for prevailing tensions in the region. The language of the Chinese official still smacked of an assertive stance when compared to other country delegates. For instance, Richard Martes, Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister said very clearly and candidly that Australia’s efforts to improve its military capabilities and presence in the region were aimed at “playing our part in contributing to the collective security of the Pacific and maintenance of the rule-based order.” China is still far from visualizing collective imagination of a peaceful global order.
The double standards of China came loud and clear as Li, albeit in a veiled manner blamed the US, saying that “some countries” are intensifying an arms race and willfully interfering in the internal affairs of others,” adding that “a cold war mentality is now resurgent, greatly increasing security risks.” While China is frequently using bullying and coercion in Hong Kong, Taiwan, SCS and even in South Asia, who would take the words of Li as true intention of Beijing when he said in the Shangri-La Dialogue that “Mutual respect should prevail over bullying and hegemony.”
While China often violates ceasefire and indulges in salami slicing near the Indian LoC, an act of illegally inching forward towards Indian territory, retired veteran Chinese diplomat Cui Tiankai urged the US to ease military deployments close to China in an act of “good faith” if bilateral high level defense talks are to resume. Nevertheless, in a stark contradiction, China has frequently failed regarding maintaining “good faith” with its southern neighbor even if it is seeking the same from the US. The Chinese paradigm of “my strategic interest is more important than yours” has been exposed several times in the past and so did it happen in the Shangri-La Dialogue!