May 6, 2022- Stealth War 86: Xi Warns Chinese Leaders Against Questioning Zero-COVID; Taiwan Cannot Afford U.S. Anti-Sub Helicopters; China Looks to Deepen Ties With Caribbean Countries; Japan and UK Announce Defense Agreement; Chinese Flotilla Enters Japan’s Miyako Strait

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri May, 2022, Age: 1 year


May 6, 2022

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This issue’s number to watch7.1%

2022 increase in China’s defense budget. The increase is in line with recent trends in Chinese military spending, which has continued apace despite mounting economic challenges. 

This Week: 

Xi Warns Chinese Leaders Against Questioning His COVID Strategy

Taiwan Cannot Afford U.S. Anti-Sub Helicopters

China Looks to Deepen Economic and Security Ties With Caribbean Countries 

Japan and UK Announce Defense Agreement amid Rising Security Tensions in the Indo-Pacific

* Chinese Flotilla Enters Japan’s Miyako Strait 

Top Stories

(source: VOA News)

Xi Warns Other Chinese Leaders Against Questioning Zero-COVID Strategy

On May 5, the Chinese Communist Party’s CCP’s top leadership body- the Politburo Standing Committee met to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s epidemic-prevention policies as mass lockdowns continue in major urban centers including Shanghai. President Xi Jinping issued a sharp warning against anyone who questions the CCP’s restrictive approach. “It is important to unswervingly adhere to the dynamic zero-COVID policy and resolutely fight any attempts to distort, question, or dismiss China’s anti-COVID policy,” he warned other top leaders. The meeting called on all party committees, governments, and broader society to continue to abide by the government’s policies and to “promote the spirit of struggle to build a strong defense” against the ongoing pandemic. In addition, the committee discussed how relaxing virus prevention and control measures would result in widespread infections, serious illness and death, as well as negatively impact the economy. “Practice has proven that our epidemic control strategy is decided by the Party’s nature and mission, and that our policies can stand the test of time, and that our measures are science-based and effective” said the meeting readout.

According to China watchers, such a strong warning likely means there has been internal party pushback against the zero-COVID approach, which does not bode well for Xi, who is expected to secure a third term at the 20th National Party Congress this fall. A political analyst in Beijing, Wu Qiang, also noted that Xi has put his personal stamp on the country’s COVID prevention policy. The policy has “become an unquestionable, unchallengeable policy that is closely tied to his political authority—and therefore there will be no flexibility when it comes to implementation,” he said. Hours after the meeting, Shanghai’s Party Leadership convened to discuss the current situation in the city, which has experienced shortages of essential supplies and public anger with epidemic prevention policies during an extended lockdown, which began in late March. Chaired by Shanghai Party Chief Li Qiang, the committee vowed to implement Xi’s prevention policy and devise more detailed working plans to do so. The response shows that Xi’s warning resonated in Shanghai, but many citizens in Beijing now fear the city will adopt the Shanghai-style lockdown as cases continue to rise.

Taiwan Cannot Afford US Anti-Sub Helicopters

On May 4, Taiwan’s Defense Minister said the country is considering backing out of purchasing 12 MH-60R anti-submarine helicopters from the U.S. because they are too costly. The total cost of the helicopters is $1.425 billion; approximately $275 million over what Taiwan budgeted for the purchase. An alternative explanation may be that the US State Department “rejected the proposal on the grounds that it ‘does not conform to the principle of asymmetric combat power.’” In either case, this delay is compounded by pauses in two additional arms purchases of 40 M109A6 Medium Self-Propelled Howitzer artillery systems and 250 mobile Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems, which is likely due to the competing priority of U.S. arms flowing to Ukraine. These weapons systems are important not only from a Taiwanese perspective, but also as a matter of U.S. foreign policy, which seeks to ensure that Taiwan has the capacity to defend itself from Chinese aggression. Given China’s increased naval presence and aerial incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), and fears about the possibility that President Xi Jinping may accelerate plans to invade Taiwan after securing a third term as the Chinese Communist Party’s supreme leader this fall. Delays of U.S. arms sales may impact the island nation’s already questionable ability to independently deter or repel an attack.

Chinese sources have also claimed that these delays signal  that U.S. support for Taiwan is not as strong as it appears, particularly with Washington focused on Ukraine. State media is already spinning these events in this manner, framing the difficulties with the arms sales as divergence between Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the Biden administration. Chinese propaganda also frames the U.S. as an extortionist seeking more money, and Taiwan as trying to get more from the U.S. for less. Ultimately, the perception that Taiwan and the US are at odds is damaging, particularly given its impact on public perceptions in Taiwan. In this context, it is worth reexamining the U.S.’s longstanding “strategic ambiguity” concerning Taiwan, and to consider the possibility of openly committing to Taiwan’s defense. Finally, while making such decisions, it is critical to understand the lessons that China may be deriving from the Russia-Ukraine conflict, just as it is also important to recognize that China is not Russia, and that Taiwan is not Ukraine.

(source: PRC MFA)

China Looks to Deepen Economic and Security Ties With Caribbean Countries

On April 29, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi addressed a virtual foreign ministers’ meeting with nine Caribbean countries that have diplomatic relations with Beijing—Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. Wang emphasized the need for all parties to strengthen economic and security cooperation. In turn, the Caribbean nations praised China for its assistance with development and COVID-19 prevention, affirmed the One-China policy, and their participation in the Belt and Road Initiative. Finally, the countries welcomed China’s Global Development Initiative and Global Security Initiative, stating that they value China’s role as a global leader.

The latter initiative is striking as it is the first time that China has broadly promoted the concept of “indivisible security” (it previously only did so with reference to Russia and Ukraine). Indivisible security is the concept, “that no country can strengthen its own security at the expense of others.” Its roots can be seen as far back as the 1975 Helsinki Act, with various elaborations in subsequent US-European treaties and documents. This ambiguous concept relies on highly subjective and political perceptions of security interests and threats, which can just as easily lead to unintentional conflicts as they can be manipulated into confrontations.

As China’s investments and ties in Latin America and the Caribbean continue to grow rapidly, so do its security interests. The region already provides China with around one third of its food  imports and a variety of other critical resources (e.g. lithium for batteries). Additionally, China has increasingly gained influence over Panama, which controls the Panama Canal (a vital chokepoint for US economic and security interests), and there is always the potential for it to complete its stalled efforts to build its own canal across Nicaragua. With so many interests at stake, and the pressure that could be applied to the U.S. and its regional allies, it stands to reason that China may establish a permanent naval presence in the U.S.’s backyard. Furthermore, China and/or its partner nations in Latin America and the Caribbean could construe just about any US defense policy or military action, from budgets to aid to exercises, as a violation of indivisible security and whatever agreements emerge from the Global Security Initiative. The consequences of these scenarios remain to be seen, but China’s success in expanding its influence in the region clearly poses a growing challenge for the U.S. 

(source: Japan Times)

Japan and UK Announce Defense Agreement amid Rising Security Tensions in the Indo-Pacific

The UK and Japan agreed in principle on a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) that will deepen defense cooperation between the two security partners. The defense agreement, which first made headlines last September, was announced this week by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida during their meeting in London on the fifth and final leg of the Japanese Prime Minister’s diplomatic tour of Southeast Asia and Europe. The partnership will facilitate faster deployment of UK and Japanese Armed Forces for joint training exercises and disaster relief efforts, as well as build on current bilateral collaboration on defense and security technology, such as through the Future Combat Air System program. The agreement makes the UK the first European power to sign such an agreement with Japan (Australia and Japan signed a similar RAA in January), which signals London’s strategic commitment to the Indo-Pacific region. In addition to bolstering defense cooperation, Johnson and Kishida also agreed to strengthen trade and investment relations with the UK appointing former business minister Greg Clark as its new trade envoy in Tokyo. On a symbolic note, the leaders snacked on Japanese popcorn from the Fukushima region to celebrate Britain’s lifting of import restrictions on food products from that region by the end of June. These efforts could also boost the UK’s post-Brexit economic pivot, specifically its current negotiations for accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), an 11-member free trade agreement, in which Japan has a leading role and also serves as the chair of the UK Accession Working Group.

The agreement sends a clear message that the two countries are committed to a rules-based international order amidst increasing Chinese economic and military coercion and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, both of which were widely discussed during Kishida’s international tour, which focused on advancing a “free and open” Indo-Pacific. Without naming China specifically, Johnson and Kishida expressed “strong concern” over unilateral attempts to change the status quo and the “rapid but not transparent” military build-up in the East and South China Seas. At a press conference in London, Kishida stated that “Ukraine may be tomorrow’s East Asia” referring to Beijing’s ambitions toward Taiwan. He also urged G7 leaders and the international community to adopt a “resolute stance” on Ukraine. In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian firmly opposed Kishida’s remarks, saying that Japan “played up regional tensions by making an issue out of China and hyped up the so-called China threat.” “If the Japanese side is sincere about maintaining peace and stability in East Asia, then it should immediately stop provoking major-country confrontation,” added Zhao.

(source: Radio Free Asia)

Chinese Carrier Group Enters Japan’s Miyako Strait 

On May 2, a nine-vessel PLA Navy flotilla led by the aircraft carrier Liaoning was spotted crossing the Miyako Strait into the western Pacific Ocean. Per state media, this is the largest carrier group that China has assembled of late, and the crossing worried Taiwanese and Japanese officials. The aircraft carrier, which was accompanied by two guided missile destroyers and several supply vessels, crossed from the East China Sea through the waters between Japan’s Okinawa and Miyako islands before entering the western Pacific for a “routine, realistic combat training mission.” In response to the incursion, the Japanese defense ministry dispatched the Izumo light aircraft carrier, patrol craft, and anti-submarine aircraft to monitor the Chinese ships. They were able to take photos of the flotilla, which showed the Liaoning carrying a contingent of J-15 fighter jets and Z-8/Z-9 helicopters. This is the first time this year the PLA Navy has sent a carrier group past the First Island Chain into the Pacific Ocean.

The size and nature of the incursion highlights credible recent rumors of a fourth Chinese aircraft carrier in production – one that be nuclear powered and larger than China’s other carriers. Recent images of two FC-31 stealth fighter jets parked on a runway at a naval air base indicate that China has begun pilot training preparations for this fourth aircraft carrier. In the images, the jets are parked next to a mock aircraft carrier deck, which suggests the stealth pilots are training for carrier operations. There are also lines drawn on the surface of the runway to indicate the size and shape of the carrier landing platform. According to Chinese sources, the fourth aircraft carrier will feature an “experimental platform” to test the strength of a nuclear propulsion system, which will also free up space for more fighter jets and enable smoother operation of the aircraft carriers’ electromagnetic catapult system. Purportedly, the carrier will also feature high-energy weaponry, including lasers and railguns.

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