When China accessed the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the West showed itself to be toothless. More than rhetoric of outrage did not reach the communist leadership in Beijing. The USA and Europe cannot afford another such democratic political disaster. Their reaction to the People’s Republic’s ever more brazen claim to power on the island state of Taiwan (South China Sea) will have a decisive influence on whether China will not only aggressively impose its economic power on the world, but also whether it will also succeed in acting in a militarily dominant manner.
Hamburg / Beijing / Taipei (waw) – At the end of January 2021, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison gave up all diplomatic restraint. The conservative politician railed in the direction of Beijing that he was unwilling to make any prior concessions to the People’s Republic of China, just to resume the thread of conversation with the supremacist in the region. In doing so, Morrison confirmed what the media describe: “Relations between the two nations have sunk to a historic low.”
Several Chinese ministers have recently refused to take calls from their Australian colleagues. Trade Minister Wang Wentao coldly left a conciliatory letter from his Australian contact person Dan Tehan in his Beijing ministry. It proposed resuming interrupted discussions on disputes.
Australia, ban beam from China
“The current difficult situation in our relations is something that China does not wish to see,” said Wang’s spokesman Gao Feng. Behind this was the threat of further Chinese import barriers if the government in Sydney does not take action. It has been in China’s crosshairs since it demanded international investigations into the origin of the corona pandemic in China in the summer of 2020 without warning.
The two countries have been feuding for years. Australia complains about targeted strategic investments by China, Chinese pressure on the Australian media and military aggression in the South China Sea.
In Europe and the United States, the dispute between the 7,500 km as the crow flies is being closely followed. “Australia is assigned a kind of ‘early detection function’,” explains James Laurenceson, economics professor from the Technical University of Sydney. The liberal, prosperous and democratic country had been the target of meddling attempts by the Chinese government earlier than other countries. These include Beijing’s political influence bought with money, the hijacking of universities as a propaganda vehicle for the Chinese way and the misuse of scientific research for military purposes in the People’s Republic.
South China Sea, artery of world trade
The action of the Beijing rulers in the South China Sea, where an enormously large volume of world trade flows through with well over four trillion euros in value per year, is increasingly coming to the fore. About 80 percent of the oil deliveries in Northeast Asia pass through the South China Sea. China suspects around 213 billion barrels of oil and 25 trillion cubic meters of natural gas under the sea floor.
South China Sea – this is exactly where China is making territorial and maritime claims against up to seven states. It is based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that came into force in 1994. Based on islands, rocks or reefs protruding out of the sea, this allows sovereign rights to be extended up to a total of 350 nautical miles into the sea. This has prompted China to use sea sand to create new islands and to build ports, landing sites and military settlements. The consequences:
- China claims 90% of the South China Sea.
- China denies the freedom of navigation of warships, the overflight of planes, as well as the fishing rights.
- China is using force against fishing boats and coast guard boats in affected states.
Taiwan, island of desire
As part of this policy of advancement, the People’s Republic is increasingly focusing on the independent island of Taiwan. The economically important republic has governed itself since 1949. But the PR China regards it as an “inseparable part of Chinese territory”. Taiwan unilaterally “split off” from the mainland in 1949. The world of diplomacy calls this reading the “One China Doctrine”.
At the end of January 2021, Beijing underlined its claim more powerfully than ever. It provocatively sent a whole fleet of military aircraft – eight bombers and four fighter jets – into the air defense zone of Taiwan, which is ten times the size of Mallorca. Thereupon the new US President Joe Biden ordered an aircraft carrier group into the South China Sea to promote the “freedom of the seas” – as part of an “exercise”.
Australia seconded with the deployment of supporting ships and aircraft. Secretary of Defense Linda Reynolds after a phone call with her new US counterpart, Lloyd Austin: “We will continue to work side by side.”
Europe, continent of procrastinators
As expected, Beijing reacted angrily. It called the move a “show of force”. The leadership of China was already on the pinnacle. The reason: Biden had officially invited Taiwan’s diplomatic representative in Washington to the inauguration of a president for the first time.
Meanwhile, as so often, Europe stands between the fronts. That was the case with China’s serious encroachment on the autonomy of Hong Kong. The European Union (EU) had loudly condemned human rights violations. “The courage to respond with sanctions is lacking,” a dpa report stated at the time.
Even now the 27 U-governments do not want to endanger their economic interests. China is the second most important EU trading partner – after the USA. Particularly tricky: There are EU countries – namely Greece, Hungary and Italy – which would rather reach for billions in Chinese investments than take into account the long-term consequences of Chinese dominance.
South China Sea: Europe’s security is defended there too
The question that Europe has to answer more and more urgently is whether it is willing to robustly defend its values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Is it enough to counter the relentless push of the system opponent with admonitions and reproaches?
Germany could play a leading role in this. After all, the Federal Government’s recently published first guidelines for a German Indo-Pacific policy state:
The Bundeswehr will “expand its security policy engagement in the Indo-Pacific” and “Germany is ready to make a contribution to the enforcement of rules and norms in the region.”
Federal Government, Germany
In May, Federal Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer will send the frigate “Hamburg” to the region. However, only in the Indian Ocean, not in the conflict area of the South China Sea itself. That should send a “signal” for security and stability.
Is that enough? I say: no.
Together with the 26 other EU countries, Germany must make it much clearer that credibility, assertiveness and ultimately even the fate of Europe can also be decided in the South China Sea.
Taiwan cannot become a second Hong Kong!
The communist-led government of the People’s Republic of China shows no readiness for conciliation. The spokesman for the Chinese Defense Ministry, Wu Qian, leaves no doubt about that. He warned the independence forces in Taiwan “that those who play with fire set themselves on fire.” The pursuit of statehood on the island means “nothing but war”.
These are not words that only worry countries like Australia, which are, so to speak, in the forecourt of China. No, that should also concern us in the supposed distance. The communist people’s republic, which avowedly wants to make the world happy with its digitally refined social control system, already has one foot in our door with the New Silk Road project. Our security is therefore also defended in the South China Sea.