Western powers rekindle Beijing’s anger over G7 and NATO warnings

For more than six weeks, Taiwanese army officers wondered where the Chinese fighter jets had gone.

During the month of May, only four entered the island air defense identification zone. In the first half of this month, there were incursions over just four days and a nine-day period with no activity. This compares to a previous model of no less than 20 forays per month.

But on June 15, a day after US President Joe Biden and other NATO leaders issued a statement condemning “China’s stated ambitions and assertive behavior,” 20 PLA ​​combat aircraft, four nuclear-capable bombers and four additional military planes entered Taiwan’s ADIZ. These were the most planes ever sent by the People’s Liberation Army to the area, with some also circling around the southern tip and east coast of the island before turning around.

A senior Taiwanese government official said Beijing could not restrain itself after the NATO statement – and a G7 summit statement issued a few days earlier – criticized Beijing’s activities in the Taiwan Strait and its crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

“Beijing wanted to prove those in the West wrong that they accuse of touting a theory of the Chinese threat,” the official said, referring to the reduction in military activity in May and early June. “But of course they couldn’t go on. Once Taiwan gets some support, they have to react.

Chinese analysts said Beijing had no choice but to show determination after the Biden administration accelerated efforts to build a “united front” against China at G7 and NATO summits – what President Xi Jinping’s administration had feared for a long time, but that never materialized when Donald Trump was President of the United States.

“The G7 and NATO have been deformed into anti-China platforms,” said Victor Gao, a former Chinese diplomat currently at the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-backed think tank. “There are growing forces in China who believe that if the United States wants to designate China as its fundamental enemy, then let the United States have an enemy. “

Beijing has also responded to G7 criticism of its Hong Kong policy with a show of force in the territory, where it recently stifled the only public commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre on Chinese soil. In the early hours of Thursday, police arrested senior officials of the pro-democracy center Apple Daily Journal for alleged “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security”.

A senior officer in the Hong Kong Police National Security Division later said the arrests were in part linked to more than 30 articles published in the newspaper.

Beijing’s actions around Taiwan and Hong Kong were accompanied by scathing rhetoric. Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and one of the most outspoken diplomats, said the G7 statement “exposed the bad intentions of the United States and a few other countries to create antagonism and widen differences with China.”

“The United States is sick,” Zhao added. “The G7 should take his pulse and prescribe medication. “

Such comments seem to contradict recent instructions from Xi, who said last month that official propaganda should “set the tone, be open and confident but also modest, humble and strive to create a credible, kind and respectable image. from China”.

Xi, however, also noted that China was embroiled in a “public opinion struggle” at the international level. “The powerful anti-Chinese forces in Western society want to attack and discredit China,” Lu Shaye, Chinese ambassador to Paris, said last week in an interview with state media. “We must retaliate to safeguard our own interests. Our sovereign security and development interests are inviolable.

Yun Sun, a Chinese foreign policy expert at the Stimson Center in Washington, said such rhetoric reflected the growing concern of the Xi administration. “There is real concern in Beijing that a united front is forming [and] includes many things that China does not want to see such as Taiwan, maritime safety and human rights, ”Sun said. “This is why we see unusually harsh responses from Beijing on the G7 and NATO.”

Hong Kong police blow out candles lit by activists to mark the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Beijing responded to G7 criticism of its Hong Kong policy with a show of force in the territory © AP

“Germany, France and other EU countries are reluctant to take on China [openly as] the United States, ”added Shi Yinhong, professor at Renmin University in Beijing, who advises the State Council on foreign policy issues. “But they are now closer to the United States when it comes to dealing with China.”

Some Chinese officials and analysts argue that while Beijing will continue to react forcefully when criticized over Taiwan, Hong Kong or other “core interests,” that does not preclude cooperation with the United States on d ” other issues such as climate change global tax reform.

Fu Ying, former Chinese ambassador to the UK, told a recent seminar that the Biden administration wanted “to prevent China from moving forward to replace the United States.” But, she added, “we hope [technological and economic] competition can be managed to ensure it is on a positive path, pushing each other to seek common development and improvement ”.

Beijing “should stand firm on matters of principle but not be too distracted by anti-China hostility,” Gao said. “In the long run, China will have a bigger economy than the United States – no one can change that. Time is on the side of China.

Additional reporting by Xinning Liu in Beijing

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