Lieutenant General Wang Guanzhong, the deputy chief of general staff of China’s People’s Liberation Army, attacked the US and Japan on Sunday, charging them with conspiring against his country. Speaking on the final day of the Shangri-La Dialogue, the Asian regional security forum in Singapore, the general displayed, among other things, how out of touch the Chinese leadership has become.
The dialogue occurred at a time of tensions off China’s coast. In the South China Sea, China and Vietnam remained locked in an escalating dispute over the placement of a Chinese oil drilling platform near Vietnam’s shoreline and in waters surely within Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Beijing, with its infamous nine-dash line on official maps, claims 90 percent of the South China Sea as its own. Over the East China Sea, Chinese jets dangerously buzzed Japanese reconnaissance planes operating in international airspace.
Conversations at the dialogue, naturally, were all about Beijing. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave the event’s keynote, expressing deep concern about China’s actions, although he did his best to avoid mentioning that country by name.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel then specifically called out Beijing. “In recent months, China has undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea,” he said. “It has restricted access to Scarborough Reef, put pressure on the longstanding Philippine presence at the Second Thomas Shoal, begun land reclamation activities at multiple locations, and moved an oil rig into disputed waters near the Paracel Islands.” Hagel also declared this: “We firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force to assert those claims.”
General Wang, finding himself on the defensive, lashed out. First, the fast-rising flag officer departed from prepared remarks and went on a bender. The Japanese prime minister and the American defense secretary, he declared, were conspiring: “They supported and encouraged each other in provoking and challenging China, taking advantage of being the first to speak at the dialogue.” In particular, he went after Hagel: “His speech is a speech with tastes of hegemony, a speech with expressions of coercion and intimidation, a speech with flaring rhetoric that usher destabilizing factors into the Asia-Pacific to stir up trouble, and a speech with unconstructive attitude.”
And then Wang showed how Beijing viewed the world. “China has never initiated disputes over territorial sovereignty and the delimitation of maritime boundary,” he maintained. “China only takes countermeasures against others’ provocation.” The general told us who is to blame: “Assertiveness has come from the joint actions of the United States and Japan, not China.”
After Wang finished, his comrade, Major General Zhu Chenghu, went to work, mocking America for having allies. “As US power declines, Washington needs to rely on its allies in order to reach its goal of containing China’s development,” the general said. Then he mocked the US for suffering from “erectile dysfunction.” “We can see from the situation in Ukraine this kind of ED,” he told Phoenix TV.
The implications of this arrogance are deeply troubling. Thinking the US is done and believing itself without meaningful opposition, the Chinese evidently think they can do what they want. They are not only behaving like they represent a great power, “they’re behaving with a sense of entitlement,” said one “analyst” speaking anonymously to the Wall Street Journal.
Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey, also in Singapore, left the door open to Beijing joining its neighbors in a new architecture to maintain security in the region, but, after the arrogant and unreflective comments from Generals Wang and Zhu, he has to know that China is the region’s principal threat to peace.