Inept Xi resorts to military bombast
By Paul Lin 林保華
Taipei Times 2018.4.26

During the Boao Forum for Asia earlier this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) ordered the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy to hold two naval drills.

This was obviously an attempt by Xi to follow up on his imperial coronation by showing that China has the military power required to back an imperial expansion. He did this even though it was extremely rude to all the heads of state attending the forum.

The first drill was conducted before April 11 and the second, which took place on the morning of April 12, immediately after the forum ended, was inspected by Xi, who also delivered a speech at the drill.

However, on April 11, the US conducted its own military drill, with one of its carrier battle groups sailing straight into the restricted exercise zone previously announced by China. Surrounded by Chinese vessels, the US “guest” became the main attraction in an odd reversal of the situation.

The next day, Xi abruptly announced that the second drill was over, and, quite unexpectedly, China’s show of force became a display of impotence.

The Chinese naval exercise is said to be the biggest such exercise since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949: Forty-eight military vessels, 76 fighter jets and 10,000 soldiers participated in the exercise, showcasing the most elite forces of the PLA.

Naturally, China’s only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was present, and Xi should of course have conducted his inspection of the carrier to look more powerful. Instead he hid on the guided missile destroyer Changsha, clearly worried that the Liaoning would become the primary target of an attack if guns had accidentally been fired.

Moreover, no one knows whether the presence of all the members of the Chinese Central Military Commission — Xi, its chairman, two vice chairmen and four committee members — for the South China Sea drills was intended to amplify the saber rattling, or whether it was a sign that Xi was worried that the other members would stage a coup d’etat had they remained in Beijing.

Had there been conflict between China and the US in the South China Sea, the commission members might all have been eliminated by the US military.

If Xi and his clique were to be wiped out, the PLA would have to rely on the more than 100 senior military officers in Beijing’s Qincheng Prison.

The US would not fire the first shot, but if the unthinkable happened, it is not difficult to guess what would happen. This is also the reason why Xi abruptly ended the drill, disregarding any loss of face.

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt has been conducting missions in the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf. Its trip to the South China Sea was no doubt intended as a warning to Xi that the US Pacific Command would not be alone in facing the PLA.

The US’ invitation to Philippine military officials to watch the drill, which was intended to deter China, clearly meant that the US wants these officers to restrain Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s pro-China moves.

The commander of the US carrier battle group was a rear admiral, and if a mere US rear admiral could scare off the seven Chinese commission members, what would happen in case of a war is anyone’s guess.

Having lost his first battle, emperor Xi had to find a way to back down without being looked down upon by Chinese and to prevent his political enemies taking advantage of the situation. His solution was to announce live-fire drills in Fujian Province.

Rendered impotent in the South China Sea, Xi still shamelessly showed off his masculinity to President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) with the loud backing of his “fifth-columnists” in Taiwan.

Former deputy commander and retired PLA lieutenant general Wang Hongguang (王洪光) might have said that China can take Taiwan in 100 hours, but one cannot help but wonder if 100 hours would not be sufficient for US forces in Japan to come to the Taiwan Strait and implement an aerial and naval blockade of China.

Xi should read up on the 1949 Battle of Kuningtou. At the time, there were not even any US troops.

Emperor Xi should act more cautiously, as the international climate is more favorable to Taiwan. This is why Tsai embarked on a state visit during PLA’s drill, leaving Xi — an untalented elementary-school boy — behind.

Paul Lin is a political commentator.

Translated by Chang Ho-ming

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