The arrest earlier this week of Hong Kong’s local media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, the founder of the territory’s Apple Daily newspaper, prompted a fresh round of international condemnation, with US Vice President Mike Pence criticizing the arrest. Pictured: The August 11, 2020 front page of Apple Daily newspaper reporting on the arrest of Jimmy Lai Chee-ying. (Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
China’s decision to launch a fresh round of military exercises close to the disputed territory of Taiwan demonstrates that Beijing’s communist rulers have little intention of backing down in their increasingly provocative confrontation with America and its allies.
Despite the widespread international criticism China has received in recent weeks over its brutal suppression of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, there is little sign that Beijing is prepared to adopt a more conciliatory tone.
The arrest earlier this week of Hong Kong’s local media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, the founder of the territory’s Apple Daily newspaper, prompted a fresh round of international condemnation, with US Vice President Mike Pence criticizing the arrest.
In a comment posted on Twitter, Mr Pence wrote that Mr Lai’s arrest is “deeply offensive & an affront to freedom loving people around the world.” Mr Pence continued that he was inspired by Mr Lai’s “stand for democracy & the rights & autonomy that were promised to the people of Hong Kong by Beijing”.
The intense criticism Beijing has attracted over its heavy-handed treatment of Hong Kong appears, though, to have made little impression of Chinese President Xi Jingping and the rest of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
On the contrary, the adverse global reaction to Beijing’s policies seems only to have encouraged China to adopt an even more aggressive attitude, such as launching a new wave of military exercises close to Taiwan.
Announcing the commencement of the exercises on Thursday, the Chinese military sought to justify their action by claiming that they were being undertaken “to safeguard national sovereignty.”
Beijing indicated the exercises were being conducted in response to a recent upsurge in US diplomatic exchanges with Taipei, and were launched the day after Alex Azar, the US health secretary, became the most senior Washington cabinet official to visit Taiwan since 1979, a move designed to demonstrate the Trump administration’s unstinting support for Taiwan in its increasingly acrimonious dispute with Beijing.
In a rare comment seeking to justify China’s military activity in the area, Colonel Zhang Chunhui, the spokesman of the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command, said Beijing had been provoked into launching the exercises. In a threatening reference to the US, he said:
“Certain large countries are incessantly making negative moves regarding the Taiwan issue and sending wrong signals to the ‘Taiwan independence’ forces, seriously threatening peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
Amid growing tensions between Washington and Beijing, the US last month dispatched two aircraft carriers and four warships to the South China Sea to deter any further acts of aggression by the Chinese military, especially in the contested waters of the South China Sea.
The deployment followed a series of incidents in the region where the Chinese military was accused of using bullying tactics against a number of neighbouring Asian states such as Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.
In addition, China has been accused of indulging in aggressive conduct in the East China Sea, where Beijing continues to press its claim to sovereignty over the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands. In the most recent incident, Japanese Coast Guard officials reported last month that Chinese patrol ships had entered the 12-nautical-mile territorial waters around the disputed island, and had remained there for “an extended time.”
Nor is China’s unwelcome activity in international waters confined to its immediate vicinity. Earlier this month officials in Ecuador complained about the presence of an enormous Chinese flagged fishing fleet that was operating in international waters close to the Galapagos Islands, claiming the fleets’ massive fishing operation posed a threat to the islands’ delicate marine ecosystem. The Galapagos Islands were designated a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1978.
All of which suggests that, far from being embarrassed by the recent criticism it has endured, Beijing remains determined to establish its naval presence around the world.
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph‘s Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.
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