While people across the world desire for peace and immediate end of the Ukraine war, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s statement at the weeklong 20th National Congress has blown away any hope of seeing the globe rinsed off threat and geopolitical tension very soon. At least it is not seen in the Indo-Pacific region after Xi Jinping’s speech emphasized safeguarding China’s core interests (read it as the country’s territorial claims), strengthening of military capabilities and non-abandoning the use of force for the reunification of Taiwan.
This leaves a little room for speculation about China’s move in the next five-year, given that it continues to project its military might in the Indo-Pacific region where Taiwan’s unification by force will pit it against the US, triggering possible war between the two countries.
Therefore, for the recession-hit world, which is grappling with a food and fuel crisis—on account of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Xi Jinping’s statement has come as a bolt from the blue. In the background of the fact that Beijing, which has the world’s second-largest military budget after the US, is ratcheting up defence technologies. It is trying to extend the reach of its ballistic missiles, building two more aircraft carriers (it has currently three aircraft carriers); it has a military post in Djibouti and is secretly developing new ones in foreign shores like Cambodia and Kiribati: it has signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands this year in April, which will allow it to deploy forces to protect Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands.
China is also investing hugely in professional training of its armed forces. A BBC report recently claimed that China is luring in ex-British military pilots with large sums of money to pass on their expertise to the Chinese military. The British public broadcaster said up to 30 former UK military pilots are thought to have gone to China to train members of People’s Liberation Army. The BBC report further said these pilots have experience in operating modern, fast jets and helicopters like Typhoons, Jaguars, Harriers, and Tornados. Many NATO countries, including Germany and Italy use Tornado aircraft, and Harrier is still flown by the US Marine Corps and by Spanish and Italian navies.
There are also media reports of China poaching former military personnel from other countries to train its armed forces. Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles has said he has ordered the department to probe claims that ex-Australian military pilots were recruited by a flight school in South Africa to work in China. These pilots are being recruited through a flying academy named Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA). It is alleged that TFASA has also hired pilots from New Zealand to work for China. A New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) spokesman was quoted by Reuters as saying that he was aware of “four former serving personnel who have left to gain employment with TFASA.” However, the South Africa-based test flying academy has not confirmed it so far.
But then it is a fact that Australia is using American defence technologies like F-35A aircraft and F/A-18A. It is also acquiring newer versions of 72 F-35A aircraft from the US. This year in August, the US State Department approved the sale of 40 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters to Australia. Even though retired British or Australia pilots may not have operated these modern and fast military aircrafts, they are capable enough to share their experience of flying western military jets with Chinese military pilots who have either operated Russia-made jets or Chinese version of copied western fighter aircrafts, mostly built through reverse-engineering methods.
The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) constitute the largest aviation force in the Asian region and the third largest in the world, said the US Department of Defence’s annual report, released in November 2021. By hiring these retired pilots from Britain, Australia or New Zealand, China will not only help its military learn the ways foreign pilots operate advanced aircrafts, the East Asian country is also preparing for possible conflict with Taiwan and neighbouring countries in the foreseeable future. Taiwan operates US-made fighter jets which are advanced versions of F-16 aircraft, while other neighbouring countries operate both Russian and Western fighter jets of far more superior quality.
Non-effectiveness of the Russian defence technologies in Ukraine where war is going on for almost eight months without any sign of Kiev’s defeat. Weapons supplied by the US and Europe to the Ukrainian forces are reportedly giving Russians a run for their money and men.
China is said to have learnt lessons from the Russia-Ukraine war and as such, it does not want to jump into a war either with Taiwan or any other country without any preparation. In fact, under its ‘Nine Dash Line’ theory—adopted from its maps of the 1940s, China lays claim over the sea and all the land that are contained within the line. To support its claim, Beijing will use military force and Xi Jinping’s statement openly speaks about it.
“Confronted with drastic changes in the international landscape, especially external attempts to blackmail, contain, blockade, and exert maximum pressure on China, we have put our national interests first, focussed on internal political concerns, and maintained firm strategic resolve. We have shown a fighting spirit and a firm determination to never yield to coercive power,” the Chinese President said in his nearly two-hour long speech.
Invariably, it is rhetoric and President Jinping seems to have resorted to it to divert attention of the public, who feel stifled and subjugated under the draconian CPC regime. The zero-Covid policy has exposed China’s cruelty towards its own people, when in the name of public safety, city after city was put under severe lockdown for months without proper arrangement for food, water, and medicines for residents. Hit hard by zero-Covid policy, the economy and the employment situation in the country are in the dire strait. Chinese social media outlets like Weibo and WeChat are full of stories of individual trials and tribulations.
Chinese leaders know that only by raising national sentiment, can they be able to overcome people’s growing frustration in the country. In this regard, several experts predict, the third term of Xi Jinping as China’s President could be full of challenges for the East Asian country and the world as well. There is a possibility, the Indo-Pacific region could be a theatre of war in the immediate future.