China’s growing belligerence


What is China doing?

In the past few months, Beijing has exploited the U.S.’s and the world’s preoccupation with the coronavirus pandemic to assert China’s hegemony throughout Asia. It has threatened or sunk boats from Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, and Malaysia, and flown fighter jets into Taiwanese airspace eight times. It instigated a skirmish with India in the Himalayas that killed dozens, the worst such fighting along the disputed border in decades. “It’s a quite deliberate Chinese strategy to try to maximize what they perceive as being a moment of distraction,” said Peter Jennings of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Beijing has also been emboldened by Trump’s “America First” isolationism, Jennings said. In passing a draconian security law for Hong Kong, Beijing shredded all pretense that it would keep its pledge to respect the former British colony’s “one country, two systems” arrangement, or Hong Kongers’ right to free speech. Its domestic oppression of its mostly Muslim Uighur minority became more gruesome with the recent revelation of a campaign to prevent Uighur births through forced birth control and abortion.

How is China’s military involved?

Chinese Coast Guard vessels have been muscling into other countries’ territorial waters all over the South China Sea, a body of water China claims as its sole domain even though nine other countries also border it. In April, the Chinese rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat, harassed Malaysian and Philippine ships, and declared that lands long claimed by the Philippines — including the Spratly Islands, Scarborough Shoal, and Fiery Cross Reef — were now Chinese districts. In June, it menaced Taiwan with bombers and fighter jets in Taiwanese airspace, a rare occurrence before this year. But the military isn’t China’s only tool: It is also exerting its economic might and its soft power.