President Xi Jinping had the United States in his sights when he invoked memories of military sacrifice in the Korean War.
Speaking on the 70th anniversary of China’s entry into the conflict, he warned Washington and its allies that the nation would fight anyone “creating trouble” in its own backyard.
Obviously, the reference was aimed at Taiwan.
“Without a strong army, there can be no strong motherland,” Xi said in his address about the “Forgotten War,” which erupted in 1950.
“Chinese people [never] create trouble, [but] nor are we afraid of [it],” he added to the usual wild applause.
The Korean War was the only time in history that Chinese and American troops were involved in large scale battles. They were brutal.
Back then, Cold War politics had frozen relations between the Soviet Union and the US when North Korean forces poured across the border known as the 38th parallel and invaded the South.
With the Seoul government in turmoil, a US-led United Nations coalition intervened. It pushed back the North Korean People’s Army before Chairman Mao Zedong deployed more than two million Chinese troops to prop up Kim Il Sung’s communist regime.
When an armistice was eventually signed in 1953, at least 190,000 Chinese soldiers were dead. Even to this day, the peninsula is still technically in a state of war since a peace treaty was never signed by the combatants.
“Let the world know that ‘the people of China are now organized, and are not to be trifled with,’” Xi said during his keynote address in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, quoting Mao, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China.
“We will never sit back and watch any damage to our national sovereignty … and we will never allow any force to invade or divide the sacred territory of the motherland [which includes Taiwan],” he added.
In a sentence, Xi echoed the past with a chilling reminder of the future as tensions rise in the Taiwan Strait.
A decision by Washington to put together a US$7 billion advanced arms deal for Taipei has infuriated Xi’s ruling Communist Party, which has vowed to reunite the “renegade province,” by force if necessary.
The move followed last year’s $8 billion agreement between the US and the thriving island democracy for military hardware, triggering renewed PLA naval and airforce activity in the Strait.
“This should be seen as a message directly addressed to the United States, there is no ambiguity here,” Alice Ekman, an analyst specializing in China at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, told the AFP news agency.
“Xi is invoking the spirit of war in a broad sense,” she added.
But then, the speech was not just aimed at a domestic audience or a simple rallying call for “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy. It was a global statement to the White House.
“China is declaring to the US that it was not afraid of the US in the past, and is still not afraid of the US now,” Shi Yinhong, a professor of international politics at Renmin University, said.
“It’s to prepare [the people] for a possible limited military conflict with the US,” he added.
But Taiwan is not the only flashpoint in the region.
Xi’s regime claims vast areas of the 1.3 million-square-mile South China Sea as its “sovereign territory,” dismissing the claims of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
Up to $3 trillion of trade traverses through the highly-contested maritime superhighway.
“[The South China Sea Islands] are an integral part of China’s territory, and it is fully justified for us to build facilities and deploy necessary defense equipment there. The Chinese government has firm determination to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” a spokesperson for China’s Washington’s embassy said in August.
‘Private swimming pool’
Still, the US navy has increased freedom of navigation exercises in the region along with allies such as Japan and Australia.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made it clear that the South China Sea is not Beijing’s private swimming pool and condemned the Communist Party’s “bullying” tactics.
Xi’s speech has to be taken in that context.
“The Chinese have a red line and a bottom line … to safeguard the country’s core interests. It was so in the past, it is so now, and it will be so in the future,” Jiefangjun Bao, the PLA’s official newspaper, said in a 10,000-word essay.