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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are seen in Beijing on February 4. A US military planner said that any Chinese “act of aggression” would likely draw a global response similar to what Russia has faced since invading Ukraine. Photo: Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images/TNS

Pentagon official says Beijing ‘act of aggression’ against Taiwan will draw response like Russia has seen

  • ‘Where the world is now, the Ukraine scenario is a much more likely outcome,’ says Colin Kahl, the US undersecretary for defence policy
  • Kahl also says indications are that Beijing ‘did not believe Russia actually planned to invade Ukraine’ and calls it an ‘intelligence failure’

A US military planner warned Beijing that should it undertake some “act of aggression” against Taiwan, the likely global response would be closer to that taken against Russia after it invaded Ukraine than the arm’s-length approach that followed the Chinese government’s crackdown in Hong Kong.

At a conference hosted by the Centre for a New American Security, Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defence for policy, said on Tuesday that “potential adversaries and aggressors everywhere else in the world are looking at the global response in Ukraine.

A screenshot of Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defence for policy, at the Centre for a New American Security conference on Tuesday.

“If I’m sitting in Beijing, I think the fundamental question to draw is, you know, if they were to commit an act of aggression sometime in the future, will the world react the way that it did when China snuffed out democracy in Hong Kong, or will the world react more like they did in the case of Ukraine,” Kahl said.

“I think it’s imperative for the leadership in Beijing to understand that, where the world is now, the Ukraine scenario is a much more likely outcome than the Hong Kong scenario,” he added.

“So I hope that that’s soaking in, in Beijing and elsewhere.”

After anti-government protests in Hong Kong in 2019, dozens of former lawmakers and opposition activists were arrested under the national security law that Beijing imposed on the city in 2020.

Last year, Beijing further tightened its grip on the city by overhauling Hong Kong’s electoral system, to ensure only “patriots” could run for public office.

Hong Kong’s chief executive election a ‘violation of democratic principles’: EU

Subsequently, the first revamped legislative election in December had the lowest turnout of registered votes since the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997.

Hong Kong will see a new chief executive, John Lee, its former head of security, take office in July after an uncontested election in May.

The US has revoked Hong Kong’s special trade status that separated the territory from mainland China economically, and also sanctioned dozens of Chinese and Hong Kong officials, barring them from travelling to the US and using American banking systems.

While the European Union and Britain condemned Beijing’s moves for what they consider an undermining of Hong Kong’s freedoms, and banned sales of surveillance technology to China, they have yet to make broad-based restrictions on trade.


Taiwan holds missile exercise amid rising tensions with mainland China

Taiwan holds missile exercise amid rising tensions with mainland China

Kahl also suggested that the support China has given Russia in its war on Ukraine was a consequence of getting played by Moscow.

“The indications are the Chinese did not believe Russia actually planned to invade Ukraine,” he said. “That was an intelligence failure for the PRC. And so I think they’ll have to work through what the implications of that are.”

“I suspect [the Chinese government] was surprised by the degree to which the United States and other Western democracies were effective in the information domain,” Kahl said, referring to the global intelligence community’s ability to warn about the Kremlin’s military plans for Ukraine.

Beijing is “very focused on kind of winning the propaganda contest and shaping the information environment, and I suspect they believe they’re much better at it than Western democracies are”, Kahl said.

China is getting ‘more coercive’ in its territorial claims: US defence chief

“The fact the US was able to declassify information, make it public on a global scale, and then have it be verified by facts on the ground runs counter to that internal narrative of information superiority,” he added.

“In recent years … there’s been a real wake-up call across the Indo-Pacific” over China’s autocratic tendencies, exacerbated by its “alignment” with Moscow since Russia attacked Ukraine, Kahl said. He cited the formation of Aukus and four summits of leaders of the Quad since US President Joe Biden took office last year.

“Advanced economies and democracies in the Indo-Pacific” are reacting to China’s position on Ukraine the way that Europe has “because at the end of the day, these are events with global consequence, and they are in part a contest between autocracies contemplating repression”.

Additional reporting by Kinling Lo