US general says China seeks return to era of vassal states
- General Kenneth S. Wilsbach, commander of the US Pacific Air Forces, says recent PLA military flights close to Malaysia and Taiwan are ‘escalatory’ and ‘destabilising’
- He also expresses sympathy for Hongkongers prevented from joining the annual Tiananmen vigil at Victoria Park
During a conference call with Asia-based media, General Kenneth S. Wilsbach said on Friday it was “clear” Beijing aimed to be the sole superpower and expected other countries to “kowtow” to it.
“They don’t believe there can be multiple superpowers, they believe that there can only be one, and they want to return back to the glory days of [imperial] China where everybody else was a vassal state and everybody [kowtowed] to the emperor,” Wilsbach said.
“And the emperor now is the Chinese Communist Party.”
Beijing lays claim to about 90 per cent of the South China Sea, which carries about one-third of global maritime trade and is the subject of overlapping disputes involving Southeast Asian counter-claimants and Taiwan, which the Chinese mainland views as a renegade province. The Southeast Asian states say the Chinese claims breach customary international maritime law. Taiwan has a similar claim over the waters as the mainland.
Washington conducts regular maritime and air patrols in the strategic waterway as part of “freedom of navigation” operations it says are necessary to keep the waters open and challenge illegal claims, drawing frequent protests from Beijing.
“The reason is they are all perceiving these activities by China and the trust for China is extremely low,” Wilsbach said. “All of this combined mistrust between us and the allies and partners is driving us to know what China is up to militarily because we don’t want any surprises.”
In the briefing, Wilsbach also addressed recent Chinese military flights close to Malaysia and Taiwan, saying these were “escalatory” and “destabilising”. China has said these activities are routine and that they abide by international law. “We set ourselves up for miscalculations around the region when we have some of these activities when we’re getting into people’s airspace that we shouldn’t,” said Wilsbach.
“Overall my guidance from the secretary of defence was ‘steady as she goes’, and what we had been executing as a strategy with respect to North Korea during the Trump administration, we are executing that same strategy during the Biden administration,” he said.
“When we look at possible places to disperse around the region, we’ve pretty much looked at every piece of concrete in the region, and we’ve analysed it and assessed it for possible use as a place to cooperate with and operate from,” Wilsbach said.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse