China must realize a hard-line stance undermines its own national interests

The international community’s concerns about China have increased further. The administration of President Xi Jinping should be aware of the reality that its hard-line stance is disadvantaging itself and undermining regional stability.

China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) has opened in Beijing and this year’s budget plan and economic targets, among other policies, were presented.

The gross domestic product growth target was set at 6% or higher, lower than experts had expected. Unusually, no growth target was given for the new five-year plan. The novel coronavirus pandemic and the intensifying confrontation between the United States and China may have made it difficult to forecast.

Nevertheless, a military budget of 1.3553 trillion yuan (about ¥22.5 trillion) was appropriated, up 6.8% from the previous year. This is more than four times the size of Japan’s defense budget.

In addition to building up its aircraft carriers and ballistic missiles, China has been developing new weapons ahead of the U.S. military, including hypersonic weapons and rail guns. The expansion of its military budget could be said to reflect its initiatives to catch up with the United States in military power. The unbridled expansion of its military cannot be overlooked.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Communist Party of China. Xi is poised to continue his strong rule and hard-line diplomacy to maintain his cohesive power, with an eye on establishing a long-term administration after the party congress next year.

“We will enhance the military’s strategic capability to protect the sovereignty, security and development interests of our country,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said during an NPC session, implying a willingness to use force. It is feared that China will step up its military offensive under the pretext of its “core interests” such as Taiwan and the South China Sea.

It is natural for any country to pursue its sovereignty and security. However, China has been ignoring international rules and proceeding to “change the status quo by force” in the South China Sea and other areas based on its own unilateral logic. Its coercive actions have aroused alarm among neighboring countries and increased tension in the region.

Moves to review relations with Beijing have been rapidly gaining momentum, even in European countries such as Britain, France, and Germany, which have been emphasizing economic cooperation with China. The consideration of increased military engagement by such countries, including dispatching naval vessels to the Indo-Pacific region, is probably a reflection of the situation.

Japan needs to strengthen its cooperation with Europe, centered on its alliance with the United States.

At the NPC, a review of Hong Kong’s election system is expected to completely eliminate democratic forces that are critical of Beijing, based on the principle of “governance of Hong Kong by patriots,” as instructed by Xi. Li stressed that the system will be implemented to support “national security.”

This is an act of subversion of democracy, contrary to international commitments that recognize Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” arrangement. China must accept the criticism of the international community.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March. 6, 2021.