After the embarrassing U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, China sent Taiwan a public message: Taiwan should be “trembling” because America “won’t protect you.” Not long after, an article appeared in the C.C.P.’s top news site, Xinhua, declaring that the U.S. “is implementing ever graver military threats […] and launches biological warfare, cyberwarfare and propaganda against China.” At the same time, Chinese citizens are receiving unsolicited news updates on their phones, preparing China for war with America.
Not long after, 56 Chinese warplanes violated Taiwanese airspace, the most significant intrusion on record. Chinese state media followed up by warning that “war is real” and “may be triggered at any time.” China is unambiguously using war rhetoric of the starkest kind.
But why? Historically, China and other dictatorships have used foreign military threats to divert attention in times of domestic turmoil. Enemies abroad bring unity at home. China is a highly disunited empire held together exclusively by force. Therefore, one possibility is that the communist country is in such dire straits that it feels the need to divert people’s attention away from the troubles of daily life to looming threats of war.
A standard measure of appeasement has been economic growth. By delivering prosperity to the people, mainly by taking credit for not interfering in the free market, discontent can be sedated. If this is no longer working as planned, it could explain the recent surge in war rhetoric.
Do we have any evidence of trouble in China? In September, China Evergrande Group shook international markets over fears of defaulting $300 billion in liabilities, indicating something amiss in the Chinese real estate market.
Curiously, China also experienced massive energy shortages at the same time. More than half of the nation’s provinces are rationing electricity, allegedly to meet President Xi Jinping’s “non-negotiable” climate directives. Does this explanation make sense in a country that builds coal power plants at a breathtaking pace and has been doing so for more than two decades?
On closer inspection, this explanation does not hold. At the end of September, Vice Premier Han Zheng ordered China’s top state-owned energy companies – coal, electricity, and oil – to secure supplies for the winter “at all costs.”
China’s stockpiling has created an international shortage of coal and gas, affecting large countries like India. In Europe, the energy shortage has pushed European countries to request more gas from Russia, which surprisingly has not accommodated the demand. Instead, Russia has doubled its gas deliveries to China. Thus, the evidence suggests that the Chinese power cuts are not motivated by climate goals but rather the result of severe energy shortages.
There are multiple possible explanations for this shortage. One is that the pandemic has created a worldwide supply crisis, which includes energy. Another is that China’s economy is booming to such a degree that it generates energy shortages. However, if the latter were true, why then is Evergrande struggling to handle its debt?
A third explanation is that China is experiencing structural problems in its economy of such severity that the system can barely function. If that is the case, warmongering makes sense, awakening the Chinese people’s willingness to tackle hard times under the auspices of war.
That could be good news for the rest of the world because the risk of military conflict is low. It is far more likely that Xi wishes to harvest the benefits of a war economy without the dirty business of actually fighting.
~ Read more from Caroline Adana.