China stands up tall facing Trump’s inauguration

PLAAN carrier Liaoning with its escorts

All through his campaign trail Donald Trump made it crystal clear that China would be the main focus of his foreign policy. Trump vowed to confront and contain China in both economic and military domains. His first strike came in a harmless sounding form: He accepted a phone call from Taiwan.

While the initial response from Beijing was a sternly worded statement requesting that USA refrains from direct communication and military co-operation with Taiwan in accordance with USA’s “One China policy”. There was also a diplomatic back-channel exchange with the Obama administration. Anyone familiar with the Chinese certainly realized that this would not be all.

China has been steadily building its status as a major player in the world stage. But for the past decades its strategy has been a clandestine and peaceful one. Chinese manufacturing industry has enabled the quasi-communist country to amass financial resources that have allowed it to gain influence with soft power and economic investments all across Asia and Africa.

Chinese strategy is based upon the control of critical resources and logistics routes. The first one has been largely achieved with soft power, but securing shipping lanes and the recreated Silk-road under development will require modern, efficient and mobile military power. In order to achieve this China reformed its entire military command structure in 2016. They have also accelerated modernization of both naval and air assets.

As Trumps inauguration draws near, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has mounted an escalating show of force around the hot-spots in the region.

Chinese have conducted large scale naval and air exercises in the South China Sea including the disputed Spratly Islands. These “training operations” have included bombers, destroyers, frigates and the PLANs only aircraft carrier Liaoning. That is the sister ship of the much ridiculed Russian carrier Kuznezov. Carrier battle group also transited the Taiwan Strait, forcing the Taiwanese air-force to scramble its fighters.

PLAAF H-6 Bomber pictured by the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force

In a separate provocation Chinese PLAAF sent a bomber formation consisting of six H-6 bombers, Y-8 early warning aircraft and Y-9 surveillance plane across the Tsushima strait. This caused the Japanese Air-force to scramble into an interception. While the formation did not violate Japanese airspace, it was a clear escalation in the tense relations between the two nations.

We can safely assume that the Chinese are not going to go quietly in to the night just because Trump postures like a peacock. If the future President of the United States wants to defeat China, he will need to divert considerable amount of resources to the region. With Putin posturing aggressively in Europe Trump may be forced to decide between his promises and allies.