Admiral Dong’s Coming Out Party

The new Defense Minister of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Admiral Dong Jun, the first Admiral to hold this position, recently had his coming-out party. Dong’s remarks, entitled “China’s Approach to Global Security,” made on June 2nd at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore defense conference, unequivocally targeted Taiwan and the United States.

Admiral Dong’s address was notable for three reasons.

First, its belligerence. His remarks included statements that the PRC’s military was ready to “forcefully” stop attempts by Taiwan to gain independence. This is an important statement as it is an indicator of the confidence that Admiral Dong, and by extension, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) top leader Xi Jinping, have about the capacity and capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The Admiral went on to further warn that Taiwanese “separatists” will be “crushed to pieces” if Taipei makes any moves towards declaring independence. Dong’s belligerence was also extended to the United States; “whoever dares to split Taiwan from China will be crushed to pieces and suffer its own destruction,” he stated in full “Wolf Warrior” mode. Dong’s message is aligned with President Xi’s July 2021 speech at the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, when he said, “anyone who would attempt to do so will find themselves on a collision course with a great wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people.” The alignment of statements is a reminder that Xi remains firmly in control of the PLA.

In Dong’s remarks, Beijing declared once again that it is willing to use force to stop Taiwan’s independence and to counter any intervention the U.S. and allies would attempt to help defend Taiwan. His militaristic tone defined the speech: “We will not allow hegemonism and power politics to undermine the interests of the Asia-Pacific countries. We will not allow anyone to bring geopolitical conflicts or any war, whether hot or cold, to our region. We will not allow any country or any force to create conflict and chaos in our region.” It would have been rude for his hosts to point out that these are actions that the PRC is taking today against several states, including the Philippines. Dong further noted in his address that Manila, emboldened by “outside powers,” had broken promises and “made premediated provocations.” All true if leveled at the PRC but lies if directed at the Philippines.

Second, there is a major change of the PRC’s declaratory policy regarding what would constitute a “red line” for its invasion of Taiwan. Dong moved beyond the traditional “red line” of independence; that is, if Taiwan explicitly declared its independence, the PRC would invade. In Dong’s address, he advanced the concept of lower thresholds that would now be a new “red line” for the PRC. He noted how “some big power” violates the “One China Principle” and is testing the PRC’s “red line” through arms sales to Taiwan and official engagements with Taipei. This is important because it signifies that Dong is attempting, first, to halt what Beijing fears is an incremental approach towards Taiwanese independence and, second, to unmistakably convey to Taipei and Washington that any of these acts may cross their “red line” and thus compel an invasion.

With Beijing’s threshold being lowered, fundamentally, the PRC is now determined more than ever to conquer Taiwan, so any act that Taipei takes, from a remark by President William Lai to a visit from a foreign dignitary, will serve as justification in Beijing’s mind for the invasion. In sum, the casus belli could be anything. Thus, it should not be a surprise to see the increasing use of coercion as the order of day. In other words, it appears Xi and the CCP are itching to create the conditions to launch an invasion, the exact opposite assessment that most of the “experts” in Washington are making.

Third, in his jeremiad, we hear a new level of intimidation directed at Taiwan, the Philippines, and the U.S., where Dong referenced each nation, directly or obliquely. The verbal attacks on the Philippines is notable because of his attack against them was made in the context of increasing pressure against Manila and about two weeks after the May 19, 2024, incident at Second Thomas Shoal, where Filipino Marines were forced to ready their weapons against aggressive Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) sailors who seized food and medicine packets air-dropped by the Philippine Navy as part of the replenishment of the Filipino Marines guarding the Shoal on board the Sierra Madre. Reports are that the PRC Coast Guard sailors came within 15-20 yards of the vessel and were clearly threatening the handful of sailors who live onboard the rusting WWII hulk that was grounded 25 years ago as Manila’s only means available of sustaining physical occupation of their sovereign territory. While the dispute at Second Thomas Shoal dates back decades, in the past six months, the PRC’s coercive actions against Manila have increased and intensified to a new level of danger. There are many paths to war in the Indo-Pacific, and the PRC’s actions against the Philippines and Taiwan are increasingly the most likely. So much so that U.S. defense planning needs to anticipate that the PRC might attack both Taiwan and the Philippines simultaneously or use action against one to increase escalation to include the other. That escalation will not stop with Manila and Taipei but will include Tokyo and Washington as well.

Dong’s verbal attacks must be answered, as events are moving in the wrong direction, towards conflict. For instance, instead of allowing our treaty ally to be forced into a position of having to use fixed-wing aircraft to airdrop supplies to their sailors, the U.S. Seventh Fleet could easily aid the Philippine Navy by using either a U.S. warship or a Coast Guard cutter to conduct a “vertical replenishment” (VERTREP). A VERTREP operation would be more secure and safe and would remove the incremental pressure that Beijing has been using against Manila. Additionally, it would send a signal to the rest of the region that America is a nation that can be trusted to stand by their allies in times of difficulty.

This is the time for deterrence.

To achieve a robust deterrence posture requires strong military capabilities, iron willpower, and clear statements regarding what the U.S. will defend. As it relates to Second Thomas Shoal, it is time for the U.S. State Department to declare that the U.S. recognizes that this Shoal falls under the authority of the Republic of the Philippines and therefore is covered under our 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty. Now is the time for the U.S. to publicly declare to the PRC what our policy “red lines” are in the South China Sea and as it relates to Taiwan.

It is past time for President Biden and senior members of the administration, as well as allied leadership, to move forces forward on a more permanent basis and to provide clear and unambiguous speeches that reaffirm the commitment to the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, and all allies and partners in the region. Failure to enact these recommendations will result in the continuation of PRC aggression and bullying and potentially the start of a conflict in the western Pacific. Today we know the strategic trend line of the past 25 years, we know the capabilities of the PLA and CCG, and we know the PRC’s intentions for the future. To not act in our own self-defense is a dereliction of duty.

James E. Fanell and Bradley A. Thayer are authors of Embracing Communist China:  America’s Greatest Strategic Failure.

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About James E. Fanell and Bradley A. Thayer

James Fanell is a government fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, a retired captain in the U.S. Navy and a former director of intelligence and information operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Bradley A. Thayer is a Founding Member of the Committee on Present Danger China and the coauthor with Lianchao Han of Understanding the China Threat.

Photo: China's Defence Minister Dong Jun (C) walks out after a bilateral meeting with US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin on the sidelines of the 21st Shangri-La Dialogue summit at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore on May 31, 2024. The US and Chinese defence chiefs held rare direct talks in Singapore on May 31, offering hopes for more military dialogue that could help prevent disputes over Taiwan and other flashpoint issues from spinning out of control. (Photo by NHAC NGUYEN / AFP) (Photo by NHAC NGUYEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Notable Replies

  1. I don’t have any particular disagreement with the authors except that I have zero confidence the current administration is capable of managing a war with China–likewise a bloated and incompetent Pentagon.

    And while I recognize that threats to American allies are by extension, a threat to American security, in order of priority I would have to place the threat of the Ruling Class and administrative state much higher up the list of threats currently posed against the American people.

  2. I agree with the thrust of this article. It is high time to reinforce American deterrence of China in the western Pacific. But we need to understand that the reason deterrence is slipping is because the Chinese can see that the US Navy is in no position to fight a protracted war against China. Its readiness has been hollowed out and it is led by woke admirals backed by a diffident administration.

    Deterrence only works if the enemy believes you have both the capability and the will to fight and exact an unacceptably high price for aggression. China now doubts the United States has either.

    Successful deterrence begins at home with an industrial economy capable of supporting the armed forces abroad.

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