‘Ready to fight’: China tensions rise
Beijing has been beating the drums of war with ever-increasing vigour. Now two top US and UK military commanders warn the world must take this very seriously.
The message is being broadcast from the very top.
China's Communist Party (CCP) Chairman-for-life Xi Jinping told a recent gathering of politburo officials they must "fight the bloody battle against our enemies". He also told a parade of marine troops to: "focus your minds and energy on preparing to go to war and stay highly vigilant."
It's a sentiment reinforced at every level of the CCP messaging machine. 'Wolf warrior' diplomats are assaulting opponents. Twitter is aflame with their undiplomatic bluster. And state-controlled media is filled with party-approved academic belligerence.
Amid near constant Chinese military 'war-game' activity on land, sea and air, the US Pacific Air Forces commander has now warned his troops to be ready for conflict.
General Kenneth Wilsbach addressed his command over a COVID-safe Facebook Live address last weekend, saying Beijing's behaviour was "disturbing".
He said Beijing's "coercive activity that's frequently not in accordance with international law," had become his greatest challenge. "We've got to challenge and compete with them in accordance with the national strategy, but we also have to be ready in the event we get called to go fight tonight," he said.
British Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter also pressed a metaphoric action-stations button, saying the threat of world war was real. "I am saying it's a risk and I think we need to be conscious of those risks," he said.
Beijing has continued its relentless assimilation of Hong Kong. All elected opposition members this week quit after new rules prevented them from contradicting Communist Party policy.
This "crackdown on the democratic process" was, General Wilsbach said, part of a pattern of disturbing behaviour.
There is Beijing's arbitrary claim to own all of the South and East China Seas. There's its land grab along the borders of India, Nepal and Bhutan. There's its rapid and enormous military expansion.
"All that maligned activity is causing a lot of consternation with us and with our allies and partners," he said. "(We) are looking for a free and open Indo-Pacific, which includes open commerce, open seas, open skies to be used in accordance with international law."
Beijing, Wilsbach says, is making up its own rules as it goes along.
"(Beijing is) making new islands in the South China Sea and saying that it's always been that way and it's Chinese territory - and it hasn't. That's revisionist history."
To counter this military assertiveness, Wilsbach says the region has to join forces. Train together. Operate together. And that process has already begun with India, Japan and Australia.
"That's something that our adversary really has to calculate through if they want to have a conflict with us," Wilsbach said. "In short, it becomes a deterrent value before the fight starts."
Chief Master Sergeant David Wolfe contributed to the call by telling his aircrew: "If you don't think that you're participating in conflict, you know, kind of below that kinetic level right now - you are. You absolutely are."
Britain's General Sir Nick Carter says he believed there was a real risk global tensions could suddenly flare. He did not, however, name Beijing.
"I think we are living at a moment in time where the world is a very uncertain and anxious place," he told UK Sky News. "I think the real risk we have, with quite a lot of regional conflicts that are going on at the moment, is you could see escalation lead to miscalculation and that is a thing I think we have to guard against."
The combination of diplomatic bluster and widespread military manoeuvres were creating an environment where one mistake could trigger a disastrous chain of events.
"I think the real risk we have, with quite a lot of regional conflicts that are going on at the moment, is you could see escalation lead to miscalculation and that is a thing I think we have to guard against."
And a reliance on nationalist rhetoric to promote political posturing makes such escalation more likely.
"The protagonists, either because they don't realise the implications of their actions, lead to an escalation, which means that more people perhaps get involved, more weaponry gets involved and before you can contain it, it leads the sides ending up in a full-blown war."
Sir Carter says the world is engaging in a disturbingly familiar cycle of posturing, intimidation and brinkmanship.
"We have to remember history might not repeat itself, but it has a rhythm," he says. "If you look back at the last century, before both world wars, I think it was unarguable that there was an escalation that led to the miscalculation which ultimately led to war at a scale we would hopefully never see again."
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel