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[All Politics is Global] China Hawks Are Popular in the West, says Propaganda Arm

Global Times labels those who call out an expansionist China for its wrongdoings as being "China hawks." It is clearly confused about the meaning of the phrase.

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The largest China Coast Guard vessel yet, equipped with a 76mm gun, was caught navigating the contiguous zone around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture in November 2022. (provided by the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters)

Global Times is China's state-run and controlled tabloid daily. It ran an editorial on April 15, 2023, getting into a debate on the term "China hawks." Commenting on Germany's Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock's just concluded China visit, the Global Times labeled her as someone "widely seen as a hardliner" on China.

There has been a wave of visits being made by European politicians to China of late. And the latter chose to link Baerbock's trip with that of French President Emmanuel Macron. He caused quite the stir by stating that Europe must strengthen its strategic autonomy and not become a vassal. 

Also notable is the timing of the publication of this editorial in Beijing. A key foreign policy debate has mushroomed among Europe's political elites, on the future approach and position on China. Highlighting Baerbock's reputation of being a "China hawk" defines Xi Jinping's agenda quite apparently. Xi seeks to exert pressure on Germany, and Baerbock in particular. This is because Berlin is expected to issue a new strategic document on China.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang. (© Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China)

A More Repressive and Aggressive China

Beijing aside, other quarters hoped Baerbock would display a tough posture to offset the rather damaging impact of Macron's visit. On this Baerbock did not entirely disappoint. While addressing the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, Baerbock described parts of her trip to China as "more than shocking." She made this comment after noting that China has become more repressive internally, and aggressive externally. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government is currently formulating a new China strategy to reduce reliance on the latter. Baerbock's assessment that Germany "should not be naive" holds weight.

Furthermore, Baerbock warned China that war over Taiwan would be a "horror scenario." She held her ground in a very tense joint press interaction with her Chinese counterpart, Qin Gang in Beijing. Baerbock further stated that any "unilateral and violent change in the status quo would not be acceptable to us as Europeans." The two also clashed over human rights and trade issues. Qin, on his part, urged his German counterpart to "act reasonably and avoid historical tragedies." His comment was interpreted as a thinly veiled threat to Berlin.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang. They co-chaired the China-Germany Strategic Dialogue on Diplomacy and Security on April 14. (© Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China)

Who's Being Hawkish?

The term "war hawk" or simply "hawk" was popularized by usage in American politics. It refers to someone who advocates/seeks the use of force, preemptively and unilaterally against another nation-state. This includes military intervention in another country. Often used to scorn American politicians who favored a pro-war policy in peacetime, "war hawk" was coined circa 1792. American newspapers mostly used this term when Federalists warned against a Democratic-Republican foreign policy. Historians used the term to describe about two dozen members of the 12th US Congress (1811-1813). This was during the second half of the James Madison presidency.

For more than two decades, China has provenly benefitted from key arrangements of the global political and economic order. Thereafter, it began subverting these long-standing arrangements and attempted prevention of newer ones. Beijing's approach was more that of "my order, my rules."

The overarching strategy adopted by China for more than a decade was to weaken the hold of the liberal, democratic powers on global institutions and arrangements. Coupled with its focus on shifting the military power balance, China is working assiduously towards overturning, or, at the least, subverting the key pillars of the global rules-based order.

The Global Times editorial argued that "China hawks seem to be quite popular in the field of Western public opinion."

Given the explanation of the "hawk" terminology above, and its reference thereafter, how can calling out China for all its wrongdoings get labeled as being "hawkish" or a "China hawk"? 

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A Chinese warship sails off the coast of Fuzhou, Fujian Province, near the main island of Taiwan, on April 8. Military exercises and patrols were held around Taiwan on the same day, according to a statement by the Chinese military. (© Reuters via Kyodo)

A Revisionist and Expanionist Regime

For starters, China's unacceptable policy actions have been backed by military stealth and behavior across Asia and beyond. Its revisionist tendencies remain on full display. Drawing critical attention to these does not construe in any way, as a call for war/military intervention. 

China is revisionist, expansionist, and combative. It is infamous for asserting dubious claims and thereafter engaging in intimidation from a vantage point of military pre-eminence and superiority. Taking note of and drawing global attention to this ugly, yet, continuously unfolding reality cannot be termed as being "hawkish" at all.

It is accepted that political elites in Asia, or Europe must be cognizant of their interests in terms of realpolitik. This is regardless of their values and personal preferences. But China, in the near term, appears to be attempting to spook fissures in the upcoming G7 summit in Hiroshima, which Japan is chairing. China is surely in for a disappointment. Xi Jinping needs to accept that the G7 Summit and its leadership share the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, and human rights. This commitment and responsibility are too strong to be deterred by Beijing's fractious tactics.


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Author: Dr Monika Chansoria

Dr Monika Chansoria is a Senior Fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo and the author of five books on Asian security. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organization with which the author is affiliated. Follow her column, "All Politics is Global" on JAPAN Forward, and on Twitter @MonikaChansoria.