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China War With U.S. on the Horizon, Chief Propagandist Says

Newsweek logo Newsweek 4/17/2022 John Feng
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One of China's most well-know state media personalities has called for a sea change in the public's attitude on war with the United States, a prospect he believes is increasingly likely over Taiwan.

In a commentary published on Saturday, Hu Xijin, the former editor of nationalistic tabloid the Global Times, describes a "real sense of crisis in Taiwan," where he says the public is more psychologically prepared for war than China.

"As the situation in the Taiwan Strait deteriorates, we must prepare for a military struggle," Hu wrote, urging Chinese citizens to be "ready to face major challenges and hardships" as a result of a hypothetical U.S.-China clash over the orientation of Taiwan, an independent state with limited recognition, which Beijing claims is part of its territory.

Hu, who rose to become the country's chief propagandist by way of recognition in the West, was writing in the aftermath of a high-level visit to Taiwan by senior members of Congress. China responded to the bipartisan delegation—led by Republican Lindsey Graham and featuring Democrat Bob Menendez, among others—by announcing a series of military drills targeting the island.

"Some people complained the country's response was soft," said Hu. "In my view, the situation across the Taiwan Strait is like the calm before the storm; the real tipping point may not be far away."

"It's not about whether the public should feel a sense of urgency; rather, when the country resolves to take decisive action, we must be mentally prepared to face the challenges and uncertainties that lie before us, together with the country in a united way," he argued.

Taiwanese soldiers take part in an annual Han Kuang war games at Ching Chuan Kang Air Base in Taichung on June 7, 2018. Former Chinese newspaper editor Hu Xijin said he believes Taiwan’s public is more psychologically prepared for conflict with China, in an op-ed published on April 16, 2022. SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images © SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images Taiwanese soldiers take part in an annual Han Kuang war games at Ching Chuan Kang Air Base in Taichung on June 7, 2018. Former Chinese newspaper editor Hu Xijin said he believes Taiwan’s public is more psychologically prepared for conflict with China, in an op-ed published on April 16, 2022. SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images

The former editor said trust between China and the America was now "nonexistent." Last year, Hu says, a series of dramatic military maneuvers near Taiwan left Beijing with a "psychological advantage" over Taipei—but Russia's war in Ukraine has changed that.

"Russia's fight has not been smooth," he said. "The U.S. has successfully mobilized the West to carry out comprehensive sanctions against Russia. Washington believes the sanctions have shaken China and that it now has a new bargaining chip to deter China."

Despite the billions of dollars in aid given to Ukraine to help it fend off Russian aggression, the defense establishment in Washington understands that America's real fight is the one with China, which, unlike declining Russia, remains on the ascendency in Asia and has designs on global governance, reshaped in the Chinese Communist Party's image.

At a Georgia Tech event on Thursday, CIA Director William Burns called China "a silent partner in Putin's aggression." Beijing was now "the most profound test" the agency had ever faced, he said.

South Carolina's Sen. Graham, during his visit to Taipei, drove the point home during remarks to Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen.

"I just want to let you know that, while we've been watching the Ukraine on television, while it has broken our hearts, the American people understand how important you are to us," he said.

Graham continued: "So here's my promise to you and the Taiwanese people: We're going to start making China pay a greater price for what they're doing all over the world. The support for Putin must come with a price. The never-ending cyberattacks on your economy and your people by the Communist Chinese need to come with a price. I want you to be encouraged that the American people are more united than ever behind the idea of freedom."

Asked whether the U.S. would defend Taiwan militarily against a Chinese invasion, Graham responded: "Every option is on the table."

Hu, who is now a special commentator for the state-owned newspaper, predicted: "There is a very high probability that this [U.S.-China-Taiwan] tripartite game will ultimately rise to a direct military confrontation. That could be a war or a high-intensity military crisis, the impact of which would be fundamental."

The Chinese military is ready, but the public isn't, he says. "It's time to make some changes. Since the risk of conflict in the Taiwan Strait is real and growing, the mainland public should be sufficiently informed. This is crucial for all of society to adapt quickly to the changes once the crisis comes."

"If mainland China doesn't take precautions now, we may leave ourselves in serious passivity," he concluded. "Of course I hope the Taiwan issue can be resolved peacefully without a fight as China gradually becomes stronger, but what if the U.S. doesn't give us the time? We must think in terms of the bottom line to respond to a worst-case scenario."

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