Zhou Bo: Australia is not qualified to draw a "red line" for China

  • CISS senior fellow, China Forum expert Zhou Bo gave an online interview with Stan Grant, the host of China Tonight on the Australian National Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on April 25th. Zhou Bo pointed out that Morrison's statement is ridiculous, and the Australian government is in no position to draw a "red line" for the cooperation between China and Solomon Islands, two sovereign countries. 

    The interview record is as follows.


    Stan Grant:ZHOU Bo was a Senior Colonel in the People's Liberation Army from 2003 until 2020, and was director of the Center for International Security Cooperation at the Ministry of National Defense. He is now a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University. He joins me from Beijing. It's good to have you with us. Senior Colonel Zhou, can we talk about what China's intentions are in the Solomon Islands? Is the intention to establish a military base?

    Zhou Bo:First of all, it's a request from Solomon government for us to provide kind of assistance for maintaining security. The request first of all is from Solomon government. I don't believe that it is true that China would wish to establish a military base there. China only has one logistic supply base in Djibouti to facilitate PLA’s counter-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden in which we actually had cooperation with Australian Navy as well. So there is no point for China to establish a military base.

    Stan Grant:And yet this has been speculated about for some time. You mentioned Djibouti. Of course there is also the port in Pakistan. China has claimed and militarized the disputed islands of the South China Sea and there has been a lot of speculation about establishing a military base in the Pacific. Why wouldn't it then lead people to assume that China does indeed want to establish a military presence in the Solomon Islands?

    Zhou Bo:The answer is very simple, because China has no global military ambition, because China doesn't want to become a global policeman. That is why China so far has only provided humanitarian aid to foreign countries in terms of military operations, be it peacekeeping, counter-piracy, or disaster relief. If you put all Chinese military operations overseas together, you would find they are only in humanitarian areas.

    Stan Grant:We're not talking about a global aspiration. What we are talking about is a regional aspiration. And China has been very clear it wants to establish itself as the preponderant power in the region. That's why China is increasing a military presence in the South China Sea. That's why we've seen increased military exercises over Taiwan. And that's why China is increasing its presence in the pacific. Is it not?

    Zhou Bo:I think you put too many things together. Because China has no global military ambition, therefore, it doesn't need to establish a military base in the South Pacific where China,apart from economic benefits, doesn't have much security concern. When you talk about South China Sea, you are actually referring to China's sovereign rights, in the South China Sea (interrupted)

    Stan Grant:Disputed and also according to the international maritime court in Hague, it was not to be claimed by any party and China did that anyway.

    Zhou Bo:It is disputed, that is for sure, but China has its own claims based on history, based on its own interpretation of the international law. So we in China believe that the islands and adjacent waters in the South China Sea are China's sovereign territory and territorial waters.

    Stan Grant:Senior Colonel Zhou, why if indeed, as you say, China does not want to establish a military base or a military port in the Solomons, why the need for the security pact in the first place? Why the need to create an opportunity for China to put more military presence under this security pact, which is potentially one of the outcomes. Why the need for it in the first place?

    Zhou Bo:Actually, I would ask you a question: why Australians are so worried about this? Because you are certainly closer to the Solomon Islands than China. If you are worried about China’s security pact with the Solomon Islands, you actually are in a better position to provide security to the Solomon Islands. And why don't you do that? And why would you oppose to China doing that? And China did it because the Solomon Islands asked for it, and I believe as small nations, they probably would try, as all of them would do, a kind of a balance among major powers. And Australia is a major power for the Solomon Islands.

    Stan Grant:Australia has had a long relationship with the Solomon Islands and has deployed military there at various times as well and has a long relationship with aids to the Solomons as well. And Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister is being very clear. He has said that this is a red line. If China was to indeed pursue establishing such a base, that would be considered a red line. I want your interpretation of what that means. How does China see that - a red line?

    Zhou Bo:I don't believe the Australian government is in any capacity to lay any red line for China's cooperation with the Solomon Islands. Let me reiterate again, as my government has said, that China has no intentions whatsoever to establish a military base in the Solomon Islands. Besides, we two are sovereign states, and we certainly are fully entitled to have whatever cooperation we want. This has nothing to do with Australia.

    Stan Grant:It does have something to do with Australia because Australia is a pacific nation, and Australia has a long relationship with pacific nations and a long relationship with the country like the Solomon Islands. Clearly, the United States is going to increase its presence in the Solomons as well. And now the prime minister is saying this is a red line. Again, I want to ask you, how does China interpret that language? Does that mean the potential conflict? If indeed China looks to increase its military presence in the Solomons.

    Zhou Bo:I believe you are not doing good enough. Otherwise, why would the Solomon Islands government asked Chinese to help since you are much closer? So won't you search your own souls to find out why the situation has actually happened? You should actually be in a better position to do that. You should have done better. And why would you blame China because of a request from the Solomon government?

    Stan Grant:Again, you're not really answering the question about the red line and how China would perceive a red line. That is a message coming very clearly from Australia about a line that cannot be crossed. So how does China respond to that? How do you interpret language that says this is a red line that Australia will not allow to be crossed?

    Zhou Bo:Well Stan, then let me ask you a question. So how do you interpret this red line? Would you specify to us what the red line looks like? Let me see then as a Chinese how we can probably not cross the red line. I don't believe Australian government is in any capacity to lay such things like a red line for China. It is ridiculous, it is laughable for me.

    Stan Grant:See, language like that, Senior Colonel Zhou, it is laughable questioning Australia’s interests in the Pacific. When you couple that with increasing military presence in the South China Sea, increasing military exercises over Taiwan, threats to reunify or take Taiwan by force, does that not send a signal of increasing Chinese aggression in the region?

    Zhou Bo:I don’t think so. When you talk about the red line, that is extremely ridiculous in that, where is the red line? Could you lay a red line in a sovereign state like the Solomon Islands which is not part of Australia? So how could you describe it as a red line in terms of cooperation between sovereign states? When you talk about Taiwan issue, 181 countries, including Australia, recognizes it to be part of China. What is the problem if we would possibly use force as the last resort only?

    Stan Grant:What is the problem if you use force? Are you seriously saying there is no problem if you use forces against Taiwan when Taiwan sees itself as a country pursuing its own interests, it carries out its own elections, it establishes relationships with the rest of the world? From Taipei to say that there is no problem if you use force, force that potentially could trigger a broader conflict involving the United States and Australia and lead to potentially catastrophic loss of life. And you say there is no problem with that?

    Zhou Bo:First of all, you are wrong in describing Taiwan as a country…(interrupted)

    Stan Grant:I didn't describe it as a country. There is a One China policy, which you are right, but the One China policy as you know is interpreted in different ways. But you say there is nothing wrong with the use of force against Taiwan, nothing wrong with that?

    Zhou Bo:You’ve certainly misinterpreted me, because we would try our most sincere ways to reunify with Taiwan peacefully, but use of force is still maintained as a last possible resort. If Taiwanese authorities violate three conditions that are laid down clearly in our anti-secession law, in these cases: if they declare independence, we will have to use force; if there are major events that are used by foreign forces that cause separation of Taiwan, we will have to use force; and then if mainland China concludes that all the conditions for peaceful reunification are exhausted, we will have to use force. So these are the three conditions that laid down clearly in anti-secession law. It doesn't mean that we would use force freely or willingly.

    Stan Grant:Senior Colonel Zhou, what does Xi Jinping mean when he talks about a global security initiative?

    Zhou Bo:Yeah, he talked about many points. And the most interesting thing is because of the background of his talk. I think what is the most refreshing for any observer is when he talked about how security arrangement should be balanced, effective, and sustainable. Actually, I believe he's referring to the war in Europe, between Russia and Ukraine. Of course, the security in Europe, I believe, now as in the past, is a deal between Russia and Europe, unless until Russia and Europe or even NATO could come to an agreement, the peace and prosperity in Europe is not hopeful.

    Stan Grant:He has talked about this initiative as respecting sovereignty. How is Vladimir Putin who has described Xi Jinping as his best friend and visited China during the Winter Olympics and then launched the war against Ukraine the day after the Winter Olympics ended. How on earth could that be seen as respect for sovereignty? The very thing that Xi Jinping says that his global initiative is seeking to establish.

    Zhou Bo:And that is exactly why he would say that he talked about respect of sovereignty regardless of which countries involved. So that is exactly how he stressed sovereignty, but at the same time, especially in this case, we talked about the legitimate concern over Russia, over NATO 's eastward expansions.

    Stan Grant:NATO did not invade Russia. No country has invaded Russia, but Russia has invaded Ukraine.  

    Zhou Bo:NATO didn't invade Russia, but NATO's endless expansions were warned time and again by all Russian leaders since Mikhail Gorbachev. but the West simply would not heed them at all until this time when it really backfired. So it's not that we only talk about invasion, it's to prevent all these things from happening. You should search your soul to ask yourself why this has happened after all. NATO is growing. It might just claim that its growth demonstrates its popularity. But if the popularity would invite risk to the security of Europe as I said before, any security in Europe has to be arranged between Russia and NATO.

    Stan Grant:Senior Colonel Zhou, do you believe that we are now in a new cold war?

    Zhou Bo:I think to a great extent, yes. Actually, I believe we have entered into a world with two cold wars. One is in Europe. After this hot war, definitely the cold war scenario will re-emerge in Europe. And in the Asia-Pacific, people do not talk about it openly, especially at the government level. But Donald Trump has actually ushered in this great power competition. And Joe Biden’s policy is very much a follow-up. And Joe Biden's policy towards China is basically extreme competition short of war. If the competition is already extreme, isn’t it the cold war? What else can it be?

    Stan Grant:And just finally on that, what about China's role in that? China's support for Russia? China’s increasing militarization, and its increasing threats to Taiwan? If indeed we are in a new cold war, how much is China contributing to that?

    Zhou Bo:China can stand tall and firm, because China is not a weight that would be added to the Russian side or to the American side. During the cold war, at that time, if you are weaker than two sides that stronger than you, your weight actually becomes important if it is added to one side. But China now is growing, China is becoming more important. Whatever has happened in the world, it could not change the fact that the world’s political and economic shifts are moving toward the Asia-Pacific with China standing right in the center.

    Stan Grant:Senior Colonel Zhou, thank you again for giving us your time.

    Zhou Bo:Thank you.

    Last:Zhou Bo: World needs ‘no first use’ pledge by US, Nato and Russia to avoid nuclear war

    Next:Zhou Bo: Germany’s Turning Point In The Wrong Direction