Published on MofA, July 30, 2022:
Three days ago a mandarin speaker posted an interesting thread about the use of the Chinese language phrases to express a threat.
Three days ago a mandarin speaker posted an interesting thread about the use of Chinese language phrases to express a threat.
Wen-Ti Sung @wentisung – 5:29 UTC · Jul 27, 2022A short thread on China’s #rhetoric on @SpeakerPelosi ‘s rumored plan to visit Taiwan. So far Beijing’s wording has been far below the threshold of the kinds of words & phrases that China historically used for signaling impending war/brinkmanship.
Let’s start with MFA spokesperson’s recent words: “China will act strongly to resolutely respond to it and take countermeasures. We mean what we say” (中方必將採取有力措施予以堅決應對和反制。我們說到做到) Many observers take ‘forceful response’ to mean war. That may be overselling it. Note his key operative words ‘有力’ can mean ‘forceful’ or ‘effective’. If they meant war, they would have said ‘武力 or 非和平’ (military/non-peaceful measures).
China’s rhetoric is currently in say borderline 3rd gear. Another level up would be #懸崖勒馬, or “you are standing on the edge of the cliff”. Translation: if you take more one step, you’ll fall and die”. That’s unfortunate, but the cliff is a wonder of nature, not a man-made trap. So the fall is partly a tragedy of circumstance. So next levels focus on anthropogenic factors.
Next up, we have ‘是可忍孰不可忍’, or “if we could put up with this, what else can’t we put up with?”. This means the perceived provocation from others not only threatens China’s interests, but threatens its #identity, too. This rhetoric invokes the familiar ‘century of humiliation’ and Chinese nationalism narratives, and are meant to signal China has no room to back down. It shows a readiness to use #brinkmanship. E.g. China used this language before skirmishes with India (1962), Vietnam (1979).
Finally, top gear is ‘勿謂言之不預’, literally “don’t say I didn’t warn you”, aka ‘last warning’. China used this language before skirmishes with India, Vietnam, and Soviet Union (1967).
In short, China’s current language is tough but far from its toughest. It can mean either:
1) China is still deciding what to do, so they keep harsher words in reserve for now. OR
2) China is trying (not too successfully) to make it less costly for Pelosi & US to back down.
The upcoming Biden-Xi phone call will tell us whether China has made up its mind, and whether the so-called strategic ‘#guardrails’ they have built up — precisely for containing these tactical-level turbulences from runaway escalation — are effective.
The Chinese English language readout for the Biden -Xi phone call does not use any of the above phrases. The most ‘threatening’ part is this:
China firmly opposes separatist moves toward “Taiwan independence” and interference by external forces, and never allows any room for “Taiwan independence” forces in whatever form. The position of the Chinese government and people on the Taiwan question is consistent, and resolutely safeguarding China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity is the firm will of the more than 1.4 billion Chinese people. The public opinion cannot be defied. Those who play with fire will perish by it. It is hoped that the US will be clear-eyed about this.
That is a warning of self harm, not a threat of an active measure. It is thereby on a “you are standing on the edge of the cliff” level, serious but not harsh.
But then I recognized a phrase mentioned in the above tweets when it appeared as the centerl top headline of the Global Times homepage.
“Don’t say we didn’t warn you!” – a phrase that was used by the People’s Daily in 1962 before China was forced to fight the border war with India and ahead of the 1979 China-Vietnam War, was frequently mentioned during a forum held Friday by a high-level Chinese think tank, as analysts warned that open military options and comprehensive countermeasures ranging from the economy to diplomacy from China await if US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gambles with a visit to the Taiwan island during her Asia tour.
As far as I know the top gear phrase meaning ‘last warning’ has not yet been used by official government sources. But the top think tanks in China are all official, not corrupt private clubs like most U.S. think tanks are. The Global Times is the CPC’s major English language outlet and it posted the phrase at the top of its homepage. Does that not in itself make it somewhat official?
The spokesperson of the Chinese military has said there would definitely be military responses to a trip. But that could be some maneuvers or fly-bys, not a war.
Pelosi is traveling in Asia on a U.S. military plane. That plane is unlikely to fly to Taiwan which is in Beijing’s understanding part of China’s air space. Pelosi will most likely use a civilian plane, maybe even a regular scheduled on, to fly from Singapore to Taiwan. Most likely in the middle of next week.
If the Chinese learn which flight she is on they can use a number of counter measures and/or divert the flight.
If she turns up in Taipei without intervention the Chinese government will lose some face and will have to think of other measures it can enact. Some missiles flying towards Taiwan to then drop into the sea might be a possibility. The Global Times piece above mentions others.
The visit is not necessary and risks creating a conflict that could be greatly damaging to the U.S., China and the global economy.
It is a stupid thing to do.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We remind our readers that publication of articles on our site does not mean that we agree with what is written. Our policy is to publish anything which we consider of interest, so as to assist our readers in forming their opinions. Sometimes we even publish articles with which we totally disagree, since we believe it is important for our readers to be informed on as wide a spectrum of views as possible.