Deng Xiaoping had advised that ancient texts should serve as guide to future Chinese leaders on strategy. He used a few expressions that China should abide by:
Tao guang yang hui (lit. hide brightness, nourish obscurity) that actually means “to hide one’s capacity and bide one’s time.” The word tao also means ‘the art of war.’ Taolüe, literally ‘the strategy of concealing’ means ‘military strategy.’
Bu chu tou (lit. don’t stick your head out) implies ‘never be the leader.’ That means China should keep a low profile, hiding its true features and intentions.
Some strong advocacies believe that China, “under the banner of opposing the hegemon”, should align with every anti-American nation in the world, explicitly citing the powerful precedent of the Warring States coalition. Chinese language abounds with thousands of idioms and idiomatic tales that originated during the Warring States period. One such idiom (tanglang bu chan, huangque zai hou) warns against coveting gains ahead without being aware of danger behind. The story narrates how a mantis aims at catching a cicada, unaware of the oriole behind. The oriole aiming to catch the mantis is also unaware of the hunter behind. Thus, the advice goes to be extra-cautious in chalking out plans – taking into account the pros and cons of any action.
China has a series of underground tunnels in the mountainous area of west Beijing that protect a national underground command centre. Chinese use of tunnelling in mountainous areas for command centres and protection of army, navy and air force equipments dates back to the Korean War.
Some critics project a sharp decline in the global role of the US. Patience and caution are thus seen to be wiser than aggressive coalition building against the US. As the US strategy is always to “follow the oil”, and that they are exploiting Kuwait, Iraq etc, likewise China must get the Central Asian oil market oriented to China. Chinese analysts believe that it is better to place high priority on land transport of oil and gas, which China’s superiority in ground forces can protect, rather than depend in the future on sea-lanes for oil supplies that the US and Japan will threaten with their powerful navies. China is contemplating building a “Great Wall”- that is, a partnership with Russia to defeat Western containment of China. China predicts that this containment will be attempted by restricting access to capital markets and technology, promoting Western values and using military power “as the core” against China.
Chinese military strategists suggest that the greater danger to a nation’s survival is not warfare but zhanlüe wudao (strategic misdirection) in the current world structure. One of China’s most distinguished military authors General Li Jijun points out like many other PLA generals, that it was a policy of “strategic misdirection” used by the US by resorting to a NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in spring 1999. In an article in Zhongguo Pinglun (China Review), the conclusion with a warning goes that the Western forces are attempting to drag China into the mire of an arms race.
The Soviet Union contested with the US in increasing defence budget in the face of a US-sponsored Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”) which the US had no intention to deploy. As a result of strategic misdirection, Soviet Union collapsed. Similarly the US is planning to pursue a TMD (theatre missile defense) system so that China in an arms race with the US will consume its national power, and collapse without a battle. Such a strategy of weakening an opponent has been mentioned in classic texts of the Warring States.
However, after the US bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Chinese authors have repeatedly pointed out that one important cause of America’s future decline is its conscious choice of a mistaken foreign policy. The US was likened to Nazi Germany in eight specific ways in a long article, concluding that the pursuit of such Nazi-like policies would end in complete failure.
In the mid-1980s, Deng Xiaoping summarized a series of major conflicts in the world that might lead to war in four Chinese characters: dong xi nan bei (East, West, South, and North):
- East-West conflicts, i.e., between the US and the Soviet Union, which means conflict between capitalism and socialism.
- West-West conflict, i.e., between developed capitalist countries.
- South-North conflict, i.e., developing Third World countries and the developed capitalist countries.
- South-South conflict, i.e., differences between Third World countries that can lead to warfare.
According to Deng’s prediction, new cold wars have already started after the end of one cold war. Out of two more cold wars, one is directed against the south and the Third World, the other against socialism. Yan Xuetong of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations warns of potential conflicts between China and the US, as China’s power increases and the desperate US struggles to maintain its hegemony. This is exactly reflected in the case of the US blocking Chinese ships, such as the Yinhe event of 1993. In July 1993, the Chinese container ship Yinhe (lit. Milky Way) was followed and interdicted by US forces, alleging the ship to be carrying chemical weapons material to Iran. That was proved false through an open inspection, with Saudi Arabia as an intermediary.
China protested very strongly since the ship was kept on the high seas and its aerial photos were taken by the US military aircraft. Chinese sources say that the food and medicine dispatched for Iran turned stale. Although China might have taken steps to get its losses compensated, yet publicly China wants to project that it is least bothered to accept compensation, that too, from a non-socialist country, since such acceptance is symbolic of loss of self-esteem. Self-esteem (Zizunxin) is often combined with restraint (kezhi) so as to avoid major conflict.
“if the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition on to the target zone on Chinas territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons.”
However, self-restraint does not imply passivity. In its drive to become equal with the dominant powers of the world, China conducted its first nuclear test in 1964 and started developing rocket engines in 1965. And it also deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). In its urge to counter-balance the US, China started extending nuclear assistance to Iran, Syria, Libya, Algeria and others-the potential enemies of the US. While praising the US military technology as the best in the world, all the Chinese sources invariably emphasize the weaknesses of the US forces and their vulnerability to defeat by China. There are frequent references to the Chinese defeating the US forces in both Korea and Vietnam. The Maoist tactics of protracted warfare (chijiuzhan) has been quite successful in dealing with enemies since long.
In 1996, China founded an international alliance known as the “Shanghai Five” (S-5). It consisted of China, Russia, and the three Central Asian states (once part of the Soviet Union)-Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The group, as an informal alliance, was set up initially in an effort to resolve a protracted border dispute between the Soviet Union and China. After 1991, the newly-independent Central Asian states sought to settle frontier problems with China. Later the group specifically focused on battling the terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan and ensuring regional stability. On 15 June 2001, Uzbekistan was invited to join and the group was officially named the Shanghai Cooperative Organization (SCO). In November 2005, the SCO granted observer status to Mongolia, Pakistan, Iran and India at the Defense and Security Forum. The focuses of the S-5 or later SCO can be summarized as follows:
- In 1996, military agreement was signed addressing border security among the members.
- In 1997, agreement was signed on the mutual reduction of military forces in the border areas.
- In 2001, agreement of cooperation was signed to prevent, expose and halt three hostile forces-terrorism, separatism and extremism.
- In 2005, China said it advocates a new concept of security based on mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and cooperation. It was proclaimed that such cooperation can only deepen the trust and friendship between the SCO member states, observer countries and their armies.
The idea behind China’s initiative in building such alliance was not only countering the separatist Uighur groups in Xinjiang, who advocate independence under the name of East Turkistan, but the bigger game plan was to check the eastward expansion of the US-led NATO, frustrate the US plan of making inroads upon Central and South Asian region, and create a multi-layered buffer zone around China.
China dislikes the domineering posture of the US. Therefore, apart from countering the US at the political, military and economic fronts, China also actively seeks to confront the US head-on at the diplomatic and propaganda front.
In the course of Sino-US relations, the spy plane incident figured prominently in 2001. On 1 April 2001, a US spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter plane killing the Chinese pilot. Thereupon, the other Chinese fighter forced the EP-3 Aries surveillance aircraft and its 24 US crew members to land at the Lingshui airbase in the southern island province of Hainan. The act of spying was serious enough. But the US crew refused to allow the Chinese onto the aircraft. Then a Chinese officer walked up the stairs and wrestled a US airman, threw him to the ground and enabled the PLA’s entry into the aircraft. The US crew was detained for eleven days, and the plane was finally confiscated by the Chinese government. It was widely opined that “the Chinese government would have released the American crew much earlier if the Bush administration had expressed regrets about the incident to the Chinese soon after the plane went down.”
The position of the Chinese government is categorical in regard to certain aspects of international relations. The question of getting equal rights in world forums is uncompromisable. China is “hypersensitive” to the issues of Taiwan, Tibet and Human Rights. Any country or any party stepping into these three domains with an official stamp is quickly admonished by China. Apart from security, Beijing’s paramount concern in its external relations is its sovereign dignity. No modern Chinese leader can appear weak and vacillating on the question of Chinese territorial integrity. Still smarting from the humiliations it endured between 1839 and 1949, China is hypersensitive to anything that smacks of interference in its internal affairs and has a ‘prickly insistence’ on the principle of state sovereignty. Every time the US extends its support for a cause considered counter to the stated policies of China, the latter takes up the ‘cudgel’ and hits the opponent straight onto the head.
In June 1989, during the massacre in Tian’anmen Square, the PLA toppled the polystyrene statue of “Goddess of Democracy” (perhaps a version of Statue of Liberty)-thus manifesting the crushing of core American values as a result of the US support for “pro-democracy movement” that was considered by the Chinese government as “counter-revolutionary”. The Yinhe event of July 1993, with no US apology, was quickly followed by China’s conducting an underground nuclear test on 5 October 1993. In defiance of international pressure to adhere to a voluntary test ban until a comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT) is in place, China conducted the test by justifying that it has conducted far fewer nuclear weapons tests than other nuclear powers and will be reluctant to agree to a test ban. China’s emerging interest in peaceful nuclear explosives (PNEs) centred round the purposes such as diverting freshwater to the Gobi desert. Hence China sought an exclusion for PNEs from the CTBT. Later China conducted nuclear tests in 1994, 1995 and 1996.
On 14 March 2001, Ambassador Sha Zukang in his speech said that China is opposed to the US National Missile Defense (NMD) because it would weaken or neutralize China’s very limited deterrence capability. He said, “China will not allow its legitimate means of self-defence to be weakened or even taken away by anyone in anyway. This is one of the most important aspects of China’s national security.” In all probability this utterance was a sort of deception. Later in December 2001, a Chinese academician emphasized that the US’s development of the NMD would encourage China to increase its nuclear weapons and the latter’s penetration capability. A Chinese General was quoted saying in July 2005 that “if the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition on to the target zone on China’s territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons.”