Which direction for China in 2011?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 14 Jan , 2011

Gao Hucheng, the Chinese Commerce Vice-Minister who is accompanying Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang on a visit to Spain and other European countries, affirmed: “We will continue to buy debt and work together with Spain, [though] the exact amount of bonds China will buy depends on the timing and volume of issuances by the Spanish government.” Clearly China is now ready to ‘take its responsibility’.

Yan’s third point is “number two in the world, China should have the power to have other countries listen to China”. Though quite frightening for its neighbours, he says that today this is more important to China than its overseas economic interests. Yan also speaks of ‘China’s international strategic reputation’ which is “based on two pillars: punishing those outside activities that harm our national interests and rewarding those that benefit our national interests”.

Also read: The Fall of the Dragon

He concludes: “Without sufficient military power, China can’t protect the other Asian countries. Therefore, China must speed up its military development. Before China’s defense capability reaches such a level, China should emphasize preventive security cooperation with its neighbors.”

In another article in The People’s Daily on December 29, 2010, Liang Guanglie, China’s Defense Minister declared: ‘Wars Are Unlikely, but Military Friction Can’t Be Excluded”.

Yan also speaks of “˜Chinas international strategic reputation which is “based on two pillars: punishing those outside activities that harm our national interests and rewarding those that benefit our national interests”.

Liang Guanglie added: “Looking at the current world situation, a full-scale war is unlikely, but we cannot exclude the possibility that, in some local areas, unexpected events may occur, or military friction may take place due to a misfire.”

The Defence Minister made another interesting remark. While the army is on the decline, the navy, air force, and second artillery corps represent a large and growing percentage of the Chinese defence forces.

Will India take note of this and adapt accordingly its doctrine?

This innocuous remark demonstrates that China will increasingly project its newly-found economic power outside its territory.

Liang Guanglie also pointed out the deep societal changes in the Chinese armed forces: today 80% of the officers have a college degree. It is far from the peasant Army of Mao coming wave after wave into the Korean peninsula in the 1950’s.

This new affirmation of power has already taken a concrete shape. Just ahead of the visit of the US defence secretary to Beijing, pictures of a fifth generation fighter plane appeared on several Internet defence fora. The pictures showed the J-20 taxiing on an airfield in southwestern China. This prototype, the first known Chinese stealth fighter, surprised US experts and sent shivers down the Pentagon, though the Chinese engineers will take some time to develop a proper engine. It however clearly demonstrates that the Chinese are on the job.

The China Defence Blog told its readers: “Contrary to the naysayers, the theory of ‘It-is-just-a-full-scale-wooden-mock-up’ is now ruled out.”

“Without sufficient military power, China cant protect the other Asian countries.”

A Japanese expert told the AFP: “China plans to begin test flights of the J-20 as soon as this month, with plans to deploy the jet as early as 2017. …The fighter will be equipped with large missiles and could reach Guam [US base] with aerial refuelling, although it would take 10 to 15 more years to develop technology on par with that of the US F-22 stealth jet.”

Around the same time The PLA Daily published an article suggesting that China should focus on its national security strategic chain, composed of strategic resources, strategic industries, and strategic capabilities: “Our military capability is the backbone of our national strategic capabilities… It is critical to have our military capability reflect our national strategic status and interests.” A veiled threat was added: “International cooperation is the best way to obtain a supply of stable strategic resources, but we should never give up the option of using abnormal means to safeguard the security of our strategic resources.”

Strategists can start scratching their heads: what abnormal means?

On Christmas Eve, The International Herald Leader reported a discussion at The Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Science on the future direction of China’s Foreign Policy.

The report, Evaluation of China’s Security Situation explained: “In 2010, China faced intensified security pressure from its neighboring countries and deteriorating relationships with its neighbors.”

Whether the ‘intensified security pressure’ is of its own making has obviously not been discussed, but the mere fact that the issue was debated on by several government think tanks proves that there is no unanimity in China: should the nation continue with its aggressive foreign policy or return to a more peaceful rise of China.

The forum of the The Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies talked about the issue and apparently two opposing views emerged:

China should learn how to reduce it neighbours’ fears and worries concerning China’s rise. In other words, make more friends and create zero or few enemies.

China should learn from Russia. It initially took a soft foreign policy approach, but the Western world’s continued interaction with its neighbors became a threat. After Russia showed its determination to safeguard its interests [by sending troops to Georgia], the situation stabilized.

One can only hope that the first opinion will prevail amongst Chinese decision makers in 2011. If Beijing wants to pretend having a role in world politics, it is certainly in its interest.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Claude Arpi

Writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations. He is the author of 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga, Tibet: The Lost Frontier and Dharamshala and Beijing: the negotiations that never were.

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