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Military Transparency
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Aside from shared interest in the state of our brisk economy, our military is a hot subject of overseas curiosity.

Over the years, the authorities have learnt that the most effective antidote to suspicions and rumours is transparency.

There is a common faith that every individual in harm's way is entitled to self-defence. But things look different when it comes to a country's right to self-defence. This is particularly true in China's case.

As the world gradually gets accustomed to, and looks forward to benefiting from, the steady rise of our economy, there are plenty of outsiders who would prefer that our growth be limited to the economy only. Rumours about a bellicose China are fostering an ill-informed fear, or suspicion at best, of the country's military ambitions, though at home and abroad, this nation is advocating harmony.

So it is important to make known our moves and intentions.

The six documents published so far, the latest of which was released yesterday, show a clear trail of the Chinese military's increasing aspirations and efforts for understanding through information sharing.

The 2006 White Paper on National Defence, in particular, features a conspicuous stride toward transparency.

Like all past ones, the 2006 paper is meant to present a general picture of the current state of our military, from military philosophy to budgetary specifics.

But this one is more conducive to true insight into our military thanks to a more explicit statement of its strategic thinking as well as mid-term goals.

There are delicate changes in wording. The 2004 white paper said China would stick to a new security philosophy that emphasizes mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and collaboration. The new one is one step ahead, promising to promote "common security" with other countries through partnership.

The most important message, however, is what it terms a "three-step" development strategy to finally build a military capable of winning information wars by the middle of the century.

Making public such a phase-by-phase development plan will help outsiders comprehend the current and next steps in the transformation of the People's Liberation Army.

All the sceptics and critics of Chinese military updates need a dose of background information not only about the defensive nature of our military, but also about our security concerns.

It is equally important to note that part of the recent increase in Chinese military spending is a necessary compensation for the neglect our national defence sectors suffered throughout the 1980s. We cannot afford to see our military capabilities lag further behind as our economic locomotive keeps steaming ahead. After all, we are among the very few countries whose territory remains divided.

The paper, along with the PLA's active foreign exchanges in 2006, is bringing our military into a virtuous cycle where openness and understanding promote each other.

(China Daily December 31, 2006)

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