The government's proposal on military expenditure has stirred up divergent reactions, not for the first time.
At home, from among those attending the annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, those from the People's Liberation Army in particular, we hear calls for a steeper rise in military spending. The proposed 14.7 percent increment, they say, falls far short of our military's actual needs.
Overseas, the same old doubts about legitimacy of our double-digit increase in military expenditure climb to new heights. There is even the assumption that a stronger Chinese military is a destabilizing factor.
The authorities were quick to assure their audience that a militarily stronger China would not go back on its commitment to peace. Liao Xilong, head of the PLA General Logistics Department, has made clear where the money would go improving our service people's living standards, upgrading the military's information system, and financing personnel training.
Such messages may not suffice to expel the lingering misgivings about our military. Still, it is important to keep our friends and critics informed about the pace and purpose of our progress.
The initiative to explain such a move and reiterate our adherence to self-defence displayed impressive responsiveness to outside sensitivities. That is what a responsible member of the international community should do.
While the Chinese take pains to attend to their worries, the outside world should reciprocate at least with attentive ears, instead of groundless suspicions and accusations.
Indeed, we do have the largest military in the world numerically. But that is all. The headcount includes a considerable portion of non-combat personnel in military units. Even the military itself has identified redundancy as a drag on its modernization drive and wants to continue streamlining its ranks.
The Chinese military may get a prominent slot if countries' militaries are ranked in the order of the number of items of hardware in their possession. But make no mistake about it. Quantity does not mean strength. We have bought and developed some advanced weapons in recent years. But the majority of weapons and equipment in service are outdated.
That is why some Western observers say China's military looks great on paper, but it is in fact the world's largest military museum. They say the Chinese military is generations behind the world's strongest militaries in terms of hardware. How did our poorly equipped troops become their No 1 nightmare overnight?
Overseas scare-mongers have made a very basic mathematic mistake when they make growth rate an issue. They have neglected the tiny base of the growth. Even today, after years of double-digit growth, our annual military expenditure is only a fraction of many Western countries. Why should China be singled out?
The double-digit increase did not take place until very recent years when tension escalated across the Taiwan Straits. As the leadership of Taiwan goes mad and provocatively edges towards splitting the island from the country, the mainland is being pressed to get serious about the least-desired scenario of armed conflict. After all, the country has a legitimate right to safeguard its territorial integrity.
(China Daily March 9, 2006)