By Yang Yi
Responding to remarks made by Canada-based Kanwa Defence Review analyst Andrei Pinkov that Chinese military strength, now witnessing rapid expansion, will overtake that of the United States in 20 years, this author said: "I, as a soldier, now would like to thank you for your good wishes for the development of Chinese military forces. But your remarks, if meant to be a serious prediction of the balance of Chinese and US military might, are a miscalculation because China will not be able to catch up with the United States in 100 years, let alone 20 years. Moreover, this race will never happen. US military forces will not remain at a standstill and China will never embark on the road of becoming a military superpower."
The recently convened Seventh Forum on Sun Tze's Art of War, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, provided the occasion for these exchanges.
Taking the road of peaceful development is China's basic policy, which is being implemented in all seriousness.
In military terms, this basic policy finds expression in the active-defence strategy adopted by the Chinese military. But, in more specific terms, what kind of military forces should be developed and how should the country's military might be used? This seems to go beyond the scope of purely Chinese affairs, taking into account that the behavior of other major powers on the world's political and military stage should never be overlooked.
China is a big country, and a responsible one. Therefore, it needs a military strength matching its status as a big country. This is dictated by the need to safeguard China's own security and protect the country's national interests.
But, in the context of the profound transformations taking place in the world's military arena, China lags far behind developed nations militarily.
Despite the fact that China's rapid economic growth offers the nation's military enough financial support, China's military strength is far outstripped by the need to protect its ever expanding national interests.
The country's deterrent and real-combat capability to respond to traditional threats to its security, for example, is deficient. The same can be said about China's capability in terms of dealing with terrorist attacks, carrying out international rescue and humanitarian aid operations and implementing UN peacekeeping missions. Its long-distance delivery and response capability, which is required in case of evacuating Chinese nationals when any emergency arises overseas, is also weak. All these capabilities pale into insignificance beside those possessed by the United States and other developed nations.
True, China has the largest conventional army in the world. But its level of modernization is fairly low, trailing 15 to 25 years behind developed countries.
And when China starts taking steps to modernize its military forces, alarm bells start ringing overseas.
The "China military threat" theory is the loudest, above all the hubbub of different versions of the "China threat."
China is, therefore, caught in a very subtle and complex situation.
"Peaceful development" is the country's solemn strategic option, which helps redress the bigotry and extremist feelings harbored by a few Chinese people as well as counter the "China threat" theory.
Starting from the Opium War in 1840, China was repeatedly bullied by Western powers. The negative influence lingers on today. Some Chinese, for instance, still consider themselves to be "victims," while others wish to exact revenge. Given free rein, these mentalities would poison the environment vitally needed for our development and fuel the "China threat" theory.
China's military forces, in the opinion of this author, should be of the active-defence type. Our military forces should be committed to staging counter-attacks in case the country's vital interests are encroached upon, instead of carrying out wars of aggression against other countries and bullying neighbors. This also constitutes a deterrent to potential military blackmail and aggression.
The country's 2004 Defence White Paper states that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) should develop military co-operation that is not targeted at a third party and that the PLA is non-aligned and non-confrontational by nature. The PLA participates in United Nations peacekeeping missions and anti-terror co-operation, carries out various forms of military exchanges and is committed to setting up military-security dialogue mechanisms. The PLA also participates in bilateral or multilateral joint military exercises in non-traditional security areas.
The document states that the PLA is trying to learn from useful experiences of its foreign counterparts and selectively imports advanced military hardware and managerial methods.
All this shows that China is combining "hard power" and "soft power" to help bring about a harmonious world.
In the late 1970s, Deng Xiaoping, the chief architect of China's reform and opening up, emphasized that the economy, instead of class struggle, should be the focus of government work and that all sectors should concentrate on this.
He asked that the military exercise self-restraint, meaning that it should not claim a larger share of State finances.
As a result, a great deal of investment went into the economic, cultural, education and research sectors, while the military got just enough to maintain its routine functions.
This wise decision largely helped bring about China's rapid economic growth over the past three decades.
Of course, long-standing insufficient investment in the defence sector has slowed the pace of military modernization. This is particularly reflected in the fact that core military technology with independent Chinese patents falls far behind that of developed countries and that the Chinese army's hardware is inferior to that of its Western counterparts. To make matters worse, importing sophisticated weaponry from overseas is riddled with difficulties.
As China's economy has gained in strength, the State has increased its defence spending. But this increased investment chiefly goes to improving the structure of the defence sector and to "paying off historical debts," which refers to the long-time insufficient investment in the sector.
Despite enjoying military supremacy over all other countries on the planet, the United States is constantly on the watch against any other nation that could pose a military challenge. Now Uncle Sam is concentrating on China.
The Pentagon says in its Quadrennial Defence Review issued on February 3 this year that China has the biggest potential, among the rising big countries, to rival the United States militarily. The United States' traditional military advantages would disappear within a certain period of time if no action is taken. The document suggests that the United States continue to invest heavily in key strategic and tactical fields, enhancing the capabilities of constant monitoring, long-range strikes, combat mobility and the air, naval and land forces fighting at a strategic range.
No single country is a match for the United States in terms of investing enormous sums of money in the development of sophisticated military technologies. China, having its hands full with many other challenges and now already on the path of peaceful development, will never take part in an arms race with any other countries, particularly the United States.
The author is a rear admiral of the Chinese navy, and director of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the National Defence University of China.
(China Daily July 5, 2006)