Spy chief on Chinese threat

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

Chinese Gen. Xiong Guangkai, a long­time mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence chief who re­cently re­tired, has pub­lished an ar­ti­cle that says the rea­son much of the world views China’s rise as a threat is the re­sult of those in the West mis­trans­lat­ing a Chinese phrase on Bei­jing’s strat­egy.

Writ­ing in the cur­rent is­sue of the Bei­jing-based Pub­lic Diplo­macy Quar­terly, Gen. Xiong said the phrase in ques­tion is “taoguangyanghui,” widely trans­lated in the West as “hide our ca­pa­bil­i­ties; bide our time.”

The four-char­ac­ter phrase has taken on mon­u­men­tal sig­nif­i­cance be­cause it has be­come China’s na­tional pol­icy of global diplo­macy and in­ter­na­tional strat­egy since Deng Xiaop­ing an­nounced it in the late 1980s.

Gen. Xiong dis­putes those who ar­gue that the phrase im­plies hid­den Chinese am­bi­tions and dis­guised in­ten­tions for re­gional and global dom­i­nance. China, he says, has none, and those in the West who say China is a threat are mis­us­ing the phrase to smear China.

What is sur­pris­ing about the ar­ti­cle is that within Chinese mil­i­tary ranks, Gen. Xiong is viewed as one of the most hos­tile to the United States. He was fa­mous for telling Pen­tagon of­fi­cial Charles W. Free­man Jr. dur­ing the height of the 1996 cri­sis over China’s short-range mis­sile fir­ings near Tai­wan that the United States would not de­fend the is­land be­cause it cares more about Los An­ge­les than Taipei. The com­ment was re­ported to the White House at the time as a threat to use nu­clear mis­siles against a U.S. city.

The trou­ble with Gen. Xiong’s claim is that the English trans­la­tion comes di­rectly from A New Cen­tury Chinese-English Dic­tio­nary, xin­shi­ji­hany­ing­dacid­ian, pub­lished in­side China and con­sid­ered among the most au­thor­i­ta­tive even by the Chinese. In the ar­ti­cle, Gen. Xiong, an English ma­jor who grad­u­ated in 1959 from the Chinese mil­i­tary’s spy school, did not of­fer an al­ter­na­tive trans­la­tion, stat­ing only that the phrase was meant to ex­press “hum­ble ac­tions for peace.”

Chinese mil­i­tary ad­vances of late in key ar­eas of de­fen­sive and of­fen­sive ca­pa­bil­i­ties are sig­nif­i­cant. They in­clude anti-satel­lite mis­siles and weapons, cy­ber­war­fare ca­pa­bil­i­ties, grow­ing nu­clear and strate­gic strike forces, and con­ven­tional land, air and sea forces, as the com­mu­nist nation has in­vested con­sis­tently and dra­mat­i­cally in in­creas­ing de­fense bud­gets year af­ter year.

Cou­pled with China’s stri­dent sense of na­tional vic­tim­hood in the hands of oth­ers over the course of his­tory, and its Cold War-like world view that as­serts one hege­monic power, mean­ing the United States, dom­i­nates glob­ally in or­der to “con­tain” a right­fully ris­ing China, this re­mark­able Chinese mil­i­tary buildup has caused wide­spread concern and wor­ries in Asia and in much of the rest of the world. It posed a se­ri­ous threat to re­gional and global mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity bal­ances.

The con­ven­tional wis­dom says the West, es­pe­cially the United States, has not been able to ad­dress this China threat mostly be­cause of Amer­ica’s all-out en­tan­gle­ment with al Qaeda-led in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ists in the past decade.

How­ever, in re­cent weeks, many Chinese de­fense an­a­lysts ex­pressed fears that the demise of Osama bin Laden will lead to a re­clas­si­fi­ca­tion of China as Amer­ica’s chief tar­get of concern, and thus place the threat posed by China front and cen­ter in U.S. de­fense strat­egy.

To de­flate this, some de­fense an­a­lysts have ob­served, the Chinese mil­i­tary in re­cent months launched a se­ries of pro­pa­ganda charm of­fen­sives, topped off by the visit to Wash­ing­ton by the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army chief of staff, Gen. Chen Bingde, three weeks ago. There also was the Chinese de­fense min­is­ter’s un­usual visit to Amer­ica’s al­lies in the Pa­cific re­gion at the same time that state me­dia de­scribed as “hum­ble.” Gen. Xiong’s strained ex­pla­na­tion in seek­ing to play down the Chinese threat, some an­a­lysts say, should be viewed as part of the same sales pitch for China’s “hu­mil­ity.” re­cruit and train pi­lots as part of its mil­i­tary buildup. The Cen­tral Mil­i­tary Com­mis­sion of the Chinese Com­mu­nist Party last month ap­proved a pol­icy that ex­pands the re­cruit­ment ar­eas for prospec­tive pi­lots to in­clude en­listed sol­diers who had grad­u­ated from civil­ian uni­ver­si­ties with col­lege or even grad­u­ate de­grees.

The ef­fort is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated mil­i­tary hard­ware, es­pe­cially equip­ment and war­planes of Rus­sian ori­gin, and the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Air Force’s rapidly mod­ern­iz­ing air­craft fleet re­quire large num­bers of highly ed­u­cated pi­lots. All can­di­dates must have Rus­sian or English pro­fi­ciency and be in ex­cel­lent phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tion. But the most im­por­tant pre­req­ui­site is that all can­di­dates’ show “ab­so­lute loy­alty to the Chinese Com­mu­nist Party,” with all of his fam­ily mem­bers un­equiv­o­cally sup­port­ing the poli­cies of the Com­mu­nist Par ty, ac­cord­ing to state-run me­dia re­ports.

Dur­ing the Cold War, China had one of the worst records in pre­vent­ing its pi­lots from de­fect­ing to non­com­mu­nist states. Be­tween 1960 and 1986, at least 17 air force pi­lots de­fected, most fly­ing their jets to Tai­wan and tak­ing with them China’s prized air­planes. Each de­fec­tion pro­duced an in­ter­nal se­cu­rity purge within the mil­i­tary. A re­cent mem­oir by China’s long­time air force chief Gen. Wu Fax­ian pub­lished in Hong Kong stated that keep­ing pi­lots from de­fect­ing was the top pri­or­ity of the Chinese air force high com­mand dur­ing much of the 1960s and 1970s. In to­day’s Chinese air force, po­lit­i­cal in­doc­tri­na­tion and ide­o­log­i­cal cor­rect­ness are still of ab­ject im­por­tance.

Miles Yu can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com.

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