Meng Xiangqing got one thing right in his October 8 China Daily article entitled, “Chinese Dream includes strong PLA” : President Xi Jinping has focused his nation towards building “a strong military that is ‘absolutely loyal’ to the Communist Party of China, [that] will abide by discipline and be ready to ensure victory in any war.” Unfortunately, many other points of his article miss the boat. One certainty is that America and her friends and allies must continue to prepare to counter the Chinese capabilities while redoubling efforts to understand the PRC’s intentions.
Meng, the deputy director of the Institute for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), claims that “The truth is, China has always been a peace-loving country and it firmly pursues the path of peaceful development and will never seek hegemony and expansion… the West has nothing to worry about the modernization of China’s military. Unlike former colonial powers, China has never invaded another country. On the contrary, it has always advocated (and still does advocate) harmonious coexistence, seeking common ground and shelving differences.” This statement is factually inaccurate and makes several bad assumptions.
Has China always been “peace-loving” ? For Meng to state that China has always been “peaceful” fails to take into account the Sino-Indian War of 1962 when China attacked India in Ladakh and across the McMahon Line. Similarly, it does not account for the 1969 PLA attack on Soviet border guards on Zhenbao Island or the PLA’s 1979 invasion of Vietnam. Additionally, China’s Sui and Tang dynasties attacked Korea. And as we continue back through history, it becomes clear that Tibet, Xinjiang, and Mongolia were also invaded by China. And in fact, the Qin dynasty (221 BC to 207 BC) invaded significant territories and neighboring states to establish the first dynastic leaders of this vast nation under Emperor Qin Shi Huang.
Will China “never seek hegemony and expansion ?” This assumption by Meng has several pitfalls. First, and as explicated above, China has sought and asserted its interests in other nations in the past. Second, to state that China will never take a certain action is unfounded and unreasonable. Third, a threat, hegemonic or otherwise, has two fundamental factors for consideration. The first factor is the potential enemy’s capability. The second is the potential enemy’s intent. China’s intent is unclear ; and articles like the one written by Meng Xiangqing do nothing more than muddy the waters. But even Meng agrees that it is the intent of the Chinese to build a military that continues to grow alongside its economy. According to Graham Allison, in his article entitled “Thucydides’ trap has been sprung in the Pacific,” “in 11 of 15 cases since 1500 where a rising power emerged to challenge a ruling power, war occurred.” These were all cases where capability potentially shaped intent. Based on past history, there is a good chance that a challenging power, like China, may eventually use its growing military might.
Do nations with the most powerful militaries have the strongest economies ?Meng states that China must build a military that is at the same level as its economic standing in the world. The nations with the largest militaries have the largest economies ; but not currently the strongest. But is this completely accurate ? The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index for 2013-2014 lists the world’s strongest economies (in order) as : Switzerland, Singapore, Finland, Germany, and the United States. Conversely, a recent study by the Global Firepower ranks the top five most powerful militaries (in descending order) as : the United States, Russia, China, India, and the United Kingdom.
The Chinese Dream includes building China into a modern socialist country that is prosperous, powerful, democratic, and harmonious. It entails the goal of national reunification and requires China to help maintain world peace and facilitate the development of the human race. The “one China” policy is as flawed as China’s one-child policy. In both cases, a hegemon seeks domination through power. In one case, the PRC would like to regain control over Taiwan. Taiwan and China, through the “one China” policy, do not recognize each other’s governments (PRC or ROC). In the case of the one-child policy, started in 1980, Chinese couples—with some exceptions—are forbidden from having more than one baby. Neither world peace, human rights, nor the development of the human race can result from the actions Meng Xiangqing suggests.
What does Meng’s article suggest for the United States ? While China’s intentions regarding the use of its military are unclear, the country’s growing military capability is not. In order to avoid further closure between the Chinese military’s capabilities and those of the United States and its friends and allies, the United States must continue to man, train, and equip the U.S. military to avoid any confusion on the part of the Chinese or any other nation as to America’s capability, and if necessary willingness, to fight. Additionally, while the United States pivots to the Asia Pacific, it must also continue to focus on better understanding the capabilities and intentions of China. The United States has many concerns in the Asia-Pacific region, and China is only one of them. The United States, and the rest of the world, cannot prevent China’s march towards military modernization, but it can take actions to ensure the PRC unambiguously understands the United States’ and her friends and allies capability to deter war. And if deterrence fails, to fight and win.