My experience with
goes back to my very beginnings as a young naval midshipman assigned the task of writing his first college paper on Chinese military buildup following the Korean War. From that time to this I have watched China modernize and expand it’s military capabilities and slowly begin extending it’s military presence, almost unnoticeably, around the globe. Today, China has a military involvement on every continent and in every ocean. They have military support arrangements with many of our close allies and, in some cases such as with China Pakistan, they actually provide more military equipment and support than the . United States
I was very pleased, almost relieved, to read the following comment from Admiral Mike Mullen. “Every nation has a right to defend itself and to spend as it sees fit for that purpose, but a gap as wide as what seems to be forming between
’s stated intent and its military programs leaves me more than curious about the end result. Indeed, I have moved from being curious to being genuinely concerned.” China
It’s about time the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff expressed disquiet about the Chinese military buildup. For decades, senior American military officers, many of them from the Navy, have remained optimistic about
America’s military relations with . After every Chinese hostile act (even those constituting direct attacks on the China United States, such as the March 2009 attempt to interfere with the Impeccable in the South China Sea) American admirals have either remained silent or said they were “perplexed” or “befuddled” by ’s intentions. Beijing
Befuddlement? Political cowardice is more like it. To avoid the appearance of confrontation the Pentagon has pushed for port calls, reciprocal visits of officers, a hot line, and an incidents-at-sea agreement, with varying degrees of success. Admiral Timothy Keating even went so far as to offer to help
build aircraft carriers! China
Keating’s offer, made in May 2007 when he was commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, may have been extended with the knowledge the Chinese would reject it, but the apparent generosity was nonetheless in keeping with the general approach of the Navy during the Bush administration, an approach that President Obama has also adopted. So if there is any significance to Mullen’s recent comment, it is that the American military, at the highest levels, is beginning to voice in open forums its doubts about Beijing’s ultimate intentions.
Senior Chinese officers, on the other hand, have no trouble telling us how they really feel.
In February, Colonel Meng Xianging promised a “hand-to-hand fight with the
” sometime within the next 10 years “when we’re strong enough.” “We must make them hurt,” said Major-General Yang Yi this year, referring to the U.S. . United States
And last month, at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue in
, a Chinese flag officer launched a three-minute rant that stunned the 65 or so American officials in the audience. Everything that is right with Beijing U.S. relations with China is due to , said Rear Admiral Guan Youfei. Everything that is wrong is China ’s fault. According to Guan, the Washington United States sees as an enemy. China
A senior American official traveling on Secretary of State Clinton’s plane back to the United States said the admiral’s comments were “out of step” with the views of China’s civilian leaders.
U.S. officials at the time also predicted that Beijing would soon welcome Robert Gates on his long-planned trip to . China
They were wrong. On June 3 the Chinese foreign ministry announced that the Defense secretary was in fact not welcome. Gates, who also thought he would travel to
this month, said the turndown was just the military’s fault. “Nearly all of the aspects of the relationship between the Beijing United States and China are moving forward in a positive direction, with the sole exception of the military-to-military relationship,” he said on his way to . “The PLA is significantly less interested in developing this relationship than the political leadership of the country.” Singapore
Is that true? “Admiral Guan was representing what all of us think about the
in our hearts,” a senior Chinese official told a reporter from the Washington Post. “It may not have been politically correct, but it wasn’t an accident.” Chinese flag officers do not launch into polemical speeches at tightly scripted events, such as the once-a-year Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and it was reckless for American officials to assume, despite everything, that Admiral Guan was speaking only for himself. United States
Gates perhaps knows better now. After having his visit rejected at the last moment, he had to endure a series of hostile comments from Chinese flag officers at a security conference in
at the beginning of this month. And that is just more evidence our officials and diplomats, even after more than three decades of close relations with their counterparts in Beijing, still do not understand China. Singapore
That, of course, is another “genuine concern.” So what, exactly, is the consequence of our miscomprehending the Chinese, refusing to hear what they openly say? It’s worse than the rejection of official visits to
by overly eager Defense secretaries. Listen to former State Department analyst Robert Sutter: “ Beijing is the only large power in the world preparing to shoot Americans.” China