Tue, Nov 01, 2005 - Page 8 News List

It's time for China to come clean

By Sushil Seth

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's recent China visit was an exploratory exercise to assess first hand Beijing's strategic ambitions in view of its rapidly increasing defense expenditure. The wooly Chinese concept of a "peaceful rise" lacks transparency and clarity. Rumsfeld, therefore, sought to persuade Beijing to open up both its political and military systems. Without it, there will be uncertainties and anxieties about China's role on the world stage.

It is interesting that Rumsfeld dwelt both on political and military aspects of China's closed system. Beijing cannot compartmentalize its system into separate boxes labeled economic, military, political (party's monopoly on power) and so on. A nation is an organic entity and unless it grows as a whole, it is bound to develop all kinds of distortions and disasters, dangerous both for China and the world.

Rumsfeld made this point when addressing cadres at Beijing's Central Party School. He said, "China's future prosperity -- and to some degree the future of other nations' attitudes -- may well depend on internal political events here [in China]," thus cautioning against a closed political system.

He went on to say that every society had "to be vigilant against another type of Great Wall that can be a burden on man's talents ... a wall that limits speech, information or choices."

Political pluralism (democracy) also tends to exercise some moderation or restraint on unbridled nationalism. Without it, the Chinese Communist Party might go berserk with its military ambitions. Based on official figures, China's military spending this year will go up by 12.6 percent to US$30 billion. The unofficial estimates put it around US$90 billion. And that kind of money buys a lot of dough (and military stuff) in Chinese currency. With its space program, nuclear warheads and missiles, it is time China came out with a clear enunciation of its strategic doctrine and how it is going to keep everything rising peacefully.

Rumsfeld showed particular concern about China's nuclear and missile capability. In a speech to the Academy of Military Sciences, he said, "China ... is expanding its missile forces and enabling those forces to reach many areas of the world well beyond the Pacific region."

And he added, "Those advances in China's strategic strike capacity raise questions, particularly when there's imperfect understanding of such developments on the part of others."

Hence, the need for China to come clean on why it is going into this headlong expansion of its military arsenal?

But there are no clear answers. The threat from China's missiles, though, is clearly understood in Taiwan. And Japan too has come to regard China's military expansion as a security threat. And both have security ties with the US.

Besides, China's expanding missile forces are becoming a threat beyond the Pacific region, which should make the US worried about its own security. More so, when a Chinese general, only a while ago, threatened to rain nuclear weapons on the US if it got involved in a military conflict over Taiwan.

It is reported, though, that General Jing Zhiyuan (金濟元), commander of China's nuclear-missile forces, has reaffirmed China's official commitment of no first use of nuclear weapons by his country. But one wonders how this commitment fits into China's expanding military machine!

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