Xi Jinping’s ‘assertiveness’
Although it would be easy to portray Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) as an “assertive future leader,” as Lin Cho-shui (林濁水) does (“China’s assertive future leader,” Oct. 27, page 8), one cannot as a necessity attach this to Xi’s time in the military. This equation is problematic for several reasons.
First, growth in Chinese military budget numbers as well as growing Chinese international assertiveness and vocal nationalism have taken place, oddly, during the post-Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) period. Deng’s military stature alone allowed him to underfund the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) during the 1970s and 1980s. Deng’s military reputation alone allowed him to take measures that effectively downsized the PLA, something his civilian successors would probably have been unable to do even if the international situation had permitted them to do so.
Let’s not forget, either, that the most strident Chinese actions toward Taiwan since the 1960s occurred on former Chinese president Jiang Zemin’s (江澤民) watch during the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995-1996. The missile tests and bellicose behavior originated at least in part from military pressure on Jiang and his need to demonstrate, as a civilian leader, his military resolve. Deng could have, although at some political cost, put down protest within the military and survived politically, but such actions from Jiang would have been political suicide.
Moreover, documents with the most threatening language toward Taiwan since the reforms in China began three decades ago, the 2000 Defense White Paper (also during the Jiang period) and the 2005 “Anti-Secession” Law, under Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), were also formulated and published under civilian, not military, leadership.
PLA budget growth began after Tiananmen and accelerated rapidly under civilian, not military, leadership. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been at pains to professionalize the military and further civilianize control of the party. In this context, Xi’s assertiveness has more to do with the civilian aspects of his background than his military service. And even if one were to focus on his military background, one would find it dwarfed by the status of Deng.
To equate international assertiveness with a military background is, therefore, a mistake. It means more for a former soldier with combat experience than a peace activist to say, “War is hell.” In any case, Xi has no combat experience and he lacks the stature of Deng. And serving as a secretary in the Central Military Commission is far from being a grunt, little less a general. To point to his modest military record and say it is the cause of his occasional flashes of international assertiveness is to ignore a good deal of the evidence and to lack a bit of common sense.
From where I sit, it would appear that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is afflicted with the same “disease” many politicians here in the US have — it’s called “foot in mouth.”
This is an affliction that stems from making statements without really thinking them through first.
Case in point: former Alaska governor and US vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin claiming that she “could see Russia from her back door.”
President Ma is fluent in the English language.
He has been an interpreter for former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). He is a graduate of Harvard Law School — and they most certainly do not teach in Chinese at Harvard.
Could it be that what we are seeing are Freudian slips? Just a word of advice: Mr President, before you speak, think it through first!
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