- - Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Spy chief on Chinese threat

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, two 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.”

PLA air force seeks loyal pilots

China is stepping up efforts to 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 Party, 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’s column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at [email protected]

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