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China fears overlook the drive for harmony

2010-07-02 07:59


Almost half of Australians think China will be a military threat within 20 years, according to this year's Lowy Institute foreign policy poll. Such concern is caused by inadequate understanding of the Chinese culture and China's foreign policy.

Nicholas Berry of the Centre for Defence Information in the United States argues that five factors are crucial before a country uses military force to try to establish control over foreigners: a large, unified state; a rising economy; an ideology of dominance; a superior military capability; and popular support for an aggressive foreign policy. Berry believes China does not have the intention or capability to seek hegemony on those five factors, and he is right to say so.

Zheng He, a great navigator of the Ming dynasty, made seven voyages to 30 countries in the Pacific and Indian oceans 600 years ago using a fleet of 240 ships and 28,000 crew. Some researchers believe his fleet visited Australia and America. He brought Chinese tea, silk, porcelain, medicines and artifacts. According to the British historian Joseph Needham, it was the strongest navy fleet of the world and yet it did not occupy an inch of the countries it visited.

Zheng He is not an isolated case; rather, his voyages illustrate the Chinese philosophy of harmony. Confucius stressed the importance of harmony in the practice of rites. Ancient Chinese dynasties saw harmony as a political principle. And modern China sets "seeking common ground while shelving differences and developing peaceful co-existence" as its cornerstone of foreign policy. China does not have the ideology and public opinion base for hegemony.

China has been a victim of imperialist aggressions and peace did not come easily. The Chinese treasure peace as much as their own eyes, if not more.

Deng Xiaoping, regarded as the chief architect of China's opening up, said China will never seek hegemony. President Hu Jintao has said many times that peaceful development is a strategic choice of the Chinese government. And in 2005, the government issued a white paper committing it to the road of peaceful development.

The Chinese people have earnt real benefits from this road. Three decades after the reform and opening-up, China's gross domestic product grows at an average 9.8 per cent a year and 200 million people have been lifted out of absolute poverty.

China may be a big economy, but it is not yet a strong economy. The primary task for the government will, for a long period, be developing the economy and improving living standards. To that end, China urgently needs a long-term peaceful international environment.

I understand there are some worries about the military's growing strength, but its development is appropriate and reasonable.

China has a long border and coast and a complicated surrounding security environment. It has not yet accomplished its national reunification. The primary task of the military is defending the sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of the country. But China's military capability still falls short of what is required. Therefore, it needs to modernise its military.

China is often subjected to natural disasters. One of the military's most important responsibilities is disaster relief. In 2008, only three days after the earthquake in Sichuan, 146,000 soldiers were dispatched for rescue.

China has also positively responded to United Nations calls for peacekeeping missions, navy convoys and international disaster relief missions. Since 1990, it has sent 14,680 people to 18 peacekeeping operations. To fulfil its international obligations, China's military forces have to upgrade their multi-task capability.

Since China began its reform in 1978 it has focused on economic development. For a long period the defence budget was not increased and equipment upgrades were disproportionately slow. The gap with other powers widened. China began to increase defence spending in the late 1990s, yet its current military technological capacity is still far behind some powers.

Some people question China's military transparency, yet true transparency is transparency of strategy. China's strategic intention has been clear: peaceful development and a defensive defence policy. China will not seek hegemony, will not pursue an arms race, and will not be a military threat to any country, now or in the future, no matter how prosperous it becomes.

This article was published by the Sydney Morning Herald on July 2, 2010.

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