[Viewpoint]China’s buildup may not be a threatThe Chinese People’s Liberation Army marked its 80th anniversary on Wednesday. The People’s Liberation Army created the image of an aggressive and fearsome Chinese military force through its actions in the Nationalist-Communist Civil War, the Korean War, the China-Soviet War and the China-Vietnam War, as well as its involvement in the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
However, the Chinese army has experienced in the past a deep frustration and an acute need to reform and modernize its structure.
Since Jiang Zemin took power after the Tiananmen Square protests, the Chinese government has increased its defense budget 10 percent each year. And right after the first Gulf War in 1991, China changed its military strategy from a defensive stance ― preparing for a general war with the Soviet Union ― to a more offensive strategy of coping with “local limited wars,” fortifying itself with modern weapons and advanced military equipment.
In response to the worries of the Western powers and China’s neighboring countries about the military build-up, China emphasized in its defense white paper, “China’s National Defense in 2006,” that the modernization of its military forces is subordinate to its international strategy of “promoting world peace;” that it would provide protection for the sustained development of China’s peace strategy, and that it would contribute to the stability of the military situation in the world, particularly in the neighboring region.
China singled out the “Taiwan issue” as the greatest obstacle to its peace policy and defended its military build-up as a defensive measure to secure the might it would need to deter a possible emergency U.S. military intervention in Taiwan.
However, the recent changes in China’s strategy and the nature of the arms it has acquired recently have gone beyond what is needed for a limited local war against Taiwan. In a military drill on Jan. 11, China destroyed a satellite by firing a ballistic missile presumed to be a Dong Feng-21(East Wind). And an aircraft carrier displacing 50,000 tons will be launched in the 2010s. China has already deployed six Dong Feng-31 inter-continental missiles that can reach the U.S. mainland. And the development of both a nuclear powered 094-class submarine and the submarine-launched missile Julang, or Great Wave II, is in the final stages.
China’s military is now focused on the whole world and wants to secure high-tech weapons for offensive purposes. That means it sees there’s the possibility of a sustained conflict with the United States. And it seems that competition and confrontation with Japan can’t be avoided.
However, China’s military technology still lags far behind that of the United States and Japan, and the military technology exchanges between China and Russia are very limited.
China has no assurance of a military victory, even in a simulated war at the moment. Therefore, China admits its military inferiority to the United States and prefers to rely on its diplomatic strategy of “peaceful development” or a “harmonious world” and will try to avoid a military conflict with superpowers or neighboring countries.
Even against Taiwan, China wants to have a strong enough military to keep Taiwan at bay and prevent it from preemptively trying to separate and become independent from China. That is, the goal of China’s military development lies in making its military strong enough that its opponents will think twice about having a war or military confrontation with them.
At present, China is in a situation where there is a lot more room to cooperate than there is to create conflicts with other strong powers.
China also wants to maintain cooperative and stable relations with neighboring countries to keep them friendly. In that sense, it is necessary to reevaluate the often-quoted argument about the military threat posed by China.
It is hard to say whether the direction China’s military is taking will create any competition or confrontation with Korea.
Korea must pay more attention to the development of China’s conventional warfare capability than its strategic weapons. However, it doesn’t need to see China’s military buildup as a hostile move.
Instead, we need to have a strategic viewpoint with which we can explain and claim our interests in China on the basis of an enhanced mutual understanding.
There is also no need to presuppose that United States-China relations are confrontational. The two countries are actually strengthening their cooperation in military fields.
We do have to worry about the possibility that the U.S.-Korea alliance and the friendly relations between China and Korea will become confrontational.
We must focus our policy on the prevention of such a situation.
*The writer is a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Heung-kyu