Who is Afraid of Hu?

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army will be celebrating the 80th Anniversary of its foundation on 1 August. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the largest military force in the World today exceeding over 2.2 million far in excess of any other armed forces. China’s defense budget is said to be over $ 100 billion, though the stated budget hovers around a more modest $ 45 billion. China’s maritime interests are increasingly growing and it is attempting to build a powerful Navy. It already has a formidable submarine fleet which is designed to deny any powerful adversary (sic the United States of America) access to the Chinese mainland (sic to deter posing a threat to Taiwan). In space, China shocked the World by carrying out an anti satellite test in January this year. To a world that is increasingly dependent on satellites for daily feeds of television as well as the Internet, Chinese tests seem a premonition of the capabilities to come, which may even enable Beijing to interrupt our cell phone conversations in the years ahead.

Chinese economic power is now legend. It is slated to displace Germany as the third largest economy in the World. Chinese presence in Africa is now well established. America’s primary global power has found itself challenged to establish an Africa Command following for the first time after the Second World War in another nation’s footsteps. Today, Chinese diplomats, businesspersons, traders, information technology students and professionals are everywhere even pervading the depths of those countries, which it had once regarded as its adversaries, India and Vietnam. China is the most favored friend of many states, which are pariahs to others such as, North Korea and Myanmar or regarded as severely challenged as Pakistan. The technology focus of the Chinese is seeing them venture to capture a leading slot in fields, which will impact strategic research and development. This race for dominance is leading many of Beijing’s competitors to suspect its intention.

Thus, the American Congress requires the Pentagon to produce a yearly survey of Chinese Military Power, which is considered as an authoritative source on the PLA. American trade lobbyists are constantly hankering at redressal of the deficit. Currency enthusiasts on the other hand have indicated that its policies of controlling the Yuan are fueling the slide of the American dollar. So who is afraid of Hu Jintao, China’s diminutive President who impressed the Japanese with his youthful energy during a visit to Tokyo this year? Perhaps every body from Washington, to Europe to Africa to India, Australia and Japan, nations of all hues are concerned of Chinese multi dimensional proliferation.

Chinese officials as well as battery of scholars on the other hand refute these charges and claim that their intent is wholly peaceful. Chinese Defence White Paper published in December 2006 states that China is fully committed to, “peace, development and cooperation, China pursues a road of peaceful development, and endeavors to build, together with other countries, a harmonious world of enduring peace and common prosperity.” Chinese policy analysts even go further to rationalize China’s rising military strength as intended to improve political trust between the people and with the foreign forces through joint military exercises and exchange. China’s military policy is thus said to be defensive. Qian Lihua, Deputy Director of Ministry of Foreign Affairs Office in an interview to China Central Television stated that China will not be part of any military bloc, nor will it place any military force overseas and thus there was no threat arising from Chinese military build up. That 23 US military delegations had visited China in 2006 and 18 Chinese delegations had been sent to the United States during the Year was cited as proof of increased cooperation and understanding. China has also carried out exercise with the United States Navy in November.

The Chinese also call their foreign policy as, “harmonious world-oriented” diplomacy. Note carefully, however, that the underpinnings of this new policy is China’s economic and trade power, with a surfeit of foreign reserves, the largest in the World, and China’s preeminent position in global trade. Those who remember China’s quest for trade and industry growth in the 1970’s may recall that it was fairly modest and diffident. From these small beginnings, the country is now going to be an economic behemoth. On the 80th anniversary, the PLA may also seem to be an unobtrusive and modest military, large in numbers but short on fielding a modern conventional force with experience in combat over a wide spectrum of capabilities. Yet, what it would be two decades hence may seem fearful for many who are aware of Chinese single-minded determination of attaining targets once established by the Communist Party Central Committee and translated to the Central Military Commission. Who then is afraid of Hu, Chairman of the Central Military Commission?

Rahul K Bhonsle
Rahul K. Bhonsle is a Strategic Risk and Knowledge Management Consultant and writer with specific focus on defence and security, especially in South Asia.