China Says ‘Shut Up’

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Defense Secretary Rumsfeld can now stop pretending he didn’t know the answer to the questions he himself asked in June 2005. “Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder: Why this growing investment? Why these continuing large and expanding arms purchases? Why these continuing robust deployments?” Mr. Rumsfeld asked at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual Asian-Pacific military conference that took place in Singapore and was organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The Chinese have just tossed a clear answer right in the face of the Americans.

The BBC aired a radio program titled “What China Wants” on Thursday, August 17, in which China’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Sha Zukang, gave some enlightening replies to these questions: should the rest of the world be worried about China’s growing economic muscle, which brings diplomatic and military strength? Will China be just an economic superpower content to sell the world shoes and washing machines? Or will it have the military muscle to protect its new interests around the world?

Mr. Sha insisted that there’s no cause for concern for other countries. He gave a crash course in history to support his argument. If you read China’s 5,000-year-long history, Mr. Sha said,”it’s not difficult to discover that China basically is a peace-loving nation.”

He must be talking about another China on another planet.

Responding to jitters within the Bush administration about Beijing’s spiraling military budget, Mr. Sha retorted that America itself accounts for half of the entire world’s military spending. “The Chinese population is six times or five times that of the United States,” he said. “Why blame China?” He asserted that much of the spending is defensive. “China’s military buildup is not threatening anyone,” he said. “This is a legitimate defense.” Beijing always like to point out that its military budget is about $35 billion while Washington spends more than $420 billion.What Beijing doesn’t say is that its disclosed figure is believed to be grossly deflated.

Mr. Sha later switched to an offensive mode and opened up further. “It’s better for the U.S. to shut up,” he said. “Keep quiet. It’s much, much better.” His voice rising, Mr. Sha continued: “It’s the U.S.’s sovereign right to do whatever they deem good for them — but don’t tell us what is good for China. Thank you very much!”

This outburst is better than any answer to the questions raised in the program. If China, with its current “comprehensive national power” not strong enough to confront America yet, can tell the Americans to get lost now, we don’t have to wait to find out what the Chinese will do when they become even more powerful in a decade or two. It seems like the Chinese Communists are getting so confident these days that they have abandoned the foreign and security strategy their “last emperor,” Deng Xiaoping had laid down for them in the early 1990s: “Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.”

I love it every time Chinese Communist officials made outrageous statements because they’re telling us what they really think. And Mr. Sha, a veteran diplomat who had spent time in Britain, Sri Lanka, India. and New York before going to Geneva, was not stingy at all on this front. He gave a perfect example to illustrate how his historically “peace-loving nation” would use the “defensive” weapons it has been piling up: Taiwan.

“The moment Taiwan declares independence, supported by whoever, China will have no choice,” Mr. Sha said. “We will do the business through whatever means available to the government. Nobody should have any illusion on that. We will do the business at any cost.” Just in case some weaker souls may get a wrong idea of what he meant, Mr. Sha added that “It’s not a matter of how big Taiwan is, but for China, one inch of the territory is more valuable than the life of our people. We will never concede on that.”

This prompted the host of the program to give this comment: “Most mainland Chinese I know are equally passionate about Taiwan. Nationalism has replaced Communism as the glue that holds China together.” No wonder Taiwan’s president Chen Shui-bian, as well as Japan’s prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, is among the most demonized persons in China’s propaganda.

Panda huggers may try to downplay the significance of Mr. Sha’s words as a slip of tongue. However, Beijing certainly didn’t think its senior diplomat had misspoken. The day after the BBC program was broadcasted, the top headline news in China Daily’s Web site was “U.S. shut up on Beijing arms spending.”

When the Pentagon issued its annual report, “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2006,” to Congress in May, it concluded that “Absent greater transparency, international reactions to China’s military growth will understandably hedge against these unknowns.” After Mr. Sha’s comments go a way toward more transparency about China’s intentions.

Mr. Rumsfeld, known for his own bluntness, perhaps can reciprocate Mr. Sha’s frankness by saying: “The moment Taiwan is attacked, supported by whoever, America will have no choice but to defend the island democracy and recognize its independence.”

Mr. Liu, a former chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association and general manager of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, is a Washington-based columnist.

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