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China is strengthening its military to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity, not to pose any threat to others
The international strategic landscape has been undergoing profound changes and moving toward a multi-polar world since the end of the Cold War.
Despite the global financial crisis and relative decline in its overall strength, the United States is still the only superpower, and a shift in its strategic thinking, design and action still has a great impact on international security. The US' strategic eastward shift to Asia, in particular, is forcing the Asia-Pacific region to confront the most complex international security situation.
China, as an important member of the Asia-Pacific region, has proposed a new security concept featuring mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination, aimed at building a harmonious world. However, some countries have voiced concern over its rapid economic growth and moderate military buildup, necessary for national defense. Some still see China through the Cold War lens and are promoting the "China threat" theory. Containment and prevention are still their main strategy against China.
One of the most important purposes of the US' strategic shift to Asia is to contain China. This is proved not only by some of the US' strategic reports, but also by the conversations and speeches of some senior US military officials.
Washington's involvement in territorial and sovereignty disputes between China and some of its neighbors has led to the formation of an alliance of sorts between some claimant countries and the US. Their aim is to confront China, which would dramatically reduce China's window of opportunity for peaceful development.
The current security environment for Beijing is the most complex and severe since the foundation of the People's Republic of China. As the world's largest developing country, China faces challenges to its national sovereignty because of the Taiwan issue and territorial (territorial sea) disputes, international terrorism, and the "three evil forces" of separatism, extremism and terrorism. Then there are challenges posed by the global financial and economic crisis to China's economic growth and the added pressures brought about by mounting "international responsibility" to resolve the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, the Iranian nuclear issue, and climate change and other global problems.
Of late, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines have been unwarrantedly challenging China's sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands and other islands in the South China Sea. Disregarding China's rational and well-intentioned proposal, some of these countries are occupying China's islands and reefs, carving up waters, and plundering its resources. This infringement upon its national interests is a serious challenge for China.
Despite China's utmost restraint and best intentions to resolve the disputes in the South China Sea through peaceful negotiations, claimant countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines, are expediting efforts to unilaterally explore resources in the South China Sea and trying to internationalize bilateral disputes.
Backed by the US, and Japan and India to some extent, Vietnam and the Philippines are taking steps to strengthen their illegal control over the islands and accelerate their exploration and exploitation of energy resources in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea disputes involve China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and major political, economic and military interests. Some countries are using China's good will and restraint as an opportunity to make profits. If China fails to take effective measures to warn countries that infringe upon its interests, it will become the biggest loser in the South China Sea disputes.
The South China Sea disputes have intensified because some claimant countries have changed their strategic thinking by reviewing the geo-strategic and economic value of the South China Sea.
China has sincerely proposed "shelving disputes and conducting joint development" in the South China Sea. It has never said that it will resolve the territorial (including territorial sea) disputes forcibly. This fully demonstrates China's sincerity in promoting the new security concept it has advocated. But some countries have disregarded China's well-intentioned proposal and continue to challenge its national security.
If these countries take China's good will as weakness, they should know that when it comes to safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity, no country would renounce the use of force, even if it is the last resort. This is the "iron law" followed by all states and this is why the US accords special priority to its military supremacy.
China's military strength may be rising because of its fast economic development, but it is still far behind the top military powers. Therefore, those who exaggerate China's military strength do so with ulterior motives. China's military buildup until now has not brought about any essential change in the world's military pattern. And this pattern will not change fundamentally in the next 10 to 20 years.
China has been modernizing its military to safeguard its national security, and its strategy is defensive in nature. The development of its military's strength will only contribute to regional and world peace, for China is an active contributor to world peace, not a trouble-monger. But that does not mean China will refrain from using force to defend its national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Some Western countries, led by the US, have been using force to defend their national interests since the end of World War II. Ironically, they view China's military buildup as a threat, even though it has never used force to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries. It is high time that countries used to using force frequently to resolve issues of national interests reflected on the difference between their words and deeds.
Since its national security faces both real challenges and potential threats, China has the right to strengthen the military to safeguard its national security and legitimately use force to protect its national interests. Western countries are questioning China's defense policy and seeing it as a threat because they still suffer from Cold War mentality.
The author is a professor at the PLA Institute of International Studies in Nanjing.
(China Daily 07/30/2012 page8)