OPINION> Commentary
Issues of military transparency
By Xu Jia (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-08-01 07:22

The United States in recent years has more and more frequently criticized China about its military transparency and openness, and some US government leaders have taken the issue as a reason to check further development of Sino-US relations.

As a result, such an attitude has provoked disputes both on how the concept of military transparency was interpreted by different countries and also doubts on the US' real intention on "using this tool".

First of all, people's opinions differ on defining the concept of military transparency.

Andrew S. Erickson, assistant professor with the Strategic Studies Department of the US Naval War College, linked military transparency with a country's internal political affairs.

Brendan S. Mulvaney, a senior officer of the US Marine Corps, said the ultimate goal of the United States in pursuing the policy of transparency and openness is to take advantage of the international organizations to formulate standards favorable to the US national security and at the same time to minimize anti-American sentiments.

Moreover, military transparency itself has been interpreted into two concepts: the transparency of military intention and the transparency of military capabilities. The former refers to the extent of the scope and details to which a country, in accordance with the military rules and norms formed after constant gaming, publicizes its military strategy, tactics, military arts and principles, while the latter refers to the publicizing of one's basic information about its military capabilities.

According to the United Nation's Resolution 35/142B, military transparency is regarded as a standard of measuring national conducts. And even though scholars from China and the United States cannot reach consensus on the issue of military transparency, most of them file it under the study of international system.

Since military transparency in nature is a kind of soft power in the international system, the latter has endowed it with three features:

First, all countries expect to have more power in the military transparency system.

Second, in the military transparency system, countries with greater national power can attain more interests while the interests obtained by weaker countries can be relatively small or even nothing at all.

Third, all countries in the system cannot evade competition, control and counter-control for the sake of their own security and interests.

And from the perspective of the international organization laws, the UN resolutions on the military transparency have their legal effect, no country has the right to deny these resolutions and to make a fresh start.

As a country in pursuit of peaceful development, China in 2007 announced its policy to participate in the UN Military Transparency System and would resume the UN Conventional Weapons Registration System.

In the meantime, China has provided its detailed explanations to the world in its annually-published white papers on its national defense over the past few years on such issues as national defense policies, national defense budgets, military organization, military exercises, disarmament, arms control, sensitive materials control and transfer of military equipment as well as its non-proliferation policies.

However, the US government, followed by its unilateral standard, is still not satisfied with all that China has displayed on its military transparency.

As China accelerated its development in the international system which the US has been dominating since the end of World War II, the US began to set endless requirements on China on the issue of military transparency. And to establish either a bilateral military transparency system between the two countries or a multilateral one involving China and the US, three aspects need to be discussed in advance.

In its Quadrennial Defense Review Report in 2006, the US government said that China poses the biggest potential threats to the US among all rising major powers in terms of military power and relevant technologies.

Frankly, China is not regarded as an enemy to the US, but it would still be naive to the Chinese side to build military transparency system in strict accordance with requirements made by the US, given the latter's East-bound military frontier and strategic circling against China.

Besides defending its core interest of hegemony by containing China, the US government on the other hand has been pursuing an ambiguity policy on the Taiwan issue, China's core interest.

Third, whether the military transparency between the two countries is symmetric is doubted, as mutual trust has not been built well.

On the one hand, the US criticizes China's lack of military transparency; on the other hand, debates exist inside its own camp over whether it should build a military transparency network with China. Answering this question, scholars from their two sides believe it respectively that their own country will lose interests once the system is established.

All in all, the current situation shows that the opportunity is still not mature for China and the US to build an "absolute" military transparency system as both countries need to double their efforts for doing so.

The first thing to do is to truly realize mutual trust between China and the US.

However, military experts from the two sides differ on whether transparency of intention or transparency of capabilities is more important.

As China in terms of military power is obviously inferior to the US, the Chinese worry that the US can easily use such an advantage to bully China once the latter exposes all of its military power unreservedly.

In the meantime, Americans worry that its hegemonic status may be suddenly weakened if it was not well-informed about the growth of China's military power. So transparency of military capabilities and military intention is prior to the US and China respectively in containing each other.

In such a situation, realizing mutual trust is more important than establishing military transparency system and can work as a pre-condition for the establishment of the latter.

Finally, the question remains whether the two countries can find a win-win path to ensure military transparency. After all, establishing the military transparency system is for the interests of world peace, rather than for the interests of a unilateral side that inclines to take advantage of the system and deter other countries.

The author is a professor of the PLA University of Foreign Languages

(China Daily 08/01/2008 page10)