There’s nothing wrong with a nation’s uniformed officers musing about possible moves and counter-moves against strategic competitors. Nor is there anything instantly objectionable about an industry lobbying its national government to take action against the objectionable policies of a major trading partner. Even the best of friends may, at some point, end up in a bitter war of words or trade (cf. Canada, softwood lumber).
But in China, where industrial titans can also be uniformed officers in the PLA, those off-the-cuff, thinking-out-loud musings seem a lot less innocent. Especially when it is coming from the men responsible for developing the PLA’s senior leadership.
The calls for broad retaliation over the planned U.S. weapons sales to the disputed island [Taiwan] came from officers at China’s National Defence University and Academy of Military Sciences, interviewed by Outlook Weekly, a Chinese-language magazine published by the official Xinhua news agency.
The interviews with Major Generals Zhu Chenghu and Luo Yuan and Senior Colonel Ke Chunqiao appeared in the issue published on Monday.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) plays no role in setting policy for China’s foreign exchange holdings. Officials in charge of that area have given no sign of any moves to sell U.S. Treasury bonds over the weapons sales, a move that could alarm markets and damage the value of China’s own holdings.
While far from representing fixed government policy, the open demands for retaliation by the PLA officers underscored the domestic pressures on Beijing to deliver on its threats to punish the Obama administration over the arms sales.
“Our retaliation should not be restricted to merely military matters, and we should adopt a strategic package of counter-punches covering politics, military affairs, diplomacy and economics to treat both the symptoms and root cause of this disease,” said Luo Yuan, a researcher at the Academy of Military Sciences.
“Just like two people rowing a boat, if the United States first throws the strokes into chaos, then so must we.”
Luo said Beijing could “attack by oblique means and stealthy feints” to make its point in Washington.
“For example, we could sanction them using economic means, such as dumping some U.S. government bonds,” Luo said.
— Buckley, Chris. “China PLA officers urge economic punch against U.S.” Reuters | US, 9 February 2010.
China is free to pursue its own national interest, of course, but it’s hard to see how the interests of an autocratic corporatist state can long coincide with those of a mature democracy. One might even say that it is hard to imagine how tighter integration of the Chinese and American economies will lead to anything other than increased conflict. It is not as if both nations are headed in the same direction, reaching for the same goals. One is a young lion, anxious to test his growing strength and expand the horizons of his autonomy; the other is an old lion, struggling to maintain the fading status quo. They will inevitably end up in conflict; one can only hope that it does not become a contest of arms.
Thus it is probably also a good time to remind our southern neighbours of this:
There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.
— Washington, George. Farewell Address, 19 September 1796.