Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Liang’s ‘olive branch’ is (also) a threat

How Beijing defines expansionism, or lack thereof, differs markedly from the norm. We ignore that difference at our own peril

Addressing the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Sunday, Chinese Minister of National Defense General Liang Guanglie (梁光烈, pictured above) struck all the right notes when he said that China would not become a military threat and would never seek hegemony or military expansion.

While undoubtedly reassuring, that “solemn pledge” by Beijing to the international community was, as is often the case with such proclamations by Chinese officials, more revealing for what it didn’t say.

It is true that China does not have expansionist or imperial designs on its neighbors in the Western understanding of the term. It does not seek to occupy other countries or overthrow governments whose policies it finds disagreeable, nor does it want to impose its own political system on others. In that regard, Beijing has been consistent in its adherence to the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries and Liang’s comments were a reflection of that policy from the military.

What he did not say, however, is that Beijing’s concept of expansionism differs from the way it is normally understood, and therein lie the seeds of potential future conflict.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.


Taiwan Echo said...

"China would not become a military threat and would never seek hegemony or military expansion."

That's what Hitler said again and again before WWII started --- even after he already took control of several countries on the east.

Michael Fagan said...


That - the scope of Hitler's geopolitical ambitions - is the subject of some debate among historians. But at any rate, I think it is the wrong point to argue for.

The right point to aim for, true in regard to the Nazis then, and of equal import to PRC opposition now, is to oppose not merely the expansion of their political system but the existence of that system itself and the enculturefied ideas and attitudes around which it is organized. But you don't need to go to China to fight this fight; the air in Taiwan is full of those "ideas and attitudes" - you can breathe them in through your eyeballs when you pick up a paper at your local 7-11. After all, it is in some measure due to their existence that the PRC believes it can succeed in annexing Taiwan; hence the activities of so many retired generals.

Defeat of the PRC (as opposed to mere collapse under its' own sui generis difficulties) requires sociocultural change in addition to anything else it might take.