China’s young military leaders are destroying China

Chinese military officers

Chinese military officers

China is on the verge of destroying a geopolitical miracle. In 1980, its economy was less than one-tenth that of the United States. In 30 years, China rose to become No. 2 in the world, without disrupting the world order.

Suddenly, with little warning, three decades of careful management of its external challenges have been replaced by three years of assertive and occasionally reckless actions.

This new posture partly explains an emerging Western media consensus that China has become an expansionist military power, threatening its neighbours and the world.

But before this consensus is set in stone, we should remind ourselves what a large, complex society China is: Neither the country nor its government is monolithic. On a recent visit to Beijing, I saw that a lively debate is taking place among senior leaders on the strategy China should adopt as it moves toward becoming the world’s No. 1 economy.

In Western terms, there are both “hawks” and “doves” in the Chinese establishment. The hawks argue that China has been humiliated for over a century. Now that China is strong, they say, it can stand upright, and assert its case boldly, both in the East China Sea and in the South China Sea. My colleague Prof. Huang Jing at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy has said that young officers of the People’s Liberation Army are leading China on a collision course with America.

“The young officers are taking control of strategy, and it is like young officers in Japan in the 1930s,” he said. “They are thinking what they can do, not what they should do. This is very dangerous.”

I agree. These Chinese hawks are dangerous. We can only speculate on what’s driving this aggressiveness among the officer class. Like members of other military establishments, they may have a vested interest in tension, rather than calm.

But the “doves” have not lost the debate in Beijing. Instead, they are using the current wave of criticism of China in the Western media, as well as a new Pew Research Center survey that shows the rising anxieties of China’s Asian neighbours, to remind the leadership of the wisdom of Deng Xiaoping’s advice that China adopt a low profile as it emerges as a world power.

China’s decision in July 2012 to block a joint statement on the South China Sea from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the doves argue, was an act of folly. It alienated Asean, a multinational entity that represents nations with populations totaling 600 million, and that China had hitherto cultivated assiduously. Similarly, they say it is unwise for China to defend the “nine-dash line” map of its territorial claims in the South China Sea too aggressively when China, as the world’s largest trading power, has far larger interests in maintaining open seas globally.

They argue that China’s recent aggressive behaviour has unleashed a “tiger” of anti-China sentiment that will be difficult to cage again. Most important, they say, time is on China’s side. It can afford to be patient as its power grows.

Given this internal debate, it would be unwise to rush to judgement. China will not necessarily become more hostile. Western prophecies of a dangerous China could even prove self-fulfilling if they provoke a nationalist backlash. The Chinese are still haunted by the humiliations endured at the hands of Western powers in the two 19th-century Opium Wars. The surge of anti-China opinion journalism is feeding the hawks’ assertion that there is a “containment conspiracy” on the part of the West.

When Mao Zedong and Deng ruled China, they paid scant attention to public opinion. Both leaders made significant territorial concessions when they settled China’s border disputes with Russia and Vietnam. Deng even made a generous offer of a “package plan” in an attempt to settle the Chinese-Indian border dispute in 1980. Today, no Chinese leader, not even President Xi Jinping, can make unilateral concessions of that kind.

Chinese public opinion matters in a way it never did before. China now has the largest Internet user community in the world; it is dynamic and vibrant — but also in danger of being dominated by the more virulent voices. Chinese leaders must be responsive to Chinese public opinion, but the West also has a role to play, in realising how its actions can inflame rather than calm nationalist sentiment.

The priorities of China’s leaders have not changed. They spend perhaps 90 percent of their time focused on internal, not external, issues. To succeed in their reform efforts, Mr. Xi and Prime Minister Li Keqiang face considerable domestic challenges.

They have begun a major campaign against corruption. While this effort is undoubtedly entangled with factional struggles within the party, corruption is the one force that could ruin the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. Success is far from guaranteed, with opponents devising ingenious ways of protecting themselves. Senior army figures, it has been suggested, may be stoking external tensions to save themselves from internal investigations.

Above all, the economy looms large in the minds of Chinese leaders. The need to reduce the role of state-owned enterprises is one of the major challenges facing the nation. China now produces seven million university graduates a year, many of whom cannot find work. This is a far bigger issue for China’s leaders than sovereignty over some barren rocks in nearby seas.

Since the leadership wants to focus on domestic problems, the world should let it. The international community has a clear interest in the doves winning out over the hawks in the internal debate over China’s geopolitical role, so it should ask itself one simple question: What can we do to help the doves?

Kishore Mahbubani, a former ambassador to the United Nations for Singapore, is the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
Source: New York Times – Helping China’s Doves

Categories: Finance & Economy

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

17 replies

  1. Why shall the West always think about what it can do to help the East?

    Fact No.1:
    After we helped them to stand up, and walk, they “all”, no matter what nation (just look at Thailand, the second largest threat to the West, after China), will try to run us over. These are just a genetic, Asian attributes; No appreciation, no respect, no loyalty, no gratitude, just mountains of arrogance and pride of “now being strong enough to hit back”. Thank you West!

    Fact No.2:
    Sure it’s a mankind attribute, with one difference; In the West we still distribute wealth at least to some extend. That does not exist in the East. It’s all “Me” or “nobody”, and that perhaps with a classic Asian smile on their faces, the the wake of calming and diluting reality.

    Fact No.3:
    While the East learns from us, we are happy to see them learn, while unable to learn ourselves. It’s just the way of different thinking. We – more or less – tend to care for a better society, The East cares for strengthening a few egos.

    Do we really need more facts or shouldn’t we rather try to see the real color. I mean the “existing” colors, rather than hoping for the colors to appear we dream of?

    Wake up, West. Grow up, West. Let them go ahead with whatever they try to push, and prepare ourselves for the worst. The good will not happen, trust it!


  2. More meat …Kishore Mahbubani.. More meat.
    That’s right Chinese leaders spend 90% of time fucking domestic disputes than the world simply because they’re self centered egomaniacs.
    1930 Japan metaphor ain’t right analogy to describe China toy soldiers today.
    Doves got to stop feeling guilty for having miniature phallus compared to white trash penis they preview on internet.
    Doves got to kill hawks to survive.
    Look around you. Planet earth has no more room for China war.


  3. What a China apologist post with straw man arguments that so easy to see:
    . “In 30 years, China rose to become No. 2 in the world, without disrupting the world order.”. It’s good but not that good: 1.4 billion population makes it #2 total size economy reachable but, true miracle can only be used when their per capita income climbs to top global 10 in that process. Up to now, China are not disrupting the world order because it’s incapable but still trying hard.
    . “But the “doves” have not lost the debate in Beijing”. Any of these 1/2 dozen doves debate from outside of the prison walls or they all submit their “winning” argument papers to authorities for screening?
    . Did you fact-check with Vietnam, who suffered the 1979 -1991 border invasion from China and forced to lose thousands of square kilometers of lands before you assert “When Mao Zedong and Deng ruled China, they paid scant attention to public opinion. Both leaders made significant territorial concessions when they settled China’s border disputes with Russia and Vietnam.”?
    . “China now has the largest Internet user community in the world; it is dynamic and vibrant — but also in danger of being dominated by the more virulent voices” but, without any access to outside information flow and fed with distorted histories, fabricated territorial rights, Western containment… is a liability and not an asset as intended.


  4. –“The international community has a clear interest in the doves winning out over the hawks in the internal debate over China’s geopolitical role, so it should ask itself one simple question: What can we do to help the doves [in China]?”–

    This is not a simple question. We don’t have access to the players. Does the author think we should send cards and letters to the central committee of the CCP? Maybe send a petition? The best way to support the doves in China from the outside is to continue to question the hawkish, expansionist policies and actions that are currently prevailing in China– even at the risk of some Chinese claiming there is a conspiracy against China. Some people don’t take criticism well and some people are born conspiracy theorists. They exist in all countries. And then there are the rabid nationalists who feel “My country right or wrong.” They also exist in all countries. One might not be able to change these people’s minds, but one should NOT muzzle criticism just to cater to those populations. China in her more inspiring days pledged to never strive to be a superpower; to never seek hegemony. What happened? IMO, what we are seeing in the Chinese military personnel today is a vengeful generation educated under Deng Hsiao-Ping’s propaganda campaign which started 1990 to ensure Chinese people never forgot one hundred years of humiliation, from which, of course, the CCP liberated them. The (intended or unintended) outcome of this campaign was to create some highly defensive, vengeful, and hawkish citizens. This article would have been better if the author had just come right out and told us how he thinks the international community could influence the doves in the black box which is China.


  5. All Chinese leaders will be doves if and when American leaders become doves.

    Editor’s Note: In response to the many emails about this poster, we do suspect he’s a paid Chinese internet commentator. However, we believe that all people should be allowed to voice their opinions, not just the ones that agree with our agenda. Therefore, at this stage we will not ban him.



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