PLA Not Walking the Walk
Image Credit: Gene Zhang

PLA Not Walking the Walk

 
 

General Ma Xiaotian, Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, has just completed his remarks at the Shangri-la Dialogue. Interestingly, he chose not to mention the United States directly in his main speech. In fact, I don't remember him mentioning any other country by name at all, just ASEAN.

Clearly the US, with some good reason, feels slighted by Beijing's refusal to invite Robert Gates for a visit while he's in Asia, and so a speech at an event also being attended by the US defence secretary would have been a good opportunity to reassure over the importance of Sino-US ties. But it's an opportunity the PLA apparently has no interest in moving on. I say PLA and not China since Gates has publicly raised the possibility that the military is impeding political efforts in Beijing at closer military ties between the two countries.

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After his main speech, Ma responded to the question of reduced military contacts by arguing that only high-level visits had been suspended, and he talked about the importance of 'mutually beneficial partnerships' and seeking 'security through co-operation'. But I've written numerous times how China will at some point have to move away from simply uttering platitudes, because people expect more from a growing global power and simply won't take such words seriously when they are so jarringly different from the reality.

The United States is still the pre-eminent power in the Pacific, and Ma's claims that the PLA is seeking co-operative relations while at the same time snubbing the US make his assurances ring hollow.

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