China Power

PLA Not Walking the Walk

A Chinese general fails to reassure about China’s commitment to security co-operation.

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.

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.