China: What Kind of Enemy is the United States?

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November 16, 2005: In July of 2005 Major General Zhu Chenghu, head of the Institute for Strategic Studies at Beijing's National Defense University, made a public speech during which, expressing his "private views," he told a group of foreign journalists at a press conference that "If the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition onto the target zone on China's territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons."

Although the Chinese Foreign Ministry was quick to stress that the general was not speaking on behalf of the government, his remarks naturally drew considerable attention. Despite the fact that they were hardly different from previous statements by senior Chinese officials regarding possible responses to military action against China (or some Western officials, for that matter speaking in similar terms), the resulting uproar - which included a strongly worded public rebuke by the U.S. State Department - appears to have landed the general in some hot water back home.

At the October Fifth Plenary Session of the 16th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, the Zhu and Lieutenant General Liu Yazhou, Deputy Political Commissar of the Air Force, became involved in a dispute that boiled down to a clash between the hawkish and the dovish factions in China's military leadership. Although hardly pro-American, Liu perceives the "threat" from the U.S. in political terms, rather than military, arguing that the spread of democracy rather than Uncle Sam's military muscle is the primary danger to the Chinese regime. The unusual public clash suggests that the Chinese Communist leadership wants to disown Zhu's words in the most open forum possible, to reassure the U.S. and other countries. Underscoring this is a widespread rumor that Zhu will not be promoted to lieutenant general, as was widely anticipated.

There's another important angle to all this. Although China is officially a classless communist society, with advancement based on "merit," it's interesting to note that Zhu is the nephew of the Zhu De (formerly Chu Teh), one of the heroes of the Chinese Revolution and a founder of the PLA, while Liu is the son-in-law of former Chinese president Li Xiannian.

 

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