By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
November 6, 2007
China will have the most trouble swallowing the American idea that “transparency” is in its own national interest.
But to lower tensions in the western Pacific, the United States, Japan, South Korea and Australia have all made strong statements indicating that China has to embrace a less secretive approach.
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, standing alongside General Cao Gangchuan, China’s defense minister, also said he had raised “the uncertainty over China’s military modernization, and the need for greater transparency to allay international concerns.”
On Tuesday Mr. Gates will meet with China’s President Hu Jintao.
Chinese experts say China will not be able to adopt a more “transparent” approach very soon.
“Revealing more about its budgets, intentions and weapons development programs would seem like giving away a key national advantage to China,” said M.K. Hsu, a military analyst in Beijing. “The communist leaders will reveal what they want, when they want, just as they did with the anti-satellite system,” he told us by phone.
China’s surprise anti-satellite test early this year and the continued cyber attacks and probes from China are near the top of the U.S. agenda in the discussions with China.
“There has been significant discussion and activity to assess the impact of [the anti-satellite test] and other [Chinese] space developments, and how to protect our extraordinarily important space capability,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Daniel Leaf, deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Command told the Washington Times last week.
But the fact that China’s first ASAT test was conducted without prior announcement shows that China’s penchant for secrecy is deeply rooted and will not be easily neutralized.
As we at Peace and Freedom have assessed before, secrecy and surprise are considered valuable tools to a nation not yet on a par militarily with the United States. Without causing too many alarms to go off, China wants to develop more advanced capabilities and larger, better organized forces with the finest in command and control. This will take time and an incredible investment. And, in China’s view, a slow and secrative approach.
China is a nation of distrust. In our experience, one of the Chinese cultural traits is the steady goal to get the best of others in all business dealing and a tremendous distrust of everyone — especially outsiders. This is often true on the personal and national level. Therefore, secrecy has become a mainstay of Chinese life. Communist China has magnified this cultural tendency. In China, “Mind your own business” is an important cautionary red-flag.
If we could read the minds of the Chinese the U.S. Secretary of Defense met on Monday, we’d guess that the military men in the Chinese delegation were sending the “Mind your own business” warning. The more enlightened communist party civilian leadership was probably somewhat more accomodating.
China’s rapidly expanding economy and the huge balance of trade with the U.S. is more than sufficient to turn China into a U.S. rival within a decade. Maybe mush sooner — at least in sophisticated equipment. It might take longer to train a more professional military. In one sense, the United States is funding China’s military advancement and expansion by allowing so many dollars to flow toward Beijing and Shanghai.
When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with his counterpart and other Chinese military leaders on Monday, he offered several ways that the two nations might lessen tensions and concerns; including those of Australia, South Korea and Japan. But China only agreed to one critical tension reducing measure: the establishment of a “hot line” between the two nations. And China was not shy in informing reporters that the Chinese military establishment did not want this new initiative adopted (the “none of your business” group). The civilian leadership directed agreement (the more accomodating group).
The other agreements made Monday will make less news.
China agreed to allow U.S. personnel to evaluate some of its Korean War documents and files to assist in accounting for U.S. personnel still unaccounted for from that war. And Mr. Gates and his counterparts agreed to organize a new joint naval exercise larger and more complex than previously held exercises “at a proper time,” and made a deal to plan to exchange military students at academies and war colleges in the future.
Gates acknowledged that he had made little headway in getting answers from the Chinese on the larger issues of his mission including space and cyber security measures.
But maybe the biggest issue is this: China and Russia have embraced each other. They have teamed to oppose the U.S. on U.N. sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program. And they conducted the largest combined military exercise ever between the two nations this year.
We do not yet know how Mr. Gates approached this issue but we do know this: China will listen with its “deaf ear.”
The level of cooperation initiated by Monday’s meetings has to be considered a reflection of a military relationship still in its infancy.
Part I: U.S. Secretary of Defense in China —