This week, 17 senior American officials from government offices like the Department of Defense, NASA, and the Department of Commerce, took part in a high-level training course organized by Tsing Hua University for the Chinese and U.S. governments. On the morning of April 22, a Huanqiu reporter attended a lecture on the theme of Chinese military affairs, where the primary lecturer, Rear Admiral Yang Yi of the National Defense University, held a candid exchange with American officials regarding such sensitive questions as Taiwan, military friction between China and the U.S. and hacker attacks.
American Official*: America hopes for a peaceful resolution to the Taiwan question. We cannot control Taiwan’s leaders, so there is some uncertainty on the topic of Taiwan; but from a general background perspective Taiwan is not the most difficult issue between America and China. How do you see it?
A second question is the South China Sea Exclusive Economic Zone, where there are some practices that violate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and are contrary to global economic trends. Every nation has a right to navigate the sea. What is your feeling on that?
Yang Yi**: First, I will say something on the Taiwan question. The importance of the Taiwan issue to Chinese and American relations has decreased somewhat. China has passed the Anti-Secession Law, which essentially put an end to the notion of de jure Taiwanese independence. After 2006, cross-strait relations entered a phase of energetic and interactive peaceful development. At present, the relationship between Taiwan and mainland China is growing increasingly close. In particular, economic and trade connections have become inseparably close. Our military strength will only be deployed as a last resort against escapades carried out by Taiwanese independence forces.
If the present enthusiastic position can continue to develop for five to ten more years, cross-strait relations could become even more stable and secure. Right now, the strength of the mainland Chinese economy is increasing day by day, and we are in the process of improving our own legal system, democracy, and other such social frameworks, creating the prerequisites for cross-strait reunification. This kind of change is gradual and requires time in order to benefit all parties.
My suggestion is that, in terms of cross-strait affairs, there is no need for the U.S. to do anything. They should take care of their own matters — for example, America’s affairs in Iraq and Afghanistan — and they shouldn’t waste their resources on the Taiwan issue. In America, there are some people who remark that China has previously tolerated U.S. sales of arms to Taiwan and ask why China is reacting so intensely this time. The reason for the Chinese reaction is that the Sino-U.S. relationship has grown beyond the bilateral domains and categories that were traditionally important and has become the kind of global partnership that responds to every kind of challenge. If one side lacks sincerity, then how will the other side retort?
American Official*: I don’t want to talk about the Taiwan question too much. I agree with your point of view, but as you know, America is a country with legal institutions, and we have the Taiwan Relations Act, so we must push for a peaceful resolution to the Taiwan question. I am more interested in the question of the South China Sea Exclusive Economic Zone.*
Yang Yi**: I agree very much, but first let me finish speaking on the Taiwan question. The Taiwan issue requires a political resolution. Considering this simply from the aspect of military hardware, the U.S. sale of arms to Taiwan cannot obstruct the great cause of the unification of our homeland. If you look at it from a certain perspective, these weapons are all ours, because sooner or later Taiwan must return to China. Now, let’s set the Taiwan question aside. I understand very well your concern regarding the South China Sea issue. China is a country that promotes the freedom of maritime navigation, and we will depend even more on freedom of navigation for our future national development, foreign trade, and energy supplies.
American Official*: According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, military operations in exclusive economic zones do not require approval, but you persist in opposing the activities of American warships.
Yang Yi**: First, your warships make use of high-powered sonar to carry out their operations, and this causes severe harm to our fishing industry. Second, warships may only pass through an Exclusive Economic Zone if they cause no harm, but we cannot believe navigation activities involving military reconnaissance constitute harmless passage. Just imagine if China were to send submarines into an American Exclusive Economic Zone. America’s reaction would be even more intense, and it would be all over the major news media.
American Official*: Please talk about the Chinese hacker attacks.
Yang Yi**: The Chinese government’s policy is to oppose any kind of internet attack. The Chinese government has already made a great effort, but it is difficult to control areas where some hackers live. China’s banking and military networks have also sometimes suffered hacker attacks.
American Official*: What does the People’s Liberation Army believe to be the greatest threat to China’s security?
Yang Yi**: It is America. This is a joke, but also not a joke. The U.S. is the only country that has the overall capability to threaten China’s national security and interests. Japan doesn’t have this kind of capability. Russia has the means, but not the motive. India is even more worried about China. Regardless of whether it is on a regional level or a global one, only America has this ability.
We hope to develop and preserve stable and healthy relations with the U.S., but we must make sufficient preparations in case we need to confront potential threats and pressure. Today, looking at it from the perspective of national activities, the hidden nuclear threat to China also comes principally from America, and not from any other country. Fortunately, however, since tensions have eased on the Taiwan question, the danger of a confrontation between China and the U.S. has likewise decreased.
American Official*: The Korean War was the result of mistakes in strategy and calculation on the part of the U.S., and a great many Americans, Chinese, and Koreans died. How will you, acting as an intellectual resource, assist your government in avoiding miscalculations and errors in its strategic decisions?
Yang Yi**: During the period of the War of Resistance against Japan, the U.S. often had an image of sincerity within China. During the Korean War, the Chinese government sent a clear message that, if the U.S. Army were to cross the 38th parallel, we would respond. But America didn’t take us seriously, and the result was a historic tragedy. Therefore, the Chinese and American governments should have more candid dialog and establish hotlines between every department to strengthen the exchange.
When I visited America in 2007, I had very candid discussions with officials from the U.S. Department of State and the Department of Defense. I asked American officials how much confidence they had in the prospect of controlling the escapades of Chen Shui-bian’s Taiwan independence movement. At first, they began with some diplomatically appropriate language, but I expressed that I wanted them to speak candidly, and as a result they told me they had a great deal of confidence in it.
The officials claimed that if Taiwan were to pass a public referendum, then the U.S. would take steps toward enforcing the referendum against the independent army. There should be more of this kind of candid dialog, in particular between low and mid-level officials, students and scholars. More of this kind of dialog might help governments avoid issuing erroneous and ridiculous resolutions.
American Official*: On the Chinese side, the Taiwan issue is an emotional question, and we need to understand how deep your feelings are toward Taiwan. However, you must also understand that, for the U.S., Taiwan is a rational question. We need to use the Taiwan issue in order to guarantee that our interests have a reliable foundation. There are no U.S. emotions tangled up with the issue.
Yang Yi**: Taiwan is not simply an emotional issue for China. It also involves China’s core interests. Therefore, the U.S. should not put too much effort into the problem. It should just let Taiwan go. China’s defense policy is one of energetic defense, though it remains an unvarying principle that we will not fire the first gun, and we will not launch the first attack.
American Official*: Please discuss the question of establishing mutual trust.
Yang Yi**: Establishing mutual trust is very important, but there are differences in thinking between China and the U.S. The U.S. is concerned with the development of China’s military equipment, but China operates on the principle of transparent strategic intent, and we will not attack first.
At present, much of China’s military information can be examined on the internet, and many things are no longer secret. This kind of transparency has an important significance in terms of establishing mutual trust. Personal relationships between leaders are also of important significance for mutual trust. We need more communication; we need equal and candid communication.
Right now, both China and America have tended to learn from each other. China has become more and more open and transparent while the U.S. has steadily closed up. Since 9-11, American security measures have become progressively stricter.
In China, the internet is also gradually opening up. Government leaders engage in dialog with the People through the internet. It has become easier to understand public opinion, and in addition, the internet has demonstrated a vigorous applicability to problems such as the fight against corruption.
American Official*: I would like to understand the countermeasures that the Chinese government and the People’s Liberation Army use against terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction.
Yang Yi**: In the past we have believed that this kind of threat is very distant from us, but now we feel it has grown closer, little by little. The kind of terrorist incidents that occur in America and Russia today could emerge in China tomorrow. We are in the process of changing our thinking and the relevant mechanisms to respond to these kinds of threats and challenges.
American Official*: Do you see it as important to share information with other countries in order to combat terrorism?
Yang Yi**: We see it as very important. We see it as important to share information with the U.S., Russia and other countries in order to achieve early prevention, detection and response.
American Official*: I have two questions. First, how do you reconcile China’s huge military expenditures with China’s defense policy? Second, how do you resolve the contradiction between China’s huge military expenditures and solving China’s domestic issues, such as population, pollution and poverty?
Yang Yi**: I will answer your second question first. China has many social issues to resolve, and they all require money. Here, there is a balance with the question of coordinating development. Our government has proposed a “Rich Nation, Strong Army” policy, which is intended precisely to address the equal development of the economy and national defense.
At the same time, China is a world power, and it is the hope of the People that its development should include military equipment such as aircraft carriers. It is also a requirement in order to balance the architecture of the armed forces. This has also received support in Chinese public opinion. Therefore, there must be a balance between all investments.
The second issue is that China is developing a few military items in order to provide a better product to the world. For example, we send warships to Somalia in order to assist in defending the safety of that maritime area. Now, China’s development of an aircraft carrier is still only an optimistic hope, and it will require at least 5-10 years of time. Even if China produces one aircraft carrier, America still needs not worry, because the U.S. already has twelve of them. Furthermore, China cannot field formations of aircraft carriers on the same grand scale as the U.S. The deployment and defense of aircraft carriers also requires a huge expense that would be difficult for China to undertake.
I am very happy to be here this morning, and to hold an exchange with everyone. I hope everyone will take a good look around Beijing while they are here. But don’t simply look at those sky scrapers and think that Beijing is as developed as New York. China is still a developing country—a peaceful, developing country.
*Editor’s Note: None of the quotes of “American Official” could be verified, nor could the identity of any officials be confirmed.
**Editor’s Note: None of the quotes of Yang Yi could be verified, either.
About this publication