Gen. Chang Wanquan, state councilor and minister of national defense of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), is delivering a speech on the topic of China’s armed forces and Asia-Pacific security at the Fifth Xiangshan Forum in Beijing on the morning of November 21, 2014. (Chinamil.com.cn/Sun Xiaoxu)
Keynote Speech at the Fifth Xiangshan Forum
by General Chang Wanquan, State Councilor and Minister of National Defense, 21st November 21, 2014
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, good morning! I am very glad to meet all of you here at Xiangshan. Let me begin by welcoming you all to the Fifth Xiangshan Forum on behalf of China’s Ministry of National Defense and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). I wish to take this opportunity to share with you my views on this topic—China’s armed forces and Asia-Pacific security.
The remarkable growth of China’s comprehensive national power, and the continued progress in national defense modernization, have become a focus of international attention in recent years. First of all, I would like to explain, from both historical and contemporary perspectives, why China has accelerated the modernization drive of its national defense and armed forces.
First, China has learned a bitter lesson from its wretched modern history. The Chinese civilization is one of the oldest in the world. As we entered the modern era, however, Chinese people suffered grievously in a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society because of the corruption and incompetence of their feudal rulers, coupled with unrelenting aggressions of foreign powers. Our people did not become masters of their own destiny until a century later, after a protracted struggle. When it comes to national sovereignty and security, the Chinese give great credence to the adage, “We should not rely on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him.” Therefore, China is firmly determined to promote the modernization of its national defense and armed forces and effectively safeguard its national sovereignty, security and development interests.
Second, military modernization serves China’s practical need to secure its own territory. China has a vast territory and a large population. Its land borders, mainland and island coastlines are very long indeed. In particular, China has not yet fully realized national reunification. These are all factors which place the Chinese military under heavy pressure in securing the country and its border areas. There is therefore a pressing need for China to strengthen its national defense and armed forces. It should also be noted that to defend our own security is a most direct contribution to the security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
Third, China has to adapt to the revolution in military affairs. As the revolution in military affairs gains momentum worldwide, every country is dedicating efforts to modernizing its armed forces or conducting various degrees of military reforms. At present, the Chinese military has yet to become fully mechanized and its application of information technology is still at an early stage. It lags far behind those advanced military forces elsewhere in the world. A decision to strengthen the reform of China’s national defense and armed forces was adopted at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Mindful of the goal of building a strong military, we are now exerting ourselves to develop a system of modern military force with Chinese characteristics. This is a sure choice that China has made in keeping with the times.
Fourth, military modernization serves the overall interests of China’s reform, opening up and development. China initiated the historic process of reform and opening up in the late 1970s. The Chinese military, committed to serving the larger goals of reform and development, has made a unique contribution to China’s economic takeoff. Since the beginning of the new century, China’s armed forces have benefited from the country’s economic growth and stepped up their efforts to pursue modernization. The move is mainly intended to ensure the balanced development of national defense and the economy, and provide a more effective safeguard to China’s economic and social development as well as its expanding overseas interests. It should be noted that China has not changed the basic state policy of taking economic development as the central task. Its military growth has always been kept at a reasonable level.
Fifth, China is under an obligation to work together with other countries to cope with non-traditional security threats. In recent years, the threats of terrorism, separatism and extremism have mounted, in addition to frequent and major natural disasters and new challenges to the security of sea lines of communication. Such non-traditional security issues have become the common concern of all countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Against this backdrop, we have attached greater importance to the employment of armed forces in peacetime. It has shouldered increasing international obligations in areas such as UN peacekeeping, international anti-terrorism, commercial vessel protection, international disaster relief, and humanitarian assistance. Accelerating the modernization of national defense and armed forces will also enable China to come up with a better response to the various security challenges in collaboration with other countries and live up to its role as a responsible major country.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, the world today is undergoing major developments, changes and adjustments. The global trends toward multipolarity and economic globalization are deepening. Cultural diversity is increasing, and an information-based society is fast emerging. The security landscape in the Asia-Pacific region is largely stable. As they depend on each other for security and development, countries in the region have formed a community of common destiny in which they will prosper or decline together.
Last May, Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward an Asian security concept that calls for common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security. While expressing hope that Asian countries advance common security in the spirit of inclusiveness and cooperation, he welcomed the participation of other countries concerned. The concept offered a new vision for Asia-Pacific countries to cope jointly with security challenges. The Chinese military will uphold this concept as a participant and promoter of international security cooperation. It is willing to develop an approach to Asian security alongside the armed forces of other countries that features joint efforts, shared benefits and win-win results.
First, for the sake of common security, China has dealt with sensitive disputes in an appropriate fashion. It is to be expected that disputes will arise between nations. The key is to strengthen management and effectively prevent and resolve crises. Along its land borders, the Chinese military has set up 64 border defense force meeting venues, where in 2013 alone more than 2,000 meetings were held with neighboring countries. China and India have jointly implemented their Border Defense Cooperation Agreement to maintain border peace and stability. As far as naval cooperation is concerned, the Chinese Navy has conducted 16 joint patrols in the Beibu Gulf with the Vietnamese Navy. China is also exploring the possibility of opening a defense hotline with the ASEAN countries. Only recently, China’s Ministry of National Defense and the U.S. Department of Defense signed two memorandums of understanding on Notification of Major Military Activities Confidence-building Measures Mechanism and The Rules of Behavior for Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters. With these practical moves and more, we have contributed to regional peace and stability and done our utmost to create a positive environment for the development of all countries in the region.
Second, China has engaged in regional security dialogue to promote cooperative security. We are committed to candid and in-depth talks with other parties in a bid to expand the common ground for Asia-Pacific defense and security cooperation. To date, China has established defense and security consultation and dialogue mechanisms with 26 countries. In recent years, China has held more than 80 joint military exercises and training sessions focusing on areas such as anti-terrorism and disaster relief with more than 50 countries. China’s defense authorities and armed forces have taken an active part in regional multilateral security cooperation. They have played an important role in multilateral security mechanisms such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus. This Xiangshan Forum where we are gathered is an example of the efforts of the Chinese military to promote security dialogue and cooperation.
Third, China has been active in providing public security goods in pursuit of comprehensive security. As security challenges become increasingly interconnected, transnational and comprehensive, there has been a rising demand for public goods in the global security filed. Since 2002, the Chinese military has carried out 39 international emergency humanitarian assistance operations. It has shipped more than 1.3 billion yuan (＄212 million) in aid materials to 30 disaster-ridden countries. Since the end of 2008, China has dispatched 18 naval task forces to the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia. These have provided an escort to almost 6,000 Chinese and foreign ships. China has contributed more peacekeeping troops than any other permanent member of the UN Security Council - a total of more than 27,000. Currently, 2, 027 Chinese peacekeepers are working with nine UN peacekeeping missions. In order to cope with the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa, the Chinese military has sent almost 300 doctors and nurses to epidemic-affected areas. It has built an Ebola holding-center in Sierra Leone and will soon complete the construction of a 100-bed Ebola treatment center in Liberia. This represents a humble contribution to the fight against the deadly virus.
Fourth, China has reinforced results-oriented defense cooperation to boost sustainable security. The armed forces constitute the cornerstone of national security. Whether a country is secure and whether its security is sustainable hinge on its ability to protect itself. The Chinese military has, to the best of its abilities, helped other countries, especially developing countries, to strengthen their armed forces. While taking into account the long-term development of these countries’ armed forces, it focuses on improving their overall capability to safeguard national security. Since 2003, China has trained more than 30,000 military personnel for over 130 countries. It also assists other developing countries every year by providing military aid with no political strings attached. Much of this material is used for the construction of such infrastructure as military academies and hospitals.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, while Asia-Pacific security cooperation looks promising, we still have a long way to go to secure our region. All countries should work in concert for its peace, stability and enduring prosperity.
We call for further strengthening of dispute management procedures to improve our ability to cope with crises. We believe that peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region should be put at the top of the agenda. Disputes should be resolved through negotiations with full respect to historical facts and the international law. The parties concerned should establish accessible and efficient dispute management and control mechanisms, refine their capacity to deal with crises, and prevent disputes from escalating. The Chinese military stands ready to seek appropriate solutions to relevant issues in collaboration with other parties by sharing information in a timely manner through a variety of liaison mechanisms at different levels.
We call for further strengthening of defense exchanges and cooperation to bolster strategic mutual trust. All countries should promote regular, open and inclusive contacts between their respective defense authorities and armed forces. They should put in place regular defense and security consultation mechanisms, reinforce bilateral and multilateral exchanges, forge a growing consensus, and enhance strategic mutual trust. We are willing to work together with other parties to promote the growth of positive military-to-military relations in the Asia-Pacific region by strengthening wide-ranging, multi-tiered and all-round cooperation.
We call for further strengthening of the regional security architecture to foster a stronger sense of belonging to a community of common destiny. We advocate that countries should transcend Cold War thinking and base their decisions on the reality of the Asia-Pacific region. They should take all parties’ security concerns into consideration. They should also accommodate each other’s comfort levels as they build an open, transparent, equal and inclusive Asia-Pacific security architecture.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, President Xi Jinping said at a recent APEC event, “Those who share the same ideal and follow the same path can be partner. Those who seek common ground while shelving differences can also be partners. More friends, more opportunities.” Let us commit ourselves to the goal of forging an Asia-Pacific partnership featuring mutual trust, inclusiveness, cooperation and win-win results, and join hands to create a bright future for our region.