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Advancing China and the Chinese Military

Speech by General Chen Bingde at Australian Defense College(ADC)

 on October 16th, 2009

11 years ago, as Commander of Nanjing Military Region, PLA, I visited CDSS accompanying General Chi Haotian, then the Chinese Defence Minister. I am delighted to return to CDSS today. I see there is a Chinese student among the audience, which is testimony not only to the ongoing pragmatic cooperation between the PLA and ADF, but also to the growing exchange between the PLA and foreign militaries, and closer relations between China and the world.

This year is the 60th founding anniversary of the People's Republic of China. Over the past 6 decades, led by Communist Party of China, the Chinese people have made remarkable achievements through unity, hard work and persistence. China has successfully transformed itself from a highly concentrated planned economy to a vibrant socialist market economy; from a closed/semi-closed society to a comprehensively open society; from a poor country to the 3rd largest economy in the world; from an under-developed farming country to a major manufacture country; and from a low-income to a middle-income country. We have made important headway in manned space mission and moon exploration, successfully hosted the 29th summer Olympiad and Paralympics. Historic changes have taken place in my country, and the world sees a China more prosperous, open and enlightened than it ever was.

The Chinese government makes unremitting efforts to promote human rights. Paying respect to both universal human rights and the realities of China, our government puts the rights of subsistence and development first, delivers the people a better-off life, and takes measures to gurantee political and other rights of Chinese citizens. Today, the Chinese society is more open and diversified than ever, the Chinese people enjoy unprecedented freedom and rights.

However, we recognize that China is still the largest developing country in the world. We face plenty of challenges such as a huge population, poor economic foundation, and the unevenness of development. There are yet other difficulties and problems on the way ahead. Although the Chinese GDP ranked no. 3 in the world in 2008, in per-capita terms, we were 104th in the world, less than 1/10 of Australia. 15 million Chinese still live in absolute poverty. It remains the long-term, formidable task of Communist Party of China and the Chinese people to uphold reform and open-door policy, and deliver the people a better, wealthier life.

The fast growth of China not only benefits the Chinese people, but also is major contribution to world peace and development. Feeding 23% of the world's population with 9% of the world's cultivated land is in itself China's major contribution to human progress. In 2008, the Chinese contribution to world economic growth is over 20%, and to world trade growth by 19%. Especially since the world financial crisis broke out, our government has taken effective measures to maintain the stable and relatively fast growth of the economy. Meanwhile, despite difficulties and challenges it faces itself, China vigorously engages in international cooperation to cope with the financial crisis, lives up to its promise of foreign aid, and has provided more finacial aid to other developing countries in its power.

All these proves that development of China threatens nobody, but rather promotes world prosperity and stability, which political leaders and strategic thinkers around the world increasingly consent to. Former US Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger said, he does not favor "China threat", because "the fast growth of Chinese economy and national power is conducive to world peace and prosperity". Not long before, former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke wrote that "except for China itself, no other country benefits more than Australia from the unprecedented 30 years of fast growth of China". At the first China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue, US President Barac Obama also said that "US welcomes the rise of China, opposes containment against China", and that "China is a constructive force for world peace and development".

Development of China will be peaceful and an opportunity to the world. China will steadfastly follow the path of peaceful development, strive for peaceful international enviroment to develop itself, and contribute to a harmonious world of lasting peace and common prosperity with its own development.

As our country progresses, defence and military building is also making headway. Before too long, we staged a massive military parade at the 60th founding anniversary of the People's Republic of China. 13 on-foot contingents, 30 mounted contingents, and 13 air contingents took part in the parade. All weapons and equipment shown at the parade are independently developed and made by China itself. The military parade showcases our achievements in defence and military building, demonstrates our resolve and ability to maintain national security and world peace, and enhances the PLA's reputation as a mighty, disciplined and invincible force.

Back in 1960s, the PLA uniforms were made of coarse cloth, the weapons in our hands were fake Soviet Union self-loaders. I am delighted to see that today a number of hi-tech weapons and equipment have been commissioned, such as the 3rd generation main battle tanks, J-10 fighter jets, early warning aircraft, and cruise missiles, and the PLA men and women wear new style, technology-intensive uniforms. As someone that has been in uniform for nearly half a century, I cannot be prouder of the achievements of this great military force.

In recent years, as the PLA strives for modernization, the growth of Chinese military power has drawn increasing attention internationally. Some spread China threat intentionally, some express concerns due to lack of knowledge or misunderstanding. Whether a country is a threat depends on its policies and deeds. A country embracing policies for peace, even though it has a robust military, will not wage a war; but a belligerent country will, even though it is militarily weak. China maintains a defence policy which is defensive in nature, implements the miltiary strategy of "active defence", and vigorously advocates the New Security Outlook of mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination. China did not, does not and will not pursue hegemony, even when it is getting much stronger in the future. Our defence and military building is to accomplish the following purposes:

First, coping with multiple security threats and performing diversified military tasks. In general, China's security environment is stable, yet we face plenty of conventional and non-conventional security threats. China is not yet unified, while the secessionist Taiwan independence, East Turkistan and Free Tibet forces seriously threaten our territorial integrity and security. China shares borders on land or at sea with the largest nubmer of countries in the world. The surrouding environment is complex, dense with destabilizing factors and uncertainties, where conflicts caused by hotspot issues arise from time to time. Our airspace, territorial waters and maritime rights and intersts are often under threat.

China is also frequently struck by natural disasters. Drought, floods, typhoon, earthquake and other natural disasters make huge losses every year. After the devastating earthquake at Wenchuan last year, as head of the commanding group of the PLA relief mission, I organized the massive rescue and relief operations within 3 days which involved 146,000 uniformed personnel. This experience hardens my belief that natural disasters do have security implications, and that the military has an important role to play in coping with non-conventional security threats. Our defence and military building is aimed to defend national security and development interests, and enable the military to fulfill its duties in the new century and the new era.

Second, promoting economic growth and military modernization in a balanced manner. A wealthy state and a robust military are two cornerstones of the better-off society and socilism with Chinese characteristics which we strive for. In early years of the reform and open-up, our government was preoccupied with economic development. Deng Xiaoping then told the PLA to "endure the hardship", when defence budget was dramatically reduced. For 16 years from 1979 to 1994, in absolute terms, our defence budget grew by an avarge of 6.22% annually. However, deducting the price hike, the defence budget decreased by 1.08% each year. As we owed too much on military building, taking advantage of the fast growing economy, we began to increase defence bedget in late 1990s. The extra spending covered mostly the basic sustainment costs, for improving service conditions and training, but the investment in weapons and equipment was moderate. Therefore, our increasing defence and military spending is aimed to make up the prolonged deficiency in the past, and to balance economic growth and military building.

Third, adapting to Revolution in Military Affairs. As countries around the world keenly promote RMA with informatization at the core, the form of war, the way of fighting and capabilities generation model have changed fundamentally. The PLA is not fully mechanized yet, and its informatization efforts started just recently. Due to a low starting point, the level of modernization of the PLA is 20-30 years behind the developed militaries. Besides, not letting go the Cold War mentality, some countries have long restrained arms and military technology export to China, which to a certain extent holds back our military development.

China is not intent on arms race or external expansion, but we do know that the weak is the defeated. We cannot defend peace without a robust military force. Therefore, no matter how many challenges we must face, we are committed to improving competitiveness in the military field, and believe we are able to achieve that. In order to catch up with others in the trend of RMA, and capitalizing on science and technoloty, we facilitate the composite development of mechanization and informatization, so as to achieve the strategic objective of building an informatized force capable of fighting to win in the information-age.

Fourth, maintaining world peace and dvelopment. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a responsible big country, China should assum due responsibility and obligation in international affairs, and therefore must have the military capabilities appropriate to its international standing. We have a smalll number of nuclear weapons to deter others' use or threat to use nuclear weapons against us. China pledges non-first-use of nuclear weapons at any time and under whatever circumstances, the only one who has made such a promise among the 5 nuclear powers. China supports comprehensive ban and complete destruction of nuclear weapons, and wants to play a constructive role in maintaining the international non-proliferation regime.

In recent years, the PLA vigorously engages in international security cooperation, UN peace-keeping missions, international counter-terror efforts and disaster relief operations. China has so far contributed nearly 14,000 person/times to UN peacekeeping missions, the most among the P-5. 3 PLA officers and 5 soldiers have fallen for world peace mission. In recent years, the PLA has conducted 18 humanitarian aid operations in assisting disater-struck countries. We are vigorously involved in international minesweeping efforts. Recently, we organized minesweeping training programs in Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Besides, the PLAN task force is performing escort operations in Gulf of Aden and the Somalian waters. All these proves that the more capable the PLA becomes, the more world peace is enhanced.

We have an old saying that "a bosom friend afar brings a distant land near". Although China is far away from Australia geographically, the boundless Pacific Ocean does not hinder our two contries and two militaries from friendly exchange. In recent years, China-Australia relations and mil-to-mil ties maintain a strong momentum of progress, as indicated by frequent high-level visits, close professional exchange and deepening pragmatic cooperation. With the hope of lifting our mil-to-mil friendly cooperation to a new, higher level, I want to share with you the following thoughts:

First, both sides need to ascend a height, look far into the distance, and manage the mil-to-mil ties from a strategic and long-term perspective. As important players in the region, China and Australia share the responsibility for maintaining peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific. Our ideology and culture may be different, but our fundamental interests do not collide, the strategic interests we share are broad. We should go with the times, sustain the healthy development of friendship and bilateral cooperation, so as to maintain Asia Pacific peace and development and the fundamental interests of both peoples.

Second, we need to enhance mutual trust and have an objective and fair view of the other's development. Mutural trust provides the groundwork for serious cooperation, objective perspective avoids misunderstanding. The goal of my current visit is to enhance mutual trust, reduce disputes, expand common understanding, and promote cooperation. I've brought you some books on China and the PLA, hopefully you will learn more about China and its military from reading these books, and have a thorough, objective understanding of my country and the PLA.

Third, we need to work together towards a win-win situation, and shape a positive security environment through vigorous, pragmatic cooperation. We hope PLA and ADF continue to exchange high-level visits, strengthen strategic and policy dialogue, and further expand pragmatic exchange and cooperation. In that spirit, I've proposed to my Australian counterpart that our two navies hold a humanitarian aid joint exercise next year, so as to better our joint response to non-conventional threats.

Lasting friendship between China and Australia benefits not only this generation, but also our children and grand-children. It is our shared responsibility to develop strong mil-to-mil ties. To strengthen mil-to-mil exchange and cooperation on all levels and in a range of fields is strategically important. We should not only maintain the momentum of high-level visits, but also increase exchange between the younger generations, thus ensuring the long-term, healthy progress of our mil-to-mil ties. I believe that so long as we work closely, sow the seed of friendship, take good care of the buds of cooperation, we will expect a brighter future in China-Australia relations.

Thank you!

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