A senior general representing China at a top international security forum said that his big regret is never having had a chance to fight in a war, according to a forum participant who recorded the general’s comments. The provocative statement comes at a time when the United States is urging Beijing to curb its aggressive militarization of the South China Sea.
Over the weekend of June 2, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis made international headlines by blasting China for committing “intimidation and coercion” in the South China Sea and said the United States will make sure Beijing’s aggression is met with consequences.
Mattis was speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security forum in Singapore. Each year the forum attracts the top policymakers in the defense and security community of countries across the western Pacific.
In response, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Lieutenant General He Lei, who is the vice-president of the Academy of Military Science and represented the Chinese regime’s position at the forum, fired back at a session later that day that he found Mattis’ comment “irresponsible” and that he would not shy away from fighting in a real war.
“I am retiring soon. My one big regret is that I never had a chance to fight in a war. But that’s because China has been peaceful for over 30 years,” He said, while repeating several times in the same speech his wish for a chance to go into combat.
He’s speech was recorded by Aaron Connelly, a research fellow at Australia’s Lowy Institute, who was in attendance and tweeted the statement.
Other senior diplomats from around the region in attendance struggled to suppress consternation, laughter, and shock at He’s statement, Connelly wrote in a later tweet.
Ian Easton, a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute said that He’s statements seem to be yet another example of Beijing using its military as an instrument of propaganda.
“The PLA is the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party, not a professional military that serves the people and protects the national constitution. Real professional soldiers would never pine for war. They would cherish peace,” Easton said.
“Perhaps the general [He Lei] should hope his children can have the same regret in 2048,” retired U.S. Marines Corps Lieutenant General Wallace Gregson said.
At the same forum, he also dismissed Beijing’s militarization of artificial islands in the South China Sea as mere rumors, and bragged that he is the only one in the room who has visited those islands. This is despite the fact that Beijing’s acts have been extensively recorded and backed by satellite images and other evidence.
Secretary Mattis has vowed that the United States will push back against Beijing’s aggression, amid growing concerns that the U.S. presence and security assurances across the western Pacific region are being eroded by the Chinese regime’s encroachments.