Visiting PLA General Downplays China’s Military Might

May 31, 2011 Last Updated: October 1, 2015
U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen (L) and Chief of the General Staff of People's Liberation Army of China General Chen Bingde (R) speak to the media during a news briefing May 18, 2011 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. (AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen (L) and Chief of the General Staff of People's Liberation Army of China General Chen Bingde (R) speak to the media during a news briefing May 18, 2011 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. (AFP/Getty Images)

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Chief of Staff, during a recent visit in the U.S., played down China’s military advancements, but at the same time he criticized the U.S. for selling weapons to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act, saying the U.S. was “interfering with China’s internal affairs” and “too domineering.”

Chief of General Staff of the PLA, General Chen Bingde, visited the National Defense University of the United States and also held a joint press conference at the Pentagon with U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen on May 18.

Chen acted meekly when commenting on China’s military might, saying China’s military hardware is at least 20 years behind developed Western nations, and, “in particular after visiting the United States, I feel and I know, how poor our equipment is, and how underdeveloped we remain,” he said.

Chen also stated that China never intends to challenge the U.S. and “does not have the capability to challenge the United States.”

But China commentators say the Chinese regime’s downplaying of its military capabilities during public appearances is a calculated political act and belies its behind-the-scenes actions and ambitions.

“What Chen Bingde said about the Chinese army lagging behind the U.S., and that it does not dare to challenge the U.S. right now, are all true,” Dr. Sun Yanjun, a Washington-based scholar and China expert, told The Epoch Times on May 20.

Sun said that on the one hand, China’s domestic situation is unstable, and on the other hand, democratic movements in the Middle East and North Africa, and the killing of Bin Laden, were a big shock and blow to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

“If the CCP makes any big moves, it will have problems both domestically and internationally,” Sun said.

Wu Fan, general editor of China Affairs, told The Epoch Times the CCP is playing low key because of several dramatic U.S. policy decisions and turns of events in the international situation recently.

Wu said Vice President Joe Biden’s criticism of China’s human rights, the U.S. announcement of a new Internet freedom policy, Obama’s foreign policy adjustments and his speech [supporting popular uprisings] in the Middle East and North Africa, all impact China. “Moreover, at any time there is the potential of a Jasmine Movement breaking out in China,” Wu said.

“China has committed to developing aircraft carriers, new nuclear submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles, outer space combat capabilities, advanced stealth fighters, and anti-aircraft missiles in recent years. Are they not all targeted at the United States,” a May 22 article by Taiwan’s Central News Agency argued.

“The CCP considers military advancement its sole lifesaving straw, while at the same time pretending to be nice and well-behaved, especially in front of the United States.” Sun said.

By doing so, the CCP eases political tensions and gains time to seek strategic opportunities, so that its military power can match that of the United States and thereby maintain its dictatorship rule, Sun added.

US-Taiwan Weapons Deal

Despite his low-posture remarks on China’s military capabilities, Chen warned the U.S. not to sell weapons to Taiwan, or else Sino-U.S. military relations could be damaged.

Chen said some Americans have suggested that China remove the missiles deployed along its southeast coast opposite Taiwan.

“I can tell you responsibly here that we only have garrison deployment across from Taiwan, and we have no operational deployment, much less missiles, stationed there,” Chen said.

His remarks drew strong criticism in Taiwan.

Chen is lying through his teeth,” Lin Yu-Fang, a legislative member of Taiwan’s Kuomingtang Party, said at a legislature meeting on May 19.

“The deployment of missiles does not have to be along the coastline. As long as it can hit Taiwan, it is enough to threaten Taiwan,” Lin added.

Taiwan’s National Security Bureau Director, Tsai Der-sheng, said missiles deployed by China in coastal areas, targeting Taiwan, have been increasing in number and capability.

Based on U.S. satellite data, 1,425 mainland Chinese missiles that target Taiwan are not on the coasts, but distributed in Anhui, Jiangxi, and Hunan provinces, Professor Yang Liyu, a Taiwan expert at Seton Hall University, told Radio Free Asia.

Luo Shao-He, a spokesperson for Taiwan’s Department of Defense, said in a statement on May 19: “The U.S. government has repeatedly assured Taiwan that it will not change its current policy of arms sales to Taiwan for military exchange and cooperation with China, and will continue to adhere to the Taiwan Relations Act to sell necessary defensive weapons to Taiwan,” Taiwan’s CNA reported on May 19.

At the May 18 Pentagon press conference, Chen criticized the Taiwan Relations Act, saying the U.S. was “interfering with China’s internal affairs” and “too domineering.” He also said that he had contacted some members of Congress, and some of them expressed that it was time to “revisit” the Taiwan Relations Act.

Next: Chen’s ‘soft’ demands under the banner of peace