Army chiefs split on tactics

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 August, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 August, 1996, 12:00am

The Army leadership is divided on whether adopting a low profile or showing off its power is the best means to achieve China's objectives towards Taiwan and other countries.

Since the military manoeuvres off the Taiwan coast last March, party leaders including President Jiang Zemin have urged the People's Liberation Army to be cautious in demonstrating its might.

Mr Jiang reportedly pointed out that a PLA that flaunted sophisticated weapons could create anxiety in the United States, Japan and other Asia-Pacific countries.

The President, who is also Chairman of the Central Military Commission, indicated a high-profile PLA could also nudge China's neighbours into an arms race. Army sources said yesterday while the top brass as a whole was going along with Mr Jiang, individual officers had grumbled that the PLA should flex its muscles publicly.

They pointed out an adequate demonstration of might would strike fear into the hearts of pro-independence elements in Taiwan as well as China's potential adversaries. The sources quoted a senior officer as saying in an internal briefing that the PLA air and missiles forces had the ability to knock out all Taiwan air defence facilities in 24 hours.

'Taiwan generals have exaggerated their powers many fold, while the outside world has underestimated our ability,' the officer said.

'It does not do us proud that as our economic achievement is being saluted worldwide, others have the impression our military capability has lagged behind.' Western diplomats pointed out that senior generals had since the spring been more reserved in giving opinions on Taiwan and Asian issues.

But they have continued to play a key role in foreign-policy formulation.

Recently, several high-ranking generals went on a tour of Asia, Europe and other areas to pursue what analysts called 'military-style diplomacy'.

Yesterday, Chief of the General Staff Fu Quanyou left on a visit to Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia. Issues that he will raise with his hosts include the South China Sea and security in the region.

Earlier this month, Generals Wang Ke and Kui Fulin also went on well-publicised trips.

And the top brass has also been given bigger budgets to develop the kinds of weapons that could be used in 'liberation warfare'.