To truly modernise PLA, China must modernise its politics

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 May, 2017, 9:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 May, 2017, 10:46pm

I refer to Cary Huang’s article on China’s new aircraft carrier (“China’s new carrier impresses, but graft is a bigger battle”, April 30). I agree with his view on the improvement of governance in China. But I think a further step needs to be taken in the political system.

China’s first domestically made aircraft carrier, the Shandong, was unveiled recently, symbolising a new era for the PLA Navy. Chinese citizens today are proud of the country’s maritime achievements and some military experts in China are convinced that the People’s Liberation Army Navy will be on a par with the US Navy within 30 years.

In addition to safeguarding national interests in the South China Sea, China also aspires to be the dominant power in Asia. Rising expenditure on defence and rapid reclamation of uninhabited reefs in the region are proof of its intentions.

However, China should not forget the bitter lessons from the first Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. Before then, the Beiyang Fleet with German- and British-built battleships was deemed as the dominant navy in Asia, and eighth in the world in terms of tonnage, but it was eventually annihilated by the imperial Japanese navy in the Battle of Weihaiwei.

Some historians blamed China’s defeat on high expenditure in other fields by the Qing dynasty, as naval budgets were supposedly used to repair and build the Summer Palace.

That may be true, but it does not get to the root the tragedy. As Huang said, modernisation is not just about hardware, but also governance of the armed forces, a software that plays a significant role in the administration. Nowadays, it seems that promotions in the PLA are dependent on personal relations or bribes. If so, it is impossible to boost morale in the army.

In his classic novel War and Peace, Russian author Leo Tolstoy noted that morale is the key to victory in a battle.

To fully modernise an army, modernisation of the political system is a key prerequisite.

By achieving this goal and promoting world peace, China should be able to earn the respect, not the fear, of the world.

Barnaby Ieong, Macau