Chinese major generals send message of peaceful rise, saying Beijing won’t be ‘hijacked by populism’

  • Military scholars hold rare media briefing amid rising tensions between China and the US
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 December, 2018, 11:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 3:00am

China will not let nationalist sentiment hijack its policymaking as it continues its peaceful rise, a military professor under the People’s Liberation Army said on Thursday.

Major General Meng Xiangqing, who specialises in national security at the PLA’s National Defence University, was speaking at a rare media briefing in Beijing that was held amid rising tensions between China and the United States.

Addressing both Chinese and foreign reporters, Meng also talked about military developments in China, while another PLA scholar said the two countries had failed to properly define their relations.

“There has been a wave of populism sweeping across many countries, and I admit that such populist sentiment exists among many in the Chinese public,” Meng said.

“But the Chinese government will not be hijacked by populism – and it will steadily push forward with its peaceful development.”

The briefing, which was organised by the university, came as the rise of China’s military in the region and Beijing’s efforts to expand its influence abroad is under increasing scrutiny.

For example, there was widespread concern over China’s move to open its first overseas military base last year in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, although Beijing described it as a logistics base.

But Major General Xu Hui said the opposite sentiment had surfaced within China – that Beijing is not being assertive enough.

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“When international opinion suggests that China has become too tough, we are hearing voices among the population of 1.3 billion people that China’s foreign policy and national defence are too weak,” said Xu, commandant of the university’s International College of Defence Studies.

Despite that, Xu said China had not abandoned late leader Deng Xiaoping’s policy calling for the peaceful rise of China.

“Many people say China has changed its path and no longer follows Deng Xiaoping’s idea of staying humble and cautious. I think there is a need to correct this wrong perception,” he said.

Xu also said China and the US had failed to find a comfortable balance in defining their relations, and warned that growing mistrust and a bigger gap in perceptions could spark “a new cold war” between the two countries that could spread across East Asia.

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“We have been trying hard to define this relationship, but regrettably, we have not been able to agree on a definition of the nature of China-US relations that is acceptable to both sides,” he said, adding that Washington had labelled Beijing as a strategic rival in its national security strategy.

Xu added that Beijing and Washington should learn from the Korean war, saying the two sides had been dragged into the conflict because of a lack of communication and because they misinterpreted each other’s intentions.

“Today we should learn from this lesson and strengthen our communication,” he said.