For some Chinese foreign policy researchers, the emergence of the hawks is part of Beijing’s “good cop-bad cop” strategy to influence diplomatic negotiations over the disputed territory.
For anxious neighbors, though, the tough talk backed up with firepower delivered over a three-decade military buildup, is sending an unnerving signal that a rising China may be ready to use force. It also conflicts with repeated assurances of a “peaceful rise” from the civilian leadership in Beijing.
“There appears to be a discord between this peaceful rise language and the comments from senior PLA officers,” said Li of the U.S. Naval War College. “There is no doubt about that.”
A Japanese Foreign Ministry official, noting Lt-Gen Ren’s remarks in Melbourne and similar comments from China, stressed Japan’s own peaceful rise from the ashes of World War Two.
“China itself clearly stated in the Japan-China joint statement, issued in May 2008, that it highly regards Japan’s history as a peaceful nation for more than 60 years after the war,” the official said.
Japan’s Defense Ministry has flagged the Chinese armed forces’ growing role in shaping foreign policy as a security risk. in its annual Defense white paper last July, Tokyo said some believe relations between the PLA and the Communist Party leadership were “getting complex”. The degree of military influence on foreign policy decisions could possibly be changing, the paper said, adding: “The situation calls for attention as a risk management issue.”
The relationship will be closely watched as China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, begins to stamp his authority on the Communist Party and the military. Xi, the “princeling” son of late party leader, military commander and economic reformer Xi Zhongxun, has clearly signaled he will be a strong nationalist. His first speeches after taking power in November had a strong patriotic flavor, with appeals for a “renaissance” of the Chinese nation.