In a telephone interview, Luo told Reuters from Beijing all soldiers had a duty to be “hawks”.
The chance of conflict in the South China Sea and East China sea this year is arguably high because rival claimants had enacted domestic laws to legitimize overlapping sovereignty claims and had deployed forces to prevent encroachments, he said. This meant China must take precautions to prevent clashes.
“It’s crucial to express your standpoint and bottom line so others will know that China is committed to the use of diplomatic measures to resolve the dispute but China is also not afraid of conflict,” he said.
That was basically the line from the Chinese Defense Ministry in a written reply to questions about the hawkish officers. The government would never waver in its determination to maintain China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the ministry said. “At the same time, we have always upheld the peaceful resolution of international disputes and resolving problems with relevant countries through dialogue, negotiation and equal consultations.”
For some PLA watchers, the scope for these officers to voice controversial opinions is further evidence of expanding freedom of speech in China.
“It is a genuine debate,” said Patrick Ho, chief executive of the Hong Kong-based China Energy Fund Committee, a mainland-funded think tank that lists some outspoken military officers as consultants. “Even within the higher echelons of the military, there are conservatives and liberals, just like America and Europe. There are extreme views from each end,” added Ho, a former senior Hong Kong government official and now an advisor to Beijing.
A robust debate over national security is “normal” for a major power, Australia’s Rudd says. “In the U.S., the national security debate rages all the time. But we find it strange when it happens in another country.”
SCARBOROUGH SHOAL STANDOFF
Rear Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong is the best-known of the hawk commentators, appearing frequently as a program host on CCTV 7 and other state-run television outlets.