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.
Virulently anti-American, he has a low opinion of U.S. military capabilities and willingness to suffer casualties. The United States would “run like a rabbit” if China went to war with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands, he told state television on August 12.
Zhang, a professor at Beijing’s National Defense University who has studied at Britain’s Royal Military College of Science, is also disparaging about neighboring countries’ fighting capabilities.
Last year, during the Scarborough Shoal standoff, he told participants of a People’s Daily Internet forum it would be a one-sided fight if China clashed with the Philippines. Manila’s most potent warship was a 3,000-tonne, 1960s vintage former U.S. coast guard cutter, while China could deploy the 18,000-tonne amphibious landing ship, Kunlun Shan, he said.