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.
“If there is a clash in the South China Sea, the possibility that foreign countries would intervene is low, and any conflict would not last long,” he confidently predicted.
Zhang’s reputation as a prognosticator, however, has taken a few lumps. He warned of a series of calamities for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, predicting the attackers would be “engulfed in the vast ocean of a people’s war.” Later, in the face of online ridicule, Zhang was forced to concede on television he had insufficient “intelligence” about the disposition and strength of Iraq’s forces other than what he learned on the Internet. More recently, Zhang also wrongly predicted Libyan dictator Muammur Gaddafi would prevail over the rebels seeking his overthrow.
Zhang was not available for comment.
WELCOMING THE “PIVOT”
On occasion, a battery of belligerent top brass will concentrate their firepower on a perceived challenge to China’s territory or dignity. In September, three days after Tokyo outraged Beijing with its decision to buy the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands from a Japanese citizen who owned them, China’s state media unleashed a propaganda broadside in a joint commentary from 10 generals including Dai Xu, Luo Yuan and Zhang Zhaozhong. Calling for a tough stand against Tokyo, they accused rightists in Japan of moving the country dangerously toward a revival of its World War Two militarism.
The drumbeat of threats and warnings from uniformed officers is contributing to regional apprehension about China’s territorial intentions. Southeast Asian nations have welcomed the U.S. “pivot”, Washington’s stated intention of shifting more attention and military assets back to the region. They are strengthening ties with Washington and boosting military spending.