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Talk of the Day -- Storm brewing in Asia as U.S. shifts focus

2012/06/03 20:58:59

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's announcement that the country will deploy 60 percent of its naval forces in the Pacific Ocean by 2020 has triggered a pointed response from China.

According to the United Daily News, a major Taiwanese newspaper, senior Chinese military officer Ren Haiquan used three sentences to describe China's response to this major American policy shift.

"Do not think of this as a ground-shattering change. Do not regard it as nothing. Get ready for the worst," the officer said.

Below are excerpts of the daily's reports on the issue:

Ren, vice president of Chinese Defense University, made his comments during an interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television. It was the first comment from the Chinese military on the U.S. policy shift.

Ren said China need not be shocked by the U.S. "shift" of its military focus because the 10 percent increase in U.S. naval forces in Asia is not a big deal. "Strategic balance" is still the main consideration behind the policy change, Ren said.

But China should not look at this change as inconsequential, because some of the complicated situations confronting China are "more serious" than imagined, and it will be in China's interest to get ready for all sorts of complicated and serious contingencies.

A third principle that China should adopt in regard to Panetta's statement is to "get ready for the worst and work hard for the best."

Elaborating on the third principle, Ren said one who does not have strength will not be given a say in international affairs. "Therefore, it is incumbent on the People's Liberation Army to perfect its military strategy, strengthen its defense construction and raise its combat power," Ren was quoted by Phoenix TV.

He went on to quote Mao Zedong as saying, "If we are not offended, we will not offend others; if we are offended, we will definitely offend the offenders."

That means, he said, that when China's fundamental interests are threatened, it will strike back so fiercely that the enemy will feel frightened.

Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense responded to Panetta's speech by saying that it welcomes "any moves that will help boost regional peace and stability."

Kuomintang Legislator Lin Yu-fang, a defense expert, said the U.S. is taking a more pro-active approach toward Asia Pacific in the face of China's rise.

But Lin did not see a possibility of the U.S. raising its profile so much that the Cold War confrontation between the U.S. and then Soviet Union will be repeated in the Asia-Pacific region.

"In that sense, it is not a bad thing for Taiwan," Lin said.

He said the U.S. is aiming to "restrain" China one way or another because China's military expansion, supported by its growing economy, has alarmed some of its neighbors.

Huang Chieh-cheng, a Tamkang University professor specializing in international relations, called on Taiwanese to be on the alert as he saw "more bad news than good news" for Taiwan in the latest development.

Even though the U.S. policy shift will not provoke an arms race with China, a race for military deployment in the Pacific cannot be avoided, Huang said.

Washington's planned cut of US$470 billion in its defense budget over the next 10 years will force the U.S. to ask its allies not to decrease their military spending, the professor said.

He reminded Taiwan not to regard the PLA's recent self-restraint in the East China and South China seas as a sign of weakness. Taiwan must be even more cautious than before when dealing with China and the U.S., he said. (June 3, 2012)

(By S.C. Chang)