The Blog

Who's Afraid of China?

10:07 AM, Jan 15, 2008 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Apparently if you are, you're a coward:

"The distance between the Chinese and U.S. militaries is big. If you fear China's military build-up you don't have much courage," said Chen Bingde, chief of General Staff of the People's Liberation Army.

"We don't have the ability to make you afraid of us," he told reporters in Beijing, before meeting Timothy Keating, head of the U.S. Pacific Command.

At the same press conference, Chen rattled his saber on the issue of Taiwan:

"We have the ability and also relevant measures to resolve the Taiwan issue if the splittists dare to separate Taiwan from the motherland," Chen told reporters, without elaborating.

One can understand why there is some confusion about China's military "ability." And it is that confusion, perhaps more than anything else, that causes concern in Washington. As Sun Tzu said, "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a 100 battles." The problem is we don't know our enemy, and the Chinese continue to frustrate efforts to improve military to military relations (refusing to allow the Kitty Hawk to make a call at Hong Kong late last year is just one example).

But it goes both ways. The Chinese don't understand the U.S. military that well either, and they certainly don't understand what our red lines might be in the event of a conflict in the Strait. There's plenty of reason for both sides to be a bit fearful.