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Harsh rhetoric from top Chinese military thinkers has widespread public support. Here, a flotilla of Chinese fishing boats steams toward the East China Sea and a group of uninhabited islands that Japan and China both claim.
Gathered at Melbourne's Crown Casino, they had changed out of uniform for dinner and discussion. China's Lieutenant-General Ren Haiquan took the podium in a room overlooking the Yarra River last October 29 and began diplomatically enough.
But as he neared the end of his speech, he went on the offensive. Visibly displeased at the dig, the senior Japanese officer present, army Lieutenant General Yoshiaki Nakagawa, left with his fellow officers as soon as the speeches concluded, people in the audience said.
Retired army Major General Luo Yuan has proposed sending a fleet of fishing boats to uninhabited islands that China and Japan claim to fight a "people's war at sea.
His message was typical of the increasingly hawkish rhetoric coming from senior officers in the People's Liberation Army. At issue these days are the disputed islands known as the Diaoyu in China or Senkaku in Japan and a string of islets in the South China that China is contesting with various Southeast Asian nations.
But the combative streak speaks to profound shifts in Chinese politics and foreign policy that transcend the heat of the moment. The more provocative of these officers call for "short, sharp wars" to assert China's sovereignty.
Others urge Beijing to "strike first", "prepare for conflict" or "kill a chicken to scare the monkeys". They routinely denounce the Obama administration's recent "pivot" to Asia - without naming the United States, Ren in his Melbourne speech accused "external countries" of complicating disputes in Asia.
In a political system where civilian officials hew to tightly scripted public positions, these uniformed pundits, both serving and retired, appear free to go well beyond the official line.
Almost all of the most-outspoken generals are military academics or theorists. Foreign military analysts are uncertain if the hawks represent a majority opinion in the 2.
It is also unclear if operational commanders share the views of these so-called "activist officers. The PLA now has something to talk about.
That money has paid for the warships, strike aircraft and missiles allowing the PLA to plan for distant conflict. For the first time in its modern history, China has the firepower to contest control of disputed territory far from its coastal waters. Over the same period, China has emerged from decades of isolation to become a powerful trading nation with a complex global web of commercial and diplomatic ties.
That means military planners are increasingly concerned with security of sea lanes - particularly in the South China Sea - that carry manufactured exports and imports of vital energy and raw materials.
For anxious neighbors, though, the tough talk backed up with firepower delivered over a three-decade military buildup, is sending an unnerving signal that a rising China may be ready to use force. It also conflicts with repeated assurances of a "peaceful rise" from the civilian leadership in Beijing.
Japan's Defense Ministry has flagged the Chinese armed forces' growing role in shaping foreign policy as a security risk.
The degree of military influence on foreign policy decisions could possibly be changing, the paper said, adding: Xi, the "princeling" son of late party leader, military commander and economic reformer Xi Zhongxun, has clearly signaled he will be a strong nationalist.
His first speeches after taking power in November had a strong patriotic flavor, with appeals for a "renaissance" of the Chinese nation. There appears to be a discord between this peaceful rise language and the comments from senior PLA officers. One of his jobs after graduation from university was personal secretary to Geng Biao, a revolutionary military commander who became Defense minister after the Cultural Revolution.
Xi is close to two influential and outspoken officers who like him are themselves princelingsor offspring of senior leaders: The two are not related.
Xi can even be said to be married to the military. His wife, celebrity folk singer Peng Liyuan, is a civilian member of the PLA, holding a rank equivalent to major general. Some analysts say Xi's family background and his own experience will enable him to exert more control over the PLA than his predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin.
When Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the United States in earlyit was important to Beijing that the high profile visit go smoothly and Hu receive state honors in Washington.
Hawkish talk among the officer pundits died down in the run-up to that trip. Paramilitary police blocked protesters in Shanghai last September after anti-Japan protests swept China.
Their commentary and blogs get widespread coverage in state-owned media, military publications and specialist websites that cater to a vast domestic audience eager for news and opinion about China's growing military power.The article you have been looking for has expired and is not longer available on our system.
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