Chinese ambassador to the United Nations Office at Geneva Sha Zukang told a reporter yesterday that "It's better for the U.S. to shut up [about Chinese military spending]."
According to an article from the Associated Press, the Chinese government, whose relationship with the United States has never been particularly amiable, has bolstered military spending with "double-digit percentage increases […] every year for a decade."
This alone doesn't seem like cause for concern. United States military spending has certainly increased, and we have boosted our efforts at "homeland security" following 9/11. There are valid justifications for increased defense spending, and perhaps with North Korea becoming an increased regional threat with their looming nuclear capabilities there is valid justification in this case. There is no justification, however, for being so tight-lipped regarding spending. While it's wise to play one's cards close to one's chest when discussing military defense strategies, it would probably be more of a deterrent to potential aggressors to disclose one's military capabilities to a certain extent. If an aggressor sees the nation as a formidable threat, the chance of conflict is lessened. (Although one might argue that 9/11 is an example of how this strategy doesn't always work, it's important to recognize that terrorists act out of very different motivations than national governments.)
While telling the largest world power to "shut up" may be a diplomatic faux pas, it's relatively harmless, though the rest of Sha's quote is enough to give one pause. "Keep quiet," he said. "It's much, much better."
Better for whom? one might ask. Though it's possible to interpret this as a veiled threat ("Shut up, it's for your own good"), I don't think the ambassador would be that tactless (but if he was so undiplomatic in the first place, it's hard to say). It's always possible that the issue can be one of language. The United States government has certainly never been known to employ a language of subtlety (obfuscation, perhaps, but not subtlety) and there is no reason to suggest that China would be any different.
We should also keep in mind that the ambassador's remarks were made to a reporter, not in a traditional diplomatic setting, and shouldn't be taken to represent the official stance of the Chinese government. While he may have been selected as a representative of China in the UNOG, one man's diplomatic faux pas shouldn't be taken as indicative of an entire nation or even an entire government. He went on to say that "China basically is a peace-loving nation," and that the military spending is an act of "legitimate defense" and "is not threatening anyone." This might lend credence to the notion that they are simply bolstering their defenses against the remote possibility of a North Korean attack, but their spending has been increasing steadily over the past decade, long before we were aware of the nuclear capabilities of North Korea and the recent missile tests.
This may be nothing to worry about in the grander scheme of things, but we should still take pause at these remarks. What is it that China doesn't want to tell us? Why is it "better" not to ask questions? That sort of attitude might work under the strict Chinese regime, but it doesn't fly with the rest of the world. In an era where Iraq can be "preemptively" attacked for refusing to comply with UN inspections, it doesn't look good for China to take a similar stance of non-disclosure. As I said previously, a government shouldn't feel obligated to reveal all of its internal secrets to the world, but these seem like simple questions to answer and there is something a bit fishy about the ambassador's response.
Hopefully this was a misunderstanding that will be corrected in the future. I would hope Sha would, at the very least, receive a reprimand from his superiors in the Chinese government. Even if there is no real threat, it still doesn't look good for China to have this sort of representation in the rest of the world. In this era of increased globalization, it's important for nations to learn to cooperate with one another lest they be left behind in the "new world order."Powered by Sidelines