Chinese National Defence Minister Liang Guanglie has dismissed out-of-court suggestions that Beijing was carving out “a permanent naval presence” in India's neighbourhood in South Asia.
Answering questions at a plenary session of the 10th Asia Security Summit, organised here by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, General Liang disclaimed moves to build naval bases at Gwadar in Pakistan and at a Sri Lankan port.
Emphasising his credentials as a member of the Chinese State Council and Central Military Commission, he said “we will have a very serious and careful study of an issue of such importance to the government and the military” like the reported move for establishing naval bases in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Indeed, “we will have exact plans and set up a panel to discuss it” if the move were for real. However, “I haven't heard of it,” said General Liang, delivering a calibrated political punch-line.
Asked by Manish Tewari, Congress party's spokesman, to spell out China's core interests in South Asia and the Indian Ocean area, General Liang said: “The core interests include anything that is related to sovereignty, stability, and form of government. China is now pursuing socialism. If there is any attempt to reject this path, it will touch upon China's core interests. Or, if there is any attempt to [encourage] any part of China to secede, that also touches upon China's core interests related to our land, sea, or air. Then, anything that is related to China's national [economic and social] development also touches upon China's core interests.”
On China's military modernization, which the IISS experts see as a politically correct term for an arms build-up or arms race, General Liang said: “We do not have a large arsenal of ‘third generation weapons' or system-platforms. [Henry] Kissinger [former U.S. official] once told me ‘there is a clear gap between the U.S. and China.' Now, China's defense modernization is compatible with its growth. While we focus on economic growth, we are sparing some resources for the development of the military.” He added.