China should “have the will to fight and the confidence to win” armed conflicts, a senior Chinese military officer has said as tensions with the United States escalate across the Asia-Pacific.
The assessment by Chinese Lieutenant General He Lei is the latest in a series of hardline anti-American comments by hawkish Chinese figures, and comes as both sides step up military and political manoeuvring amid fears of a drift towards war.
In an opinion piece published on Thursday by the Global Times, a state-run nationalist tabloid, He, a former vice-president of the People’s Liberation Army Academy of Military Science, said that despite its appalling human toll, the Korean war was still a vital source of confidence for Beijing in the face of cold war-style confrontation.
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He argued that China’s first and only war against the United States 70 years ago, officially known as “the war to resist US aggression and aid Korea”, was a “just war and a people’s war”, and the result of the US invasion of North Korea that “brought the war to China’s northeastern border and occupied the island of Taiwan”.
“History has proved that after China’s victory in the Korean war, the US no longer dared to try to mount a military invasion of China,” he said.
Last month, China reopened its only national memorial dedicated to the war and plans a series of events later this month to mark the 70th anniversary of China’s participation in the conflict.
The Korean war has a high-profile place in the official history of the People’s Republic and Beijing has used remembrances repeatedly to rally public support.
But in recent years, the commemorations were not generally played up until Beijing’s relations with Washington suffered major setbacks, according to observers.
He admitted China’s security situation was “severe and complex” in a post-coronavirus world, marked by rancour and decoupling between China and the US as well as strong international resistance against Beijing’s global ambitions.
“The smoke of the Korean war has long gone, but the root of modern wars has not been eliminated,” he said.
In a thinly veiled reference to the US, He noted that the “hegemony and power politics” that led to the Korean war were still present.
Despite warnings from analysts, including many in China, of the US military’s greater strength, He put on a brave face, citing “the spirit of fighting and the art of fighting gained from the Korean war”.
One of the most important things to learn from the Korean war was that it “created the miracle in which the weak beat the strong and an army with inferior equipment defeated the enemy with superior equipment, shattering the myth that US imperialism is invincible”, He said.
“We will work hard to cultivate the will to fight, strengthen our sense of mission, responsibility and urgency to be ready for war,” he said.
“We will effectively enhance our ability to fight and win wars, resolutely safeguard China’s sovereignty, security, and development interests, and effectively fulfill the sacred missions and tasks the people’s army has been entrusted in the new era.”
He has lashed out at the US before, telling the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore two years ago that Washington was the real source of conflict in the region .
Last year he said that pro-independence supporters in Taiwan should be classified as war criminals if Beijing chose to conquer the self-ruled island by force.
He’s views were largely in line with the mantra of President Xi Jinping’s military reform, which stresses the need to build an army that can fight and win.
East China Normal University history professor Shen Zhihua said that given the severity of US-China tensions, it was not in Beijing’s interests to play up the importance of the Korean war.
“The war was of profound importance to China as a real power. But we should be very careful this year to avoid overplaying our hand and making the already soured US-China relations even more complicated,” Shen said.
More from South China Morning Post:
- China stages solemn ceremony to welcome home remains of 117 soldiers killed in Korean war
- South China Sea: Chinese military holds drills near Paracel Islands for a third time this year
- The Korean war: China’s reminder of strength against the US
This article Korean war shows how an underdog China can win in armed conflict against US: Chinese general first appeared on South China Morning Post