Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has been visiting China at a time when it is beginning to flex its military muscles in ways that should alarm its neighbors and their protector — us. While Gates was meeting with President Hu Jintao, the People’s Liberation Army was testing its J-20 Stealth fighter, a clear challenge to American power in the western Pacific. To make matters worse, American officials got the distinct impression that President Hu had not been aware of the test beforehand.
That raises questions about how firmly civilians are actually in control of the armed forces — not normally a problem in a Communist state, which is designed to have parallel lines of authority (party and state, military and secret police) precisely to ensure that the oligarchs at the top are in control of everything that happens. It is no secret that the Chinese armed forces are full of ultra-jingoistic officers who make hair-curling threats about going to war against the United States. If they are not firmly under the sway of the central party bosses, that is a worrisome development. Even if they are under control, however, we can hardly relax, for the senior party leadership has indicated that it is bent on pursuing a nationalistic agenda, with Chinese triumphalism replacing Marxism-Leninism as their ruling theology.
That is all the more reason why we need to ensure that our own military is strong enough to deter Chinese adventurism — something that further defense cuts in Washington will endanger.