China Should Set Up Overseas Military Bases: Chinese Scholar

Don't shun the idea of setting up overseas military bases By Shen Dingli
January 28, 2010
Whether we should set up overseas military bases has been a hot topic ever since China joined the international anti-pirate co-operation last year. The issue sparks hot debates online. Some navy officers believe there is a need to set up some bases for military supply, while the government declares China is in no need to seek supplies from such kind of bases.
Chinese troops once garrisoned in other countries
Setting up overseas military bases is not an idea we have to shun; on the contrary, it is our right. Bases established by other countries appear to be used to protect their overseas rights and interests. As long as the bases are set up in line with international laws and regulations, they are legal ones. But if the bases are established to harm other countries, their existence becomes illegal and they are likely to be opposed by other countries.
China develops its military force with a theme of peace in mind. Therefore, we can either develop military forces domestically to maintain peace, or place the forces abroad as long as we take world peace as the ultimate goal. In the 1950s, the Korean War enflamed the border of China. China had no option but to call up volunteer soldiers to fight against the overseas intervention in its northern neighbor. Many of the volunteer soldiers remained in North Korea for years after the end of the Korean war to safeguard the peace of the two countries. Finally, the troops withdrew from the peninsular where the stability was regained.
After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, China dispatched troops abroad under the invitation of the foreign countries as long as their requests are in line with our security interests, good to resume regional stability and benefit for the world peace process. So it is baseless to say that we will not set up any military bases in future because we have never sent troops abroad.
We need to know the military bases are not set up in view of the previous practices but are established in accordance with China's interests as well as world peace. We can speak the point clearly even though to set up overseas military bases is not yet on agenda. It is wrong for us to believe we have no rights to set up the bases abroad.
The current four overseas interests for China:
With the continuous expansion of China's overseas business, the governments are more accountable for protecting the overseas interests. There are four responsibilities: the protection of the people and fortunes overseas; the guarantee of smooth trading; the prevention of the overseas intervention which harms the unity of the country and the defense against foreign invasion. The purpose of the tasks is to deter the threats posed on our legal interests.
To guarantee the abovementioned interests, we need to enhance the power in safeguarding our overseas interests. And the power should be comprehensive enough to demonstrate our political, economic and military forces. As for the military aspect, we should be able to conduct the retaliatory attack within the country or at the neighboring area of our potential enemies. We should also be able to put pressure on the potential enemies' overseas interests. With further development, China will be in great demand of the military protection.
Obviously, navy is crucial in safeguarding the security of the country. When our country's core interests are harmed, the navy is responsible to conduct retaliatory attack including blocking the enemy's sea traffic.
When the public discusses overseas military bases, they refer to the supply base for the navy escorting the ships cruising in the Gulf of Aden and Somali. The discussion shows people's enthusiasm in defending the interests of the country. Yet their worries are not the most important reasons for the setup of an overseas military base.
It is true that we are facing the threat posed by terrorism, but different from America, it is not a critical issue. The real threat to us is not posed by the pirates but by the countries which block our trade route.
The threats also include secessionism outside the Chinese mainland. The situation requires us be able to hit the vulnerable points of our potential opponents by restricting their international waterway. So we need to set up our own blue-water navy and to rely on the overseas military bases to cut the supply costs.
Diplomatic ways urged for setting up an overseas military base
Whether the overseas military base has a proper name is not important. What is important is to contact the host countries which would allow our ships to harbor and provide the facilities for our navy soldiers to take a rest. As long as we aim to maintain the world peace, international society won't misunderstand our move in building overseas military bases.
There are three international relations we need to tackle with when building overseas military bases. Firstly, the relations between base troops and the host countries. It is possible to set up military bases as long as the establishment is in line with the host countries' interests. Secondly, the relationship between the base troops and the countries neighboring to the host country. If the base troops can maintain the regional stability, it will be probably welcomed by all the countries in the region. Thirdly, the relationship between the big countries in the world. The establishment of the troop bases is sensitive to those big countries which have already set up the bases abroad.
It is inevitable for some countries to suspect our good intention in maintaining the world peace, but their suspicion shall not become an obstacle to our military base strategies. Currently, America, France and Britain own a majority of troop bases in the world. Yet China seldom felt being threatened by the military bases set up by Britain and France. Therefore, we have no reasons to feel that the military bases we set up will agitate other countries.
China is in need of a strong power to maintain the world peace. So it is necessary for us to build troop bases to face the challenge from other countries. We build the bases not to offend other countries but to cooperate with the rest of the world for the sustainable security and peace in the world.
The author is a columnist with
Profile of Dr Shin Dingli:
Dr. Shen Dingli is a professor of international relations at Fudan University, Shanghai. He is the Executive Dean of Fudan University’s Institute of International Studies, and Director of Center for American Studies. He is Vice President of Chinese Association of South Asian Studies, and Vice President of Shanghai Association of International Studies. He received his Ph.D. in physics from Fudan in 1989 and did arms-control post-doc at Princeton University from 1989-1991.
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