More to China's military build-up than ambition

All too often, political commentators assume the worst in their analyses of China's ambitious military restructuring and modernisation ("Chinese military must advance peace"; Jan 11).

It is well within the rights of any sovereign state to ensure homeland security by means of maintaining strong and capable armed forces.

For China, this right to build up arms for self-defence takes on added dimensions, which cannot be misconstrued as pure expansionist ambition.

Foremost is the idea of historical baggage.

Defeat and humiliation - at the hands of the colonial powers at the turn of the 20th century, and by the Japanese in World War II - weigh heavily on the Chinese national consciousness.

This has given rise to a collective desire for a more muscular China, one that is able to safeguard territorial integrity, as if to compensate for historical shortcomings.

China further perceives itself to be the target of existential threats.

The United States and its allies have long viewed China with suspicion, if not hostility, and have attempted to contain and thwart the nascent superpower on various political and economic fronts.

It is, thus, understandable, albeit regrettable, that these frosty relations have compelled Beijing to adopt a policy of "might is right".

Of course, one must concede that China is not blameless in the unfortunate state of East Asian affairs.

Its reluctance to allow international courts to rule on disputed maritime borders, while simultaneously undertaking aggressive land reclamation on these disputed territories, has only served to exacerbate tensions.

It would be diplomatically productive if China halted all activities in disputed waters, until an agreement has been reached on their territoriality.

Chinese leaders would also do well to initiate dialogue with the country's regional and Pacific Rim neighbours.

There have been many steps in the right direction. China has recently taken a firmer stance on North Korea and is seeking to restart multilateral nuclear talks.

Cross-strait relations also appear to be on the mend, following the historic Xi-Ma meeting.

Just as China is learning to work with the rest of the world, so, too, should the international community strive for peaceful co-existence with China.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi