SINGAPORE - There is a 20-year gap between China and the U.S. military in equipment, weapons and systems, Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie told the 10th Shangri-La Dialogue on June 5 in Singapore.
"I would call the gap big," he said. Liang acknowledged that China's military modernization has improved, but the "main battle equipment of our services ... is mainly second-generation weapons." China does not have a large arsenal of third-generation weapons, systems or platforms. "For example, the army is still being motorized, not mechanized," he said.
Liang conceded that China's military modernization has drawn the attention and concern of the international community and there have been questions over China's capability, but China does not "seek hegemony" and has a right to defend its "core interests," which include protecting its sovereignty.
After years of ignoring the Shangri-La Dialogue, China sent an unprecedented senior-level delegation. The annual conference is sponsored by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), officially known as the IISS Asia Security Summit, and includes the attendance of defense ministers from across the globe, including U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Liang said military-to-military relations with the U.S. were improving. The U.S. just concluded meetings in May with senior Chinese defense officials in Washington for the Security and Economic Dialogue, and the Pentagon hosted a separate visit by Gen. Chen Bingde, chief of the General Staff, People's Liberation Army (PLA).
Gates visited China in January for high-level talks designed to get military-to-military exchanges back online after they were severed to protest U.S. arms sales to Taiwan in 2010.
There was some discussion at the summit over an incident May 26 in the South China Sea involving three Chinese vessels harassing a Vietnamese oil survey ship. Though both China and Vietnam downplayed tensions at the Shangri-La, there were obvious signs of Chinese anxiety.
A Chinese PLA officer showed up at a press conference held by Lt. Gen. Nguyen Chi Vinh, Vietnam's deputy minister of defense, and took notes. When a journalist asked if she was "spying on the Vietnamese" she refused to answer.
One of the prominent features of this dialogue was China's "big footprint," said Singapore-based Tim Huxley, executive director, IISS-Asia. Not only was this the first Shangri-La to include a Chinese defense minister, it was also the first time there were five Chinese speakers in three of the five closed-door special sessions, he said.
Other high-level Chinese delegates included Rear Adm. Guan Youfei, deputy chief, Foreign Affairs Office, Ministry of National Defense; Senior Col. Ou Yangwei, director, Center for Defense Mobilization Studies, National Defense University; Major Gen. Song Dan, deputy director general, General Office, Central Military Commission; Lt. Gen. Wei Fenghe, deputy chief of general staff, PLA; and Xiao Jianguo, director, Department of Ocean Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.