Zhu Chenghu is a bald, combative man with an unremarkable appearance but a remarkable sense of the inflammatory. The Chinese two-star general, the dean of China’s National Defense University and one of the nation’s leading military minds, displayed that predilection once more a few days ago.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel had just delivered a speech criticizing China’s aggression in its maritime disputes with its Asian neighbors. The speech made Zhu very unhappy. “The Americans are making very, very important strategic mistakes right now,” he told the Wall Street Journal.
He called Hagel hypocritical. “Whatever the Chinese do is illegal, and whatever the Americans do is right,” he said. “If you take China as an enemy, China will absolutely become the enemy of the U.S. If the Americans take China as an enemy, we Chinese have to take steps to make ourselves a qualified enemy of the U.S. But if the Americans take China as a friend, China will be a very loyal friend.”
But Zhu wasn’t done with U.S. officials yet. He made additional remarks on a Chinese-language television station in Singapore, according to the Wall Street Journal. He said he wasn’t convinced the United States, which he called a declining power, would intervene in any territorial disputes between China and any of its Asian neighbors. His evidence: Ukraine.
“We can see from the situation in Ukraine this kind of ED” — which the Journal reports he explained meant “extended deployment” — “has become the male type of ED problem: erectile dysfunction.”
Now, U.S. foreign policy has been called a great many things. Some have suggested it’s hegemonic, others have lamented it makes America the world’s policeman. But this is likely the first time a foreign official has offered that diagnosis.
Zhu doesn’t necessarily speak for China’s military, nor the nation’s upper echelons of power. But his recent — and kind of hilarious — remark hints at the growing animosity some in the People’s Liberation Army hold against President Obama’s so-called Asia “pivot.” Though Hagel and company have repeatedly said America’s renewed interest in the Pacific isn’t intended to constrain Chinese power, some in the Middle Kingdom aren’t buying it.
“The Chinese aren’t stupid,” Zhu told the Journal. “Their actions don’t match their words; that’s the problem. If you look at what the U.S. is doing on China’s periphery — things such as reconnaissance, exercises, massive deployments, strengthening military alliances, taking sides on territorial disputes — these things are not good at all.”
Zhu’s rhetoric has made news before. In 2005, at a conference designed to improve China’s image, his remarks seemed counterproductive at best.
After the possibility of a Sino-U.S. conflict over Taiwan emerged, Zhu took aside Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Gittings, among others. “If the Americans draw their missiles … to target China’s territory, I think we have to respond with nuclear weapons,” he said, adding that “we … will prepare ourselves for the destruction of our cities east of Xi’an. Of course the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds … of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese.”
Gittings, as he wrote later in the article “Geneal Zhu Goes Ballistic,” couldn’t believe it. So he gave the general a chance to back off the statements — but he wouldn’t. “Presumably, I suggested, he was only talking about the unlikely scenario of a U.S. attack on mainland Chinese soil. No, the general replied, a nuclear response would be justified even if it was just a conventional attack on a Chinese aircraft or warship” — a conceivable eventuality if the United States honors its commitment to protect Taiwan against invasion.
The U.S. House of Representatives called for Zhu’s removal, but that didn’t happen.
And Zhu is as cantankerous as ever.