A General of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) called on the Chinese government to take a more aggressive line in its foreign policy as well as recover territory “looted by neighbours,” in an essay that was published in the official media only two days before Premier Wen Jiabao's arrival in India.

“The neighbouring area is not peaceful, and we have outside threats,” wrote Major General Luo Yuan, who is also the deputy secretary-general of the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, in an essay published in the official Global Times, a Chinese newspaper known for its nationalistic views.

China, he said, could not call itself “a strong nation” unless it “recovered the land looted by neighbours.”

While the essay did not name India or specific territorial disputes and only issued a general call for Chinese society to become more militaristic, the Communist Party-run Global Times agreeing to publish the general's comments on neighbouring countries only days ahead of Mr. Wen's arrival in New Delhi could not be ignored, diplomatic sources and analysts said.

His view, according to them, signalled the marked difference between the PLA's views and the stated “peaceful rise” position often publicly articulated by Chinese diplomats and officials. While PLA officers usually do not issue public statements on foreign policy, the PLA, unlike other militaries, has a significant influence on formulating foreign policy, analysts say.

Major General Luo's essay is thought to have reflected views within the military that China's military modernisation, as well as its influence, had not kept pace with the country's economic progress.

‘Unsolved issue'

“China's gross domestic product is close to the second in the world, but we have not even solved the issue of national unification,” Major General Luo said, according to a report in the South China Morning Post. “We have not recovered the land looted by our neighbours.”

The past three decades of peaceful development, he said, had led to “some army personnel becoming slack” and “too accustomed to this comfortable pacifism.” Chinese policy needed to be more aggressive.

“But aggression does not mean that one likes war,” he said. “It is a means of deterrence.”

Major General Luo is regarded as a particularly nationalistic and divisive figure, even calling on China to sell its holding of United States treasury bonds to protest arms sales to Taiwan — a suggestion dismissed by the government.

He is, nevertheless, seen as reflecting views widely held within the military.

‘Potential dangers'

Obliquely questioning China's official “peaceful rise” policy mantra, Major General Luo wrote: “It seems some people like to resort to peaceful means to all questions. [But] We have to think of potential dangers in times of peace. Our neighbouring situation is not good. We have threats from foreign countries, and our country is still not unified.”

Ties between the Indian military and the PLA are particularly strained. At present, India has no contact with the PLA, with defence exchanges being suspended after the PLA voiced objections in July to hosting the head of the Indian Army's Northern Command, saying he was in charge of the “sensitive” region of Kashmir.

The joint communiqué issued after Mr. Wen's recent visit to India, for the first time in several years, had no mention of military-to-military ties or defence exchanges, as is the usual practice.

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