SPIEGEL: The Chinese Government is promoting the peaceful rise of China. Do you believe them?For more on this topic, I recommend this talk by Lieutenant General Noboru Yamaguchi.
Mr. Lee: Yes, I do, with one reservation. I think they have calculated that they need 30 to 40 -- maybe 50 years of peace and quiet to catch up, to build up their system, change it from the communist system to the market system. They must avoid the mistakes made by Germany and Japan. Their competition for power, influence and resources led in the last century to two terrible wars.
SPIEGEL: What should the Chinese do differently?
Mr. Lee: They will trade, they will not demand, "This is my sphere of influence, you keep out". America goes to South America and they also go to South America. Brazil has now put aside an area as big as the state of Massachusetts to grow soya beans for China. They are going to Sudan and Venezuela for oil because the Venezuelan President doesn't like America. They are going to Iran for oil and gas. So, they are not asking for a military contest for power, but for an economic competition.
SPIEGEL: But would anybody take them really seriously without military power?
Mr. Lee: About eight years ago, I met Liu Huaqing, the man who built the Chinese Navy. Mao personally sent him to Leningrad to learn to build ships. I said to him, "The Russians made very rough, crude weapons". He replied, "You are wrong. They made first-class weapons, equal to the Americans." The Russian mistake was that they put so much into military expenditure and so little into civilian technology. So their economy collapsed. I believe the Chinese leadership have learnt: If you compete with America in armaments, you will lose. You will bankrupt yourself. So, avoid it, keep your head down, and smile, for 40 or 50 years.
SPIEGEL: What are your reservations?
Mr. Lee: I don't know whether the next generation will stay on this course. After 15 or 20 years they may feel their muscles are very powerful. We know the mind of the leaders but the mood of the people on the ground is another matter. Because there's no more communist ideology to hold the people together, the ground is now galvanised by Chinese patriotism and nationalism. Look at the anti-Japanese demonstrations. ...
CHINA’S RISE, AMERICA’S PIVOT, AND JAPAN’S CHOICE: The security landscape in the Asia-Pacific region will mainly be determined in the long term by two significant actors, the People’s Republic of China and the United States. China’s rise has been and will be an extremely prominent factor; while how fast and in which direction China proceeds are open questions. The US has taken a significant step to stay involved in the region by declaring that it will rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific. For architects of Japan’s security strategy, it is crucially important, according to Lt Gen Yamaguchi, to, first, scrutinise both the negative and positive impacts of China’s rise without any bias; second, have a clear picture of the rebalancing by the US with an understanding of the roles of American allies for proper implementation of this policy; and third, develop courses of action and possible policies for Japan to better serve the region’s peace and stability.
The lecture has been made possible by the support of Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.