As tension simmers in the Korean peninsula, China has said a regional conflict cannot be ruled out, but its armed forces comprising 2.3 million personnel are "better prepared" to deal with any eventuality. "Despite growing (China's) national power and global influence, the international situation remains complex, while more and more unstable factors are shadowing China's security," Defence Minister General Liang Guanglie said.
A war "which involves the whole country" is unlikely at the moment, but there is a possibility that a mishap or accident might ignite regional conflicts, state run China Daily quoted Liang as saying at the military headquarters in Beijing.
"To enhance our comprehensive national power, (we have to ensure) our core interests are not hampered. We have to put nation's sovereignty and security in top position that is the common understanding of whole Party ( ruling Communist Party of China) and all the people," he said.
In an interview to state run Xinhua news agency Liang said China's 2.3 million strong armed forces emerged "more powerful" with upgraded weapons and high quality personnel at a time when "regional military conflicts cannot be ruled out".
China, a close ally of Pakistan, also has a long running boundary dispute with India. Though the two countries are attempting to resolve it through talks between special representatives, the recent claims by China that the Sino-India border was only about 2000 km and not as asserted by India that it is 3500 km caused concern as the Chinese claim totally blanks out the western sector involving the Jammu and Kashmir.
Although China has experienced around 30 years of peace, the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) has never relaxed its military preparations and vigilance, especially at a time when there are threats of a regional military conflicts. He said the PLA, which combines the army, navy and the air force, emerged more powerful with upgraded weapons and high-quality personnel even though it had cut down the size of the its "reserves and militias" of the military by about 2.9 million.
The rare comments by top Chinese defence official coincides with the rising tensions in Korean peninsula following a chain of events recently. South Korea along with its ally United States stepped up the frequency of military exercises and Washington has dispatched three aircraft careers to the region to deal with any potential conflict. While, Beijing, a close strategic ally of North Korea, appealed for talks between the concerned parties, but so far refrained from joining any military manoeuvres.
Liang's comments also came in the back drop of reports in US media that Chinese military is not powerful technologically and needs a long way to go. "Without the military of more than two million troops China will be a weak country. A major aspect of its strong national power, I think, is a strong defence," Liang said.
Analysts here also say that by regional conflicts, the Chinese minister in a broader context could also be referring to emerging tensions China and Japan over the disputed islands which escalated in the recent months.
Beijing also resents US involvement in disputes over a host of islands in South China Sea involving China and a number of Southeast Asian countries and tensions on that front also were raising with these countries seeking more deeper engagement by Washington to deal with increasingly assertive China.
China's military build up will correspond with the rapidly developing economy and enhanced national power, he said.
The minister also said that China's armed forces could only depend on themselves, not others, to ensure modernisation
and the development of equipment. "In the next five years, our economy and society will develop faster, boosting comprehensive national power. The developments will provide an even more stable material base to our defence and military build up. We'll take the opportunity and speed up modernisation of the military according to plans already made," he said.
The Communist Party of China (CPC) has discussed the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), which includes a blueprint for the
military build up, and has left it for approval by the National People's Congress in 2011, he said.
Liang said the PLA had reduced the country's military reserves forces from 600,000 to 510,000 men and women over the
past five years.
China has also reduced the number of people in its militias from 10 million to eight million during the same period, Liang said. It is the first time the Chinese government has given the exact number of people in the reserve forces and militias, the news agency said in its report.
The reserve forces and militias can be ordered to assist the PLA in times of emergencies. In times of peace, the PLA's
reserves conduct regular military training and participate in non-combat military operations, such as disaster relief work.
Looking back on the past five years, Liang viewed the period as one of rapid development for the Chinese military that resulted in "historic, huge achievements".
The last five years also saw the military supporting major events including disaster relief, Liang said. "The military comes from the people and serves the people. It is incumbent on them to help when the country experiences disasters."
The PLA's capability to engage in modern warfare has also increased sharply and the number of high-quality military personnel is growing, especially those for operations that demand a commanding knowledge of a specific technology, Liang
However, "the level of modernization of the Chinese military still lags far behind developed countries," he added. But, China has also made significant progress in international military exchanges and established them with more than 150 countries and defence and security dialogue with 22 countries, he said.