Does China Want to Be Top Superpower?

New book says China's goal is to replace the U.S. as leading superpower.

March 2, 2010, 9:20 AM

BEIJING, March 2, 2010 — -- "China's grand goal in the 21st century is to become the world's No. 1 power."

These words were written by Liu Mingfu, a senior colonel in the People's Liberation Army, in a new book titled "China's Dream."

For those watching the phenomenal economic rise of China and seeking to divine its ambitions, this 303-page book offers some ideas about the country's quest for global leadership.

"To become the world's No. 1 has been China's century-old dream. It was this dream that inspired three generations of great Chinese leaders, from Sun Yat Sen to Mao Zedong to Deng Xiaoping," Liu wrote in a passage reflecting a growing nationalist sentiment shared by many Chinese.

Colonel Liu, a professor at the National Defense University -- an elite academy tasked with training senior PLA officers -- urges China to replace the United States as the top global player by building its economy into the world's biggest and complementing it with a formidable military.

Liu said it would take 90 years for China to catch up with the United States, roughly divided into three stages: 30 years to match its gross domestic product; 30 years to equal its strength in military and cultural spheres; and another 30 years to equal, if not surpass, its per capita GDP.

"The duel in the 21st century between China and the United States is over which one will be the global champion. In the past 500 years, different countries have emerged as the global champion -- Portugal in the 16th century, followed by Holland, then England in the18th and 19th centuries, and the United States in the 20th century," he writes. "It will be China's turn to be the global champion in the 21st century."

But he makes it clear in his book that he does not view conflict with the United States as inevitable.

"The competition between China and the United States will not take the form of a world war or a cold war. It will not be like a 'shooting duel' or a 'boxing match' but more like a 'track and field' competition. It will be like a protracted 'marathon.'"

China and U.S. in a Marathon?

"There is no need for the American public to be afraid of China," Liu wrote to ABC News in an e-mail. "The strategic competition between China and the United States will be the most civilized in the history of mankind."

He said that "it is not necessary to have an arms race with the United States," adding that "for a fairly long period of time it is impossible and unnecessary for China's military to surpass the United States."

But he nevertheless stressed in his book the need to "turn money bags into bullet holders" and build a strong military. The purpose: "to prevent the United States from daring to fight Chinese forces and, if fighting erupts, to enable the Chinese military to avoid being defeated."

Liu said Taiwan could be a flash point. He said he wanted the Chinese military to be strong enough so that the U.S. "would not dare and would not be able to intervene in a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait."

Liu said the views he expressed in his book are his own and do not necessarily represent official policy. He said one of his aims in writing this book was "to elicit discussion and exchange of ideas so that through debate the truth will emerge."

A Chinese scholar, Jin Canrong of the School of International Studies at Renmin University, told ABC News that "the book simply represents the personal views of the author, and though it is interesting that the writer is a soldier in this case, it should not be viewed as reflecting the intentions of the Chinese military or even the top leadership."

But, he said, the book "has a certain market in some segments of Chinese society at present, though it doesn't necessarily represent the silent majority, who are more interested in domestic issues like the rising cost of housing or food prices."

Nationalism on the Rise in China

As Jin pointed out, "The Chinese leadership is still sticking to Deng Xiaoping's guiding idea that China should keep a low profile in the world and focus on domestic affairs."

But he said the publication of Liu's book reflects a growing sentiment in China that the country ought to assume a higher profile in global affairs.

The Web site of the state-owned Global Times invited people to vote in an informal survey, and got a big majority -- 80 percent of a sample of 4,448 respondents -- in favor of Chinese efforts to become the world's top military power.

The respondents were split (52 percent in favor, 48 percent against) on whether the quest for such an ambitious goal should be expressed in public.