《孙子兵法》开宗明义第一句话，就是：“兵者，国之大事，死生之地，存亡之道，不可不察也。” 孙子还认为， “故上兵伐谋，其次伐交，其次伐兵，其下攻城。”
Sometime it is called ‘Military Principles’ but the more popular translation is The Art of War.
This is a classical Chinese military treatise written 2,500 years ago. The book was authored by a high-ranking general called Sun Tzu.
The book has since been translated into many languages and read and studied around the world. It is said there are 17 English versions.
You might ask what relevance such an ancient book has in the high technology world of today. Some arguments in The Art of War do seem to be out of touch in the modern world.
But with careful study you will find that many of its strategies, tactics and thoughts are highly relevant today. The book still offers a central text of military thought for defense communities. I know that the book has been adopted as a must-read by West Point and many other military academies.
For China, the importance of The Art of War has spread far beyond military studies. The book has deep influence in framing China’s foreign policy and its approach to security and defense.
The opening line of The Art of War is:
“The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin.
Hence it is a subject of inquiry, which can on no account be neglected.”
Sun Tzu continued:
“Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plan. The next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces. The next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field. And the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.”
The Art of War stands out from other military theory books. The reason is the stress on the cautious use of force and to avoid war.
Sun Tzu is not alone in this view.
Many Chinese philosophers around his time also cautioned against war. Both Lao Tzu and Mencius warned war and conflict carry big dangers.
There have also been thinkers outside China that support this approach. The famous British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, also observed the consistent commitment to peace of China. 90 years ago Russell wrote in his book The Problem of China that:
“Although there have been many wars in China, the natural outlook of the Chinese is very pacifistic.”
China’s commitment to an independent, peaceful foreign policy is based upon its national conditions. This reflects the needs of our time.
• At the heart of our policy is to build a peaceful world that provides shared prosperity for all.
• China does not believe in expansion or hegemony.
• Instead, we have always been a staunch force for world peace and regional stability.
• China will not repeat the errors of history, whereby ‘power leads to hegemony’. That approach has plunged the world into disaster and conflict.
China calls for mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and cooperation to build a peaceful world.
• China actively assumes its fair share of global responsibilities and seeks to shape a friendly neighborhood.
• We want to work with all countries and contribute to a harmonious world of lasting peace and common prosperity.
In essence, The Art of War talks about avoiding war and going to war with caution. But, this prudent approach does not mean fear or cowardice.
It is crucial that leaders around the world understand our defence strategy. They should never mistake the principles of The Art of War as a display of weakness and vulnerability.
China is not to launch preemptive strikes. But in case we are threatened or under attack, there should be no doubt that China will take robust action to protect its interests.