BEIJING (Reuters) - China should build the world's strongest military and move swiftly to topple the United States as the global "champion," a senior Chinese PLA officer says in a new book reflecting swelling nationalist ambitions.
The call for China to abandon modesty about its global goals and "sprint to become world number one" comes from a People's Liberation Army (PLA) Senior Colonel, Liu Mingfu, who warns that his nation's ascent will alarm Washington, risking war despite Beijing's hopes for a "peaceful rise."
"China's big goal in the 21st century is to become world number one, the top power," Liu writes in his newly published Chinese-language book, "The China Dream."
"If China in the 21st century cannot become world number one, cannot become the top power, then inevitably it will become a straggler that is cast aside," writes Liu, a professor at the elite National Defense University, which trains rising officers.
His 303-page book stands out for its boldness even in a recent chorus of strident Chinese voices demanding a hard shove back against Washington over trade, Tibet, human rights, and arms sales to Taiwan, the self-ruled island Beijing claims as its own.
"As long as China seeks to rise to become world number one ... then even if China is even more capitalist than the U.S., the U.S. will still be determined to contain it," writes Liu.
Rivalry between the two powers is a "competition to be the leading country, a conflict over who rises and falls to dominate the world," says Liu. "To save itself, to save the world, China must prepare to become the (world's) helmsman."
"The China Dream" does not represent government policy, which has been far less strident about the nation's goals.
Liu's book testifies to the homegrown pressures on China's Communist Party leadership to show the country's fast economic growth is translating into greater sway against the West, still mired in an economic slowdown.
The next marker of how China's leaders are handling these swelling expectations may come later this week, when the government is likely to announce its defense budget for 2010, after a 14.9 percent rise last year on the one in 2008.
"This book represents my personal views, but I think it also reflects a tide of thought," Liu told Reuters in an interview. "We need a military rise as well as an economic rise."
Another PLA officer has said this year's defense budget should send a defiant signal to Washington after the Obama administration went ahead in January with long-known plans to sell $6.4 billion worth of arms to Taiwan.
"I think one part of 'public opinion' that the leadership pays attention to is elite opinion, and that includes the PLA," said Alan Romberg, an expert on China and Taiwan at the Henry L. Stimson Center, an institute in Washington D.C.
"I think the authorities are seeking to keep control of the reaction, even as they need to take (it) into account," Romberg said in an emailed response to questions.
Liu argues that China should use its growing revenues to become the world's biggest military power, so strong the United States "would not dare and would not be able to intervene in military conflict in the Taiwan Strait."
"If China's goal for military strength is not to pass the United States and Russia, then China is locking itself into being a third-rate military power," he writes. "Turn some money bags into bullet holders."
China's leaders do not want to jeopardize ties with the United States, a key trade partner and still by far the world's biggest economy and military power.
Yet Chinese public ire, echoed on the Internet, means policy-makers have to tread more carefully when handling rival domestic and foreign demands, said Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.
"Chinese society is changing, and you see that in all the domestic views now on what China should do about the United States," said Jin. "If society demands a stronger stance, ignoring that can bring a certain cost."
Liu's book was officially published in January, but is only now being sold in Beijing bookstores.
In recent months, strains have widened between Beijing and Washington over trade, Internet controls, climate change, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and President Barack Obama's meeting with Tibet's exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, who China reviles.
China has so far responded with angry words and a threat to sanction U.S. companies involved in the Taiwan arms sales. But it has not acted on that threat and has allowed a U.S. aircraft carrier to visit Hong Kong.
Over the weekend, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said he wanted trade friction with the United States to ease. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg is due to visit Beijing this week.
Liu and other PLA officers, however, say they see little chance of avoiding deepening rivalry with the United States, whether peaceful or warlike.
"I'm very pessimistic about the future," writes another PLA officer, Colonel Dai Xu, in another recently published book that claims China is largely surrounded by hostile or wary countries beholden to the United States.
"I believe that China cannot escape the calamity of war, and this calamity may come in the not-too-distant future, at most in 10 to 20 years," writes Dai.
"If the United States can light a fire in China's backyard, we can also light a fire in their backyard," warns Dai.
Liu said he hoped China and the United States could manage their rivalry through peaceful competition.
"In his State of the Union speech, Obama said the United States would never accept coming second-place, but if he reads my book he'll know China does not want to always be a runner-up," said Liu in the interview.
Editing by Benjamin Kang Lim and Jeremy Laurence