Beijing Releases New Defense White Paper
June 4 2015
Last week, the Chinese Ministry of Defense issued its first policy document in two years, a white paper titled, “Chinese Military Strategy.” Defense white papers, which are China’s most authoritative statements on national security, are released by the State Council Information Office after approval by the Central Military Commission, Ministry of National Defense, and State Council.
The paper, which can be read in English and Chinese, reaffirmed some key strategic goals of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), including that the PLA’s most important task remains maintaining the power and authority of the Communist Party of China (CCP). The paper also admitted that the PLA faces a number of big organizational issues to overcome to become a fully effective fighting force, a fact that is no secret to most China military analysts.
However, the document also broke new ground by highlighting what Beijing sees as the four key areas of China’s national security going forward: the ocean, outer space, nuclear force, and cyber space. Given China’s recent activity in the South China Sea, it is the naval strategy portion of the document that is receiving the greatest amount of international attention. Satellite images released last month show the construction of a runway on Fiery Cross Reef, part of the Spratly Islands, an archipelago claimed by at least three other countries. The document announced plans for the construction of two lighthouses in disputed waters, which will undoubtedly contribute to escalating tensions in the region. It also stated that the Chinese Navy will shift its focus to “open seas protection” rather than “offshore waters defense” alone, signaling Beijing’s intention to strengthen its maritime influence.
As for the other three areas, the white paper also said the PLA’s nuclear force, known as the Second Artillery Corps, would strengthen its capabilities for deterrence and nuclear counterattack as well as medium- and long-range precision strikes. Meanwhile, China’s air force will shift its focus from territorial air defense to “both defense and offense.” And for the first time, the State Council cited “grave threats” to China’s cyber infrastructure, adding that China would hasten development of a cyber military force. While China’s naval ambitions are currently receiving the media’s attention, Beijing’s intention to improve its cyber influence, particularly in space, will likely be of great concern to the United States going forward.
For its own part, Beijing insisted in the document that its military is dedicated to “international security cooperation” and peaceful development. On the other hand, the white paper made it clear that they are determined to prepare for war, should it come to that. This is in line with the Global Time editorial published the day before the white paper, which stated (translated), “We do not want a military conflict with the United States, but if it were to come we have to accept it.” While editorials in state-run papers are not official representations of Beijing’s position, they often reflect government sentiment.
Unsurprisingly, most U.S. government sources have declined to comment specifically on the strategy outline in the white paper. In one of the more prolific statements, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said its publication was “a step in the right direction” in terms of transparency and “exactly the type of thing that we’ve been calling for” in that respect. It is true that the white paper is a big step of China in terms of military transparency. Yet transparency can also be quite self-serving. “White papers always entail an element of public diplomacy, signaling, and posturing,” said Shashank Joshi of Royal United Services Institute at London, and Beijing has certainly utilized such methods in the past.
Other sources are less reluctant to comment on what the white paper might mean for the United States and the international arena as a whole. Patrick Cronin, director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, called the white paper “a blueprint for achieving slow-motion regional hegemony” that “asserts a confidence backed by growing capability on land and increasingly at sea.” “While it calls for balancing China’s territorial ‘rights’ with ‘stability,’” he said, “There should be little doubt on the part of its neighbors that China is building a maritime force to assert the former.”
As for the U.S.-China aspect, “I think China has been feeling pretty confident as it pushed ahead, trying to feel the threshold where the U.S. reaction would be,” said Bernard D. Cole, a professor at the National War College. “We may be seeing that threshold now, but I see absolutely no evidence that China is going to stop its island construction.”
For more information on this topic, visit the following links:
The Diplomat – China’s Military Dream
Foreign Policy – China’s Military Blueprint: Bigger Navy, Bigger Global Role
Global Times – White Paper States China’s Peaceful Intention
People’s Daily (人民网) – 学者解读国防白皮书《中国的军事战略》
China News (中国新闻网) – 专家：白皮书多个“首次”展示中国军队开放与透明
Hexun (和讯) – 《中国的军事战略》白皮书发布 着眼建设信息化军队
Compiled and edited by Emily O’Brien