Dawn of a new era in China’s National Defence

Published: July 30, 2019 1:14:58 PM

The paper affirms that China firmly upholds freedom of navigation and overflight by all countries in accordance with international law and safeguards the security of sea lines of communication (SLOCs).

Dawn of a new era, China, National Defence, NATO, National Defence in the New Era, DWP, Foreign Affairs Office, People Republic of China, PRC, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous RegionGiven the good relationship between Russia and China, this is a bit surprising. (Reuters)

By Lt Gen S L Narasimhan (Retd)

China brought out its 10th Defence White Paper (DWP) titled “China’s National Defence in the New Era” on 24 July 2019. Starting from 1998 till 2010, China had issued a DWP in December of every even year. Thereafter, there has been a stagger. The present DWP has been issued after a gap of four years. As has been the norm, it was released publicly by the Foreign Affairs Office of the Peoples Liberation Army. The Defence Attachés of all the countries posted in Beijing and the press were given a briefing about the contents of the DWP. This DWP has six chapters.

Chapter 1 deal with the international security situation. While many of the analysts have picked up the lines – “international security system and order are undermined by growing hegemonism, power politics, unilateralism, and constant regional conflicts and wars” the important thing to note is the stance the paper takes that “the configuration of strategic power is becoming more balanced”. Through this statement, the paper seems to convey that the comprehensive national power of China is growing.

While explaining how the USA, Europe, and NATO have increased their capabilities, it also says that Russia is increasing its capabilities for strategic containment. Given the good relationship between Russia and China, this is a bit surprising. China acknowledges that the security of individual countries is becoming increasingly intertwined, interlinked and interactive. It claims that the situation of the South China Sea is generally stable. Importance of science and technology in warfare and evolution of warfare from informationised warfare to intelligent warfare are also highlighted. Intelligent warfare involves the use of Artificial Intelligence in warfare.

The emphasis of the chapter on “China’s Defensive National Defence Policy in the New Era” is to convey that China will pursue a national defence policy that is defensive in nature. This has been the officially stated defence policy of China for long. It lays down the national defence aims, claims that South China Sea islands and Diaoyu Islands are inalienable parts of the Chinese territory and explains that it exercises its national sovereignty to build infrastructure and deploy as necessary. The paper affirms that China firmly upholds freedom of navigation and overflight by all countries in accordance with international law and safeguards the security of sea lines of communication (SLOCs). On Taiwan, the DWP says that China adheres to the principles of “peaceful reunification”, and “one country, two systems”. However, later it avers that China makes no promise to renounce the use of force.

Interestingly China says that since its founding 70 years ago, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has never started any war or conflict simply overlooking the fact that it started the 1962 war with India. In the military strategic guideline for a new era, active defence finds a mention. This is a concept from the Mao era which is still followed in China. As has been the past, DWP also declares a no first use policy for nuclear weapons and People’s war finds a mention. The connotation of the People’s War has changed from olden times. In that, people’s effort and help to support PLA’s operations are what is sought now as against joining the PLA. Intelligent warfare finds a mention once again in this chapter. China’s armed forces will fulfill their international responsibilities and obligations meaning thereby that China will meet the UN Peacekeeping and Humanitarian assistance obligations.

Chapter 3 deals with Fulfilling the Missions and Tasks of China’s Armed Forces in the New Era. This chapter explains as to how China’s armed forces protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of China. It claims that PLA strives to promote stability and security along the border with India and takes effective measures to create favorable conditions for the peaceful resolution of the Donglang (Doklam) standoff. DWP claims that the military training in real combat conditions across the armed forces and in jointness is in full swing. Importance of outer space and cyberspace have been highlighted. Very interestingly this DWP mentions national cyber border defence and national cyber sovereignty. The world is divided on the concept of cyber sovereignty and it does not say how China defines it.

The role of Peoples Armed Police (PAP) in hostage situations, incidents of severe violence, and terrorist attacks find mention. It also claims that since 2014, the PAP has assisted the government of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in taking out 1,588 violent terrorist gangs and capturing 12,995 terrorists. Protection of overseas interests of China which appeared for the first time in the 2015 DWP finds an elaboration when it says “one of the missions of China’s armed forces is to effectively protect the security and legitimate rights and interests of overseas Chinese people, organizations and institutions”. This indicates an increasing emphasis on power projection capabilities of China. PLA and PAP assisting in the removal of a lake that formed in the Yarlung Zangbo (Brahmaputra) River have been highlighted.

The next chapter gives a detailed account of the Military Reforms that PLA is undergoing. Though there is nothing new in the information, it confirms the details already known. One of the annexures gives out the work allocation in the Central Military Commission (CMC). This is useful from a functional point of view. Troop reduction, restructuring of military education institutions, expanding roles for the navy and air force, the role of the newly formed PLA Strategic Support Force and the PLA Joint Logistics Support Force have been covered.

The chapter of Defence expenditure tries to justify the defence expenditure of China and takes the support of graphs to prove its point. The GDP to defence expenditure correlation is suspect. The DWP also tries to compare China’s defence expenditure by saying that other countries including India spend more on defence as a percentage of GDP.

The last chapter is titled Actively Contributing to Building

a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind. It justifies this role by saying that China has played a constructive role in the political settlement of regional hotspots. China wrongly claims to be a founding member of the UN. As per the paper, China actively participates in international arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation and engaged in military exchanges with more than 150 countries. On a positive note, it says that despite the trade dispute China-US military relations remain generally stable.

The annexures, in the end, give out details of Functions of organs of CMC, defence expenditure, multilateral treaties, major joint exercises, security dialogues, and participation in UN Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief operations.

Overall, this DWP comes across as an effort to justify China’s actions and her anxiety about China-US relations. India China relations are in a positive tone in this paper. Intelligent Warfare is in the offing and India needs to take note of it.

(The author is Member, National Security Advisory Board. Views expressed are personal)

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