PLA Tank Firing (Photo: China MOD English)
by David Parmer
The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China issued a white paper on defense in May 2015 titled China’s Military Strategy. The document outlines challenges facing China in the 21st century and lists China’s ongoing and future response to those challenges.
The document is divided into six sections. It might be considered a SWOT analysis of the military-geopolitical situation from the Chinese perspective. Here is a short look at each section with emphasis on key points contained therein.
- National Security Situation
The forces for world peace are on the rise, so are the factors against war. In the foreseeable future, a world war is unlikely, and the international situation is expected to remain generally peaceful.
Terrorist activities are growing increasingly worrisome. Hotspot issues, such as ethnic, religious, border and territorial disputes, are complex and volatile. Small-scale wars, conflicts and crises are recurrent in some regions. Therefore, the world still faces both immediate and potential threats of local wars.
China, as a large developing country, still faces multiple and complex security threats, as well as increasing external impediments and challenges. Subsistence and development security concerns, as well as traditional and non-traditional security threats are interwoven. Therefore, China has an arduous task to safeguard its national unification, territorial integrity and development interests.
It is thus a long-standing task for China to safeguard its maritime rights and interests. Certain disputes over land territory are still smoldering. The Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia are shrouded in instability and uncertainty. Regional terrorism, separatism and extremism are rampant. All these have a negative impact on the security and stability along China’s periphery.
The Taiwan issue bears on China’s reunification and long-term development, and reunification is an inevitable trend in the course of national rejuvenation. In recent years, cross-Taiwan Straits relations have sustained a sound momentum of peaceful development, but the root cause of instability has not yet been removed, and the “Taiwan independence” separatist forces and their activities are still the biggest threat to the peaceful development of cross-Straits relations.
Summary: This section shows the Chinese perception of its situation with regard to its neighbors, the region and the wider world. The most telling assessment is the view expressed above: “China has an arduous task to safeguard its national unification, territorial integrity and development interests.” These three areas are the core areas of interest for China, and from which much of its strategy and plans flow.
- Mission and Strategic Tasks of China’s Armed Forces
China’s national strategic goal is to complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2021 when the CPC celebrates its centenary; and the building of a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious by 2049 when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) marks its centenary. It is a Chinese Dream of achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
China’s armed forces mainly shoulder the following strategic tasks:
– To deal with a wide range of emergencies and military threats, and effectively safeguard the sovereignty and security of China’s territorial land, air and sea;
mot– To resolutely safeguard the unification of the motherland;
– To safeguard China’s security and interests in new domains;
– To safeguard the security of China’s overseas interests;
– To maintain strategic deterrence and carry out nuclear counterattack;
– To participate in regional and international security cooperation and maintain regional and world peace;
– To strengthen efforts in operations against infiltration, separatism and terrorism so as to maintain China’s political security and social stability; and
– To perform such tasks as emergency rescue and disaster relief, rights and interests protection, guard duties, and support for national economic and social development.
Summary: While this section defines missions for the Chinese armed forces in a present and future context, it also again takes an historical perspective and speaks of the “rejuvenation of the motherland.” From this we can gather that China still sees its revolution as ongoing, i.e. that Liberation in 1949 was not a static event, but is ongoing, and that the effects of the period of imperialism and warlordism have not been completely eradicated.
III Strategic Guidance of Active Defense
The strategic concept of active defense is the essence of the CPC’s military strategic thought. From the long-term practice of revolutionary wars, the people’s armed forces have developed a complete set of strategic concepts of active defense, which boils down to: adherence to the unity of strategic defense and operational and tactical offense; adherence to the principles of defense, self-defense and post-emptive strike; and adherence to the stance that “We will not attack unless we are attacked, but we will surely counterattack if attacked.”
To implement the military strategic guideline of active defense in the new situation, China’s armed forces will uphold the following principles:
– To foster a strategic posture favorable to China’s peaceful development, adhere to the national defense policy that is defensive in nature, persevere in close coordination of political, military, economic and diplomatic work, and positively cope with comprehensive security threats the country possibly encounters;
— To employ strategies and tactics featuring flexibility and mobility, give full play to the overall effectiveness of joint operations, concentrate superior forces, and make integrated use of all operational means and methods;
— To bring into full play the unique political advantages of the people’s armed forces, uphold the CPC’s absolute leadership over the military, accentuate the cultivation of fighting spirit, enforce strict discipline, improve the professionalism and strength of the troops, build closer relations between the government and the military as well as between the people and the military, and boost the morale of officers and men;
— To give full play to the overall power of the concept of people’s war, persist in employing it as an ace weapon to triumph over the enemy, enrich the contents, ways and means of the concept of people’s war, and press forward with the shift of the focus of war mobilization from human resources to science and technology
Summary: In this section the MOD lays out a strategy of defense and active offense. A key phrase is “We will not attack unless we are attacked, but we will surely counterattack if attacked.”
Of interest here is the inclusion of “people’s war”, a term coined by Mao Zedong and used during the WWII and during the Chinese Revolution. It would be helpful to have a comprehensive explanation of how this historical concept functions in the light of 21st century conditions and the threats presented to the PRC.
IV Building and Development of China’s Armed Forces
In line with the strategic requirement of mobile operations and multi-dimensional offense and defense, the PLA Army (PLAA) will continue to reorient from theater defense to trans-theater mobility. In the process of building small, multi-functional and modular units, the PLAA will adapt itself to tasks in different regions, develop the capacity of its combat forces for different purposes, and construct a combat force structure for joint operations. The PLAA will elevate its capabilities for precise, multi-dimensional, trans-theater, multi-functional and sustainable operations.
In line with the strategic requirement of offshore waters defense and open seas protection, the PLA Navy (PLAN) will gradually shift its focus from “offshore waters defense” to the combination of “offshore waters defense” with “open seas protection,” and build a combined, multi-functional and efficient marine combat force structure. The PLAN will enhance its capabilities for strategic deterrence and counterattack, maritime maneuvers, joint operations at sea, comprehensive defense and comprehensive support.
PLA Air Force
In line with the strategic requirement of building air-space capabilities and conducting offensive and
defensive operations, the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) will endeavor to shift its focus from territorial air defense to both defense and offense, and build an air-space defense force structure that can meet the requirements of informationized operations. The PLAAF will boost its capabilities for strategic early warning, air strike, air and missile defense, information countermeasures, airborne operations, strategic projection and comprehensive support.
PLA Second Artillery Force
In line with the strategic requirement of being lean and effective and possessing both nuclear and conventional missiles, the PLA Second Artillery Force (PLASAF) will strive to transform itself in the direction of informationization, press forward with independent innovations in weaponry and equipment by reliance on science and technology, enhance the safety, reliability and effectiveness of missile systems, and improve the force structure featuring a combination of both nuclear and conventional capabilities. The PLASAF will strengthen its capabilities for strategic deterrence and nuclear counterattack, and medium- and long-range precision strikes.
People’s Armed Police Force
In line with the strategic requirement of performing multiple functions and effectively maintaining social stability, the PAPF will continue to develop its forces for guard and security, contingency response, stability maintenance, counter-terrorism operations, emergency rescue and disaster relief, emergency support and air support, and work to improve a force structure which highlights guard duty, contingency response, counter-terrorism and stability maintenance. The PAPF will enhance its capabilities for performing diversified tasks centering on guard duty and contingency response in informationized conditions.
China will unconditionally not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or in nuclear-weapon-free zones, and will never enter into a nuclear arms race with any other country. China has always kept its nuclear capabilities at the minimum level required for maintaining its national security.
Summary: Section IV is the longest and most detailed and comprehensive section of the report. It give specific ways in which the military will meet the objectives laid out in the previous sections. At the same time it is laced with elements of overall strategic vision.
This section also covers other topics such as:
- Protecting maritime rights
- Outer space
- Cyber space
- Use of nuclear weapons
- Ideological concerns
- Civilian Military Integration (CMI)
- Preparation for Military Struggle
Preparation for military struggle (PMS) is a basic military practice and an important guarantee for safeguarding peace, containing crises and winning wars. To expand and intensify PMS, China’s armed forces must meet the requirement of being capable of fighting and winning, focus on solving major problems and difficulties, and do solid work and make relentless efforts in practical preparations, in order to enhance their overall capabilities for deterrence and warfighting.
Due to its complex geostrategic environment, China faces various threats and challenges in all its strategic directions and security domains. Therefore, PMS must be carried out in a well-planned, prioritized, comprehensive and coordinated way, so as to maintain the balance and stability of the overall strategic situation.
Maintaining constant combat readiness. China’s armed forces will continue to improve its routine combat readiness, maintain a posture of high alertness, and conscientiously organize border, coastal and air defense patrols and guard duties.
Enhancing realistic military training. The PLA will continue to attach strategic importance to combat training in realistic conditions, and strictly temper the troops according to the Outline of Military Training and Evaluation (OMTE).
Preparing for military operations other than war (MOOTWs). As a necessary requirement for China’s armed forces to fulfill their responsibilities and missions in the new period as well as an important approach to enhancing their operational capabilities, the armed forces will continue to conduct such MOOTWs as emergency rescue and disaster relief, counter-terrorism and stability maintenance, rights and interests protection, guard duty, international peacekeeping, and international humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR).
Summary: Section V. outlines China’s determination to be ready to face a variety of threats through training and preparation, and also covers MOOTW, Military Operations Other Than War. Most important: “China’s armed forces must meet the requirement of being capable of fighting and winning…”
VI Military and Security Cooperation
Pursuing a security concept featuring common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, China’s armed forces will continue to develop military-to-military relations that are non-aligned, non-confrontational and not directed against any third party. They will strive to establish fair and effective collective security mechanisms and military confidence-building measures (CBMs), expand military and security cooperation, and create a security environment favorable to China’s peaceful development.
Summary: The final section of the report outlines China’s participation in the wider stage of world cooperation and international security. This cooperation includes:
- Developing military-to-military relations
- Pushing ahead with pragmatic military cooperation
- Fulfilling international responsibilities and obligations
Conclusion: The May 2015 white paper can be seen as a document for both internal and external use. Internally it is a mission statement from the Party Center to the Chinese military giving them a general direction and a set of standards to achieve in the defending the country in the early 21st century and beyond. Externally it is giving China’s neighbors and the world a look into its strategic thinking.
China has been accused of a lack of transparency in its military development, and this document may be seen as an effort to answer that criticism. Also, when there are reports of a “Chinese military buildup,” China can point to the white paper of May 2015 to show that such development is planned and ongoing and designed to meet the goals laid out in the report.
Those who are looking for the direction in which China sees itself going in this century and beyond, and how the Chinese see the challenges that their country faces would do well to read this report and President Xi Jinping’s book, The Governance of China for a start.
China Ministry of National Defense white paper May 2015 (English)