The latest defence white paper suggests an increasing willingness to use a modernizing military to settle diplomatic disputes.
Assessing China’s domestic achievements and reviewing the international lay of the land last October, President Hu Jintao declared to the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee that the country was still in a period of ‘strategic opportunity.' Almost six months later, and it’s clear from the latest defence white paper that military planners agree.
The paper, released Thursday, places significant emphasis on the importance of China’s growing economic prowess. There is inevitably the familiar lament over US arms sales to Taiwan, the United States’ involvement in the Asia-Pacific and the reinforcement of US military alliances in the region. But the watchword in what is an extremely upbeat assessment of the country’s national strength is ‘economy.’ This isn’t to say that China isn’t fully aware of the perceived threat that its unprecedented economic growth has created – it’s clear from the paper and elsewhere that it is. But it’s also hardly surprising that China is feeling ever more confident after successfully weathering the turbulent economic waters that the global economy has faced in recent years.
The latest white paper argues that China’s ‘comprehensive national strength has stepped up to a new stage.’ However, unlike the previous paper, which simply stated that China ‘would not seek hegemony or engage in military expansion…no matter how it develops,’ last week’s document is much firmer, stating that ‘China will never seek hegemony…no matter how its economy develops.’
Still, despite such soothing remarks, there’s also an unmistakable self-assurance in the face of increasing suspicion about China, with the paper noting ‘interference and countering moves against China from the outside’ and pressures on China as it seeks to preserve the rights and the interests of its ‘vast territories and territorial seas.’
Looking ahead, the white paper sets out four key tasks for China’s national defence:
- Safeguarding national sovereignty, security and the interests of national development.
- Maintaining social harmony and stability;
- Accelerating the modernization of national defence and the armed forces;
- Maintaining world peace and stability.
Although there’s little new in these broad strokes, there are some interesting differences between this latest document and its predecessors. For example, on the question of defending the country’s security interests, cyber space has been included as a key national defence consideration for the first time. With the creation of a joint operation system having been declared a key feature of the People’s Liberation Army modernization, this emphasis on information technology is set to grow. The document also states that China has achieved a step-change in development of information infrastructure within the armed forces, with the total length of ‘the national defence optical fibre communication network’ apparently having grown by a ‘large margin.’ All this is part of a next generation information transmission network under which optical fibre communication is the mainstay, while satellite and short-wave communications are supplementary. Such a modernization of the PLA is described by the paper as a rational extension of a process already underway.
Photo Credit: US Marine Corps