China’s latest official White Paper on Military Strategy highlights the Chinese interpretation of contemporary “global trends toward multi-polarity and economic globalisation”. This attribution submits to the core assumption of liberal international theories, which posit that interdependence (more specifically, economic symbiosis) among states influences state behaviour, much in divergence to the realist paradigm. While economic interaction appears the ideal driver for states to adopt cooperative frameworks, the pressing geo-strategic realities have always been the pivot that hold the potential to invade upon any/all realignments, and China’s relationships with key Asian neighbours is testament to this submission.
Managing growing Chinese power and influence and shaping China’s strategic posture and policies would be critical for not only an Asia-Pacific security order, but the entire region per se. The internal discourse in China seems to acknowledge that even the slightest acceptance of international intervention shall prove detrimental to Chinese claims that it contests with other countries in Asia.
There is recognition in the 2015 paper that “China’s comprehensive national strength and core competitiveness are notably increasing” — with reference to the reverberations in the Asia-Pacific geo-strategic landscape, which appear to be centre stage in China’s overall strategic and tactical thinking and planning. By making a categorical mention of the United States’ “rebalancing strategy” and “enhanced military presence and alliances in this region”, coupled with “Japan sparing no effort to dodge the post-war mechanism, overhauling its military and security policies”, China has only confirmed Xi Jinping administration’s indirect reference to “reclaiming lost historical Chinese territories”, which has been reiterated at many recent Central Conferences of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Incidentally, the CCP and its centrality to the very existence of China’s political structure has been accorded primacy throughout the paper, when it repeatedly, and unambiguously states, “…the Chinese armed forces will unswervingly adhere to the principle of the CCP’s absolute leadership, and work to build themselves into a people’s military that follows the CCP’s commands…” The paper goes to the extent of interlinking firm maintenance of “social stability”, for it to remain a staunch force for “resolutely upholding the CCP’s ruling position”.
The White Paper consciously appears to outline the missions and strategic tasks of the PLA with the overall “national strategic goal” to accomplish building of a “moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2021”, when the CCP celebrates its centenary, and further achieve the “Chinese Dream of achieving rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” as the set objective for 2049, when the People’s Republic of China reaches a centennial. This directly branches out of Xi’s larger vision, placing greater emphasis on military diplomacy as a part of China’s overall foreign policy strategy, which seeks to ensure stability along China’s periphery. Xi advocated in favour of effective application of growing Chinese power and influence — much in concurrence to what the 2015 White Paper suggests as well. Xi has chosen to present diplomacy as a means of effectively applying Chinese power determinants to promote overall influence in its periphery in support of a long-term strategic foreign policy agenda.
Beijing’s assertive actions in the South and East China Seas make it amply clear that the special focus area of the PLA in the coming future shall be the PLA Navy, in line with the strategic requirement of a gradual shift from “offshore waters defence” to the combination of this with “open seas protection”. An additional curious sub-head in the White Paper is on “Preparation for Military Struggle” — an implicit reference to terms such as “…hotspot issues, such as ethnic, religious, border and territorial disputes… small-scale wars, conflicts that are recurrent in some regions…”
The entire discourse presented here only corroborates that China’s much-debated “peaceful rise” theory remains belligerent, primarily because the direction and future course of this rise continues to remain ambiguous. Showcasing its military prowess to the world, Chinese armed forces are signalling that they have come a long way from being essentially a rustic and bucolic “Red Army” that waged a “People’s War” more than six decades ago.
The robust military modernisation programme undertaken by the PLA is the primary foundation of deterrence to attain the objectives of China’s military strategy. Today, the Chinese armed forces are not just preparing to fight wars in the future, but to deter or prevent their outbreak decisively by the possession of an adequate deterrent force, assuring credibility to cope with future small-scale, high-intensive regional combat and military operations.