The Ministry of Defense of the People’s Republic of China’s publication of the document titled The National Defense of China during the New Era (The White Book) at the end of July this year was a noticeable event of the world politics. It provides the official statement of the second world superpower’s leadership expressing its views of the condition and transformation trends in the country and the political and strategic situation in the outside world. Therefore, the range of activities aimed at ensuring the defense of and maintaining security in China is defined.
The previous version of this program document was issued at the end of 2015 when there was a need for a radical revision of the structure of the armed forces and the control system of the whole power block of the country.
On July 24 this year, the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China held the official presentation of the new document whose (English-language) text is given on 51 pages full of meaning and texture.
The preamble already discloses the main motive of its emergence which is directly following from the key political concepts of the People’s Republic of China of the recent years: “Today, with their interests and security intertwined, people across the world are becoming members of a community with a shared future. China is at a critical stage of completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects…. Socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era.”
The main part singles out the profound changes happening in the world which are followed by economic globalization, the emergence of information societies, cultural diversification and aspiration to peace and mutually advantageous cooperation. “Nonetheless, there are prominent destabilizing factors and uncertainties in international security,” shown in an especially noticeable way in the Asia-Pacific which “the world economic and strategic center continues to shift towards”. This region is designated as “a focus of major country competition.”
The document unambiguously defines the principal source of the international problems: the US, whose national defense strategy and security maintenance measures are aimed at carrying out “unilateral policies.” The US has “significantly increased its defense expenditure, pushed for additional capacity in nuclear, outer space, cyber and missile defense.” All of which has generally “undermined global strategic stability.”
Given these conditions, “political stability, ethnic unity and social stability” of China by increasing “overall national strength, global influence, and resilience to risks” is required.
The main part of the document is stated in the 4th section titled Reform in China’s National Defense and Armed Forces. It confirms the trends outlined by the document of late 2015. In particular, the older document already put forward the task of simplifying the control system of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), including, by removing excessive horizontal barriers from it and increasing the overall efficiency in compliance with the Revolution in Military Affairs concept that appeared in the US in the late 1990s.
The same document (of 2015) mentioned the need for reducing the total number of armed forces by 300,000 (generally at the expense of the land forces) and reaching the total figure of 2 million servicemen.
The same document also attached particular importance to the development of the Naval Forces, the Air Forces and Strategic rocket forces (which were then called the second artillery) for resolving the political problem of securing the key interests of the country (mainly, on the main maritime trade routes).
The 6th and final section (Actively Contributing to Building a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind) pays special attention to the cooperation with Russia in the sphere of defense and security which is not only bilateral in nature, but also is “playing a significant role in maintaining global strategic stability.”
One of document subtitles sounds as something remarkable: “[China is] Never Seeking Hegemony, Expansion or [dividing the world by] Spheres of Influence.” It was chosen as the key statement of the whole document during its presentation held by the representatives of PRC Defense Ministry. The official comment made by Global Times reads in the same vein (“China’s military strong but defensive”).
The evolution of the relative military expenses and their present level given in the document may serve as a strong argument in favor of these statements. Although, on an absolute scale, the aforementioned expenses of the PRC are the second largest in the world (after the US) today, lagging behind the US four times and exceeding the Russian ones three times, they are still within the level of 1.3% of the GDP. The expenditure part of the PRC state budget envisages share of the defense expenses of a little more than 5%.
That is, in relative terms, the military expenses of the PRC are on the same level as those of such “losers” as Japan (1% of GDP) and Germany (1.3%), and many times less than those of the “leaders” like Russia and the US. This overall picture is not going to change radically even if one considers certain “hidden” Chinese military expenses they like to discuss in the US.
It is only natural that the comment provided by the “well-wishers” of the PRC expresses doubt about the good intentions of the document in question. At the same time, the main argument of such skepticism relies upon various passages which directly or indirectly touch upon the Taiwan issue. Which is indeed extremely sensitive for the Chinese establishment in general.
Thus, already at the beginning of the comment by the Associated Press agency, it is emphasized that China “does not exclude the use of force” for resolving the Taiwan accession issue. Further attention is paid to the issue of “fight against separatism” outlined in the document whose manifestations are noted mainly in two Special administrative regions of the People’s Republic of China: Xinjiang-Uighur and Tibet.
Let us add that the situation in both regions, as well as in Hong Kong recently, has for a long time been the main topic of the anti-Chinese propaganda campaign carried out by the very same “well-wishers.” With a specific part of the Russian political circle always ready to join (as it already did regarding the issues of North Korea and Cambodia in the past).
At a professional level, the new conceptual document in the field of defense and security of the People’s Republic of China is currently being discussed by one of the leading US analytical institutions, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
The article published by the CSIS written by Anthony H. Cordesman (specializing, as one may gather, generally on the problems of the Greater Middle East and resolving which this expert was directly involved in) has a remarkable subtitle An Open Strategic Challenge to the United States, But One Which Does Not Have to Lead to Conflict.
Trying to adhere to the style of conscientious scientific opposition to the document in question and expressing a number of critical remarks thereon, the author of the article draws a remarkable intermediate conclusion: “At the same time, it is important to note that in some ways, the Chinese White Paper is more moderate in its treatment of the U.S. than U.S. strategy papers have been in discussing military developments in China.”
As they say, if only these words could reach the ears of the numerous leaders of the US establishment. However, its problem today is that these leaders are watching one another in an increasingly carnivorous manner.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.