Saturday, April 2, 2011

Chinese Defence White Paper: An Initial Assessment


Here's the link to an article of mine published by ORF on the just released Chinese Defence White Paper.

China's defence White Paper, titled China's National Defense in 2010, the seventh in the series, was published on March 31, 2011. Does the White Paper bring out anything new? The answer may be a "No" given that it has continued reiterating the same positions on all of these issues. Because of criticism of lack of transparency on security issues, China has decided to come out with these white papers but unfortunately it sheds no new light on the PLA, its objectives or the military modernization. While it remains an important CBM measure, the suspicions about the long term intentions of Beijing can be hardly wished away with the publication of these white papers. The White Paper is essentially what the Chinese want the world to believe what they are doing. Therefore, if China is serious about reducing the regional suspicion about its rise, it has to do something more meaningful.



Underlying the fact that the momentum for economic globalization and multi-polar world are irreversible, the White Paper identifies a few challenges as it outlines its security environment. The "intermittent tension" on the Korean Peninsula and the unraveling security scenario in Afghanistan are seen as major concerns, and the White Paper argues that the Asia-Pacific security has become "more intricate and volatile." Occasional disputes and flare-ups over undemarcated territorial issues and maritime rights have been mentioned as issues contributing to the volatile situation in the Asia-Pacific though thereis no mention of the recent incidents at sea, fuelled by Chinese naval actions.2 The presence of external powers in China's extended neighbourhood - the US and its strengthened regional partnerships -is an issue for Beijing. However, China claims that it is still in "the period of important strategic opportunities for its development," and therefore the idea of cooperating with major traditional powers and new emerging powers, along with good neighbourly relationship, is seen as something Beijing must continue with for mutual benefits. While acknowledging relations with the United States as significant and as a stabilizing tool, Beijing does not mince its words in criticizing Washington for its alliance-kind of relationship, particularly the military sales to the region.

Describing its national defense policy as purely defensive, the White Paper sets out four critical tasks for its armed forces: safeguarding national sovereignty, security and interests of national development; maintaining social harmony and stability; accelerating the modernization of national defense and the armed forces; and maintaining world peace and stability. It further details its strategy as adhering to "the principles of independence and self-defense by the whole nation" and is essentially for maintaining the territorial integrity of its land border, territorial sea and air defenses. China has also begun to emphasize on MOOTW (Military Operations Other Than War), again a theme that began with the last defense White Paper. Beijing argues that there is an increased role for its armed forces on a range of missions, from disaster management missions to riot control to search and rescue operations given the penetrating nature of non-traditional security threats faced by Asia today.

On the modernization of national defense capabilities, the White Paper argues that the PLA is modernizing its forces and equipment "with mechanization as the foundation and informationization as the driving force, while making extensive use of its achievements in information technology, and stepping up the composite and integrated development of mechanization and informationization." Talking of PLA modernization, it emphasizes shifting from a "manpower-intensive to a technology-intensive model." The document mentions the formation of new types of combat forces,without divulging much detail. There is also the modernization of the artillery forces - with the introduction of new types of radar, command information systems, and medium- and high-altitude ground-to-air missiles- for undertaking important military maneuvers - "to carry out precision operations with integrated reconnaissance, control, strike and assessment capabilities." In addition, the PLA Army aviation wing has made significant changes to its role and function - moving away from being a support arm to being a main-battle assault force. Air power has been given a lot of emphasis evident from the upgradation undertaken in its armed helicopters, transport and service helicopters, thereby making marked differences in its ability to move and support infantry forces, force projection as well as extending support role in various missions.

There has been marked progress on the naval front as well. Introduction of new submarines, frigates, aircraft and large support vessels in support of China's offshore defense strategy or "Far Sea Defense Strategy" as stated by Rear Adm. Zhang Huachen, deputy commander of the East Sea Fleet in April last year.3 Accordingly, PLA Navy plans construction of new support bases in order to strengthen the shore-based support system while complementing the deployment of forces and development of weaponry and equipment. This suggests the future intentions of the Navy to project power beyond the immediate neighbourhood.

However, the most significant pronouncement has been regarding the role of the PLA Air Force - to meet "the strategic requirements of conducting both offensive and defensive operations." The Air Force is projected to have important roles in the coming years that emphasizes "air strikes, air and missile defense, and strategic projection," while improving its "leadership and command system for an informationized, networked base support system."Similarly, it has been training on various scenarios involving extensive electromagnetic environment, recognizing the importance of these in future warfare scenarios. Similarly, there has been major push for modernizing its Second Artillery Force with an objective of sharpening their capabilities for "rapid reaction, penetration, precision strike, damage infliction, protection, and survivability, while steadily enhancing its capabilities in strategic deterrence and defensive operations."

A great deal of emphasis has been placed on the need to accelerate the development of new and high-tech weaponry and equipment for undertaking the above-mentioned missions and goals. Accordingly, it has strengthened "the retrofitting and management of existing equipment, and promoting the composite development of mechanized and informationized weaponry and equipment."

Additionally, the White Paper discusses defence expenditure and bilateral and multilateral cooperation. Such cooperation involves a range of issues from joint military exercises and training to strengthening cooperation as a Confidence Building Measure (CBM). Confidence building measures are also discussed for maintaining social stability and non-proliferation and arms control issues.

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