China Military Power: Modernization A Force to Fight and Win
Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) (2019) - International Affairs Academy, Document of the Day - Free Professional Development
Threat Perceptions The party’s perception that China is facing unprecedented security risks is a driving factor in China’s approach to national security. 7 In May 2015, China’s State Council Information Office published a white paper titled China’s Military Strategy, which outlined how Beijing views the global security environment, China’s role in that environment, and how the PLA supports that role. The document presented a vision for the PLA’s services and emerging security domains that would trans - form the PLA from its legacy posture to one focused more on long-range mobility. Within the context of Beijing’s “period of strategic opportunity,” Beijing calculates in China’s Military Strategy that world war is unlikely in the immediate future, but China should be prepared for the possibility of local war. Authoritative Chinese publications typically avoid explicitly listing direct threats, but these threats can be gleaned from several documents that point to Beijing’s security concerns.
Beijing’s primary threat perceptions include sovereignty and domestic security issues that it believes could undermine the overriding strategic objective to perpetuate communist rule. These include longstanding concerns regarding Taiwan independence, Uighur and Tibetan separatism, and perceived challenges to China’s control of disputed areas in the East and South China Seas. Authoritative documents also highlight the Korean Peninsula as an area of instability and uncertainty, and express concern regarding unsettled - The People’s Liberation Army at a Glance Services: Army, Navy, Air Force, Rocket Force, Strategic Support Force. Personnel: Approximately 2 million in regular forces. Recruit base: Conscription, some volunteer. Equipment profile: Primarily domestic systems heavily influenced by technology derived from other countries; modern weaponry in each service; some advanced weaponry. Core strength: Long-range precision strike, information warfare, nuclear retaliatory capability. Developing strengths: Maritime power projection, special operations.
Key vulnerabilities: Logistics, rigid command structure, joint warfare. Territorial disputes along China’s border with India, which periodically result in tense stand - offs like the one that occurred in the summer of 2017 in the disputed Doklam region. 9 Finally, while it calls for a peer-to-peer cooperative relationship with the United States, China also believes that U.S. military presence and U.S.-led security architecture in Asia seeks to constrain China’s rise and interfere with China’s sovereignty, particularly in a Taiwan conflict scenario and in the East and South China Seas.
Since at least the 1990’s, Beijing has repeatedly communicated its preference to move away from the U.S.-led regional security system and has pursued its own regional security initiatives in support of what it views as a natural transition to regional predominance. China’s Military Strategy reflects Beijing’s drive to establish a coherent, unified approach to managing national security in a world where Beijing perceives that China’s expanding interests have made it more vulnerable at home and abroad. The following excerpt from the document illustrates Beijing’s perception of this security environment: In today’s world, the global trends toward multipolarity and economic globalization are intensifying, and an information society is rapidly coming into being.
Countries are increasingly bound together in a community of shared destiny. Peace, development, cooperation, and mutual benefit have become an irresistible tide of the times. Profound changes are taking place in the international situation, as manifested in the historic changes in the balance of power, global governance structure, Asia-Pacific geostrategic landscape, and international competition in the economic, scientific and technological, and military fields. 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.
There are, however, new threats from hegemonism, power politics, and neo-interventionism. International competition for the redistribution of power, rights, and interests is tending to intensify. 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.
—Excerpt from China’s Military Strategy, May 2015 10 China’s Military Strategy is directed primarily at an internal audience. Thus, it is replete with party jargon, but it does contain the broad underpinnings of China’s military decision making calculus. For example, Beijing sees both threats and opportunities emerging from the evolution of the international community beyond the U.S.-led unipolar framework toward a more integrated global environment shaped by major-power dynamics.
Furthermore, China sees itself as an emerging major power that will be able to gain influence as long as it can maintain a stable periphery. As it emerges, Beijing will use its growing power to shape the regional environment in the face of interconnected threats while trying to avoid conflict over core interests: sovereignty, development, and unification. More specifically, China believes it must plan to address the many threats to regional stability because they are individually complex and at the same time contain a potential for external actors, most importantly the United States, to become involved. Nevertheless, China must also look to safeguard its international interests as they multiply and incur additional threats.
Finally, as new threats emerge and as other militaries adjust their acquisition, strategies, and structure, China knows the PLA must be prepared to fight in new realms and adapt to the modern, high-tech battlefield. With a generally favorable external environment, China will remain in an important period of strategic opportunities for its development, a period in which much can be achieved. China’s comprehensive national strength, core competitiveness and risk-resistance capacity are notably increasing, and China enjoys growing international standing and influence. Domestically, the Chinese people’s standard of living has remarkably improved, and Chinese society remains stable. 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 nontraditional security threats, are interwoven.
Therefore, China has an arduous task to safeguard its national unification, territorial integrity and development interests. As the world economic and strategic center of gravity is shifting ever more rapidly to the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. carries on its ‘rebalancing’ strategy and enhances its military presence and its military alliances in this region. Japan is sparing no effort to dodge the postwar mechanism, overhauling its military and security policies. Such development has caused grave concerns among other countries in the region.
On the issues concerning China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, some of its offshore neighbors take provocative actions and reinforce their military presence on China’s reefs and islands that they have illegally occupied. Some external countries are also busy meddling in South China Sea affairs; a tiny few maintain constant close-in air and sea surveillance and recon - naissance against China. It is thus a longstanding 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 Strait 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-strait relations. Further, China faces a formidable task to maintain political security and social stability. Separatist forces for ‘East Turkistan independence’ and ‘Tibet independence’ have inflicted serious damage, particularly with escalating violent terrorist activities by East Turkistan independence forces. Besides, anti-China forces have never given up their attempt to instigate a ‘color revolution’ in this country.
Consequently, China faces more challenges in terms of national security and social stability. With the growth of China’s national interests, its national security is more vulnerable to international and regional turmoil, terrorism, piracy, serious natural disasters, and epidemics, and the security of overseas interests concerning energy and resources, strategic sea lines of communication (SLOCs), as well as institutions, personnel, and assets abroad, has become an imminent issue.
The world revolution in military affairs (RMA) is proceeding to a new stage. Long-range, precise, smart, stealthy, and unmanned weapons and equipment are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Outer space and cyberspace have become new commanding heights in strategic competition among all parties. The form of war is accelerating its evolution to informatization. World major powers are actively adjusting their national security strategies and defense policies and speeding up their military transformation and force restructuring. The aforementioned revolutionary changes in military technologies and the form of war have not only had a significant impact on the international political and military landscapes but also posed new and severe challenges to China’s military security.
—Excerpt from China’s Military Strategy, May 2015 National Security Strategy Making progress while maintaining stability. —Xi Jinping in his address to the 19th Party Congress10 China’s leaders see China as a country that is “moving closer to center stage” to achieve the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”11 This ambition permeates China’s national security strategy and the PLA’s role in supporting the party. Since the early 1980s, when China initiated its Reform and Opening policy, China’s economy has grown rapidly.
The CCP remained focused primarily on economic growth throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and in the early 2000s it identified the initial decades of the 21st century as a “period of strategic opportunity” in the international environment that would allow China to focus on building “comprehensive national power.” The CCP’s contemporary strategic objectives are to: • Perpetuate CCP rule. • Maintain domestic stability. • Sustain economic growth and development. • Defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity. • Secure China’s status as a great power. China has taken deliberate steps to modernize the CCP, its military, the government, and other institutions in an attempt to improve coherence. Before 2015, departments across the government formulated separate security strategies, but in early 2015, China’s leaders adopted China’s first publicly released national security strategy outline, a framework to guide China’s approach to addressing both domestic and international security threats, and called for international engagement to address shared security problems.
The strategy outlines Beijing’s aim to ensure security, promote modernization, as well as preserve China’s socialist system. In addition to the strategic objectives above, the document emphasized the necessity of contributing to world peace and development and called for attention to promoting “rule of law” in support of national security.13 This led the National People’s Congress to pass a package of laws in 2015 and 2016 intended to address national security concerns, including harsher punishments for crimes involving terrorism and extremism, cybersecurity measures, and increased restrictions for foreign nongovernmental organizations.
Although China’s national security strategy outline contained both inward- and outward-looking elements, Beijing’s view of China’s role in the international community was further elaborated in an article on Xi Jinping’s thoughts on diplomacy published in mid-2017 by one of China’s top diplomats, Yang Jiechi. Yang paints a picture of Chinese diplomacy that focuses on China’s ambition for national rejuvenation and becoming a world power. Yang describes a confident China that is ready to “shoulder its responsibility as a major country” and build a global network of partnerships, but one that is resolved and uncompromising as it upholds its sovereignty and security interests. The PLA’s Role in National Security China’s Military Strategy built on a series of biennial defense reviews that Beijing published beginning in 1998 to mitigate international concern about the lack of transparency of its military modernization. What differentiated the document from its predecessors was that it, for the first time, publicly clarified the PLA’s role in protecting China’s evolving national security interests and shed light on policies, such as the PLA’s commitment to nuclear deterrence.
The report affirmed many of China’s longstanding defense policies but also signaled a shift toward emerging security domains, such as cyber and space, and also emphasized the need to focus on global maritime operations. The report outlined eight “strategic tasks,” or types of missions the PLA must be ready to execute:17
• Safeguard the sovereignty of China’s territory.
• Safeguard national unification.
• Safeguard China’s interests in new domains, such as space and cyberspace.
• Safeguard China’s overseas interests.
• Maintain strategic deterrence.
• Participate in international security cooperation.
• Maintain China’s political security and social stability.
• Conduct emergency rescue, disaster relief, and “rights and interest protection” missions. Beijing almost certainly views these missions as necessary national security tasks for China to claim great-power status.
In 2017, Beijing emphasized several of these tasks in its “White Paper on China’s Policies on Asia Pacific Security Cooperation,” stressing the need for a PLA that is able to conduct expeditionary operations and other activities to defend and secure growing Chinese national interests overseas from “destabilizing and uncertain factors.”18 The PLA coordinates with China’s law enforcement, Foreign Ministry, and other security entities as needed on military-related activities, particularly operations beyond China’s borders. Military Leadership China’s military leaders are influential in defense and foreign policy. As the CCP’s armed wing, the PLA is organizationally part of the party apparatus. Career military officers for the most part are party members, and units at the company level and above have political officers responsible for personnel decisions, propaganda, and counterintelligence. These political officers also are responsible for ensuring that party orders are carried out throughout the PLA. CCP committees, led by the political officers and military commanders, make major decisions in units at all levels.
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