The Big Story: China’s Defence White Paper
China released its first defence white paper since 2015 on Wednesday. The State Council Information Office conducted a press conference to release the document. The paper, titled ‘China’s National Defense in the New Era,’ is the first such document since the PLA reforms began under President Xi in 2015.
Below is a deep-dive into the white paper:
Complicated International Security Situation:
The paper highlights that the international situation is undergoing a change. The US, Russia, NATO and EU are re-aligning their defence and security strategies. This has provoked competition among major countries. This is especially visible in the Asia Pacific region, where South Korea has installed the THAAD system, Japan is modernising its armed forces and Australia continues to strengthen its alliance with the US.
Furthermore, technological advances and use of artificial intelligence, quantum information, big data, cloud computing and internet of things in the military affairs is gathering pace. This is leading the world to informationized and intelligent warfare. China claims that its foreign policy and defence modernisation is a reaction to the complicated situation in Asia Pacific and the world.
Internal Security Situation:
The white paper pays special attention to the internal security situation. In this context, it discusses Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, the South China Sea and the Diaoyu/Senkaku issues. The paper claims that these are China’s sovereign territories and it has all the rights to resolutely safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In the case of Taiwan, China claims that ‘peaceful-reunification’ is a fundamental interest. However, the Defence White Paper claims that China would not refrain from using force.
“We make no promise to renounce the use of force, and reserve the option of taking all necessary measures. This is by no means targeted at our compatriots in Taiwan, but at the interference of external forces and the very small number of “Taiwan independence” separatists and their activities. The PLA will resolutely defeat anyone attempting to separate Taiwan from China and safeguard national unity at all costs.”
Taiwanese authorities responded via a tweet, “Freedom loving people of Taiwan would not give up country’s hard earned democratic right. OhBear, isn’t in the Panda family, and never will be.”
China also claims that it exercises its sovereign rights in building infrastructure and capabilities in the South China Sea.
China’s interests in the new era
The white paper claims following as the fundamental goals of Chinese defence
– Deter and resist aggression.
– Safeguard national political security, the people’s security and social stability.
– Oppose and contain “Taiwan independence.”
– Crack down on proponents of separatist movements such as “Tibet independence” and the creation of “East Turkistan.”
– Safeguard national sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity and security.
– Safeguard China’s maritime rights and interests.
– Safeguard China’s security interests in outer space, electromagnetic space and cyberspace.
– Safeguard China’s overseas interests.
– Support the sustainable development of the country.
China’s Defence Reforms and Modernisation.
The white paper is the first official document since the PLA reforms began in 2015.
Following are some highlights of the reforms:
– Seven Military Regions converted into 5 theatre commands for better interoperability.
– CMC organs like General Staff Headquarters, General Political Department, General Logistics Department and General Armaments Department have been reshuffled into 15 organs under the centralized CMC leadership.
– Renamed PLA Second Artillery Force to the PLA Rocket Force, also updated it to full service status.
– Established PLA Joint Strategic Support Force (PLA SSF) for cyber, space and electronic warfare.
– Established PLA Joint Logistic and Support Force (PLAJLSF) by integrating strategic and campaign level forces mainly for general-purpose support.
– Downsize the strength of PLAA, maintain steady number in PLAAF, and increase for PLAN, PLARF and SSF.
The White Paper also states that old equipment is being phased out, and new and high-tech weaponry and equipment are being commissioned. Type 15 tanks, type 052D destroyers, J-20 fighters, and DF-26 intermediate and long-range ballistic missiles have already been commissioned.
China claims that its defence expenditure as a percentage of the GDP has reduced steadily. Its average defence expenditure as a percentage of GDP was 1.3 percent from 2012-2017. This was less than the US, Russia, India, the UK, France, Japan and Germany. While the defence expenditure as a percentage of GDP has fallen, China year-on-year defence spending has increased significantly.
Break down of China’s defence expenditure (2010-2017)
Year Total Expenditure
(in RMB billion yuan)
Asian Regional Security Architecture
China is an active member in various regional organisations like SCO, ASEAN led initiatives, CICA, GMS, etc. China says that it actively supports Asian regional institutionalism for confidence-building measures and stability. However, one common thread in all these organisations is the lack of US involvement as a full-member state. In a way, China has tried to keep the US out of East Asia, by focusing on these regional initiatives.
Through these six broad themes, white paper highlights three important points:
– “Internal security issues” are non-negotiable for China, and any external interference would not be tolerated.
– China is heading towards its stated goal of PLA: Informationization by 2020, modernisation by 2035 and a world class armed force by 2050.
– China views East and Southeast Asia as its own sphere of influence and aims to keep the US out of it.
Issues for India
The defence white paper mentions Chinese military outpost in Djibouti and its use for support functions in humanitarian operations. The Defence white paper states that China’s far seas interests are increasing steadily. It is in China’s interest to protect Chinese people, institutions and organisations overseas.
“To address deficiencies in overseas operations and support, it builds far seas forces, develops overseas logistical facilities, and enhances capabilities in accomplishing diversified military tasks. The PLA conducts vessel protection operations, maintains the security of strategic SLOCs, and carries out overseas evacuation and maritime rights protection operations.”
Would this imply more Chinese bases in the Indian Ocean Region?
Listen in to ‘All Things Policy’ podcast by my colleagues Manoj Kewalramani, Pranav RS and me for more on the white paper and its implications for the world and India.
You could also follow Manoj Kewalramani’s and my Twitter threads on the white paper.
– Adam Ni’s podcast
– Elsa Kania’s commentary on Innovation in this white paper