Language : English 简体 繁體

Being Open About Defense Plans and Managing Transparency

May 01 , 2011

The White Paper on China's National Defense 2010 issued on March 31 is the seventh since 1998 and is a biannual report whose publication has been fine-tuned in terms of timing. For example, the previous report was issued in January 2009, but this year the release was delayed to April. It was postponed until after military expenditure figures were announced in sessions of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference held in spring 2011. The details of China’s military activities were therefore widely canvassed and the scene was set for the white paper.

China usually publishes the White Paper on National Defense at a time when it can be assured of full coverage and without interference from other events. Its regular publication is China’s acknowledgement of the need to integrate with other major international defence reporting practices.

Its publication demonstrates China’s focus on strengthening international arms knowledge and exchange but also reflects the military’s self-confidence in its own modernization. China firmly adheres to a “peace and development” strategy and its forces are being upgraded to bolster national self-defense, a process about which it is highly transparent. Its proclamations attest to this defensive philosophy. Does any other country adopt a defense policy based on the premise of “attacking only after being attacked”? Does any other country promise the world a nuclear policy based on “no first use of nuclear weapons”? Does any other country assure the world that it will not seek hegemony today or when it becomes stronger in the future? Open and confident like a gentleman, China hasn’t tried to hide anything in this respect. The international community can be assured the “China military threat” claims are utter nonsense.

However, the international community should be told the reasons behind China’s development of its national defense capabilities. The security of China’s volatile periphery is complicated and its military forces have to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity. It has to meet the challenges of new military methods and technologies to “wage war against wars”, but not at any cost to resort to war. China will not initiate an offensive but no one should dare to challenge it. In essence, its national defense policy is “we will not attack unless we have been attacked; but we will certainly counter-attack if we have been attacked.”

In the new White Paper, China unequivocally pushes for the building of a mutual trust mechanism that features equality and co-ordination, mutual benefit and effectiveness. It has done a great deal in terms of building military trust. However, military transparency is often a major pretext under which some anti-China forces repudiate its goal of force development. Therefore, I believe that military transparency should follow six principles:

First of all, we should realize that national interest is supreme and the objective. Military transparency, on the other hand, is not an end but a means. Keeping military secrets and pursuing military transparency are contradictory. But no country will pursue military transparency at the cost of national interest. That is why most countries enact national security laws.

Secondly, political trust is the foundation of military transparency. China has published seven issues of the White Paper on National Defense and is a signatory to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms and Military Expenditure Transparency. Those who hold on to the Cold War legacy of labeling China as a military threat are wearing blinkers. The question is whether they have issues with transparency or political distrust?

Thirdly, the transparency of intention is more important. There is a formula in IR theory which holds that: threat=intention+ability. Intention is more important than ability. For example, al Qaeda’s military ability is transparent. Its weapons are improvised devices, human bombs and AK-47 rifles. As it rails against humanity, the more transparent its ability, the larger is its threat.

Military transparency is relative rather than absolute and this is as true for China as for other countries. If the United States is militarily transparent, what is the need for the FBI? Can all U.S. prohibited military zones be open to foreign tourists?

The principle of “first things first” should be applied to the process of military transparency. Military transparency should proceed gradually and start with easy items before progressing to the difficult. Military transparency in the West started with Navy Treaties after World War 1 and has lasted for nearly 100 years. China’s reform and opening-up era has been going for a little more than 30 years. Is it reasonable to require China to reach the same level of transparency that the West has been practicing for close to 100 years? It should be recognized that China is integrating with the world step-by-step, genuinely trying to build trust and dissolve suspicion. It wants the international community to understand the reasons for the modernization of its national defense rather than keep them a secret.

Last but not least, each nation should have the right to decide the level of military transparency according to its own conditions. There is no uniform standard of military transparency in the world and no country should impose its standard on others. Military transparency is a domestic affair in that a state is responsible for deciding what it wants to open up for scrutiny. Other states have no right to intervene.

The above six principles should be strictly followed before military transparency can proceed normally and before the goal of increasing trust and dissolving suspicion can be reached.

Major General Luo Yuan is deputy secretary general of China Society of Military Science

You might also like
Back to Top