On April 16, 2013, the Chinese Government issued a national defense white paper: The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces. The new white paper sums up
Guarantee for China’s Peaceful Development
Besides traditional subjects, such as security situations and the building of China’s armed forces, it addresses many new concepts, including the policies and principles for diversified employment of armed forces, maintaining constant combat readiness, safeguarding maritime rights and interests, protecting overseas interests and safeguarding the security of international sea lines of communication. In a new step towards higher military transparency, the paper publishes for the first time the designations of all 18 combined corps of the PLA Army as well as the number of officers and men of the PLA Army mobile operational units, PLA Navy and PLA Air Force.
The white paper talks about a dialectical relationship between peaceful development and defense preparations. The country must in any situation pursue a defensive national defense policy rather than seeking hegemony or military expansion. Consolidated national defense and strong armed forces will guarantee the achievement of peaceful development. However, peace must be backed by force. Without solid national defense or a powerful army, peaceful development cannot be guaranteed and national rejuvenation will lose its basis.
Since the new millenium, situations in the world, in China and in the military have undergone profound changes. The white paper believes that the balance of international forces is shifting in favor of world peace and that peaceful development will remain the underlying trend of our times. Meanwhile, there are signs of increasing hegemonism, power politics and neo-interventionism. Local turmoil and hot-spot issues keep cropping up. Competition is intensifying in the international military field and the world is far from tranquil. While China’s modernization achievements have captured world attention, it still faces multiple complicated security threats.
Changes in the international strategic situation and national security environment place new requirements for the building and employment of armed forces. In recent years, the PLA has been proactively and steadily pushing forward reforms. It has intensified the strategic administration of the Central Military Commission and established the PLA Department of Strategic Planning. It endeavors to build new types of combat forces, further optimizing the structure and organization of troops. It works to improve the training mechanism, adjust human resources and logistics policies and rules, and develop new- and high-technology weaponry and equipment. A basic objective of revolution in military affairs in China is to speed up the formation of a lean, joint, multi-functional and efficient military force system.
The Chinese armed forces are to respond to the country’s core security needs and to maintain peace, contain crises and win wars. They place the protection of national sovereignty, security and interests of the Chinese people above all else. The white paper provides information about diversified military operations conducted in recent years, including combat readiness duties, exercises and drills, emergency rescue and disaster relief, international peacekeeping, naval escorts and joint exercises. The geographical scope has extended from Chinese territory to overseas where Chinese interests are at stake.
In recent years, the PLA has given strategic attention to routine combat readiness. The white paper has a special section on “maintaining constant combat readiness,” which describes the PLA’s state of combat readiness, with the Army strengthening combat readiness duty system, the Navy performing regular combat readiness patrols, the Air Force focusing on territorial air defense and the Second Artillery Force constructing a vigilant and efficient operational duty system. Scenario-based exercises and drills are considered key to changing military training and improving combat capabilities.
With a continental coastline of 18,000 kilometers and over 6,500 islands with an area of 500 square meters or more, China is a land and maritime country. The seas and oceans provide immense space and abundant resources for sustainable development and it is an essential national development strategy to build China into a maritime power. In the chapter on “safeguarding maritime rights and interests,” the armed forces claim that it is a fundamental task for them to ensure security of territory, internal waters, territorial seas territorial air and an important duty to safeguard maritime rights and interests. In combination with routine combat readiness activities, the Navy provides security support for China’s maritime law enforcement, fisheries, and oil and gas exploitation.
China’s gradual integration into the world economic system, has allowed overseas interests to become an integral component of China’s national interests. Security of overseas energy and resources, strategic sea lines of communication, and Chinese nationals and legal persons overseas are increasingly prominent. Vessel protection at sea, overseas evacuation and emergency rescue have become important ways for the PLA to safeguard national interests and fulfill China’s international obligations. By December 2012, the Chinese Navy had dispatched 34 warships in 13 task groups for escort operations.
The Constitution and the Law on National Defense mandate China’s armed forces safeguard world peace and oppose acts of aggression and expansion. The white paper gives an account of their operations in recent years. Since 1990, the PLA has dispatched 22,000 military personnel to 23 UN peacekeeping missions. China is now the biggest troop and police contributor among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. As China’s role in global affairs becomes more prominent, its security apparatus and national defense will increasingly play a pivotal role in international relations.
Chen Zhou, Director, National Defense Policy Research Center, Academy of Military Sciences