Wednesday, May 27, 2015

US Remains Central to China's Military Strategy

Nitin A Gokhale, 
Editor & Senior Fellow, VIF

Two almost simultaneous announcements in Beijing on Tuesday gives a glimpse into China’s greater emphasis on expanding its navy and taking all its adversaries in the volatile South China area head on. While the much awaited white paper on "China's Military Strategy", issued by the State Council Information Office, spoke about greater naval presence further from its shores, the foreign ministry also announced the construction of two lighthouses on Huayang and Chigua reefs in the Nansha Islands.

The two 50-meter lighthouses, with lanterns of 4.5 meters in diameter, are designed to have a light range of 22 nautical miles. China must fulfill international obligations on maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and mitigation, marine research, meteorological observation, environmental protection, navigation security and fishery production,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said in Beijing. This comes a week after the United States flew reconnaissance planes over these islands, eliciting strong protests from China.

"A tiny few maintain constant close-in air and sea surveillance and reconnaissance against China," the white paper said. "It is thus a long-standing task for China to safeguard its maritime rights and interests.” Although the white paper avoided naming smaller countries like Vietnam and Philippines it pointedly named the United States and Japan, and was explicit in its aim of increasing Chinese Naval combat power. The paper, said the PLA Navy would gradually expand its "offshore waters defence" to include "open seas protection".

“As the world economic and strategic center of gravity is shifting ever more rapidly to the Asia-Pacific region, the US 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 post-war 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 neighbours 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 reconnaissance against China. It is thus a long-standing task for China to safeguard its maritime rights and interests,” the paper warned.

A report in the US had claimed last week that China electronically jammed Global Hawk long-range surveillance drones spying on China's Nansha Islands, a possible attempt to capture it by causing one to crash in shallow waters, or to snatch one in flight using a manned aircraft.

This reports became public even as a US P-8A anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft flew Nansha Islands last Wednesday. Two days after the incident, Hong Lei, a spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign affairs told a regular press conference: “"The reconnaissance conducted by the US military aircraft poses a potential threat to the security of China's maritime features, and is highly likely to cause miscalculation, or even untoward maritime and aerial incidents."

The white paper, much different from the one issued two years ago, reflects China’s growing self-confidence as one of the two major players (the other being the United States) in internal affairs. Unlike the 2013 paper, China has once again spoken about not entering into a nuclear arms race. “The nuclear force is a strategic cornerstone for safeguarding national sovereignty and security. China has always pursued the policy of no first use of nuclear weapons and adhered to a self-defensive nuclear strategy that is defensive in nature. China will unconditionally not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or in nuclear-weapon-free zones, and will never enter into a nuclear arms race with any other country,” the paper says.

The paper has no direct mention of India although one line—“Certain disputes over land territory are still smoldering,”—is a dead giveaway since China has only two land boundary disputes pending. One is with the tiny Bhutan and the other with India. The other big takeaway is China’s open acknowledgement about trouble within its own border—in Tibet and in Xinxiang. “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,” the paper admits.

Interestingly, the white paper outlines new requirements for national defence. “In response to the new requirement of safeguarding national security and development interests, China's armed forces will work harder to create a favorable strategic posture with more emphasis on the employment of military forces and means, and provide a solid security guarantee for the country's peaceful development. In response to the new requirement arising from the changing security situation, the armed forces will constantly innovate strategic guidance and operational thoughts so as to ensure the capabilities of fighting and winning. In response to the new requirement arising from the worldwide RMA, the armed forces will pay close attention to the challenges in new security domains, and work hard to seize the strategic initiative in military competition. In response to the new requirement coming from the country's growing strategic interests, the armed forces will actively participate in both regional and international security cooperation and effectively secure China's overseas interests,” the paper reveals and goes on to outline the following tasks for its armed forces:

  • To deal with a wide range of emergencies and military threats, and effectively safeguard the sovereignty and security of China's territorial land, air and sea;
  • To resolutely safeguard the unification of the motherland; -- To safeguard China's security and interests in new domains;
  • To safeguard the security of China's overseas interests;
  • To maintain strategic deterrence and carry out nuclear counterattack;
  • To participate in regional and international security cooperation and maintain regional and world peace;
  • To strengthen efforts in operations against infiltration, separatism and terrorism so as to maintain China's political security and social stability; and
  • To perform such tasks as emergency rescue and disaster relief, rights and interests protection, guard duties, and support for national economic and social development
Commenting on the white paper The Global Times had a curious conclusion: It said on Wednesday: “All rising powers need strategic space. Different from emerging powers in the past, China has been trying hard to avoid a zero-sum game and achieving win-win situations has become the underlining concern of China's strategy. We have been well aware that if the expansion of China squeezes the strategic space of others, the peaceful rise of China is unlikely to reach and conflicts will be unavoidable. Therefore, China must realize strategic breakthroughs through win-win solutions.

“Are the US and Japan willing to achieve win-win with China? There is no proof that China's expanding construction on reefs and islets of the Nansha Islands is aimed at excluding US influence from the region, but the US, hopping mad about China's legitimate action, has clamored to hold China back. If the US perceives China's rise with such strategic thinking, the bilateral relationship in the 21st century will be shrouded in shadow.

“The white paper makes China's military more transparent. We hope this will help promote communication between China and the US.”

Clearly, the United States and its presence in Asia-Pacific, continues to remains at the centre of China’s military strategy.​

Published Date: 27th May 2015, Image Source:

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