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China’s ‘Global War’ Ambitions

On June 12, 2010, Han Xudong, Professor with China’s National Defense University published an article entitled “China’s military must learn to fight the ‘global war’” in Global Times, Chinese Edition, and outlined four broad options for China in order to fight a “global war” on the lines of the US global war strategy. The options are: 1) China must look for military allies; 2) China must establish overseas military bases; 3) China must use military means to solve the “problem”; and 4) China must participate in international military efforts so as to enhance the combat capability of the PLA.

Professor Han identifies two main characteristics of the ‘global war’: Firstly, he posits, a growing number of countries are participating and attaching importance to the issues related to military security world over. He cites the example of war in Afghanistan and sounds a little sarcastic when he says that so far 43 countries have participated in the Afghan War and are targeting only bunch of terrorists in 650,000 square kilometers of territory. Another example he cites is that dozens of countries around the world have sent their escort fleets to fight the pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Secondly, Han maintains that it was the US which advocated the concept of “world as a war theatre.” In April 2003, he asserts that the U.S. Air Force advocated to have an “instantaneous global strike capability” which in early 2009 culminated into the announcement by the US Air Force that they plan to establish a “global strike command center” and implement “to knock down the world in an hour ” strategy. Furthermore, on May 21, 2010, the US further announced that the US Cyber Command has become operational and have initiated offensive operations in cyberspace. Hence, the cyberspace war, according to Professor Han has made the global war a reality. In the light of these US initiatives, China faces enormous challenges as regards its military strategy, therefore, the justification for China having the abovementioned four policy options.

As regards the military alliances, Professor Han is of the view that more and more countries are participation in war efforts in the capacity of “allies” or “partners”; action against the Talibans in Afghanistan is an outstanding example. NATO led “Security Assistance Force” not only have the NATO members, but also have non-NATO countries joining as “partners”. He emphasizes that as far as China is concerned, it has almost no military allies; and one could imagine the kind “isolation” China will be exposed to if “something” happens. Therefore, asserts Professor Han, China should seek military allies or alliances so as to avoid any possible “isolation.”

As regards seeking or establishing overseas military bases, Professor Han maintains that the Global war calls for global actions, and at present, the biggest challenge China is facing at the Gulf of Aden for its naval escort ships is the question of supplies. Japan being a US ally could have asked for the US support from latter’s bases, but why has it build its own base at Djibouti? As a matter of fact, Japan would like to build its own system for global military operations. Therefore, in order to protect China’s overseas interests, China should also build global military “support system.”

As far as the question of using military force to solve the “problem” is concerned, Professor Han argues that historically, many issues have been settled through the use of force. He emphasizes that the military option is not necessarily the last option. Giving examples, he cites the Korean War, India-China Border War, and the Vietnam War, and asserts that on all occasions China used it forces timely and decisively, and finally managed to have the ‘solution’ in China’s favor. He then cites Russia using its forces in Chechnya, thus preventing the latter from breaking away from Russia. Therefore, Han suggests that China’s armed forces should also resort to necessary counter attack, display the prowess of the PLA and achieve severe shock deterrence effect against any outright provocation, and against those who violate the territorial and sovereignty of China’s territorial waters.

Finally, as regards enhancing combat capability of the PLA, Han maintains that after the Cold War, the armies of the world’s major powers have been going under the baptism of war to varying degrees. The U.S. troops have fought most of the wars; while French, British and German forces have also been involved in overseas military operations quite frequently. Han ropes in India by saying that the Indian army is also “practicing its skills” in Kashmir with the Pakistani army. However, since the mid-80s of the 20th century, the PLA is the only army in the world that has not seen the flames of war. Though there are routine military exercises, training and computer simulation tools that can improve military’s combat capability, but there is a big difference between these measures and real time combat experience, says Professor Han. Therefore, it is high time that China dispatches its troops to war zones within the UN framework, and trains the PLA in actual combats, and enhances or put to test their real combat capabilities, asserts Professor Han.

In the light of these scenarios, Professor Han posits that China must move towards fighting a ‘global war’ from its earlier strategy of a ‘limited war.’ This is necessary to protect the Chinese overseas interests. At the same time, China should increase its participation in international military affairs so as to project itself into the international military arena. Finally, the PLA must prepare for the challenges thrown by the ‘global war’; and with the expansion of China’s overseas interests, the PLA should have the ability to protect and maintain these interests, concludes Professor Han.

( The writer,Dr. B R Deepak, is Associate Professor in the Centre of Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The views expressed are his own. He could be reached at bdeepak@mail.jnu.ac.in)

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