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On China’s White Paper on National Defense 2010

China on March 31, 2011 issued a White Paper on “China’s National Defense in 2010” The document is the seventh in series since the Chinese government issued a White Paper on defense in 1998. The entire text of the document has 28,600 Chinese characters consisting of preface, security scenario, national defense policy, the modernization of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the application of the armed forces, the building of reserve forces and defense mobilization, the military legal system, defense industry, defense spending, the establishment of military mutual trust, and arms control and disarmament etc. components.

The White Paper builds on the existing features of the earlier white papers, and has perfected and enriched the framework and basic contents of the subject matter. Compared with the previous white papers, there are nine major highlights in 2010 document. At the outset it expounds China’s interaction with the world, and intertwine the fundamental interests of the Chinese people with the common interests of the people of the world, China’s development and the development of the world, China’s security and the world peace, and underscores the importance of building even more intimate relationship with the world at new historical starting point. It systematically, analyses the new trends in the international balance of power, and China’s relations with traditional major powers, emerging powers, neighboring countries as well as those with the developing countries.

It deals with the profound and complex changes that have characterized the international security situation, and confirms that peace, development and cooperation remains an irreversible trend of the times. It also highlights the increased level of international strategic competition as regards the international order, comprehensive national strength, geo-politics, as well as the new contours and adjustments in the Asia-Pacific strategic architecture.

The new White Paper stresses that China’s overall security environment remains favorable to it, however, the security challenges it faces have become more diverse and complex, and that while building a moderately prosperous society, the task of safeguarding national security, especially in the face of vast territory and coastal line remains heavy. It says that in the process of safeguarding national security, China will adhere to the comprehensive security, cooperative security, the concept of common security, and pursue a policy of mutual trust and benefits, equality and coordination.

The White Paper for the first time has explored the issue of establishing mechanism of cross-strait military and security mutual trust. It lauds the progress in enhancing and building political mutual trust with Taiwan through a variety of agreements such as direct transport and trade links. It admits that the forces of “Taiwan independence”, “East Turkistan independence” and “Tibet independence” have inflicted serious damage on national security and social stability. However, the paper says that the Taiwan and China may discuss political relations in the special situation, and hold contacts and exchanges on military issues at an appropriate time and talk about a military security mechanism of mutual trust.

As regards China’s defense policy, the White Paper reiterates China’s resolve to pursue a defensive policy, which it says is determined by China’s development path, its fundamental aims, its foreign policy, and its historical and cultural traditions. The defensive policy is based on objective realities and historical necessity declares the paper. The road of peaceful development, adopted since 2006 in the place of peaceful rise is emphasized along with China’s strive to build a harmonious socialist society internally, and a harmonious world externally on the principles of common security and prosperity.

The White Paper also summaries the tasks and goals of China’s national defense in the new era, which are stated as  1) Safeguarding national sovereignty, security and interests of national development; 2) Maintaining social harmony and stability; 3) Accelerating the modernization of national defense and the armed forces; and 4) Maintaining world peace and stability.  It is for the first time that the White Paper dedicates a special section on PLA’s modernization. It reviews the process of PLA’s modernization in the past 60 years, and says that in the process it has grown from a single service into a strong military force featuring a range of services and arms, and is now beginning to make progress towards informationization. The document separately focuses on the state and modernization of PLA Ground Force (PLAGF), Air Force (PLAAF), Navy (PLAN), and the Second Artillery Force (PLASAF) etc. It reiterates the goal of accomplishing mechanization and attaining major progress in informationization by 2020. The strategic combat capabilities that are considered necessary to win informationized warfare under integrated joint operations are tacitly pronounced as C4ISR; precision strikes; rapid deployment; and support and logistic capability. The White Paper maintains that the fighting capabilities of the armed forces in conditions of informationization have been significantly raised under joint operation systems, which is the focal point of its modernization. Furthermore, the cyber space has been included as a key national defense consideration for the first time.

It also for the first time specifies the diverse applicability of the PLA in peace time. The White Paper declares that China pursues the principles of combining peacetime needs with wartime needs, and strives to foster a military security environment featuring mutual trust and benefits. Giving an account of PLA’s foreign exchanges, the documents points out that in the last two years, senior PLA delegations have visited more than 40 countries, and defense ministers and chiefs of general staff from more than 60 countries have visited China. The visits are viewed as military confidence-building measures, which are considered necessary and effective for maintaining national security and development, as well as for safeguarding regional peace and stability. It declares that with political mutual trust as the groundwork and common security as the goal, China is promoting the establishment of equal, mutually beneficial and effective mechanisms for military confidence-building, which should be based on the principles of holding consultations on an equal footing, mutual respect for core interests and recognition of major security concerns, not targeting at any third country, and not threatening or harming other countries’ security and stability. It may be noted that China has all along considered Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang as its core interests, however, have added South China Sea to the list of its core interests last year. The interpretation of South China Sea being China’s core interest has been disputed by many littoral states such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines and even Taiwan.

Final section of the White Paper is dedicated to arms control and disarmament and says that China attaches importance to and takes an active part in international efforts in the field of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. It rests its faith in the United Nations and lauds UN role towards the same. It states that existing multilateral arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation systems should be consolidated and strengthened, that the legitimate and reasonable security concerns of all countries should be respected and accommodated, and that global strategic balance and stability should be maintained.

As far as India is concerned, it figures at eight places in the document. The reference is made in the context of joint military exercises and training; the defense and security consultations with neighboring countries; and the Confidence Building Measure agreements signed in the year 1993 and 1996. In final analysis the series of White Papers on defense demonstrates China’s economic as well as military self assurance. It is also an attempt to enhance the level of transparency as regards military spending, its defense policy and goals, and hence to showcase China as a responsible stakeholder in the global system.

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

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