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UPDATED: June 1, 2015 NO.23 JUNE 4, 2015
Outlining Future Strategies
China unveils its military approach in landmark white paper
By Yin Pumin

Yang Yujun, spokesman for the Defense Ministry, introduces the white paper on China's military strategy to journalists at a press conference in Beijing on May 26 (XINHUA)

On May 26, China issued its new white paper on national defense, once more stressing the active-defense strategy adopted by its armed forces and pledging to continue to contribute to regional and world peace.

The white paper, titled China's Military Strategy, is the ninth defense white paper issued by China since 1998 and the first one specifically expounding on strategy rather than the broader facts and figures of the country's military.

It's also the first released by China to specify the nation's four critical security domains, which include the seas and oceans, outer space, cyberspace and nuclear force.

Clocking in at around 9,000 Chinese characters, the white paper stresses China's goal to build a strong military to meet the new challenges it faces; implement the military strategic guideline of active defense; accelerate the modernization of its armed forces; and safeguard China's sovereignty, security and development interests.

"The paper elaborates on the current strategy adopted by China's national defense and its armed forces, showcasing the country's new concept of its military development and its utmost honesty in insisting on peaceful development," said Chen Zhou, Director of the Research Center for National Defense Policies under the Academy of Military Science (AMS) of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA).

Wen Bing, a researcher with the center, said the paper indicates a big improvement in China's military openness and transparency. "Compared to past white papers on national defense, the new paper puts its focus on the most sensitive questions concerning the country's military and security policies," he said.

According to him, with the issuing of the white paper, China has become one of the few countries--the others including the United States, Russia and Britain--which have published similar papers to clarify their military strategy.

Active defense

The white paper noted the profound changes taking place in the global situation, as manifested in the historic changes in the balance of power, global governance structures, the Asia-Pacific geostrategic landscape, and international competition in the economic, scientific and technological, as well as military fields.

It admitted that as a large developing country, China still faces multiple and complex security threats, as well as increasing external impediments and challenges.

The paper outlined the four missions and eight strategic tasks for China's armed forces. To accomplish these, the paper emphasized that the armed forces must continue to implement a strategy of active defense and enhance military guidance as the times require.

Wen believes the content about the active-defense strategy is the spirit of the white paper. "It's because of adherence to this strategy that China has been able to enjoy a relatively stable environment for development and earn international understanding," he said.

"Under the new national and international situation, the contents of the strategy have expanded into new fields. Adjusting the basic point for preparation for military struggle is one of the most important changes," Wen added.

Yan Wenhu, another researcher with the AMS' Research Center for National Defense Policies, believes the adjustment is necessary. "Today, long-range, precise, smart, stealthy and unmanned weapons and equipment are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and outer space and cyberspace have become new command posts. With these changes, [the military] must adjust accordingly," Yan said.

In 1993, China formulated its military strategic guideline of the new era, which took winning local wars in conditions of modern technology, particularly high technology as the basic point in making preparation for military struggle. In 2004, the guideline was further substantiated, and the basic point was modified to winning local wars under conditions of informationization, according to the white paper.

Planning ahead

The white paper also said that China will build an informationized military, deepen the reform of national defense and the armed forces in an all-round way, and build a modern system of military forces with Chinese characteristics.

In line with the strategic requirements of mobile operations and multi-dimensional offense and defense, the PLA Army will continue to reorient from theater defense to trans-theater mobility.

In the process of building small, multi-functional and modular units, the PLA Army will adapt itself to tasks in different regions, develop the capacity of its combat forces for different purposes, and construct a combat force structure for joint operations, the white paper explained.

For the first time, the white paper said the PLA Navy will gradually shift its focus from offshore defense to the combination of offshore with open sea protection, and build a combined, multi-functional and efficient marine combat force structure.

The shift in the PLA Navy's focus is essential as China is facing rising challenges and the country is more reliant on maritime resources and energy than ever, said Yu Miao, another researcher with the AMS' Research Center for National Defense Policies.

The white paper said that the seas and oceans bear on the enduring peace, lasting stability and sustainable development of China. The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned, and that great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests.

Wen also believes the changes of the PLA Navy's development strategy are in line with the expansion of China's national interests and the improvements in the navy's capacity.

"It is a natural process for the PLA Navy to go to open seas, as a navy is a kind of globalized armed service. The aim of the PLA Navy going to open seas is not to be aggressive or expand China's sphere of influence, but to safeguard the country's interests and the common security of the international community," Wen said.

The PLA Navy will enhance its capabilities for strategic deterrence and counterattack, maritime maneuvers, joint operations at sea, comprehensive defense and comprehensive support, the white paper said.

"The new strategy will not change the defensive nature of the PLA Navy," Wen added.

Also for the first time, the PLA Air Force will endeavor to shift its focus from territorial air defense to both defense and offense, and build an air-space defense force structure that can meet the requirements of informationized operations.

The PLA Air Force will boost its capabilities for strategic early warning, air strike, air and missile defense, information countermeasures, airborne operations, strategic projection and comprehensive support, the white paper expounded.

Wang Mingliang, a professor with the Beijing-based PLA Air Force Command College, said the new strategy of combining air-space and outer space is necessary for the PLA Air Force because the force is burdened with safeguarding China's air-space sovereignty.

Today, outer space has become a commanding height in international strategic competition. Countries concerned are developing their space forces and instruments, and the first signs of weaponization of outer space have appeared.

"Under such situation, China has to prepare itself to deal with security threats and challenges in the domain, and to secure its space assets to serve its national economic and social development, and maintain outer space security," Wang said.

Strategic Tasks of China's 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;

- To perform such tasks as emergency rescue and disaster relief, rights and interests protection, guard duties, and support for national economic and social development

(Compiled by Beijing Review)

Copyedited by Kieran Pringle

Comments to yinpumin@bjreview.com

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