China: Enigmatic Military Modernization – Analysis


By D. S. Rajan
“Building strong national defense and powerful armed forces that are commensurate with China’s international standing and meet the needs of its security and development interests is a strategic task of China’s modernization drive.”
“We should attach great importance to maritime, space and cyberspace security. We should make active planning for the use of military forces in peacetime, expand and intensify military preparedness, and enhance the capability to accomplish a wide range of military tasks ,the most important of which is to win local war in an information age”. [1]
– Work Report to the 18th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress, November 2012
“China unswervingly pursues an independent foreign policy of peace and a national defence policy that is defensive in nature…. China will never seek hegemony or behave in a hegemonic manner, nor will it engage in military expansion… China’s armed forces provide a security guarantee and strategic support for national development, and make due contributions to the maintenance of world peace and regional stability[2]
– China’s Defence White Paper, April 2013.
The two quotes mentioned above clearly bring out the essence of the military modernization policy of People’s Republic of China (PRC). Notwithstanding such official positions, strong opinions exist outside China that there is incompatibility between the PRC’s declared path of ‘peaceful development’ and its drive to project military power well beyond its borders, perceived as challenging the security interests of concerned countries. In such a situation, two questions become worth considering – whether China’s stated intentions behind its military modernization drive are genuine and whether the ‘China threat’ perceptions prevailing abroad to a considerable degree are justified? Recognizing that without the help of a sound data base, it may not be possible to find clear answers to these questions, and make assessments from a wider perspective, an attempt has been made to compile all the facts relating to China’s military modernization; they are placed as an appendix.
Becoming clear from the compilation is the fundamental policy direction which demands that national defence building in China should be in the ‘service of and subordinated to’ the country’s overall development. In other words, economic development and military modernization are to progress hand in hand; more importantly, the latter should not be at the cost of development. To properly understand China’s direction of interlocking development and defence building, it may not be out of place to mention here about the country’s declared overall strategic vision- (i) completion of building of a ‘moderately prosperous society in all respects ’ by 2021, the year of the CCP’s 100th anniversary. (Remarks: In this period, China’s GDP of 2000 will be quadrupled to approximately $4 trillion with a per capita level of some $3,000 and military mechanization and major progress in informatisation will be achieved) and (ii) realization of the ‘dream of great renewal of Chinese nation’, i.e to build ‘an affluent, strong, civilized and harmonious, socialist modern country’ by 2049, the year of the PRC’s 100th founding anniversary[3] ( Remarks: by middle of the century, military modernization will also be completed). Regarding the first aspect , it would be extremely important to recall the perceptions of top Chinese leaders that the domestic and external conditions in the first two decades of the new century would provide China a ‘strategic window of opportunity’ for expanding its ‘Comprehensive National Power’[4].
The data in Appendix shows that the military modernization programme is paying rich dividends to China. The central point is that the development of modernization since 80s of land, air, naval and missile forces in China has led to a remarkable expansion in the PLA’s capabilities not only to defend the country form its soil, but also to operate well beyond its borders to protect PRC’s growing global economic and security interests.
It is not difficult to see that the country’s economic prosperity is providing favorable conditions to military modernization by way of making required financial resources available. Since 1994, China’s military budget has had a double digit growth (Remarks: 11.2% rise, reaching US$ 106 billion in the March 2013 budget; Western estimates put the figure of US$ 180 billion per year ). By 2035, it may rise further to equal the US military budget, now four times bigger than that of China. The fact that the defence budget growth is roughly in line with the growth of China’s GDP and inflation, conforms to the policy line of keeping defence building subordinate to economic development.
Before 2008, China’s emphasis with respect to sovereignty-related issues had been on “shelving disputes and working on common development”. It had been focusing on forging cooperative security arrangements in Asia and following a foreign policy based on the need to integrate with rest of the world. However, Beijing modified such a realistic approach in the subsequent period when ‘core interests’ imperatives also began to figure in the Chinese strategic thinking. Though the PRC now says that its national defence policy is ‘defensive in nature’, caters to ‘development and security’ interests of the country and that China will not indulge in ‘military expansion’, the genuineness of its intentions are being doubted abroad, in particular by the neighboring nations involved in territorial disputes with China. They see that China is fast acquiring advanced military platforms, actively projecting its power within East Asia and beyond, and intensifying its political and military assertiveness overseas. For them, a clear contradiction has come to exist between China’s stand in favour of a win-win relationship with other powers and its uncompromising position on protecting the country’s ‘national core concerns’; on its part, Beijing argues that it is not ‘contradiction’, but is ‘harmony’,
Echoing the ‘harmony’ being perceived by China, is the report adopted at the latest 18th CCP Congress ( November 2012) which has described “ Win-Win International Cooperation and resolutely safeguarding national sovereignty and core interests “ as “ two pillars of China’s diplomacy, which do not conflict with each other” . To be considered in the same vein are the remarks made by CMC chairman and President Xi Jinping in early 2013 that “China will unswervingly pursue peaceful development, push forward joint development, maintain the multilateral trade system and participate in global economic governance. The PRC will never pursue its development at the cost of sacrificing interests of other countries. We will never benefit ourselves at others’ expense or do harm to any neighbor. But, we will never give up our legitimate rights and will never sacrifice our national core interests”.[5] During President Xi’s interactions in last year and early 2013, with the leaders of the US, Russia and India , the prominent theme has also been on the need to forge a ‘new type of international relations’, under which showing ‘mutual respect to national core concerns of each other’ has been an important element.
Looking impartially, it is becoming evident that China’s ‘core interest’-induced foreign policy is resulting in its confrontational approach on questions concerning national sovereignty. An example is what is happening in South and East China Seas. China seems to be pushing Deng’s guideline of “hiding strength, biding times” (“tao guang yang hui, you so zuo wei”) into the background. It is natural that the US and its allies in East Asia are resisting China’s growing assertiveness in the region. The US ‘pivot’ policy in Asia has come as a firm response. Its annual report on China military (March 2013), has expressed concerns over the challenges to US interests as the PRC steadily builds up its military and expands its capabilities to operate far from the country’s shores. Japan, in its Defence White Paper, has viewed the PLA’s growing foreign policy role as a ‘security risk’ and noted the existence of ‘caution’ against China’s military expansion across East Asia. Its prime minister Shinzo Abe has come out with a ‘democratic security diamond’ concept involving coming together of nations like Australia, India, the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan, which are ‘anxious’ about the growing military might of China. Australia’s Defence White Paper (December 2012) has found that China’s military expansion is changing the Asia-Pacific ‘balance of power’. [6] On its part, India has come out with its security fears on ‘China’s military modernization and infrastructure building in the Sino-India border’. [7]
A key question is whether China will choose to use force to settle the boundary issues existing with its neighbors? If that happens, regional tensions may arise and instability may increase. It has to be admitted that China, in its own interests, may at the current juncture prefer to continue holding of bilateral ‘peaceful negotiations’ on contentious issues with concerned countries. Its tactic may lie in using military modernization for strengthening its ability to gain diplomatic advantages or resolve disputes in its favor. But any authoritarian regime like China can change its principles quickly. If the PRC concludes at any given time that negotiations by themselves are not sufficient enough to make adversaries accept its territorial positions, it may either opt to use force or adopt a two pronged approach – combining negotiations with a show of force. It is the latter which is prevailing now ; a case in point is China’s holding of diplomatic talks with Japan, opting simultaneously to show force against the latter, for e.g through radar locking of a Japanese destroyer. Any argument that the PRC may not hesitate to use the force option, assumes a meaning when the fact that China’s traditional beliefs on the subject had always influenced the minds of top leaders of the country, is taken into account. Of interest in this regard is the presence of ‘unity of opposites’ of idealism and realism in the Chinese word for peace-, ‘heping’. The word, in addition to stressing on peace, possesses an aggressive connotation implying an option ‘to rule or stabilize the world’ . Also, China’s ‘Active Defence’ strategy does not rule out resorting to ‘offensive operational postures’.
In the coming years, China’s interests and capabilities are certain to grow further. It may also increasingly feel the imperative to rise further taking advantage of the changing global balance of power. There will, therefore, be an additional momentum to application of China’s formula to work for a ‘win-win’ international relationship, but along with a display of assertiveness on all sovereignty -related matters. Setting trends in this regard is the present concentration of the new leadership of Xi Jinping on development of ‘new type of international relations’, a concept characterized by “a win-win situation, avoidance of confrontations and conflicts, proper handling of problems and differences and true respect to each others’ core interests”. The last mentioned aspect has been highlighted by China during the President’s interactions in the recent period with the leaders of the US, Russia and India.
What Xi has said requires to be viewed against the prevailing situation with respect to China’s territorial assertiveness. Already emerging are new forms of assertiveness – administrative ( e.g upgradation of status of Sansha city in Hainan as a base point to administer the disputed Paracels), propaganda-type (e.g opening disputed territories under Chinese control for tourism and inclusion of contested areas in national weather broadcasts) and cartographic ( e.g publication of new vertical maps claiming 130 islands in South China Sea , which did not figure in earlier official maps and carrying of maps in new Chinese passports claiming disputed islands in the South China Sea , Taiwan and areas claimed by India). Coming to actual military assertiveness, it can be said that there is a spurt in the pro-active operations in China’s neighborhood of the PLA, which is in charge of protecting ‘core interests’( e.g establishment of a PLA garrison in Sansha city; training exercise in South China Sea and Western Pacific Ocean during March 2013 of the Chinese Navy’s South Fleet, reaching up to Zeng Mu reef, contested by Malaysia, symbolizing demonstration of the PRC’s determination to claim entire South China Sea ; locking of fire control radar by a Chinese frigate at a Japanese destroyer on the high seas near the Senkaku Islands in January 2013 and the PLA intrusion into India’s Ladakh in April 2013).
Summing up, it can be said that outside powers, especially in the neighborhood, do not seem to be confident about China’s stated intentions behind its policy of keeping the twin goals- development and defence building through military modernization. As a specific result of the continuing aggressiveness of the PRC, tensions in the Asia-Pacific region which is beset with bitter sea territory disputes involving China and other powers including the USA may exacerbate. Regional powers contesting with China on territorial issues may have a special reason to watch for the implications coming from China’s ‘local wars’ concept; they may not miss the idea in the concept that such wars will be short, will happen in China’s periphery and will enable the PRC to also realize ‘limited political objectives’. They may have reasons to ask the question – whether China’s current show of force in South and East China seas can at some stage turn into China’s ‘local wars’ there? Similarly, a question may arise also for India, which experienced Chinese assertiveness in the form of a border intrusion in as late as April 2013- whether such intrusions can lead to a ‘local war’ at a time suitable to China? Overall, it cannot be denied that the Asia-Pacific region has come to face a situation which is not conducive to regional peace and stability, as a result of the growing military might of China and the emerging counter responses there; no doubt, the responsibility for finding a remedy lies in the hands of China and other concerned nations. .
(The writer, D.S.Rajan, is Director, Chennai Centre for China studies, Chennai, India.This is an updated version of the talk on the subject delivered by him at a Seminar on “ Security Challenges for India in view of China’s Rise: Emerging Threats and Responses”, organised by the Defence Services Staff college, Wellington, on 5 April[email protected])
(To Paper on “China: Enigmatic Military Modernisation Programme” of Mr D.S.Rajan)
History of Military Modernisation
A discussion of China’s Military modernization programme, which progressed in various stages, needs to be conducted in the background of past military doctrines that have been traditionally influencing the strategic thinking in the country. An example is the strategy used in the Chinese Wei Qi chess games. Wei Qi means ‘a game of surrounding pieces’, in other words, a game of ‘strategic encirclement’ of the opponent. The player in Wei Qi ( called ‘Go’ in Japan) seeks ‘relative advantage’ and shows ‘strategic flexibility’ in order to achieve ‘long range encirclement’ of the opponent, as against the player in Western chess who displays ‘single mindedness’ and aims to achieve a ‘ total victory’. Mao applied Wei Qi concept to resist the US and USSR. [8] The current counter-strategy of China against the perceived US encirclement can be seen as one based on Wei Qi principles.
A similar contrast can be found in the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”, composed 2000 years ago, which is still central text of military thought in China. “The Art of War” is dominated by ideas of ‘psychological advantage and avoidance of a direct conflict’, which gives importance ‘not to a military triumph, but to realization of ultimate political objectives’. It calls for undermining the enemy morale, maneuvering him into an unfavorable position and defeating the enemy without ever fighting, through ‘subterfuge and misinformation’. Mao used Sun Tzu thought while dealing with Chinese civil war and Vietnam did so in modern times against the Americans.[9]
It should be borne in mind that till today, China does not have a unified military strategy; it so far remains a combination of ideas expressed through several documents and guidelines. One such document entitled “Military Strategic Guideline for New Period “was finalized in 1993, with occasional revisions of the same in the subsequent period, notable among them being in 2004. China has a given a name to these ideas –‘Science of Military Strategy’. .
Turning to modern era, the military modernization in China began in early fifties at a time when the ‘liberated’ China with ‘anti-imperialism’ as its main policy plank, ‘leaned to one side’, i.e with the Soviet Union and its allies, for policy support including for military building. Late 50s saw eruption of Sino-Soviet rift and under its impact, till the end of cold war in late 80s, the thrust of China’s military strategy remained fixed on maintenance of alert to the ‘imminent wars’ because of the perceived threats from both the US and USSR.
In the post-cold war era, till today, the military strategy is undergoing shifts or modifications as a logical consequence to the apparent compulsions on China to react to the geo-political and geo-economic changes happening from time to time. The changes have been seen occurring in three stages and what follows is a chronological account of them
Shifts in military strategy : from the pre-cold war anti-West and anti-Soviet one for making ‘preparations for imminent wars’ , to the latest one for military building that ‘ coomensurates with China’s international standing and meets the needs of its security and development interests’. [10]
When reforms were introduced in 1978, Modernization of National Defence came to be listed as the fourth and last ranked component of the adopted ‘Four Modernizations’ programme ( the first three being Agriculture, Industry and Science and Technology). The first stage of changes in the military strategy began in late 80s, as cold war ended. It was natural that the existing anti-West and anti-Soviet guideline of making ‘preparations for imminent wars’ gave way to another one asking the PLA to support the ‘peaceful construction’ in the country ; of course, a pre-condition was attached to the latter – ‘ modernization of the PLA would be subordinate to and in the service of the country’s overall development’ .[11] To match this shift, China formulated a ‘new security concept’ in 1996,which called upon the countries ‘ to rise above one-sided security and seek common security through mutually beneficial cooperation’; This concept continues till today.
Concomitantly, in early 90s, the operational tasks for the military came to be revised; the purpose was to improve the PLA’s fighting capabilities involving high-technology. Thus, learning lessons from the successful Western “ Revolution in Military Affairs” (RMA) strategy in the Gulf war dominated by the deployment of advanced computers, China’s military planners concluded that “RMA with Chinese Characteristics , is the only way to modernize the PLA at a time of new trends in world military development”. This led to an approach taking ‘Mechanization as the Foundation and Informatisation as the Focus’. Relevant in this context has been the call given by the then Central Military Commission (CMC) Chairman, Jiang Zemin (1993) to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), to gain capacity for waging ‘local wars under hi-tech conditions’.
The second stage in China’s military strategy formulation began in the early new century. Modifications were made around this time demanding the PLA to make ‘preparations for military struggle’, which was described as the ‘driving force for military modernization’[12]. Military struggle against whom? In an attempt to clarify, especially to prevent any alarm on the part of neighbors facing territorial assertiveness from China, authoritative military experts in the PRC have argued that “such preparations do not mean actions of war and should be implemented appropriately instead of being an overall national strategy”. [13]
In the current third stage beginning from 2012, being officially described ‘new historical starting point’,[14] there has so far been no basic change in the declared positions on military strategy. A case in point is the guideline given in the latest Defence White Paper for 2013
that ‘ building of strong national defence and powerful armed forces which are commensurate with China’s international standing and meet the needs of its security and development interests, would be the strategic task of the country’s modernization drive and a strong guarantee for the nation’s peaceful development’[15] ; this is more or less same strategy as seen in the previous stage. Not escaping attention at the same time is an omission- the term ‘preparations for a military struggle’ used in the earlier stage, is not being mentioned now; instead , the term ‘expanding and intensifying military preparedness’ stands introduced. The change from ‘military struggle’ to ‘military preparedness’ certainly looks semantic; The necessity to bring out the change seems to stem from China’s realization that a terminology like ‘military struggle’ may be misunderstood outside China, particularly by South China Sea littorals and Japan, all locked in bitter dispute with Beijing on sovereignty-related issues.
While the military strategy has not undergone any fundamental modifications at the current stage, there has been a fresh elaboration of operational tasks for the PLA. This exercise is to continue further as indicated in the latest official formulation that ‘new ideas for the strategies and tactics’ will be brought forward.[16] The four demands being made now on the military, are (i) to conduct ‘Historical Missions in the New period of the New Century’ involving non-combat operations such as peacekeeping and disaster relief , in the ‘new stage in the new century’ ( President Hu Jintao, 2004) (Remarks: This in sum meant efforts to adjust to changing international security environment and expand definition of national security and giving the PLA the task of protection of China’s global interests , (ii) to protect the country’s ‘core interests’ ( Remarks: A. task since middle 2008. Listed in that order by Chinese leader Dai Bingguo, the ‘core interests’ are ‘maintaining fundamental and state security, safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity and ensuring continued stable development of economy and society), (iii) “ to build new type of combat capability to win local wars in conditions of informatisation and strengthen the composite development of mechanization and informatisation with the latter as leading force’[17] ( Remarks: 1. This is being seen as the concept of military operations in early 21st century with a premise that future wars will be local, primarily along China’s periphery, limited in scope and helpful in achievement of desired political outcome, 2. Mechanization and major progress in informatisation are to be achieved by 2020, the year marking the 100th anniversary of founding the CCP and complete military modernization is to be realized by 2049, the year marking the 100th anniversary of founding the PRC , [18] and 3. The term ‘informatisation’ means a process designed to integrate the management and deployment of all hi-tech weapons. It seems to be close to the idea known outside China, i.e. ‘Unified C4ISR – command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Relevant in this regard is the sponsorship of a concept of ‘system of systems’ based on use of information technologies to integrate all the PLA services and their systems by Hu Jintao in 2006, who later said in 2012 that this s ‘system of systems’ is to be taken to a new level by strengthening capabilities for ‘systems confrontation’ with potential enemies) [19] and (iv) to ‘build strong army that is capable of winning wars and strengthening combat readiness’ (Remarks: This, as being officially put, refers to the ‘preparations and alert activities of the PLA for undertaking operational tasks and Military Operations Other Than War – MOOTOW)[20].
Security and Development Interests in the current stage – What are they?
What are the ‘Security and Development Interests’, now being charecterised as the key factor in China’s defence building? An answer to this question, very much relevant to understanding China’s military modernization goals, lies in the latest approved charter of duties for China’s armed forces- the PLA, People’s Armed Police and the Militia. The duties defined are – (i) “safeguarding national sovereignty , security and territorial integrity, and supporting the country’s peaceful development; ‘ implementing the military strategy of active defence ‘(Remarks: This strategy would mean that China will strike only when it is hit, but offensive operational posture will not be given up [21]. Relevant is what has been said in China’s “Science of Military Strategy “- war fighting is generally used when deterrence fails and there is no alternative. A ‘just war’ has to be waged in such a contingency. Also deserving attention is the presence of ‘union of opposites’ in the Chinese term ‘peace’- heping; the term has an idealistic connotation coming from Confucian ideas, stressing peace and another one ‘cool headed realism’, coming from Sun Tzu ideas, stressing ‘ruling and stabilizing the world’. [22] The same spirit can be found in China’s “ Science of Military Strategy” which says, “ If an enemy offends our national interests , it means that enemy has already fired first shot, in which case the PLA’s mission is to do all we can, to dominate the enemy by striking first”) [23] , (ii) ‘containing separatist forces’; (iii)‘safeguarding border, coastal and territorial air security’ ; (iv) ‘ protecting national maritime interests and national security interests in outer space and cyber space’; (v) ‘aiming to win local wars under conditions of informatisation and expanding and intensifying military preparedness’ ( Remarks: the local wars concept originated in the then CMC Chairman Jjiang Zemin’s call for ‘ local wars under hitech conditions’ made in 1993. The present term ‘local wars under informatisation conditions’ would mean that future wars will be local, primarily along China’s periphery, limited in scope, duration and means, under conditions of informatisation , involve constrained use of force and be helpful to achieve desired political outcome[24]); (vi) formulating the concept of composite security and effectively conducting military operations other than war (MOOTOW); (vii) deepening security cooperation and fulfilling international obligations and (viii) acting in accordance with laws policies and disciplines[25]
Mention requires to made about China’s declared “multiple, complicated security threats and challenges” of late, meeting of which will be the responsibility of the PLA. They are – “the US strengthening of Asia-Pacific Military Alliance (Remarks: the Defence White Paper 2013, does not name the US, but uses the word ‘some country’); complicating or exacerbating of territorial sovereignty, maritime rights and security situation by some neighboring countries; making trouble by Japan in Diao yu island; terrorism, separatism and extremism; social harmony and risks to China’s overseas interests.[26]
Nuclear Weapons Policy
The contours of China’s nuclear weapons policy also need attention with respect to the country’s ongoing military modernization. Since its first nuclear test in 1964, China claims to follow consistently a ‘self-defensive nuclear strategy’, demanding that there should be complete prohibition and thorough destruction of worldwide of nuclear weapons and expressing commitment that China will not to be the first to use nuclear weapons. A modification was introduced by the PRC State Council in 2006, defining Beijing’s goal as ‘deterring other countries from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against China”. Significantly, for the first time, ‘deterrence’ was connected to China’s nuclear strategy. Around this period, President Jiang Zemin asked for using both conventional and nuclear means to strengthen the deterrence; endorsing it, President Hu Jintao, echoing what Chinese military strategist Sun Zi said, advocated that China’s strategy should aim at ‘subduing the enemy without fighting a battle.’ [27]
Three pre-conditions to military modernization
While studying trends in China’s military modernization, it would be important to note Beijing’s three stipulations – (i) the CCP should ‘absolutely control’ the military (ii) “National defence should remain subordinate to and in the service of China’s overall development, foreign policy and historical and cultural traditions” and (iii) the ‘military personnel should be qualified politically, competent militarily and have a good work style stressed by both Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping). The significance of these stipulations comes out clear. Most important is the message being given now that military modernization and economic development should go hand in hand.
Current Status of Military Modernisation
The present total strength of the PLA is 1.48 million[28], as against the previously given figure of 2.3 million. However, the present figure does not include the strengths of Second Artillery, border guards and defence researchers. [29]As per the US government assessments, China’s military modernization is fast resulting in its acquisition of Anti-Access and Area Denial capabilities. The PRC is investing in newer and better weapons, missile defence systems, submarines and development of stealth fighter jets. An ambitious PLA has been able to evacuate Chinese nationals from Libya, take part in anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden and conduct humanitarian missions in Latin America[30]. US scholars however hold the view that the PLA will be hard pressed to assume any extra regional role on par with that of the US [31] . As next point, the Chinese military has become ‘streamlined and combined’; its quality has been ‘upgraded’ in spite of its ‘downsizing in the scale of manpower’. The PLA development model has undergone a shift- from manpower intensive to technologically intensive. As yet another significant impact, there is now a shift from the traditional focus to the ground forces in the military structure to one on creating an integrated PLA arms. In the new Central Military Commission, the level of representation of non-ground force personnel has gone up,
Well qualified experts outside China predict that in next ten years, China may be successful in deploying essential military components like satellites, reconnaissance drones, surface to surface and anti-ship missiles, conventional and nuclear attack submarines, manned or unmanned stealth combat aircraft and space and cyber warfare capabilities[32]. Interestingly, similar pronouncements are being noticed from the Chinese side itself. The PRC’s official media have boasted that in the coming decade structural military changes will be completed as a result of deployment of Beidou Satellite Navigation system, comparable to Galileo system in Europe, integration of PLA through information technology, positioning of aircraft careers, fighter planes and missiles, advances in standards of conventional weapons and implementation of the military personnel policy of the Central Military Commission aimed at creating manpower to manage joint operational commands. [33]
Most important is that modernisation has resulted in the reorientation of PLAA’s operational strategy – from ‘theatre defence’ to trans-theatre mobility’. The focus is now on making the PLAA ‘lean, joint, and efficient’, capable of conducting ‘mobile operations and multi-dimensional offence and defence’. To realize this purpose, it is being provided with ‘new and hitech weaponry’. The emergence of new departments like the Department of Strategic Planning and the Informatisation Department of General Staff HQ, specifically indicates that efforts have begun towards strengthening of the PLAA’s capability to meet its new strategic requirements. The PLAA has now a total strength of 850,000( as against the earlier estimated figure of 1.25 million) ; it has 18 ‘combined corps ‘and ‘ independent, additional, combined, operational divisions (brigades), spread over seven Military Area Commands’.[34] The ground force modernization is being prominently felt in the case of Taiwan theatre. The PLAA, to operate in this theatre, is equipped with upgraded arms – Type N99 third generation MBTs, new generation amphibious assault vehicles and multiple rocket launch systems. [35]
Thje PLAN’s strategy has undergone a shift – from ‘coastal defence’ to ‘inshore defence’ and then to ‘offshore defence’. In the new century, it is to become a blue water navy, capable of safeguarding China’s extending national interests which depend on seas,oceans and maritime transportation. . The shifts are said to be in response to the ‘complexity and instability of China’s maritime security’. PLAN’s operational tasks allotted now, are – “to safeguard China’s maritime security and maintain China’s sovereignty over its territorial seas along with its maritime rights and interests”. [36] Under the drive to make a ‘blue water’ PLAN, efforts are being taken to conduct mobile operations, by building advanced submarines, destroyers and frigates and improving integrated electronic and information system’. The submarines include a new class of nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN). Worth mentioning are (i) JIN class (type 094) SSBNs, capable of carrying JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile; they will give the PLAN first credible sea based nuclear capability, (ii) nuclear powered attack submarines (SSN) Shang class (type 093 and 095) and (iii) domestically produced surface combatants like LUYANG II, fitted with Surface to Air missiles[37]. Testing of 056 stealth frigate in feb 13 has been an important development.The present PLAN strength is 235,000, spread over three fleets. Besides submarines and surface vessels, it has naval aviation, Marine Corps and coastal defence arms. Introduction of first air craft career ‘Liaoning’ in September 2012 has been a notable event in the PLAN modernisation.
As a global power with expanding economic and political interests, it looks natural that the PRC is aiming to build a blue water Navy especially capable of protecting major Sea Lanes of Communications from the Arabian Gulf to South China sea, vital for the country’s energy imports. Naval modernization has a particular relevance at the current juncture when the PRC is engaged in dealing with three serious issues; one relating to territorial disputes with South China Sea littorals and Japan in East China sea, stemming from resource politics as well as sovereignty claims, the other to the perceived strategic threat coming from the US ‘pivot’ policy in Asia-Pacific and the third to challenges with respect to Taiwan reunification. It is believed that naval modernization would lead to China’s projection of power into the first island chain (Taiwan) and even up to the second island chain (Guam) , hurting American interests. The establishment of Yalong naval base near Sanya may have strategic implications for military balance in Asia-Pacific region[38]
It should be noted that China is intent on asserting its claims over sea territories both through the administrative and military means On the first, a significant development has been the formation on March 13,2013, of State Oceanic Administration (SOA) with which the PLAN is to coordinate. The SOA’s job is to integrate the activities of all maritime law enforcement agencies. This may be a signal to the possible emergence at a latter stage of a coast guard for China outside the military. As an example of military means, in March 2013,the PLAN South Fleet conducted ‘ patrol and high sea training’ in South China Sea and Western Pacific Ocean, reaching up to Zeng Mu reef, claimed by Malaysia, clearly demonstrating China’s intentions to press its claims over the entire South China Sea region. Part of efforts to created a unified ch coast guard.
PLA Air Force (PLAAF)
The defined strategic task for the PLAAF is to protect China’s ‘territorial air security and maintain a stable air defence posture nationwide’. Focus is on reconnaissance and early warning, air strike, air and missile defence and strategic projection. It is composed of aviation, ground air defence , radar, airborne and Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) arms. 398,000The PLAAF is developing advanced weaponry and equipment such as new-generation fighters j 20 , new type ground to air missiles and radar systems, improving its early warning, command and communications net works, and raising its strategic deterrence, strategic early warning and long distance air strike capabilities in accordance with the 2004 ‘historic missions’ call. Of interest is the development of fourth generation fighter aircraft J-11, to supplement the existing strength of Su-27 and Su-30 fighters. Russia is to supply Su-35 fighters to China. The PLAAF is investing in stealth technology sector; notable are its test flights of J 20 stealth fighter since beginning of 2011., Plans are to deploy indigenous Y-20 transport aircraft capable of airlifting tanks and combat troops to distant mountainous border areas. The PLAAF now has a total strength of 398000 officers and men. In each of the Seven Military Area Commands, there is an air command. In addition, there is an airborne corps.[39] It is also being geared up to take part in joint operations.
The PLA Second Artillery Force (PLASAF)
The new CMC Chairman Xi Jinping described (December 2012) the PLASAF as ‘core strength of strategic deterrence’ of China. The defined operational strategy for the Second Artillery is to ‘ deter other countries from using nuclear weapons against China and carry out nuclear counter attacks and precision strikes with conventional missiles’. Under the principle to develop a ‘ lean and effective’ missile force, the thrust is now on informatisation transformation of the PLASAF. The force is composed of conventional and nuclear missile forces. The PLASAF, has under its command missile bases, training bases and specialised support units. It has a series of Dongfeng ballistic missiles and Changjian cruise missiles.[40] Its conventional missile forces include medium range ballistic missiles ( MRBMs) , which can hit land targets and naval ships including aircraft careers operating far from China’s shores, even beyond the first island chain (Taiwan). Entry into service of type DF-21 type long range anti-ship Ballistic Missile(ASBM) can threaten US careers operating 3000 kms off China. Reports suggest that after the deployment of DF 21 D missiles, there can be introduction of type 094 nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine and JL-2 submarine launched Ballistic missiles for the Navy.[41] This may alter the region’s military geography. [42]
On nuclear missile force development by the PLASAF, the Chinese military may soon enjoy a nuclear triad: land-based ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and air dropped bombs. China has fewer than 50 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) that can strike the continental US. By 2015, China may be working to develop a new road mobile DF-31A type ICBMs capable of carrying Multiple Independently Targeted Re-entry vehicles as well as DF -5 type ICBMs. The stated objective is to have a credible assured retaliation capability[43] In early 2007, China conducted an anti-satellite weapon test, followed by technology tests in 2010 to destroy missiles in air. Very recently, a land based mid-course missile interception technology test was carried out. Official media have argued that ‘the test is defensive in nature and targets no other country’[44]. For experts, the test does not mean development by China of a missile defence system. [45]
People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF) and the Militia
The PAPF’s peace time roles are – performing guard duties, dealing with emergencies, combating terrorism and participating in and support to national economic development. In war times, it is to assist the PLA in defence operations and support national economic development. The PAPF is composed of internal Security Forces and other specialized forces. The Militia, an armed organisation composed of people, is the backup force of the PLA. Its roles are – combat readiness support, defence operations, social order, emergency rescue and disaster relief.[46]
Developments in Space, counter Space and Cyber warfare capabilities
China has developed weapons and jammers to prevent any enemy using space-based systems as satellites. Worth paying attention are military implications of China’s successful docking of unmanned and manned space craft with Tiangoing-1 orbital space laboratory. China is expanding its technology for space based surveillance. Beijing is using cyber net work operations as a tool to collect strategic intelligence. [47]
[1], 17 November 2012
[2] “The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces, Information Office of the State Council, People’s Republic of China, 16 April 2013
[3] Xi Jinping’s remarks at “Road to Renewal” Exhibition in Beijing, ,Xinhua, 29 November 2012
[4] Hu Jintao’s address at Fortune Global Forum, Beijing, 16 May 2005
[5] Xi Jinping, Speech delivered at CCP Politburo session on 28 January 2013.
,[6] Cameron Stewert, “China’s Military Power Shifting pacific Balance, says Defence White Paper”, The Australian, 21 December 20 12
[7] Antony, “ Government is Aware of China’s Military modernization”, Times of India, 4 March 2013
[8] Review of Kissinger’s “Book on China”, Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, Vol 6 /No.4, D.S.Rajan, December 2011
[9] Henry Kissinger, “On China”, Allen Lane, Penguin Group, 2011,page 23
[10] As in 2 above
[11] “China’s National Defence in 2010”, State Council, Beijing, March 2011
[12] -ibid-
[13] “Appropriate Military Preparedness Should be Done to Curb Outbreak of War”, Dong Zhaohui, China military online, People’s Daily, 7 February 2013
[14] As in 2 above
[15] -ibid-
[16] -ibid-
[17] -ibid-
[18] -ibid-
[19] “ Making Nuclear War Plan of China”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,, 14 September 2012
[20] As in 2 above
[21] “ China Military Strategic Guidelines for New Period”, Beijing, 1993 and revised in 2004, called by Chinese as Science of Military Strategy as quoted in “ China Military Modernisation and Force Development- A Western Perspective”, Anthony H.Cordesman and Nicholas S. Yarosh, , Centre for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS, 22 June 2012 .
[22] Hayoun Jessie Ryou, “The meaning of China’s Peaceful Development Concept”, Observer Research Foundation Occasional Paper, November 2009
[23] PLA’s statement of doctrine in 2005 , as quoted in 21 above
[24] As in 21 above
[25] As in 2 above
[26] -ibid-
[27] As in 12 above
[28] As in 2 above
[29] Minnie Chan, “ Beijing Lays Out Security Priorities’, South China Morning Post, 17 April 2013
[30] US Annual Report on Military Developments in China to the Congress, May 2012
[31] Andrew S.Erickson and Adam P.Liff, “ China’s Military Development Beyond the Numbers”, the Diplomat, 12 March 2013
[32] Estimate of Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, US, quoted in the article “China’s Military Rise: The Dragon’s New Teeth”, the Economist, 7 April 2012
[33] “ In the next 10 years, China’s Military Power Will Have a Long Jump”, Liberation Army Daily( Chinese), 28 December 2012
[34] As in 2 above
[35] Annual Report to Congress, Military and Security Developments involving the PRC, Office of Secretary of Defence, US, 2011
[36] As in 2 above
[37] As in 23 above
[38] Carlyle A.Thayer, Paper to International Workshop on South China Sea, Ho Chi Min city, 18-21 November 2012
[39] As in 2 above
[40] As in 2 above
[41] Global Times, 18 February 2011
[42] ASBM Alters Region’s Military Geography, China Brief, James Town Foundation, Vol 13 Issue 5, 4 March 2013
[43] Annual Report: “Second Artillery Force in Xi Jinping era”, China Brief, James Town Foundation, Volume 13, Issue 7, 28 March 2013.
[44] Xinhua, 28 Jan 2013
[45] “ What China’s Missile Intercept Test Means?”, Li Bin,
[46] As in 2 above
[47] As in 26 above ——————————


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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