By Ashok Tiku*
China is mulling amendments to its Law on National Defence amid profound changes in the world over the past two decades by adding key formulations, including threats to the country’s development interests, as reasons for defence mobilization, and involvement in global security governance.
The Chinese version of the draft released by the Standing committee of the NPC at its 22nd session (13-17th Oct) on 17th Oct seeks opinions from the general public (till November 19) for considerations and preparation of the final draft for approval by the Standing committee or by the NPC in March 2021.. However the Legislative rights of NPC Standing committee include drafting and revising laws except those to be enacted by the full congress of the NPC. The draft was prepared by the state council Central military commission to comply with the instructions given by Chairman Xi Jinping on strengthening National defence and PLA to meet the futuristic challenges facing China in the fast changing global scenario.
While releasing the draft to the media, General.Wei Fenghe, a Central Military Commission (CMC) member, State Councillor and the Minister of National Defence, explained that the current Law on National Defence (1997) cannot fully adapt to new missions and the requirements for the development of national defence.
Wei also remarked that the world’s strategic situation has undergone profound changes over the past 20 years, international strategic competition was on the rise, global and regional security issues were on increase, armed conflicts and regional warfare were resulting in increasingly obvious instability and uncertainty in international security. China being in a key period of strategic opportunity for development was facing even more complicated security threats and challenges.
The draft amendment clearly states that when China’s sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity, and security and “development interests” are threatened,, the country should be able to conduct nationwide or local defence mobilization. It recommends legal basis or frame work for carrying out such mobilisation. and calls for restructuring and reforms in Defence research and production, procurement system ,price regulations, establish market economy system and organisational restructuring .
The other important proposed additions in the draft amendment states- China could use its armed forces to protect overseas Chinese citizens, organizations, units and facilities, thus safeguarding China’s overseas interests, and participate in activities such as UN peacekeeping missions, international rescues, maritime escorts, joint exercises and anti-terrorism operations in conformity with the basic rules of international relations based on the principles of the UN Charter.
Meanwhile Commenting on this issue Global Times( 22 Oct.) reported that with China’s development interests growing alongside the country’s peaceful development, it has more and more overseas interests, including strategic transport lanes and Chinese citizens overseas and investments, which could be vulnerable to terrorism, regional instabilities as well as hostile attacks and lockdowns, the proposed amendments aim to work in tandem with military reform to ensure China’s peaceful development and growing interests around the world have the backing of defence forces when needed,
Mr Xu Guangyu a senior advisor and a strategic Chinese experts is of the view that “development interests” part would be a new addition to defence law. The development interests include both the domestic and overseas.
- Domestic development interests include the likes of economical operation, and if these normal activities are contained or sabotaged by external forces by, for example, severe trade blockades, it would be viewed as a serious threat.
- Overseas development interests include China’s overseas economic activities including investments and cooperation, such as China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative. China will need to take counter measures if these operations are intentionally blocked by regional warfare or lockdowns,
- China’s defence mobilization will be on a reciprocal basis. Only when the opponent adopts war-like measures will China counter with its own military measures
Another military expert Mr. Song Zhongping opines that China’s domestic development relies on overseas transport lanes for trade and energy supplies, and China now has a large number of investments overseas .The draft amendment’s addition of “development interest” threats stresses the protection of the overseas transport lanes and overseas Chinese investments that could be vulnerable to terrorism, regional instabilities and hostile attacks.
Under the current situation, in which the US is eyeing to rally its so-called allies to contain China’s development in many ways, including militarily, having a legal basis to counter threats has a significant meaning. Many Chinese experts believe that as China is eyeing to build a “deep-blue-water” navy, with aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships and large destroyers as key items in protecting China’s overseas interests. The amendment would provide the legal framework to support such activities .and formalisation of rules was needed as China’s economic capacity and global influence was growing with so many connections to other parts of the world .
This draft amendment will enable China to participate in global security governance, join multilateral security talks and push for and set up a set of international rules that are widely accepted, fair and reasonable. Provide assistance to many other developing countries who have their own interests to safeguard themselves but are not loud enough to voice these. .Besides border, maritime and air defence, the draft amendment also states that China should take necessary measures to safeguard activities, assets and other interests in other key security fields including outer space, electromagnetic space and networks.
Beijing-based military expert Li Jie is of the view that the US and its so-called allies have been attempting to contain China not only in traditional defence approaches, but also new (and less visible) fields such as space and networks. These fields could become “new battlefields” where no bullet is fired, but gaining superiority in them will hold significant advantages in traditional defence fields by winning the war of information, analysts said.
The draft revisions will aim to make Chinese military service a professional force that will guarantee better accomplishment of missions in emergencies, war and occasions in which national sovereignty, security and development interests are being harmed.
If China’s overseas interests are seriously threatened, China would be able to use its military capabilities to effectively safeguard its overseas citizens and organizations so the country’s interests are not harmed With China’s development interests growing alongside the country’s peaceful development, it has more and more overseas interests, including strategic transport lanes and Chinese citizens overseas and investments, which could be vulnerable to terrorism, regional instabilities as well as hostile attacks and lockdowns, with the proposed law amendments aiming to work in tandem with military reform to ensure China’s peaceful development and growing interests around the world have the backing of defence forces when needed, analysts said on Thursday.
To conclude, with China’s growing “development interests” both domestic and overseas interests, including strategic transport lanes, BRI project and investments that could be vulnerable , the proposed law amendments aim to work in tandem with military reform and provide both legal and political backing to the defence forces when needed. It ensures to meet China’s global aspirations, secure its strategic bases and legally permits it to establish many more to meet its Global power projections. In the short term, the immediate area of concern for neighbouring countries would be China’s willingness and right to safeguard and legitimise its right to defend the illegal occupation of such territories, investments and right of intervention in projects like BRI, POK as well as claims over whole of South China sea if threatened by outside intervention. From long term perspective, the amendment would only serve as the legal framework and basis for global projections as with current force levels it would be too premature and hazardous to safe guard these.
*Prof Ashok Tiku, Senior China Analyst (45 years of experience).