China’s Defense Strategy and Its Role in the New Multipolar Geopolitical Reality

The State Council Information Office of the People's Republic of China recently released a white paper entitled "China's National Defense in the New Era".  This paper, a counterpoint to the Pentagon's National Defense Strategy of the United States of America which had this to say about China:

"China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbours while militarizing features in the South China Sea…It is increasingly clear that China (and Russia) want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model – gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic and security decisions."

With those provocative statements in mind, let's see what the authors of the Chinese white paper have to say about China's role in the new global reality.

The white paper opens with the following preface:

"Today, with their interests and security intertwined, people across the world are becoming members of a community with a shared future. China is at a critical stage of completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects and embarking on the new journey of building a modernized socialist country in an all-round way.Socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era."

In response to the Pentagon's proclamation that China is attempting to intimidate the nations in its sphere of influence, China has this to say:

"The pursuit of peace, stability and development has become a universal aspiration of the international community with forces for peace predominating over elements of war. However, international security system and order are undermined by growing hegemonism, power politics, unilateralism and constant regional conflicts and wars.

International strategic competition is on the rise. The US has adjusted its national security and defense strategies, and adopted unilateral policies. It has provoked and intensified competition among major countries, significantly increased its defense expenditure, pushed for additional capacity in nuclear, outer space, cyber and missile defense, and undermined global strategic stability." (my bolds)

The authors also note that there are growing signs of a global arms race with the death of key arms treaties, that extremism and terrorism continue to spread despite nearly two decades of a war against terror and the growth of non-traditional security threats including cybersecurity and biosecurity.

The authors go on to observe that the Asia-Pacific region has remained relatively stable through the forging of the Shanghai Co-operation Organization which is giving birth to a new, non-confrontational partnership with the goal of creating a new model for regional security cooperation.  Despite the stability of the Asia-Pacific region, as the world economic centre shifts to the region, it has resulted in major country competition, particularly with the United States.  Here is a quote from the paper that outlines the key problem that is developing in this new era:

"The US is strengthening its Asia-Pacific military alliances and reinforcing military deployment and intervention, adding complexity to regional security. The deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in the Republic of Korea (ROK) by the US has severelyundermined the regional strategic balance and the strategic security interests of regional countries.In an attempt to circumvent the post-war mechanism, Japan has adjusted its military and security policies and increased input accordingly, thus becoming more outward-looking in its military endeavors. Australia continues to strengthen its military alliance with the US and its military engagement in the Asia-Pacific, seeking a bigger role in security affairs."

The authors outline the following security risks to China:

1.) Fight against the growth of the independent Taiwan movement and the growth of the separatist movement which seeks to end any hope of the "One China" solution.  Here's what the paper says about China's approach to Taiwan: "Aiming at safeguarding national unity, China’s armed forces strengthen military preparedness with emphasis on the sea. By sailing ships and flying aircraft around Taiwan, the armed forces send a stern warning to the “Taiwan independence” separatist forces."

2.) Tibet independence.

3.) Territorial sovereignty of islands and reefs in the South China Sea and the entry of ships and aircraft from "countries outside the region" for reconnaissance purposes.  The paper clearly states that "China’s armed forces defend important waters, islands and reefs in the East China Sea, the South China Sea and the Yellow Sea, acquire full situation awareness of adjacent waters, conduct joint rights protection and law enforcement operations, properly handle maritime and air situations, and resolutely respond to security threats, infringements and provocations on the sea."

Here are the fundamental goals of China's national defense in the "new era" (i.e the multipolar world order):

1.) to deter and resist aggression

2.) to safeguard national political security, the people’s security and social stability

3.) to oppose and contain “Taiwan independence”

4.) to crack down on proponents of separatist movements such as “Tibet independence” and the creation of “East Turkistan” 

5.) to safeguard national sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity and security

6.) to safeguard China’s maritime rights and interests 

7.) to safeguard China’s security interests in outer space, electromagnetic space and cyberspace

8.) to safeguard China’s overseas interests

9.) to support the sustainable development of the country

In order to accomplish these goals, China will utilize the following strategy, the key to their success in the new world order thus far:

"Though a country may become strong, bellicosity will lead to its ruin. The Chinese nation has always loved peace. Since the beginning of modern times, the Chinese people have suffered from aggressions and wars, and have learned the value of peace and the pressing need for development. Therefore, China will never inflict such sufferings on any other country. Since its founding 70 years ago, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has never started any war or conflict. Since the introduction of reform and opening-up, China has been committed to promoting world peace, and has voluntarily downsized the PLA by over 4 million troops. China has grown from a poor and weak country to be the world’s second largest economy neither by receiving handouts from others nor by engaging in military expansion or colonial plunder. Instead, it has developed through its people’s hard work and its efforts to maintain peace. China has made every effort to create favorable conditions for its development through maintaining world peace, and has equally endeavored to promote world peace through its own development. China sincerely hopes that all countries will choose the path of peaceful development and jointly prevent conflicts and wars.

China is committed to developing friendly cooperation with all countries on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. It respects the rights of all peoples to independently choose their own development path, and stands for the settlement of international disputes through equal dialogue, negotiation and consultation. China is opposed to interference in the internal affairs of others, abuse of the weak by the strong, and any attempt to impose one’s will on others. China advocates partnerships rather than alliances and does not join any military bloc. It stands against aggression and expansion, and opposes arbitrary use or threat of arms. The development of China’s national defense aims to meet its rightful security needs and contribute to the growth of the world’s peaceful forces. History proves and will continue to prove that China will never follow the beaten track of big powers in seeking hegemony. No matter how it might develop, China will never threaten any other country or seek any sphere of influence." (my bolds)

To put all of this information into perspective, let's look at two figures showing how much China has spent on its defense as a percentage of its GDP and as a ratio of total government expenditures going back to 1979:

Over the period from 2012 to 2017, China's average defense expenditure was 1.3 percent.  This compared to 4.4 percent for Russia, 3.5 percent for the United States, 2.5 percent for India, 2.3 percent for France and 2.0 percent for the United Kingdom and is the lowest among the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.  When looking at the ratio of spending on defense to total government expenditures, over the period between 2012 and 2017, China's average ratio was 5.3 percent compared to 12.4 percent for Russia, 9.8 percent for the United States, 9.1 percent for India, 4.8 percent for the United Kingdom and 4.0 percent for France.

The fact that China has officially declared that it will never threaten any other nation or that it will not seek global hegemony is a rather interesting development in the world's evolution from a monopolar reality to a multipolar reality.  Whether Washington will take this proclamation seriously is yet to be seen however, it's constant meddling in the South China Sea and the affairs of Taiwan suggest that it is highly unlikely that it will pay heed to China's promise that it will not "seek any sphere of influence" nor will it interfere in the internal affairs of others, a lesson that most definitely has not taken root in Washington.

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