The Evolution of China’s Military Doctrine and Strategy

As the world appears to becoming increasingly unipolar, a reality that does not sit well with Washington and its brand of American exceptionalism, it's not surprising that the recent Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) "China Military Power – Modernizing a Force to Fight and Win" provides a rather grim assessment of China's growing capabilities as a military world power in a world that has grown accustomed to America's unchallenged military superiority.

Here is a brief video from the DIA touting its abilities to provide insights into China's military:

This volume of the Military Power series provides insight into China's defense and military goals, strategy, plans and intentions and gives America's military leadership an idea of the military challenges that result from these aspects of Chinese society.

Let's start with this quote from the 2015 Chinese white paper "China's Military Strategy":

"At this new historical starting point, China’s armed forces will adapt themselves to new changes in the national security environment, firmly follow the goal of the Communist Party of China (CPC) to build a strong military for the new situation, implement the military strategic guideline of active defense in the new situation, accelerate the modernization of national defense and armed forces, resolutely safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and development interests, and provide a strong guarantee for achieving the national strategic goal of the “two centenaries” and for realizing the Chinese Dream of achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation."

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The authors of the DIA's paper also note that since the end of the Second World War, American forces have found themselves in direct conflict with China twice; Chinese volunteer forces who fought in Korea and direct Chinese air and air defense support of North Vietnam.

China's spending on defense has grown substantially over the past decade and a half, averaging 10 percent (adjusted for inflation) annually between 2000 and 2016 and slowing to 5 to 7 percent over the past two years.  The official defense budget has remained relatively static at 1.3 percent of GDP over the past decade as shown on this graphic:

For comparison, here is a graphic showing how U.S. military spending as a percentage of GDP faro outweighs that of the next seven biggest military spending nations:

The authors note that China benefits from the "latecomer advantage"; China has not had to invest in the costly research and development of new technologies to the same extent as the United States and that it has adopted the best and most effective platforms through direct purchases, retrofits of existing materiel and theft of intellectual property. 

Let's focus on China's military doctrine and strategy.  There are eight strategic tasks that China's military must be prepared to execute:

1.) Safeguard the sovereignty of China’s territory.

2.) Safeguard national unification.

3.) Safeguard China’s interests in new domains, such as space and cyberspace.

4.) Safeguard China’s overseas interests.

5.) Maintain strategic deterrence.

6.) Participate in international security cooperation.

7.) Maintain China’s political security and social stability.

8.) Conduct emergency rescue, disaster relief, and “rights and interest protection” missions.

These tasks are viewed as necessary for China to claim "great power status".

China's ultimate goal is to "…build a strong, combat-effective force capable of winning regional conflicts and employing integrated real-time command and control networks."  China's military strategy involves "active defense", a tactic that involves being strategically defensive but operationally offensive.  Once China ascertains that an adversary has damaged or intends to damage one of China's strategic interests, China will be justified in responding defensively even if the adversary has not yet conducted offensive military operations.  It's mandate at that point will be to both deescalate a conflict and seize the initiative during a conflict.  

In 2015, China's political leadership stated that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) should be capable of fighting and winning modern local wars (i.e. operating in the digital age where advanced information and communications technology is used) with an emphasis on maritime military operations. To enhance its combat effectiveness, the PLA reduced the number of its military theatres from seven to five as shown on this map:

These theatres which are located along China's periphery show the nation's domestic geographic areas of strategic importance as shown here:  

China is also making significant moves to modernize the PLA's command and control systems.  These new systems will allow the PLA to share intelligence, battlefield information, logistical information and weather reports which will improve commanders' situational awareness in time of battle.  

According to the paper, there is one very interesting aspect of China's military evolution.  China's leadership feels that they are experiencing a "period of strategic opportunity during which it can pursue development without a major military conflict".  China's actions in the South and East China Seas are examples where China has been able to flex its territorial muscles and claim disputed territory without provoking the United States or other neighbouring nations into actual military conflict or the imposition of significant international economic sanctions.  The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has also allowed China to expand from its original goal of the offshore defense of China's territorial waters to a more global presence including United Nations peacekeeping operations in Africa and the establishment of the PLA's first overseas military base in Djibouti as shown on this map:

…and this satellite photograph which shows the base while under construction:

China's Djibouti base is projected to have a contingent of up to 10,000 soldiers until at least 2026 when the agreement between China and Djibouti is set to expire.

It is interesting to see how China's military strategy is evolving to one where it is no longer restricted to its own relatively small part of the globe and that it has adopted a philosophy of pursuing military operations without arousing the outright ire of the United States.  The global expansion of China's military and its significant spending on the latest in military hardware tells us one thing; it is becoming increasingly apparent that the global economic and strategic centre is shifting toward the Asia – Pacific region, particularly China, and that American hegemony in the Western Pacific is under significant threat.  No doubt this will come as good news to the American military – industrial – intelligence community because it means that Washington is likely to step up spending on defense in order to protect American interests around the globe.  Unfortunately, this also means that, at some point, American taxpayers will find themselves having to remit more of their hard-earned dollars to Washington so that the U.S. military can stay ahead of China.

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