You were at the Inauguration; China was planning for war
By Dan Twining While everyone here in the United States and beyond was focused on Barack Obama’s Inauguration on Tuesday, China chose that day to slip this little item under the door —China’s National Defense in 2008, their annual white paper detailing plans for increased defense spending and military modernization. While significantly understating real military ...
By Dan Twining
By Dan Twining
While everyone here in the United States and beyond was focused on Barack Obama’s Inauguration on Tuesday, China chose that day to slip this little item under the door —China’s National Defense in 2008, their annual white paper detailing plans for increased defense spending and military modernization.
While significantly understating real military spending, this latest defense white paper is revealing in its attempts to reassure an outside world deeply concerned about the country’s aggressive pace of non-transparent military modernization. It also teaches us something about China’s own strategic priorities –- and insecurities. Here are a few key themes of the paper, as well as my quick take on what lies behind the rhetoric:
1. China is an indispensable player in a shifting global balance of power that features trends toward both cooperation and conflict. Commendably, China seeks a “harmonious world of enduring peace and common prosperity” –- and while China cannot develop in isolation from the world, “nor can the world enjoy prosperity and stability without China.” Complex interdependence and enhanced cooperation make major wars unlikely — but there are also tendencies toward more intense strategic competition among rising and developed powers, fueled by military modernization, arms races, and the struggle to secure energy resources. There is a tension here: China’s military wants to reassure other powers that it foresees a cooperative international system, but it needs to justify its continuing expansion and growing sophistication with reference to a widening array of threats, many of them emanating from the United States.
2. The world is increasingly multipolar and China increasingly powerful, but a militarized United States will resist the rise of China by promoting outmoded “hegemonism and power politics.” Without mentioning the United States by name, China’s white paper uses clear code to condemn America’s ongoing military transformation, including force realignment, missile defense, and leadership of the Revolution in Military Affairs. An aggressive, unilateralist America seeks to weaken China, “supporting diplomatic struggles with military means.” Unlike the United States, China will “oppose the enlargement of military alliances, and acts of aggression and expansion.” In fact, in comparison with the world’s current superpower, “China will never seek hegemony or engage in military expansion now or in the future, no matter how developed it becomes.” No rising power has ever kept such a promise, but it is reassuring to hear nonetheless.
3. The United States under President Bush upped its game in Asia, to Beijing’s consternation. Chinese leaders and analysts appreciate the stability of U.S.-China relations since 2001. But the white paper attests that, notwithstanding American critics who charge that Washington has neglected Asia while firefighting in the Middle East, the U.S. has paid careful attention to Asian power dynamics, and has positioned America to continue to lead in the region. Rather than ignoring Asia, “the U.S. has increased its strategic attention to and input in the Asia-Pacific region, further consolidating its military alliances, adjusting its military deployment and enhancing its military capabilities.” Indeed, polling by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs shows that America’s soft power in Asia greatly exceeds that of China. Despite conventional wisdom that China’s rise erodes America’s staying power in the region, both popular polls and worries of China’s military suggest that the United States has been doing something right in Asia.
4. The core threats to Chinese national security are internal, or arise from external support for internal separatists and dissidents. Outsiders underestimate the degree to which the sources of Chinese insecurity are internal rather than exogenous. The nightmare for Chinese security planners, based on their reading of China’s predation by foreign powers during the age of imperialism, is of external sponsorship of “splittist” or dissident movements that undermine the cohesion of the Chinese state. “[D]omestic security and international security are interwoven and interactive,” says the new white paper. China “faces strategic maneuvers and containment from the outside while having to face disruption and sabotage by separatist and hostile forces from the inside.” Hence the need for strong and technologically sophisticated military forces.
5. China is pursuing “leapfrog development” of advanced capabilities by undertaking military modernization in a high-tech environment. Beijing foresees comparative advantages stemming from its development of asymmetric capabilities, including in electronic warfare; from preparing to wage modern war in a battlespace where information dominance is a key to victory (China “aims at winning local wars in conditions of informationization”); and from undertaking military modernization with the benefit of new technologies not available to great powers that modernized earlier in history. China’s replication of American rhetoric about force doctrine, the Revolution in Military Affairs, and information warfare is striking.
Bottom line: This white paper is a useful reminder that China’s is the only military in the world explicitly training and equipping to fight the United States.
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