Event ReportsPublished on Sep 27, 2019
The white paper is an amalgamation of past experiences as well as the role that China will play in the global order in the coming years.
China’s new defence white paper
A panel discussion was organised by Observer Research Foundation to bring out the intricacies of the Chinese defence white paper. The panellists for the events were Lt. Gen. (Retd.) S.L. Narsimhan, NSAB, & Director General, Centre for Contemporary China Studies; Pravin Sawhney, Force Magazine; Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow, ORF; Kartik Bommakanti, Associate Fellow, ORF. Opening the panel discussion, Dr. Joshi explained that the nature of these white papers could be understood as a tool for public messaging. He explained that the US with its National Security Strategy (2017) had already declared China and Russia as "revisionist powers". He also mentioned that the Chinese white paper was critical of USA’s arms sale to Taiwan. Lt. Gen. Narsimhan addressed the panel by discussing the history of defence white papers, these white papers were first published in 1995, and then subsequently in 1998. After 1998 China kept on producing the white papers every two years. The trend changed after 2010 when China published the paper in 2013, 2015 and then in 2019. He clarified that the sporadicity/delays could be attributed to the reforms happening within Chinese military. He then summarised the various sections of the tenth white paper. The first section includes details about cultural diversity and irreversibility of multipolarity, the claim that US’ unilateralism was destabilising the international situation and Taiwan independence was a great threat to China. The second section talks about China’s defence policy which is defensive in nature and they also talk about peaceful reunification of Taiwan, but the paper also clarifies that China makes no promise of renouncing force for the cause. The third section deals with the missions and tasks on Chinese forces and their operational achievements and focuses on space and cyberspace. The most interesting point according to him was that China was now planning to safeguard its diaspora across the world. The fourth section elaborates on PLA’s reforms and their future for the years 2020, 2035, 2050 which has already been part of their defensive plans. He observed that the budgetary allocation for military modernisation is around 2% of the GDP but, there are hidden expenses which are difficult to quantify. The last section deals with China’s increased role in shaping global communities through peacekeeping operations. Lt. Gen. Narsimhan then presented his own analysis of the white paper. According to him, the white paper signified the configuration of strategic power is more balanced to the extent that China had arrived on the global stage. Secondly, security of countries is becoming interlinked, intertwined, and interdependent. Thirdly, information warfare has changed into intelligencised warfare and finally, it is the time to uphold the freedom of navigation operations. The white paper also suggests that the CPC wants people to support China’s war efforts rather than joining it. Mr. Pravin Sawhney in his address observed that the character and nature of war had changed. The nature of the warfare saw changes from mechanised warfare to intelligence warfare, and now, it has entered the age of information warfare. He elucidated upon China’s developed operational and tactical capabilities to foster hypersonic weapons, shaping up the concept of non-nuclear deterrence in the next 10 years. He also emphasised that China had institutional, technological and doctrine support to enhance their military capabilities. He suggested that in coming years countries would not hide military capabilities but hide the intelligence data, China and the rest will enhance strategic support forces for cyber and information warfare. Dr. M.S. Prathibha described the white paper as an amalgamation of past and the role China would play in the global order in the coming years. She stressed that the ideas of the white paper would continue to be under development until 2050. The paper shows that China is on the rise in that it has become rich and strong and now needs to defend itself against any threat. One of the important themes of her address was the relationship between the PLA and Comunist Party of China (CPC). She believed that the paper signified that the PLA understood the deeprooted communist philosophy of the party. Also, she stressed that scientific socialism has made China rich and strong, by creating a model which is independent of Western liberal model and potentially be used by other nations as well. She also highlighted the importance of chairman responsibility system which could create a brave new army believing in the soul of CPC. She elucidated that the ongoing integration of theatre system is the starting point for the integration of different military strategies and systems within China. She emphasised some of the challenges that PLA and CPC would face in the near future. According to her, China was in a ‘fix of contradictory choices’, where their willingness to be a global military power would put them into the same military mindset (Imperial mindset) like the Americans, which would be against their strategic thinking. Furthermore, if the CPC aspires to solidify its military position in the world, they would have to project military power outside East Asia, creating friction with the West, hampering the proposition of their peaceful rise. Mr. Kartik Bommakanti in his address highlighted that the military expenditure, relative to the GDP from 2012 to 2017 was stable although there was a dip in growth, signifying that China had kept on spending substantial amounts of resources to upgrade their military. He also pointed out that there is a difference in the actual expenditure versus the expenditure in the way China presents it to the rest of the world. He stressed that the development of the theatre commands will be crucial mobilising resources and capabilities between different theatres. He highlighted the technological progress of Chinese military capacity. He cited the example of the J20, which is the most advanced jet in the PLAAF. It is China’s answer to the United States Air Force (USAF)’ F22 Raptor. The discussion ended with an informative and exhaustive Question and Answer (Q&A) session. The panel was questioned on an array of issues related to Chinese military technological advancement and the underlying implications for India. The highlight of the Q&A compared the military advancements and power projection capabilities of the Chinese and US militaries.
This report was prepared by Shivaang Sinha, research intern, ORF New Delhi.
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