On Tuesday, China released China's Military Strategy, a White Paper on its defence strategy. Below are views from a China Daily USA commentator and a New York Times analysis on what's significant about the report.
CHINA issued China's Military Strategy, a defence White Paper, on Tuesday. This paper, along with The Diversified Employment of China's Armed Forces published in 2013, are hugely different from the previous China's National Defence papers, as they are thematic defence White Papers. They represent China's latest move in military transparency in two critical areas - capabilities and intentions.
Strategy is the outcome of the assessment of a situation. The defence paper has analysed the national security situation in a balanced yin and yang manner, citing both advantages and disadvantages. But cautious optimism prevails in spite of, for example, the United States' rebalancing towards Asia and Japan's increasingly aggressive foreign policy posture. The Taiwan issue is only slightly touched upon because "in recent years, the cross-Straits relations have maintained a good momentum of peaceful development". It concludes that "China will remain in an important period of strategic opportunities for its development".
Maritime issues crop up in different chapters. Citing the provo-cative actions of "a few offshore neighbours" and the meddling of "some external countries" in the South China Sea, it asserts that it is a longstanding task for China to safeguard its maritime rights and interests.
But the remarks are made in a rounded tone, as it also calls for "maintaining security and stability along China's periphery". This should remind people of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's "dual track thinking" when he proposed resolving the South China Sea disputes through friendly consultations among the countries directly concerned while peace and stability in the region are jointly maintained by China and Asean member states.
Given China's huge overseas interests, it is not surprising to read that the PLA Navy will gradually extend its focus to cover both "near seas defence" and "far sea protection". The protection of China's overseas interests, such as security of energy and resources, strategic sea lanes, institutions, personnel and assets, is stressed as one of the eight strategic tasks of the PLA.
For example, quite a few Chinese ships far away from Chinese patrol vessels in the Gulf of Aden have been hijacked and then rescued by the navies of other countries. Such an example sheds light on why the Chinese armed forces have vowed to strengthen international security cooperation in "areas crucially related to China's overseas interests".
In return, the White Paper pledges that the armed forces will do their best to shoulder more international responsibilities. This was reflected in the recent crisis in Yemen when 279 foreigners from 15 countries were evacuated by Chinese naval vessels.
The 2015 defence White Paper stresses again the aim of military preparedness - winning informationised local wars. It identifies four critical security domains: the seas and oceans, outer space, cyberspace and nuclear force. It acknowledges for the first time that "China will expedite the development of a cyberforce". It also reiterates China's policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons.
In the 2012 paper, the absence of such a statement caused widespread speculation that China might have decided to change its time-honoured nuclear policy.
In military preparedness, the most salient point is perhaps the setting up of a Central Military Commission command organ and theatre-level command systems for joint operations. This brings to an end the domestic debate on the necessity of such commands in modern warfare.
How to sustain the "new model of military relationship between the Chinese and the US militaries"?
One of the answers in the paper is crisis management. The confidence-building measures, such as notification of major military activities and rules of behaviour for safety of air and maritime encounters, signed during President Barack Obama's visit last year, give people hope that this relationship, no matter how unstable it may seem, is still manageable.
Since 1998, China has published defence White Papers on a biannual basis. Such regularity, especially in recent years on thematic issues, is laudable.
The US publishes National Security Strategy and Quadrennial Defence Review every four years. Britain publishes Strategic Defence and Strategic Review every four years. France publishes Defence and National Security every five years. Russia publishes too, but less regularly. China's endeavour not only reflects China's confidence in its military, but also its aspiration that it be better understood by the world.
CHINA DAILY USA
The author is an honorary fellow with the Centre on China-American Defence Relations at the Academy of Military Science, a research institute of the People's Liberation Army in China.--------------
China intent on projecting naval power
Mr Dennis Blasko, an Asia analyst at CNA Corp who studies China's armed forces, said the paper formally enunciates a transformation that the military has been going through for some time and that has gained pace in recent years.
"This basically confirms everything that the vast majority of analysts have seen developing: the trends toward a greater maritime force, a stronger air force and improved missile forces," said Mr Blasko, a former army attache at the US Embassy in Beijing. "Still, even if it's something we've been expecting, it's a new statement and a big statement."
Although the strategy paper mentions the United States only in passing, it leaves little doubt about whom it perceives as China's opponent, blaming "some external countries" for "meddling in South China Sea affairs".
At a news conference, Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun made it clear that China regards those affairs as no one's business but its own. "Looking from the angle of sovereignty, China's development of construction on its islands is no different at all from all the other types of construction going on around the country," he said.
Chinese military strategists have long signalled their intention to improve the nation's naval strength and reduce its reliance on its land forces.
Analysts said that the tensions in the South China Sea are one factor accelerating Beijing's efforts to build up its naval and air strength. But events elsewhere have also played a role, prompting Chinese leaders to abandon long-held policies that discouraged overseas military engagement.
Retired major-general Xu Guangyu, who is now a senior counsellor with the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said the report's emphasis on "open sea protection" was a sign of China's spreading economic and diplomatic footprint abroad. "As China continues to rise, it has enormous interests around the globe that need protection," he said, "including investments, trade, energy, imports and the surging presence of Chinese living abroad."
Still, he noted that the document stresses Beijing's determination to deter foreign aggression and its resolve to win any war started by others.
"China will actively build up its military capability and deterrence, just to make sure no one dares fight with us," said Mr Xu, whose institute advises the Chinese Foreign Ministry. "The United States cannot expect China to back off under pressure. It needs to know that the consequences would be unthinkable if it pushes China into a corner."
Professor Bernard Cole, of the National War College in Washington, said the strategy paper suggests that there is little chance that China will relinquish its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea, which is rich in oil, gas and fishing resources.
"I think China has been feeling pretty confident as it pushed ahead, trying to feel the threshold where the US reaction would be," he said. "We may be seeing that threshold now, but I see absolutely no evidence that China is going to stop its island construction."
NEW YORK TIMES
China's military dream
Earlier glimpses were provided in the military sections of the 60-point reform manifesto of November 2013, the declaration in February last year that China would do everything necessary to become a cyber power, and the second-draft National Security Law released earlier this month.
The recent document is highly noteworthy on several levels.
In the very first sentence after the preface, the 2015 strategy puts the "information society" (cyber power) as the departure point of international security.
It paints a new and expansive view of China's maritime power, while signalling a shake-up of some traditional combat structures for the armed forces. The document is unusually sharp in some of its formulations, especially on relations between the Communist Party and the armed forces. Above all, the strategy calls for a balancing between "rights protection" (in maritime disputes and elsewhere) and "stability maintenance".
As the first official statement of China's Military Strategy published under that title, the document fills in some of the strategic gaps that appeared in the 2013 precursor paper, The Diversified Employment of China's Armed Forces. That paper also marked a departure in its coverage from earlier versions. The previous seven White Papers issued two years apart since 1998 were titled China's National Defence.
The 2015 strategy has several new sections, including one on the "strategic guideline of active defence" and one on the "preparation for military struggle". But these are couched in a setting that gives a new strategic direction: "China's destiny is vitally interrelated with that of the world as a whole."
The newest element in military strategy in the paper is the emphasis on cyber power: "Outer space and cyber space have become new commanding heights in strategic competition among all parties"; and the character of war is "accelerating its evolution to informatisation". It should be noted here that for China, as for the United States, it will be military assets in outer space that provide the main foundation of information dominance and therefore of cyber-enabled warfare.
There are later references in the paper to key military reforms that are directly related to the new imperatives of cyber warfare where the linkage is not made so explicitly but can be inferred. These include a new emphasis on joint operations, a shift towards "trans-theatre" inter-operability, and a need for more highly skilled manpower.
It is the section on naval power that seems most expansive in terms of laying out a new doctrine of power projection.
China's navy, the document says, will shift its focus from "offshore waters defence" to the combination of "offshore waters defence" with "open seas protection".
In some respects, this is not so new, in that earlier documents list a wide range of functions for the People's Liberation Army navy in operations outside of China's immediate vicinity, but these were billed in the past almost as adjunct "peacetime" missions.
The concept of "open seas protection", though undefined, seems to suggest something much more. It will fuel growing concerns in the region about China's naval activities.
At the same time, this ambition, to be achieved gradually, the paper says, may prove to be difficult for the Chinese navy. Its projected growth in surface fleet numbers would allow small battle groups to form only if it had to simultaneously maintain naval readiness in "offshore waters", particularly around Taiwan.
The references in the strategy to the Communist Party of China (CPC) are striking. It says: The armed forces "will firmly follow the goal of the CPC"; "will unswervingly adhere to the principle of the CPC's absolute leadership"; will "build themselves into a people's military that follows the CPC's commands"; will "remain a staunch force for upholding the CPC's ruling position"; "resolutely uphold the leadership of the CPC" (twice mentioned), will follow the CPC's military strategy of active defence; "must closely centre around the CPC's goal of building a strong military", and will uphold "institutions of the CPC's absolute leadership over the military". There are no such references in the 2013 White Paper and only one rather limp reference in the White Paper released in 2011.
It is against this background of a very strong reassertion of CPC leadership that we can interpret statements in the 2015 strategy about the need for China to balance the need for stability and efforts at "rights protection".
One Chinese commentator says the new strategy paper has signalled support for the dual- track strategy of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who China wants to partner with Asean to manage regional security, while working to resolve disputes between the two sides.
But the strategy has the stamp of President Xi Jinping all over it - the China dream, an appeal to revolutionary values, and mixed signals about the balance between making China militarily strong and keeping the peace.
The writer is a Professorial Fellow with the EastWest Institute in New York and a Visiting Professor at the Australian Centre for Cyber Security at the University of New South Wales, Canberra.