China's white paper: More sound than light

China, which started issuing the National Defence Policy in 1998, has recently issued a white paper on the defence-2010. It is the 7th report in the series and it assumed significance particularly at a time when there is a lot of concern about China’s rise and it repercussions on peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

No wonder, therefore, the report claims that it aims to enhance military transparency and boost the world’s trust in its commitment to peaceful development. The white paper was released close on the heels of conclusion of the annual National People’s Congress that adopted China’s 5-year plan and the country’s defence budget for the current year.

It is no coincidence that the release of the white paper coincided with the meeting of the finance ministers, central bankers and academics from the G-20 countries at Nanjing.

Among the dignitaries who attended the meeting included French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Incidentally, Beijing has been critical of the French role in Libya. Despite that difference of approach with regards to Libya, Beijing chose to showcase Sarkozy to the world audience, conveying a clear message that conflict and cooperation, the hallmark of Chinese mantra, can co-exist. Another significant point was that the white paper was released ahead of the BRIC summit to be held in China from April 14.

Multi-polar world

The white paper prefaced the changing geo-political scenario, with the seismic shift of the world economy from the West to the Asia Pacific. Referring to the increasing footprints of the USA in the Asia-Pacific region, the white paper mentioned that profound changes are taking shape in the strategic landscape and that the major powers are increasing their strategic investment.

The US is reinforcing its regional military alliance, and increasing its involvement in the regional security affairs. Allaying fears and anxieties in its neighbourhood, the white paper highlighted China’s desire for friendship and practical cooperation with neighbouring countries. It also reiterated China’s advocacy of a multi-polar world.

Summarising the contemporary geo-political scenario, the white paper states that the international security situation has become complex. While local conflicts and regional flashpoints are recurrent themes, the white paper maintained that China’s policy continues to be defensive in nature, and that China consistently upholds the policy of no first use of nuclear weapons, and that it will never enter into a nuclear arms race with any other country.

Referring to the cross-Strait relations, an euphemism for China’s relationship with Taiwan, which is one of the abiding core-interests of China’s foreign policy and defence policy goals, the white paper said “on the basis of opposing Taiwan independence, and adhering to the 1992 consensus,” the two sides have enhanced mutual trust, concluded consultations and dialogues, and reached a series of agreements for realising direct and bilateral exchanges as well as promoting economic and financial cooperation across the Strait.

Criticising the role of the USA, the white paper said “the US, in defiance of the three Sino-US joint communiqués, continues to sell weapons to Taiwan, severely impeding Sino-US relations, and imposing strains in the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations.”

Besides the changing dynamics of geo-politics, the changing natures of future-warfare was yet another point in the white paper. The Gulf War of the 90s had exposed the relative vulnerability of inferior technology of Chinese defence forces. Ever since, technological upgradation, particularly in communication technology — ‘informationisation’ — has been a major component of the defence modernisation of the three wings of the Chinese defence forces.

As regards the increasing role of the air force, the white paper said that the aviation wing has to move from being a support force, to be a main battle-assault force. The white paper, however, did not make any mention of China’s J-20 stealth aircraft, which was in the news recently. Highlighting the changing role of the PLA Navy, the white paper said that the navy endeavours to accelerate the modernisation of its integrated combat forces so as to conduct operations in distant waters and in countries non-traditional security threats.

Lastly, the white paper echoed Mao’s dictum of ‘political power flows from the barrel of a gun, but it is party that commands the gun’. At a time when there is some mention of a benign tug-of-war between the party and the PLA, the white paper categorically mentioned that the political work of the PLA must guarantee  the nature of the people’s army under the absolute leadership of the party.

(The writer is a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi)

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