China's Military Power, Part I
The Secretary of Defense is required by act of Congress to
submit periodic reports “on the current and future military
strategy of the People’s Republic of China.” This year’s recently
submitted edition is particularly controversial, especially as it
relates to Taiwan’s military options. Over the next few weeks
we’ll explore the Pentagon’s major assumptions and findings.
The following excerpts are from the “FY04 Report to Congress on
PRC Military Power: Pursuant to the FY2000 National Defense
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is embarked on an
ambitious, long-term military modernization effort to develop
capabilities to fight and win short-duration, high-intensity
conflicts along its periphery. China’s defense modernization is
broad reaching, encompassing the transformation of virtually all
aspects of the military establishment, to include weapon systems,
operational doctrine, institution building, and personnel reforms.
China values military power to defend economic interests, secure
territorial claims, and build political influence commensurate
with its status as a regional power with global aspirations. In
recent years, the PLA has accelerated reform and modernization
in response to the central leadership’s concerns that
developments across the Taiwan Strait could put at risk Beijing’s
objectives for Taiwan unification.
*The PLA is focused on developing a variety of credible military
options to deter moves by Taiwan toward permanent separation
or, if required, to compel by force the integration of Taiwan
under mainland authority. A second set of objectives, though no
less important, includes capabilities to deter, delay, or disrupt
third-party intervention in a cross-Strait military crisis.
The PLA has made progress in meeting those goals through
acquiring and deploying new weapon systems, promulgating new
doctrine for modern warfare, reforming institutions and
improving training; however, it continues to lack the capability
to project significant power beyond its borders. Nevertheless,
the PLA’s determined focus on preparing for conflict in the
Taiwan Strait – to include accelerated deployments of short-
range ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan – casts a cloud over
Beijing’s declared policy of seeking “peaceful reunification”
under the “one country, two systems” model ..
Beijing seeks to acquire and establish a favorable security
environment that is conducive to continued economic growth,
thus allowing it to develop its economic strength to continue its
military modernization. However, the key notion behind China’s
overall national objectives can be found in its “comprehensive
national power” (CNP). The CNP asserts that military
modernization is key in protecting China’s security and unity, as
well as building a prosperous society .
Combined with traditional Chinese concepts of statecraft and
strategy, the CNP represents an adaptation of Western
methodologies for monitoring and assessing national power.
As China’s leadership focuses on the country’s overall national
development, it is constantly assessing the broader “strategic
configuration of power” for potential challenges and threats that
might prompt it to adjust or change its national strategy, as well
as for opportunities to advance national interests. China’s
leaders believe that three essential conditions – national unity,
stability, and sovereignty – must exist if China is to survive and
develop as a nation. Among these conditions, Beijing believes
that national unity is the most important. Its preoccupation with
maintaining unity is driven by China’s internal and external
security environment and national condition, historical
experience, national goals, and perhaps more importantly,
challenges to the CCP’s legitimacy.
Ensuring domestic stability and a secure international
environment is crucial to Beijing’s national development
strategy. Senior leaders are focused on the short-term task of
ensuing regime stability by maintaining domestic order and
leadership control while dealing with several sources of internal
unrest and instability. Chinese leaders also believe they must
maintain conditions of state sovereignty and territorial integrity.
This view is reflected in China’s response to a range of
international issues, including human rights and democracy, and
territorial and resource disputes with its neighbors.
Should China become involved in a major war, the relative
priority it places on its national goals is likely to change. In
peace time, there is an effort to arrive at a favorable “strategic
configuration of power” more gradually – through economic
development – but that effort might be eclipsed in a crisis. Deng
Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin both indicated publicly that the goal
of reestablishing a favorable “strategic configuration of power”
would override the goal of developing national power if China
faced a fundamental threat to its national unity, internal stability,
Such circumstances were defined as situations in which China
is faced with the possibility of it being involved in a large-scale
conflict, such as a war between China and Taiwan that included
direct U.S. military intervention. While Deng and Jiang
indicated that ensuring a favorable strategic “configuration of
power” would be the primary national goal in such situations,
they also emphasized that one of China’s war aims would be to
end the war on favorable terms as soon as possible so that
Beijing could refocus on the goal of developing national power.
China’s grand strategy has been influenced primarily by a
combination of the ancient tenets of Chinese statecraft as well as
more modern national development theory. While ancient
Chinese statecraft and national development theories are
prevalent, other factors also shape China’s grand strategy. China
has had a longstanding geopolitical challenge in maintaining
control over the heartland of China and major elements of “Inner
Asia.” It also has sought to secure the vast periphery of coastal
and land boundaries, as well as maritime territory in a region
populated by traditional rivals and enemies. These challenges
shape how China approaches grand strategy, especially its
emphasis on maintaining a favorable domestic and international
“strategic configuration of power.” It must be noted that in the
effort to enhance their own approach to issues of strategy,
security, and development, the Chinese study how other nations
approach international security affairs.
Beijing has sought to describe its long-term political goals of
developing CNP and ensuring a favorable strategic configuration
of power in positive, passive, cooperative, benign, and peaceful
themes. These themes include China’s emphasis on “peace and
development,” the non-use of force in settling international
disputes, non-intervention in the internal affairs of other
countries, the defensive nature of China’s military strategy, its
“no-first-use of nuclear weapons” declaration, its support for
nuclear-free weapons zones, and claims that China would never
deploy its military forces on foreign soil.
These principled themes should not cloak the ambitious nature of
China’s national development program and the nature of China’s
approach to the use of force, which is contingent on the actions
of others, rather than inherently passive or defensive measures.
In particular, sovereignty issues that Beijing considers internal
and defensive in nature – most notably Taiwan – may not be
perceived by others as benign and peaceful. In addition, Beijing
probably calculates that ambiguity in international discourse
helps to buy China time in developing its national power.
One of Deng Xiaoping’s key directives to China’s security and
development establishment was the so-called “24-character
strategy:” “keep cool-headed to observe, be composed to make
reactions, stand firmly, hide our capabilities and bide our time,
never try to take the lead, and be able to accomplish something.”
This often-quoted adage not only suggests a desire to downplay
China’s ambitions; it also affirms a long-term strategy to build
up China’s CNP with a belief to maximizing China’s options in
the future ..
China’s aspirations and efforts to achieve great power status have
accelerated in recent years, especially the past two, as China’s
leaders have evinced a greater sense of confidence in the
international arena. Largely because of the political influence
Beijing has accrued from over a decade of sustained economic
growth, as well as the status inherent in China’s geographic size,
manpower, seat on the UN Security Council, and nuclear-capable
forces, Beijing views itself as operating from an increasingly
competitive position relative to other established world powers,
including the United States.
In addition, authoritative media since early 2002 have frequently
included references to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in
New York City and Washington, DC, and subsequent U.S.
involvement in the Global War on Terrorism as creating a
“strategic window of opportunity” for China. Various
Chinese observers have noted, for example, that U.S. focus on
Counterterrorism has reduced perceived U.S. “pressure” on and
“containment” of China, opening opportunities to strengthen
internal security and create a more favorable situation along the
Hott Spotts returns with part II, Taiwan, on July 22.