by Lt. Gen Balwant Singh Negi
THE Maoist Doctrine in the 1960s and 1970 saw the threat of Soviet land attack, and it guided the formulation of China’s military doctrine. This theory advocated by Mao Zedong, also known as the People’s War Doctrine, stressed on the numerical strength to offset the disadvantage of inferior weaponry. It revolved upon mobilising the population in a protracted war. At that time, the ‘People War’ was an effective deterrent to the superior adversary just because of the sheer size and population of China. The doctrine advocated fighting a classic ‘People’s War’ by drawing enemy forces into the interior of China, abandoning cities for the vast rural areas where the enemy’s lines of communication would get overextended and then gradually dividing and annihilating the enemy.
‘Peoples War’ under Modern Conditions
By the 1980s, China had become a nuclear state. The advent of modern weaponry and technology forced the ‘People’s War’ concept to be modified to a ‘People’s War under Modern Conditions’. This doctrine explained how to fight a war rather than what type and nature of war the PLA should be prepared to fight. The change brought about a shift from mobile warfare to a positional war concept. The loss of territory was no longer acceptable. The PLA sought to fight the adversary at the borders rather than in the interior. The cities too were to be defended, departing from the Maoist advocacy of abandoning the cities for the vastness of the rural countryside. The old strategy of deterrence through denial was replaced by strategic deterrence through retaliation. China had by this time also developed and deployed a small but usable strategic nuclear force.
Local Wars under Modern Conditions
In the late 1980s, the doctrine of local wars was introduced. It advocated fighting local armed conflicts on the borders. The reason for the shift could be attributed to the end of the Cold War, the increasing cost of major wars which even the most advanced nations would want to avoid and the effort of the superpowers to prevent direct conflict. This would give rise to indirect conflicts through proxy wars and cash on internal struggles, thus giving substance to the theory of ‘Local Wars’. The aim of local wars was not to annihilate the enemy but to enhance diplomatic initiatives, intimidate the enemy psychologically and acquire economic resources.
This doctrine meant that China would have to modernise the armed forces. To become a superpower China would have to maintain the necessary conditions for preserving the interests and security of the nation by establishing security space, survival space, scientific exploration and technological development space and economic activities space. The new concept followed the principles of ‘winning victory through elite troops’ (Jingbing Zhisheng), ‘gaining the initiative by striking first’ (Xianfa Zhiren) and ‘winning victory over inferiority through superiority’ (Yiyou Shenglie).
High Tech Wars as Sequel to Gulf War 1990
The Gulf War 1990 provided a new focus to China’s military Modern-isation to include prioritisation of developing the Air Force, Navy and missiles as Chinese military commanders could decipher the power of air and joint ops. The major lessons that the PLA learnt from the Gulf War can be summarised as under:
- Electronic warfare is decisive to the result of the entire war.
- Hi-tech weaponry is the key to victory in future wars.
- Air and Naval powers are the critical arms in modern warfare.
- The overall capability is measured by rapid response and fast deployment.
- Logistic support capability is as important as actual fighting strength.
Concept of Warfare beyond the Himalayas
The May 1998 nuclear detonations set off by India and Pakistan had at least one positive effect. If Beijing had any serious doubts concerning the perils of proliferation, the tests drove home the point that a nuclear arms race in South Asia served no country’s interests, especially not those of China. Washington’s years of cajoling Beijing, imposing sanctions on Chinese companies, and painfully extracting agreements from Chinese negotiators could no longer be dismissed by Beijing as efforts by the Americans to cram their own concerns down Asian throats. China’s President Jiang Zemin said, “This (the South Asian nuclear tests) will inevitably endanger the peace and stability of the South Asia and the international non-proliferation regime…I wish to point out that nuclear testing is against international trends, no matter whether the test is conducted by India or Pakistan”. He urged both countries to relinquish their nuclear weapon programmes and unconditionally accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
A midst this supposed conversion from profligate proliferators to ardent non-proliferators, it was easy to forget the long road to Chinese accession to the NPT, a treaty that dates back to 1968. China became a party to it only in 1992. Largely ignored in 1998 was the fact that China set off its final detonation in July 1996, after the text of the CTBT had been agreed upon. Further, China was among the most obstinate of the CTBT drafters, throwing up one obstacle after another at it all the while testing warheads for its new missiles and assisted Pakistan. A statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed outrage over India’s tests:
“The Chinese government is deeply shocked by this and hereby expresses its strong condemnation. The international community should adopt a common position in strongly demanding India immediately stop its nuclear development program. The test displayed outrageous contempt for the common will of the international community for the comprehensive ban on nuclear tests”.
The decision by Beijing to react harshly was not a foregone conclusion. Beijing had spent years denying that it had provided nuclear weapons and ballistic missile assistance to Pakistan, denials which few accepted but in which Islamabad and Beijing persisted. Beijing had been similarly attentive to finding ways to skirt commitments to Washington and the world to do better with respect to proliferation or to curb dubious sales of “dual-use” items by Chinese entities to Pakistan. Neither India nor Pakistan, by these nuclear tests, had violated international agreements to which they were party. Beijing’s decision about how to react was made all the more difficult by the Chinese position on interference in another country’s internal affairs. For two days or so, Beijing did not react to the Indian tests, reflecting the difficulty of its internal deliberations. Then, probably influenced by international pressure, Beijing came down unequivocally on the side of a commitment to a standard of international behaviour. Moreover, it adhered to that position through Pakistan’s tests, a much more painful decision for Beijing. India, and then Pakistan, had violated what had come to be accepted by the responsible members of the community of nations as a worldwide moratorium on nuclear testing.
An Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman said, “The Government of India remains committed to the development of a friendly, cooperative, good neighbourly and mutually beneficial relationship with China, our largest neighbour. Both sides have agreed to build a constructive and cooperative relationship oriented towards the 21st century… We see our relationship as one in which the two sides would be responsive to each other’s concerns”.
Eliminating differences and promoting understanding would contribute to the development of good-neighbourly relations. George Fernandes, then India’s Defence Minister, stated:
“If China and the US can have a strategic partnership which makes them de-target their nuclear missiles despite the several issues that divide them, there is no reason why India and China cannot have a closer relationship, while they work towards resolving outstanding disputes between them. We have a hallowed past, and both are proud of their civilizational heritage.”
Moreover, Beijing is not inclined single-mindedly to stand behind Islamabad, savouring any opportunity to get at New Delhi. Pakistan has suffered China’s verbal wrath. Understandable as Pakistan’s nuclear tests were in the eyes of many Chinese, Beijing did not yield to the threat of US sanctions to enforce its new rules about controlling the sales of dual-use technology. China, of course, will not abandon Pakistan, nor is it expected to broker in the Kashmir dispute. But it may well pursue more balanced relations on the South Asian subcontinent. Its South Asia policy will be far less likely to involve roguish behaviour on the interpretation of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). India and Pakistan have provided China with a lesson on what constitutes responsible behaviour in the world, where China wants to be acknowledged as a significant power.
Determining the Current Strategy in Asia
It is important to visualise and then reflect upon Asia’s distinctive geography: the vast distances involved, the number of significant states that are entirely, or very nearly, surrounded by seawaters (Japan, Taiwan, the Philippine Islands, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, which is connected to the continent only by the slender Isthmus of Kra, Australia, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand) and the geographic centrality and physical enormity of China. These three features, actually determine geographic facts, interrelate in ways that both facilitate and limit the strategic choices and in fact, the strategic circumstances, facing China.
The improving militarily useful infrastructure (roads, airports, communications media), a large modernising army, the demonstrated ability to absorb punishment and keep on fighting in the guerrilla or People’s War tradition, an enormous population and a strong sense of national identity, leads one to the conclusion that China is now a dominant military power on the Asian side of the Earth’s hemisphere.
In view of its own comprehensive national power vis-à-vis that of North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia, it is clear that China need not worry unduly about the threat of invasion from a neighbouring state.13
The PLA is currently not fully modernised in terms of military capability. Thus its ability to project itself as a decisive military force beyond China’s immediate neighbours is at the moment questionable.
China needs a peaceful environment in order to be able to devote itself wholly to its socialistic modernisation programme. As it resolutely seeks to develop good relations with neighbouring nations actively, China is not inclined to be perceived as a hegemonic threat in the region. President Xi Jinping’s vision to unleash a ‘Charm Offensive’ of economic packages and the Belt-Road strategy of securing commercial strongholds from Eurasia to South Asia and the Indian Ocean is a massive power projection plan that will have to be backed by a credible military power to outmanoeuvre or, at least, to match the most advanced military in the world.
Beijing’s interest in the security aspects of its relations with neighbouring countries is certainly not wanting. This fact is clear from the words of Chinese leaders and other official documents like the White Paper on Defence and also from China’s actions, as per the details given below:
- As a country in the Asia-Pacific region, China places great importance on the region’s security, stability, peace and development. China’s Asia-Pacific security strategy has three objectives, i.e. China’s own stability and prosperity, peace and stability in its surrounding regions, and conducting dialogue and cooperation with all countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
- The countries in the Asia-Pacific region rely more on each other economically, to solve their disputes by peaceful means, to stress upon the meeting points of their common interests and to strengthen cooperation and coordination, are becoming the main currency of relations among the countries of the region.
- China unswervingly keeps national defence construction in a position subordinate to and in the service of the nation’s economic development.
- The political security situation in the Asia-Pacific region is relatively stable. The development of the trend toward multipolarity in this region is being quickened. Despite the emergence of a financial crisis in Asia, the Asia-Pacific region remains one of the areas with the greatest economic development vitality in the world, and developing the economy is the most important task for each country.
- Economic development and stability are very important aspects of state security. In international relations, geopolitical, military security and ideological factors still play a role that cannot be ignored, but the role of economic factors is becoming more important, along with growing economic contacts among nations. The financial crisis in Asia has made the issue of economic security more prominent and has set a new task for governments of all countries to strengthen coordination and face challenges together in the course of economic globalisation.
New Dimensions in Multilateral Contacts
The sustained development of the multipolarity tendencies and economic globalisation have fostered mutual confidence among developing countries and enhanced their interactive relations and helped promote the idea of world peace, stability and prosperity. Various forms of regional and subregional multilateral cooperation are constantly being developed, and security dialogues and cooperation are being carried out at many levels and through many channels.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Asian Regional Forum (ARF) regularly engage in exploration of confidence-building measures. However, the areas of potential CBMs listed (e.g., “military medicine,” the “science of military law,” high-level visits, and port calls) fall well short of the type of substantive CBMs that others envision.
Hence, China devotes its efforts to promoting equal treatment and friendly cooperation with other countries, and attaches importance to developing healthy and stable relations with all countries and all the key forces in the region; actively participates in regional economic cooperation and promotes an open type of regionalism; insists on handling and settling disputes among countries through peaceful means and takes an active part in the dialogue and collaboration process aimed at regional security.
On the basis of equal consultation, mutual understanding and shared accommodation, China has solved in an appropriate manner border issues with most of its neighbours. As for remaining disputes on territorial and marine rights and interests between China and the neighbouring countries, China maintains that they are to be solved through consultation by putting the “interests of the whole” above everything else, so that the disputes will not hamper the healthy development of interstate relations or the stability of the region. China has clearly stated that relevant disputes should be properly solved through peaceful negotiation and consultation, in accordance with commonly accepted international laws and modern maritime laws, including the basic principles and legal systems as prescribed in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
China has placed the development of military contacts with adjacent countries in a prominent position, especially contacts on the senior level. In 1996 and 1997 alone, China sent more than 100 military delegations to most of its adjacent countries and hosted over 130 military delegations from such countries.
Beijing’s Proclamations on Regional Security
Beijing’s stated overall approach to regional security relations in the 21st century can be summarised as follows:
- Increased attention to its peripheral environment, primarily because China needs regional stability to continue economic development.
- More effective, but gentler, assertion of China’s role as a pre-eminent power in the Asia-Pacific region and as the appropriate permanent pillar of regional stability.
- Pursuit of the conviction that China’s national power is primarily a function of economic development rather than military capabilities.
- A new acceptance of, and even a growing preference for, the use of multilateral means and international law to settle disputes, but a hardening of opposition to alliances.
Central Asian Republics: The China View
The emergence of independent nations in Central Asia bordering China has been a source of ‘separatist’ inspiration for the already restive Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. There is a small, but active, cross-border Islamic independence movement in this region. Border disputes between China and the Central Asian states, carried over from the Soviet period, have been an additional complicating factor. This area across China’s north-western border, notably Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan cannot, therefore, be overlooked by Beijing.
When Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in May 2016, he and his Central Asian counterparts extolled the great virtues of China’s major strategic planning of One Belt One Road (OBOR) – also called the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt.’ China is thus winning cooperation and confidence of the neighbouring countries in the sensitive region of Central Asia by unleashing its strategy of ‘Charm Offensive’.
Russia: Strategic Partner or Potential Threat?
Near the end of 1997, both Moscow and Beijing reportedly described the Sino-Russian relationship more fully as “constructive cooperation aimed at the strategic partnership in the twenty-first century”.
Recent history (certainly on the Chinese time scale) has witnessed sharp swings in relations between Moscow and Beijing. Economic ties between both countries received a boost from President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow in May 2015. Whereas China is the single largest investor in Russia, the Xi–Putin summit ended with signing agreements covering vast areas of cooperation. It was also reported that Russia agreed to supply China with 24 Su-35 multirole fighter jets and four Amur-class diesel submarines.
Challenging the United States is another important aspect of the solidarity between Beijing and Moscow that has enhanced their partnership. The bilateral bonds have been strengthened by the perception of having a common adversary on an important matter.
THE establishment of a just and equitable new international political and economic order based on peace and stability has become the pressing need of the times and the inevitable necessity of history. No country should seek hegemony, practice power politics, or monopolise international affairs.
There have been regular biannual meetings of a high-level defence commission. By September 2008, there had been 20 rounds of talks on the reduction of military forces in border areas, with satisfactory results.
Japan: Squinting into the Rising Sun!
The Reciprocal Context: Despite a quarter century of normalised relations, the security intercourse between China and Japan remains complex and uncertain.
A Cataclysmic China: Some Japanese fear that China, by virtue of its size and relative backwardness, could become an Asian nightmare in ways beyond the current anxiety about China’s devaluing its currency and thereby exacerbating the Asian financial crisis.
Mutual Military Concerns: Tokyo is observing the direction Beijing takes in the modernisation of the PLA. There is a general concern about the incipient Chinese aspirations as the regional hegemony.
Japanese Pacifism Doubted: Most Chinese do not believe that post-World-War-II pacifism is deeply ingrained among Japan’s citizenry. Many are convinced that the often-mentioned social and constitutional constraints on Japan’s building a full-fledged set of armed forces might be quickly overwhelmed or eliminated by militarists, who, the Chinese would stress, already show their true jingoistic colours in such adventures as the recurrent spats over the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyutai in Chinese).
The Dichotomy of Relations with Japan: China, no doubt, is unhappy with the US alliances in Asia and remains enamoured with its new concept of security without confrontation and warring alliances. Nevertheless, a distinction should be made between Chinese aspirations and efforts to achieve a distant goal on the one hand and the more pressing combination of realistic expectations and short-term concerns on the other. Does China really want Japan “loose on Asia,” as those who fear Japan the most, might put it?
China’s Future Place in Asian Security vis-à-vis Japan. The matter to be considered for the future is that China wants what it perceives as its rightful place in the framework of Northeast Asian security. That central place for China in the architecture is something Beijing can seemingly never have as long as the US–Japanese alliance retains its status as the keystone of regional security and there is the implication that one of the roles of the alliance is to keep China in line—or knock it back in line—if it strays.
China and ASEAN
Beijing’s motives with respect to the South China Sea may be questioned, but its increased attention to its southern periphery is clear. The most conspicuous example of that attention is China’s presence and participation in ASEAN and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) as a “dialogue partner”.
“Mischief Reef” Area of Spratly Islands. Though striving to foster a reputation as a partner and good neighbour to the ASEAN nations, Beijing nonetheless built structures on “Mischief Reef” in the eastern part of the Spratly Islands near the Philippines.
Beijing’s New Approach to ASEAN. One factor fuelling the disbelief is concern about the ultimate resolution of the disputed claims with the ASEAN countries. There is an ominous note in China’s formulation that the disputes will be shelved while economic development proceeds. And Beijing has not made any definitive moves to ease those concerns.
In seeking an equitable solution to the disputes, all relevant factors such as historical title, island entitlements, continental shelf rights, proportionality, geomorphological features and economic interests should be balanced in the delimitation.
Evolving Perceptions of China on the ASEAN. China continues to seek a pre-eminent role in Southeast Asia, as elsewhere in East Asia. Beijing, however, abhors having the term ‘hegemony’ applied to it and strives to employ its size and influence in ways that accomplish the purpose but avoids the appellation. China’s cooperative participation in the various ASEAN forums seems to have produced some results. Indeed, the ASEAN considers Beijing before it acts. In January 1996, Singapore’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew opposed India’s full membership in ASEAN on the grounds that China would “resent” the move.
China’s Current Strategic Assessment
Four excellent books have laid the foundations for future efforts to understand China’s perceptions of its security environment and the Chinese assessment process: David Shambaugh’s Beautiful Imperialist, Gilbert Rozman’s The Chinese Debate on Soviet Socialism, Allen Whiting’s China Eyes Japan and Carol Hamrin’s China and the Challenge of the Future. They stress the unique premises used by Chinese analysts during the 1980s and the process of debate among both analysts and the senior leadership in Beijing. Some premises are:
- China’s commitment to its version of Marxism rules out the use of Western international relations concepts to assess the future security environment. This ideology prohibits using certain concepts to assess the future. Deng Xiaoping’s National Security Adviser on the State Council, Huan Xiang, wrote in 1987 that “bourgeois theories of international relations” were to serve the interest of imperialist foreign policies. One well-known Chinese analyst observed, differing from Western international relations theorists such as Hans Morgenthau, that “China’s theory of international relations is based on dialectical and historical materialism.” Textbooks of international relations in use in China, such as a recent book by Liang Shoude and Hong Yinxian, emphasise the interpretations of Marx, Lenin, Mao and Deng. Liang asserts that the foreign policies of nations depend on whether the bourgeois or the proletariat is in power.
- Chinese textbooks state that bourgeois states are greedy and constantly plot war and interventions; they are blocked from this course only by the socialist countries which desire peace and development. Students in China from high school onwards are examined on these principles. Liang headed the commission that drafted the national syllabus in international politics for all universities. The Chinese have explicitly rejected Western international relations theory, including the school of thought known as Realism or Neo-Realism, which began to be discussed in 1982 in China.
- Consistent with their ideology, Chinese analysts have rigid views about the causes of war. In contrast to Western research that suggests that miscalculation and misperceptions may be the leading cause of war, Chinese analysts assert that “scrambling for resources” causes war. “Economic factors are the most fundamental cause triggering war”. Such a narrow view may make it difficult for Chinese analysts to appreciate the role of miscalculation and misperceptions in causing war.
The ‘Multipolar World’ Doctrine
What geopolitical features of the future do the Chinese authors consider as significant? Four questions are often raised. Which nations will be the most powerful in the unfolding decades of the 21st century? What kinds of international alignments will form? What kinds of war may occur for which China should prepare? How will the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) affect the relationships among the major powers?
The nations that will do “best” in competitive terms during the transitional period will pursue “peace and development” and enhance their economic competitiveness. By avoiding Local Wars, they can decrease defence expenditures and avert the damage of war. Chinese authors frequently assert that the collapse of the USSR and the decline of the United States are due in large part to extremely high defence spending and declining competitiveness in GNP.
Today’s “sole superpower” is in severe decline. The United States risks declining so rapidly that it may not even be one of the five multipolar powers and may fall to the level of a mere “regional power.” This continual decline of the United States in the decades ahead is an important feature of the Chinese assessment, so this study provides more details on this subject than on China’s views of other major powers.
After the transition to the multipolar world, a new “world system” will emerge to govern international affairs and that will probably resemble the current Chinese proposal for Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. The Chinese authorities assert that world politics since the 1800s always has had a “system” or a “strategic pattern”. Under those rules, there is a competition among powers that includes a global division of spheres of influence. Chinese historical textbooks discuss (1) the “Vienna System” of 1815–70 (2) and intermediate system when Germany and Italy each unified and Japan launched the Meiji Reform (3) the “Versailles System” of 1920–45 (4) the “Yalta System” of 1945–89 and (5) the present “transition era”.
The new Chinese-style “world system” based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, will be much better, they assert, because there will be harmony, no “power politics” and no more “hegemony”. This harmonious world requires a transition away from the capitalism of the major powers towards some type of “socialist market economy”. Just as China has modified the doctrines of Marx, Engel, Lenin and Stalin to produce what Deng Xiaoping called “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”, so will the United States, Germany, Japan, and Russia ultimately develop their own socialist characteristics.
Some Chinese military authors believe that there is now underway an RMA that will radically change future warfare. Five recent Chinese books assert that the United States will not exploit the RMA as well as other nations in the decades ahead. China’s generals “plan to be better, to be ahead of everyone and become latecomers who surpass the old-timers”.
A major global nuclear war is highly unlikely for two decades. This official forecast is a sharp change from the forecasts of Chairman Mao that a global nuclear war was inevitable. Therefore, China claims to have cut its defence spending from more than 6 percent of the Gross National Product (GNP) in the 1960s and 1970s, to between 2 and 3 percent when the current assessment came into force by the mid-1980s, and down to about 1.5 percent of the GNP in the 1990s. This claim by China that it has drastically reduced defence spending, which included cutting the PLA’s size from seven million to three million, is based on China’s expectations to remain above the fray of “Local Wars” during the turbulent transition era ahead.
There are many global forces at work creating turbulence (luan, a Chinese word which also may be translated as chaos), including the potential for nationalist, militarist takeovers of Japan and India. The “main trend” in the world, however, is towards “peace and development” but “potential hot spots exist which could lead to the involvement of the great powers and regional powers in direct military confrontation”. Even in Asia, although the Asia-Pacific region has been relatively stable since the end of the Cold War, there are also many uncertainties there. If certain hot-spot problems are not handled properly, they may cause conflicts, confrontations, and even war in this region, thus wrecking the peace, stability and prosperity in the region.
Within the framework of this strategic assessment, China’s analysts discuss a number of subjects in their journals and books. For example, a question frequently arises concerning the manner of the current events fitting into the framework. Some Chinese authors are following the current examples of the “turbulent period of transition” suggesting that the former spheres of influence are being re-divided.
While not all Chinese would agree with all these findings, the examples listed below demonstrate how the framework of the assessment of the future is applied in practice:
- First, the United States is exploiting Russian weaknesses by enlarging NATO in order to increase its domination of its European NATO allies.
- Second, the United States (“hegemonistic ambitions further inflated”) is forcing Japan to increase its financial support for US bases and forces in Japan under the guise of the Defence Guidelines.
- Third, the United States arranged the Bosnian settlement at Dayton to further dominate its European NATO allies.
- Fourth, Japan is seeking to embroil the United States and China in a struggle that will weaken both Washington and Beijing.
- Fifth, some in the United States are fearful of China and seek to contain or block China’s gradually increasing influence by promoting the “China threat theory”. This is wrong because “China has neither the strength nor the will to compete with the United States and other big powers in global affairs”.
- Sixth, Central Asia may be the location of political struggles and wars among the big powers as the former Soviet sphere of influence is re-divided.
Lessons from the Warring-States-Era
China’s military authors refer often to certain similarities between the geopolitics of the Warring-States era and the coming multipolar world structure. A representative article states that the classic book, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, was “the product of the multipolar world structure in China 2500 years ago” and that “there are a surprising number of similarities between Sun Tzu’s time and the contemporary multipolar trend”. Also, “in the 1990s the world entered a multipolar era very similar to the time of Sun Tzu”. The Warring-States era of ancient China is little known in the West. It was the source of the classic lessons of Chinese statecraft.
Unfortunately, there is no guide for Westerners to study Chinese traditional statecraft. According to interviews with Chinese military officers, the style of statesmanship is embedded in Chinese culture just as the West has its own history, its own literature and its own Bible stories. Two studies by the late Herbert Goldhamer sought to outline some of the content of Chinese statecraft and China’s unique perceptions, but this work has not been continued.
One of Goldhamer’s insights relevant to this study is his emphasis on the fact that China’s ancient statecraft demanded efforts to calculate the future. He points out that ancient China’s first minister was called The Universal Calculator; that the philosopher Han Feizi called for a strategy based on cost–benefit calculations; and that the philosopher Mo Zi persuaded an enemy general to surrender by showing he could calculatethrougha“seminargame”whatthebattle’soutcomewould be, if fought.
The Warring-States era already had the equivalent of General Staffs, which calculated the strengths and intention of players in this multipolar world; Sun Tzu warned that victory depended on the calculations and estimates of enemy strength and weaknesses that had been made in advance by advisers in the temple council.
Mo Zi taught his students that the future could be known. Two of ancient China’s greatest teachers on statecraft, Lord Shang and Li Sisu, warned of the need for calculating the future in a multipolar strategic environment. Li Sisu wrote a famous memorandum to the ruler of Qin, the man who would unify China and become its first emperor, warning that “this is the one moment in ten thousand ages. If Your Highness allows it to slip away there will form an anti-Qin alliance”. With regard to calculating the future, Goldhamer suggests that political writings from ancient China contained “principled predictions” and not just intuition or guesswork. For example, another famous adviser in the Qin State, Lord Shang, warned that the price for neglecting quantitative calculations would be that even a state with a large population and a favourable geographical position “will become weaker and weaker, until it is dismembered. The early kings did not rely on their beliefs but on their figures”. The subject of Chinese statecraft in a multipolar world, explored by Goldhamer, remains relevant to China’s process of strategic assessment, especially judging by the sharp increase of Chinese military publications about the relevance of ancient statecraft in the last few years.
The Idea of ‘Comprehensive National Power (CNP)’
Although the phrase “comprehensive national power” was invented in 1984, it has cultural roots in Chinese ancient statecraft. In his book, Grand Strategy, Wu Chunqiu, at the Academy of Military Science, provides examples from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and from Guan Zi to show how “the discussion of warfare in Chinese ancient literature embodies national power thinking. He writes that “China’s wise ancient strategists never advocated only relying on military power to conquer the enemy, but emphasised combining military power with non military power related to war in order to get the upper hand”. Sun Tzu identified “five things” and “seven stratagems” which governed the outcome of war. Wu Zi wrote about six conditions which, if the other side’s strength was greater, meant war should be avoided. Wu Chunqiu writes, “These six points are relatively complete, they simply are the epitome of today’s concept of comprehensive national power”.
According to Wu Chunqiu, calculating CNP can aid a nation not just for war but also to “coordinate a political and diplomatic offensive, to psychologically disintegrate the enemy forces and subdue them”. Wu states, “Victory without war does not mean that there is not any war at all. The wars one must fight are political wars, economic wars, science and technology wars, diplomatic wars, etc. To sum up in a word, it is a war of Comprehensive National Power”.
Avoidance of War with Warring States
Within certain political limits, Chinese authors can examine the challenges that China will face and suggest alternative strategies. The Director of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), Foreign Policy Centre, Dr Yan Xuetong (PhD Berkeley), has cautioned that the ruling American hegemon can be kept from using force to contain China’s rise as long as certain policy goals are maximised. These are annually increasing exports up to nine percent and avoiding simultaneous confrontation with the United States and two other powerful nations.
Using an imaginative table of probabilities, Dr Yan predicts that China can avoid war for at least ten years by adopting these two policies. However, his assessment shows that as China’s annual share of export markets decline and as the number of powerful nations that China confronts increases, the probability that China will become involved in wars increases rather sharply. Dr Yan adds that because of American covert support for Taiwan’s independence, he cannot estimate if war with the United States can be avoided indefinitely.
The Chinese Concept of Military Deterrence
The current slowdown notwithstanding, China has made phenomenal progress and risen as a power that cannot be ignored regionally or globally anymore.
Understanding the necessity of building up a strong modern military to match the most advanced in the world, China has given due importance to reform and modernise the PLA, transforming it into the ultimate power of the nation. Little wonder that President Xi Jinping has assumed the chairmanship of the State Central Military Commission (State CMC) and the Party Central Military Commission (Party CMC). A white paper on China’s Military Strategy published in 2015 stated, “Without a strong military, a country can be neither safe nor strong”. It was an eloquent warning as well as an exhortation echoing Xi’s resolve to reform, reorganise and modernise the PLA to match up to the world’s best military power.
It has now been made amply clear to all that the PLA will not initiate offensive action but shall take aggressive actions at the “tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war” according to the principle, “We will not attack unless we are attacked, but we will surely counterattack if attacked”. This is termed as the strategic concept of active defence which is the essence of modern China’s strategic thought.
THE PLA recognises ‘war fighting as its core function’. “The better the PLA is prepared to perform its primary mission of fighting, the better it is prepared to conduct deterrence and military operations other than war (MOOTW) missions. This triad – warfighting, deterrence, and MOOTW – are defined as the three basic ways of using military force”.
In the Chinese strategic reckoning, ‘deterrence’ is a credible display of its military power to dissuade an aggressor by infusing a belief in the potential enemy’s mind through the demonstration of its military power that the aggressor would be defeated and annihilated. In its application, deterrence should, therefore, yield desired strategic results either through persuasion or through coercion. “Strategic deterrence is a principal means of attaining the objective of military strategy, and its risks and costs are less than strategic operations…Strategic deterrence is also a means for achieving the political objective”. Three conditions are necessary for deterrence: 1) an “adequate deterrent force”; 2) the “determination and volition [to employ] the strategic deterrent force”; and 3) interaction (signalling) “between the deterrer and the deterred”. These elements conform exactly to the formula proposed by Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the US Pacific Command: Capability x Resolve x Signalling = Deterrence.
Party Loyalty and Integrity
Another feature that has now been firmly established is that the PLA, the People’s Armed Police, and the Militia are all subordinated unambiguously to the party’s absolute leadership. In his all-powerful capacity as Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, President Xi Jinping has made it abundantly clear that ‘Loyalty to the Party’ is of paramount importance now. Every military person is required to adhere to the tenets and norms that guide and bind behaviour of the military commanders and personnel in a stricter ethos of a professional military.
Xi moved swiftly and ruthlessly with an avowed intent to root out factionalism and corruption that had been growing for quite some time in the PLA. Chairing the New Gutian Congress in 2014, he echoed Mao Zedong’s famous quote with a tinge, “Yes, power flows from the barrel of the gun, but it is the Party that commands the gun!”
Initial investigations gave a list of 56 tainted senior officers. The purge then commenced from the top. Two general-rank officers, both Vice Chairmen of the Central Military Commission, Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, were sacked and subsequently court-martialled. Guo, 75, was jailed for life for corruption in July 2016, while Xu who had also been a Member of the Politburo of the CPC, died of cancer at age 72 while in custody during trial. At least sixteen more full generals were targeted and had to vacate their positions in the massive leadership reshuffle during 2017. Action against such high and mighty has “further indicated President Xi Jinping’s determination to clean up all pernicious influence left by Guo and Xu before the party’s congress in autumn”.
IN the pursuit of its objectives, the Chinese government has focused on utilising all resources of national power to maximise its strategic military potential by harnessing economic, demographic, scientific and diplomatic elements to optimise the performance of PLA. The principles of “winning without fighting”, the “weak overcoming the strong” and integrating military and civilian capabilities have been widely demonstrated in recent years by the employment of civilian law enforcement agencies, commercial entities and maritime militia forces, with the backing of active duty forces, in the South and East China Seas.
Realising the need for a more cohesive and cooperative functioning of the Civil and Military departments, a ‘Central Commission for Integrated Military and Civilian Development’ was formed at the beginning of the year 2017. As reported by the Xinhua News Agency in April 2017, the commission will decide and coordinate affairs on civil–military integration, which will be under the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee.
The idea of civil–military integration gathered momentum from March 2014 onwards when it was upgraded to form part of the national strategy. Alongside departmental integration at the executive level, it was also considered desirable to involve Chinese companies in high-tech industries. A number of alliances and associations have since been formed bringing together departments of Defence and the Industry.
The importance given to Civil–Military Cooperation can be judged from the fact the Xi Jinping will personally head this newly created organisation.
Extracted from China’s Military Modernisation – Global Security Implications, by Dr Balwant Singh Negi (Turning Point Publishers).
VOL. 11 | ISSUE 6 | SEPTEMBER 2017
BOOK EXTRACT / china / military