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China’s defence white paper : Sleeping giant turns into fiery dragon

2013-04-18 19:42:30
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Hambantota was not mentioned, neither was Gwadar in Pakistan. There was no mention of the necklace of pearl or the much analysed fear that India entertains about its encirclement by China. Poring over China’s just-released defence white paper, one finds no mention of an Indian threat or China’s desire to control the Indian Ocean’s sea routes.



But wait a minute. What China released this week was not the full document. It was what it thinks the rest of the world should see and know. In other words, much of the defence white paper is classified. Yet the declassified sections give an indication as to what China is up to.

While it explains China’s commitment to world peace and development, it sends warnings that China will respond effectively if its territorial integrity is threatened. There is warning to Japan and other neighbouring countries which are riding piggyback on the United States and staking claims over territories which China sees as integral parts of it.

The focus of the defence white paper is on the Asia-Pacific region where the United States has also stepped up its military activities under its Pivot-to-Asia policy.
“Some country has strengthened its Asia-Pacific military alliances, expanded its military presence in the region, and frequently makes the situation there tenser,” the defence white paper says without naming the United States.

“China still faces multiple and complicated security threats and challenges. The issues of subsistence and development security and the traditional and non-traditional threats to security are interwoven. Therefore, China has an arduous task to safeguard its national unification, territorial integrity and development interests,” says the Defence White Paper titled ‘The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces’.

‘Don’t-play-games-with-China’ appears to be the tone of the document. “We will not attack unless we are attacked; but we will surely counter-attack if attacked.” Setting out this principle, China warns it will resolutely take all necessary measures to safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity.



This was the first time since China began publishing its defence white papers in 1998 that China has issued a warning in such words and such a stern tone. Its previous defence white papers noted only the security issues faced by China and China’s concerns over them.

For instance, in the 2010 defence white paper, China noted that the US had increased its strategic attention to and input in the Asia-Pacific region, further consolidated its military alliances and enhanced its military capabilities. The 2010 paper said China was still confronted by long-term, complicated, and diverse security threats and challenges.

But this time around, China flexes its muscles. It takes Japan by its collar.  “On the issues concerning China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, some neighbouring countries are taking actions that complicate or exacerbate the situation, and Japan is making trouble over the issue of the Diaoyu Islands,” the defence white paper said referring to the dispute over the islets which Japan calls Senkaku.

There is also a display of courage when for the first time China in a defence white paper reveals the structure of China’s military units and many more details which were not found in the previous papers.

It shows that China’s militarily has come of age to face the combined threat from the United States and its regional allies with whom Washington has entered into defence pacts. China may not match the US fire power weapon to weapon. But in nuclear warfare terms, parity of status prevails even between a nation with a few nuclear warheads and a nation with thousands of nuclear warheads. A nuclear-powered North Korea, for instance, can destroy the region or probably the world and itself just as much as the United States could destroy North Korea, the rest of the world and itself in a nuclear confrontation. In the case of China, its nuclear fire power is much greater than North Korea, Beijing’s only ally in the Asia-Pacific region. Besides, China’s technology and delivery systems are much superior to that of North Korea. So realpolitik demands that China should be treated as an equal with the United States.

China’s latest defence white paper for the first time reveals that its second artillery force is responsible for tasks related to nuclear and conventional missiles. The force, according to the paper, is “primarily responsible for deterring other countries from using nuclear weapons against China, and carrying out nuclear counter-attacks and precision strikes with conventional missiles”.

The defence white paper, China’s 8th since 1998, says the People’s Liberation Army has 850,000 soldiers, the navy 235,000 and the air force 398,000 – a nearly 1.5 million-strong military force. But defence analysts say the Chinese military’s real strength is much more.

The defence white paper also reveals that China’s military budget rose by 11.2 per cent in 2012, exceeding US$100bn. But a report released this week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) puts the figure as US$ 166 billion. Even if China’s real military budget is twice the revealed figure, it is far short of the United States’ defence budget, which is a staggering US$ 682 billion in 2012.

According to the SIPRI report, the US tops the world military-expenditure list. Its military expenditure was more than the next 10 nations on the list combined and it accounted for nearly 40 per cent of the global military expenditure. The report also notes that although the global military expenditure dropped in 2012 largely due to the decrease in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, no such reductions were witnessed in military outlays by Russia, China.

The SIPRI report said China spent an estimated US$166 billion in 2012, an increase of 7.8 per cent from 2011, and Russia spent roughly US$ 90.7 billion in 2012, a 16 per cent increase over the previous year.

These figures underscore the existence of a fierce global arms race which China’s defence white paper acknowledges.

In fact, the defence white paper is China’s response to the United States President Barack Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ defence policy – a policy that calls for US military build-up and greater military cooperation with countries in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region. In recent years, the United States has set up a military base in Darwin, Australia and enhanced defence cooperation with almost all Asia-Pacific regional countries. It also conducts regular joint military exercises with these countries, almost all of whom have an unresolved territorial dispute with China. By 2020, the US plans to deploy 60 per cent of its naval forces in the Asia-Pacific region, heightening China’s security worries.

The United States’ Pivot to Asia policy has made the Chinese dragon to breathe fire. China is no more the sleeping giant. It has woken up and won’t take its eye off its rival even when it makes the courtesy bow of the orient. Over the years, China’s military has set itself on the path to modernization. China is capable of doing things that the United States is capable of. Destroying missiles in midair was regarded a United States’ monopoly. But China in 2010 proved that it was also capable of doing this.

Just as the United States, China also possesses the ability to shoot down an orbiting satellite. In the past decade or so, China has also built aircraft carriers and proved its abilities at cyber warfare.

Its nuclear submarines are regularly spotted in the Indian Ocean, especially south of Sri Lanka. According to Indian media reports, 13 of the 22 contacts the US and the Indian Navy made with Chinese submarines took place south of Sri Lanka. These reports said the extent of Chinese submarines’ unchallenged forays into the Indian Ocean could be deeply troubling for the Indian Navy.

The concluding paragraphs of the defence white paper say:

“At the new stage in this new century, China’s armed forces have effectively fulfilled their new historical missions, and enhanced their capabilities of accomplishing diversified military tasks, the most important of which is to win local wars under informationised conditions. They have resolutely defended national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, strongly guaranteed national economic and social development and ensured that the people can live and work in peace and stability. Their accomplishment of a host of urgent, difficult, dangerous and arduous tasks has been remarkable, and through their staging of major exercises and training for combat readiness they have won the full trust of and high praise from the people.

“At this new historical starting point, China’s armed forces are undertaking missions which are noble and lofty, and assuming responsibilities which are paramount and honourable. They will constantly place above all else the protection of national sovereignty and security as well as the interests of the Chinese people. They will persistently regard maintaining world peace and promoting common development as their important missions, and accelerate the modernisation of national defence and the armed forces….”

Though the concluding paragraphs seem like sugar-coating, the preface reiterates China’s time-tested foreign policy with which it seeks to win many friends in the developing world. The preface says: “It is China’s unshakable national commitment and strategic choice to take the road of peaceful development. China unswervingly pursues an independent foreign policy of peace and a national defence policy that is defensive in nature. China opposes any form of hegemonism or power politics, and does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. China will never seek hegemony or behave in a hegemonic manner, nor will it engage in military expansion. China advocates a new security concept featuring mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination, and pursues comprehensive security, common security and cooperative security.”

Any takers?


  Comments - 2

  • gamini samarasinghe Friday, 19 April 2013 10:34

    China and India will be friends and continue to be so.

    Reply : 1       4

    Suren Sarathkumara Saturday, 20 April 2013 06:03

    USA is the evil at large. China is the evil at making.

    Reply : 0       0

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