Have you ever heard of the term ‘Informationization’?
The word is used 48 times in the new White Paper (WP) on Defense1 published by The Information Office of State Council of the People’s Republic of China. It is the sixth WP since Beijing started the biennial exercise in 1998. It is considered (by Beijing at least) to be an attempt at transparency.
In the WP, “˜Informationization is mostly used for Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The extensive repetition of the word shows an important direction in which the Chinese Armed forces are engaged.
But what is this ‘Informationization’ about?
While most classical dictionaries have never heard of the word, Wiktionary says that it is a synonym for ‘Informatization’.
A research paper, Who Owns Informationization? published by Kathleen Hartford of University of Massachusetts/Boston gives a better explanation: “The term, increasingly employed [in China] to describe an overall process, has in recent years become a linchpin of central and many local development strategies, and a talismanic device that is supposed to modernize the party-state system, upgrade ailing parts of the economy, turn the Chinese into true denizens of the 21st century, and plug China into the wider world. And all without undermining the dominant position of the Communist Party and the Chinese state – indeed, while increasing its effectiveness and its reach.”2
In the WP, ‘Informationization’ is mostly used for Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
The extensive repetition of the word shows an important direction in which the Chinese Armed forces are engaged.
This trend is not restricted to the defense sector, Hartford rightly writes: “China’s highest leaders have, increasingly over the past two decades, encouraged, urged, and embraced not only the development of ICT industries but the application and use of ICTs in all spheres of government, industry, education, culture, and even… agriculture.”
Interestingly, Hartford describes the general characteristics of ICTs; they usually do not belong to the domain of the State:
One of the most salient pieces of information in the WP is the evolution of Beijings view on Taiwan which has traditionally been used as the pretext for the navy and artillery build-up.
- These are technologies characterized by the rapid pace of innovation, a process that by its very nature defies planning.
- These are technologies that both transcend and undermine geographic borders, the foundation of modern state structures.
- These are technologies that alter the state/individual balance of powers resting upon control of, or access to information and communication, placing more autonomy in the hands of individuals.
Though the above particularities are also true in China, the State and more particularly the defense establishment seem determined to make the most of the new technologies in information and communication.
This is certainly one of the most striking features of the WP.
‘Informationized conditions’ is also described as an operating environment characterized by communications jamming, electronic surveillance, precision weaponry and of course, cyber war.3
When Beijing speaks of ‘local wars under conditions of Informationization’, its defense establishment means to “take into overall consideration the evolution of modern warfare and the major security threats facing China, and prepares for defensive operations under the most difficult and complex circumstances.”
For China which has been more inclined to protracted People’s Wars, it is a new concept of war. The WP explains that it is: “Designed to bring the operational strengths of different services and arms into full play, combine offensive operations with defensive operations, give priority to the flexible application of strategies and tactics, seek advantages and avoid disadvantages, and make the best use of our strong points to attack the enemy’s weak points.”
The capacity to sustain a war at a distance against a more powerful adversary should be added. In 2006, the Quadrennial Defense Review Report had noted, “[China] has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States and field disruptive military technologies that could over time offset traditional U.S. military advantages.”4
It is apparent in the WP that it is one of the objectives of the modernization of China’s defense forces.
Release of the WP
Though entitled China’s National Defense in 2008, the paper was released in January 2009; and not on any odd date. The Chinese, always fond of symbols, chose the day of the swearing-in ceremony of President Barak Obama. Pundits will also point out that it was the Martin Luther King Day, a day dedicated to non-violence: the choice of the State Council is certainly not fortuitous.
Public Relation exercise
Undoubtedly, the WP is first and foremost an exercise in public relations for the People’s Republic of China which wants to project a new image: that of a responsible nation, fully involved in global issues facing the planet and ready to help find solutions to these problems.
Beijing, minimizing the importance of the sources of conflicts (not only Taiwan) continues to insist that its armed forces are playing an active and constructive role in multilateral affairs and that this new attitude is “notably elevating its international position and influence”.
In the Preface itself, the WP explains: “Historic changes have taken place in the relations between contemporary China and the rest of the world. The Chinese economy has become an important part of the world economy, China has become an important member of the international system, and the future and destiny of China have been increasingly closely connected with the international community. China cannot develop in isolation from the rest of the world, nor can the world enjoy prosperity and stability without China.”
The Cultural Revolution’s days, when Mao Zedong did not care about the rest of the world, are gone. This is certainly a progress, though the declared policy and the facts do not often tally in practice.
In consonance with President Hu Jintao’s theory of the Peaceful Rise of China, the WP affirms: “Starting from this new historical turning point, China is unswervingly taking the road of peaceful development, unswervingly carrying out its policies of reform and opening-up its socialist modernization, unswervingly pursuing an independent foreign policy of peace and a national defense policy solely aimed at protecting its territory and people, and endeavoring to build, together with other countries, a harmonious world of enduring peace and common prosperity.”
Once again, the profession of faith is worth recording, even if the reality is often different, mainly due the one-party regime which does not allow diversity to express itself. Further, in order to survive, the present regime has a tendency to use an over-exacerbated nationalism which is not always compatible with its professed concern for the rest of the world.
Revolution in Military Affairs
The concept of Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) is recurring, as is the idea of ‘active defensive’. Practically it means a military strategy in which China does not initiate wars, but engages in war to defend its national sovereignty and territorial integrity: “Strategically, it adheres to the principle of featuring defensive operations, self-defense and striking and getting the better of the enemy only after the enemy has started an attack,” says the WP which also introduces the notion of ‘RMA with Chinese characteristics’.
In the years to come there is no doubt that Chinese defence forces will continue to concentrate on the rebel island which remains the main external (through Beijing would object to the use of the term “˜external) threat for Beijing.
The WP gives the history of the concept: “Entering the 1990s, the PLA began to vigorously promote RMA with Chinese characteristics. It established the military strategic guideline of active defense for the new era, based on winning local wars in conditions of modern technology, particularly high technology. It began to adopt a strategy of strengthening the military by means of science and technology, and a three-step development strategy in modernizing national defense and the armed forces, and promoted the coordinated development of national defense and economy.”
For the leaders in Beijing and especially the Central Military Commission (CMC) which rules over defense matters, this is the best way to move forward for the PLA: “Regarding RMA with Chinese characteristics as the only way to modernize the military, it put forward the strategic goal of building an informationized military and winning informationized wars.”
All this gives us an idea of the general direction in which the PLA wants to go in the years to come, but nothing very specific is mentioned.
The Taiwan issue
One of the most salient pieces of information in the WP is the evolution of Beijing’s view on Taiwan which has traditionally been used as the pretext for the navy and artillery build-up.
The transformation of the PLA into a modern force is one important component of the budget increase.
The newly released document explains that “the society remains stable and unified, and the capability for upholding national security has been further enhanced.” And further adds: “The attempts of the separatist forces for ‘Taiwan independence’ to seek ‘de jure Taiwan independence’ have been thwarted, and the situation across the Taiwan Straits has taken a significantly positive turn. The two sides have resumed and made progress in consultations on the common political basis of the ‘1992 Consensus’ and consequently cross-Straits relations have improved.”
This is good news and can only help in reducing the tensions in the region. However, later in the WP, the Chinese defense ministry admits that: “Impact of uncertainties and destabilizing factors in China’s outside security environment on national security and development is growing. In particular, the United States continues to sell arms to Taiwan in violation of the principles established in the three Sino-US joint communiqués, causing serious harm to Sino-US relations as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits.”
In the years to come there is no doubt that Chinese defence forces will continue to concentrate on the rebel island which remains the main external (through Beijing would object to the use of the term ‘external’) threat for Beijing.
Cheng-Yi Lin in an article, China’s 2008 Defense White Paper: The View from Taiwan in the China Brief7 however asserts: “The White Paper fails to address concerns over Chinese missile deployments targeting Taiwan and US forces stationed on bases surrounding Taiwan.”
The same author notes that there was hardly any reaction in Taipei after the publication of the document. “Taiwan’s defense ministry shunned away from making a public statement on the 2008 White Paper, [but] experts in Taiwan argue that there is little new information revealed in the White Paper”.
Beijing, minimizing the importance of the sources of conflicts (not only Taiwan) continues to insist that its armed forces are playing an active and constructive role in multilateral affairs and that this new attitude is “notably elevating its international position and influence”. The main objective of the WP is, let us not forget, to project to the outside this post-Olympics image of China as a responsible nation which cares.
One could ask, if the situation has improved so much and the threat perception decreased, why increase the defense budget by 20 percent?
The WP in a way answer this question: the defense budget had to be increased for three reasons:
Though the United States “welcomes the rise of a stable, peaceful, and prosperous China”, the Pentagon admits that: “Much uncertainty surrounds Chinas future course, in particular in the area of its expanding military power and how that power might be used.”
- Increasing the salaries and benefits of servicemen.
- Compensating for price hikes such as the rise in price of food, building materials, fuel, etc.
- Pushing forward the RMA [Revolution in Military Affairs]. China has augmented the input into military informationization and moderately increased the funds for equipment and supporting facilities, so as to raise the defense capabilities in conditions of informationization.
The transformation of the PLA into a modern force is one important component of the budget increase.
Beijing justifies thus its approach: “Both the total amount and per-service-person share of China’s defense expenditure remain lower than those of some major powers. In 2007 China’s defense expenditure equaled 7.51 percent of that of the United States, 62.43 percent of that of the United Kingdom. China’s defense expenses per-service-person amounted to 4.49 percent of that of the United States, 11.3 percent of that of Japan, 5.31 percent of that of the United Kingdom, 15.76 percent of that of France and 14.33 percent of that of Germany.”
It is the RMA field which absorbs most of the budgetary increment (hidden or disclosed). It is clear from the Chinese declaration of intention that a large chunk of the defense budget’s increase goes towards preparation of ‘informationized wars’.
Two months after the release of the WP, Premier Wen Jiabao delivered his annual speech at the National People’s Congress. According to Xinhua, he reaffirmed that: “China will transform its military training based on mechanized warfare to that based on informationized warfare. In the coming year, we need to make our army more revolutionary, modern and standardized.”
In his report, the Premier explained: “The building of computerized armed forces has entered a new era of all-round development.” It was also announced that Beijing planned to increase its defense budget by 14.9 percent to US $ 70 billion in 2009.
The Chinese Premier reiterated the other arguments for larger budget needs (rise increase in salary and compensation for inflation).
As already mentioned, China’s positive image in the world is a significant motivation for Beijing. The WP states: “It takes military operations other than war (MOOTW) as an important form of applying national military forces, and scientifically makes and executes plans for the development of MOOTW capabilities. China participates in international security cooperation, conducts various forms of military exchanges and promotes the establishment of military confidence-building mechanisms in accordance with this guideline.”
We shall refrain from commenting about these exercises, though it seems strange that India needs to train China in ‘counter-terrorism’.
The participation of the Chinese navy in the anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia is certainly an important development for China. It is “probably more of a sign of things to come than a one-off publicity stunt,” says Adam Wolfe in his ISN Security Watch’s article.
Further, China has about 1,950 military peacekeepers serving in nine UN missions last year. It is an unprecedented effort.
The US view
Washington does not see Beijing’s growing defense budget through the same eyes. Though the United States “welcomes the rise of a stable, peaceful, and prosperous China”, the Pentagon admits that: “Much uncertainty surrounds China’s future course, in particular in the area of its expanding military power and how that power might be used.”
This is of course not mentioned in the WP.
Though the publication of regular updated WPs is a small progress towards a greater transparency, China’s military development remains very opaque. As the Report to the Congress asserts: “The international community has limited knowledge of the motivations, decision-making, and key capabilities supporting China’s military modernization. China’s leaders have yet to explain in detail the purposes and objectives of the PLA’s modernizing military capabilities. For example, China continues to promulgate incomplete defense expenditure figures, and engage in actions that appear inconsistent with its declaratory policies. The lack of transparency in China’s military and security affairs poses risks to stability by increasing the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation. This situation will naturally and understandably lead to hedging against the unknown.”
The report added: “The pace and scope of China’s military transformation have increased in recent years, fueled by acquisition of advanced foreign weapons, continued high rates of investment in its domestic defense and science and technology industries, and far reaching organizational and doctrinal reforms of the armed forces.”
This is particularly true for China’s nuclear force modernization and particularly worrying not only in Washington, but in several other capitals (probably excluding Delhi, as it is not in the Indian psyche to worry).
Beyond the Words
For the first time, the WP goes into details on how and when Beijing may use its nuclear forces: “If China comes under a nuclear threat, the nuclear missile force of the Second Artillery Force will go into a state of alert, and get ready for a nuclear counterattack to deter the enemy from using nuclear weapons against China. If China comes under a nuclear attack, the nuclear missile force of the Second Artillery Force will use nuclear missiles to launch a resolute counterattack against the enemy either independently or together with the nuclear forces of other services. The conventional missile force of the Second Artillery Force is charged mainly with the task of conducting medium and long-range precision strikes against key strategic and operational targets of the enemy.”
Transparency has some limits in China.
Morever not a word has been said to explain the anti-satellite (ASAT) test in January 2007, though Beijing is aware that it marked a major turning in Sino-U.S. military relations.
Another issue which led to the deterioration of the US-China relations was the last minute denial of entry into Hong Kong of the USS Patriot and USS Guardian, two small mine sweepers, seeking temporary bad-weather refuge in the Chinese port and a day later, the refusal for the USS Kitty Hawk to anchor in Hong Kong harbor. Even if the PRC subsequently reversed its decision, it was too late and the harm was done.
The WP does not give any details on the new Chinese destroyers, frigates, submarines and warplanes that have greatly improved the PLA Navy capability as a regional power.
The building of an aircraft carrier is also not mentioned in the WP.
The US Report on the Military Power of the People’s Republic of China confirms what is known in defense circles: “China has an active aircraft carrier research and design program. If the leadership were to so choose, the PRC shipbuilding industry could start construction of an indigenous platform by the end of this decade.”
Ditto for submarines: “Two new SHANG-class (Type 093) nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN) and one JIN-class (Type 094) SSBN may soon enter service alongside four older HAN-class SSNs and China’s single XIA-class SSBN”, and the submarine launched missiles: “China is also working on a new submarine-launched ballistic missile, the JL-2, for deployment aboard the new JIN-class (Type 094) nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN). The JL-2 is expected to reach initial operational capability (IOC) between 2009-2010.”
In China, transparency is still a limited commodity.
Interestingly, an incident involving the USNS Impeccable and five Chinese vessels occurred early March 2009.
A senior Pentagon official affirmed that a US oceanographic ship was 70 miles south of Hainan Island conducting routine operations in international waters when some Chinese ships approached: “We view these as unprofessional maneuvers by the Chinese vessels and violations under international law to operate with due regard for the rights and safety of other lawful users of the Ocean.”
The Chinese ships, including a Chinese Navy intelligence collection ship, a Bureau of Maritime Fisheries patrol vessel, a State Oceanographic Administration patrol vessel and two small Chinese-flagged trawlers, surrounded the Impeccable and two ships closed into within 50 feet.
The U.S. Navy collects data on submarines and seafloor “to improve its ability to detect the submarines in peacetime and more efficiently hunt them in case of war”.
Soon after the incident, Hans Kristensen posted an article, US-Chinese Anti-Submarine Cat and Mouse Game in South China Sea in the Federation of American Scientists Strategic Security Blog.11 He wrote that the incident “appears to be part of a wider and dangerous cat and mouse game between the U.S. and Chinese submarines and their hunters.”
The U.S. Navy collects data on submarines and seafloor “to improve its ability to detect the submarines in peacetime and more efficiently hunt them in case of war”.
Kristensen explains that the USNS Impeccable has the important military mission of using its array of both passive and active low frequency sonar arrays to detect and track submarines.
The US ‘civilian’ ship was probably monitoring the Shang-class SSN, the new class of Chinese submarines which will soon replace the old Han-class. The Shang-class submarines were recently spotted at the nearby Yulin base.
The incident shows that despite the new image of a ‘Peaceful Rise of China’ promoted by President Hu, Chairman of the CMC, the Chinese forces can still be very aggressive and do not care much about international laws when their national interests are at stake.
Situation Inside Tibet
When it comes to the security threat facing China, the WP does not hesitate to admit: “Being in a stage of economic and social transition, China is encountering many new circumstances and new issues in maintaining social stability. Separatist forces working for ‘Taiwan independence,’ ‘East Turkistan independence’ and ‘Tibet independence’ pose threats to China’s unity and security.”
The March-April 2008 unrest on the Tibetan plateau demonstrates one of the weaknesses of Beijing’s defense set-up. Due to deep resentment against the Chinese migrants and the People’s Armed Police Forces (PAPF)12,the local population in Tibet took to the streets. The Chinese authorities immediately accused the Tibetans of “hitting, smashing, stealing and burning”. The ‘Dalai’s clique’ was blamed for the incidents. The repression was ferocious; more than 200 Tibetans were killed.
Wang Lixiong, a well-known Chinese author, married to the Tibetan famous blogger, Woeser wrote an article, Roadmap of Tibetan Independence, in which he expressed the opinion that the violent reaction of the Chinese leadership can only create more problems for Beijing.
He made a judicious remark: “Street protests with violence similar to the ‘3.14’ [March 14, 2008] incident repeatedly occur in Mainland China. The tactics used to handle these incidents have already been very obtusely unskillful. But if the same tactics – news blockade, passively cooling down, not stimulating further conflicts, cracking down the hardcore while providing comfort to others, and finding scapegoats in lower level bureaucracy to calm down the anger – were used to deal with the March incident, the chain reactions throughout the Tibetan area that we had seen would not have been forthcoming.”
Why is it not done in Tibet?
For Mao and his colleagues, the 1962 attack against India was probably only a spank to an ill-prepared Indian Army and once the blow was given, the PLA immediately returned to its barracks in Tibet. Many things have changed since then in the Middle Kingdom, but the Tibetan factor has remained.
If one thinks about it, the recurrent resentment of the Tibetan population against the Chinese is strategically extremely dangerous for Beijing. The only answer is the Great Han Chauvinism which has been plaguing China since Mao’s days and has often been denounced by Chinese intellectuals.
For Mao and his colleagues, the 1962 attack against India was probably only a spank to an ill-prepared Indian Army and once the blow was given, the PLA immediately returned to its barracks in Tibet. Many things have changed since then in the Middle Kingdom, but the Tibetan factor has remained. Regretfully, the discontent in Tibet in 1959–1962 and its implications for the Chinese defense preparedness has never been studied.
The Tibetan resentment manifested in a 70,000-character petition sent by the Panchen Lama to Mao in April 1962. In September, during a CCP Conference, Mao denounced the ‘poisonous arrow’ sent by the Tibetan Lama and called him ‘an enemy of our class’.
In October–November 1962, a longer war with its supply base in Tibet would have been very difficult to sustain in the atmosphere of ‘rebellion’ prevalent on the Roof of the World at that time.
Whether the unrest in Tibet should be considered as a threat to China’s unity and security is debatable (today the Dalai Lama only asks for a genuine autonomy within the People’s Republic of China), but the leadership in Beijing should be aware that the situation is tricky and if a conflict arises in the region, the Chinese forces will have to face unprecedented difficulties.
Unfortunately, Beijing still reacts like an ostrich. On March 11, Kang Jinzhong, the Political Commissar of Armed Police Corps in Tibet told the media: “The people in Tibet and armed police stationed there enjoy harmonious relationships.” He added: “The armed police earnestly implement the country’s ethnic and religious policies. They love the people in Tibet and contribute to the stability and development in the region, while the local residents have shown sincere support for the armed police.”
Though an entire chapter of the WP is consecrated to the People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF), nothing is mentioned about Tibet except the above short sentence.
China’s 2008 National Defense White Paper is a small leap forward on the path to transparency. It projects China as a responsible stakeholder. This is probably the main objectives of those who drafted the text.
The overall feeling while going through the WP is that the leadership in Beijing is serious about the “˜modernization of the Armed forces, though many serious issues have been kept under the wrap of secrecy dear to the Chinese leaders.
The overall feeling while going through the WP is that the leadership in Beijing is serious about the ‘modernization’ of the Armed forces, though many serious issues have been kept under the wrap of secrecy dear to the Chinese leaders. The defense budget is the most obvious case, though for the first time a chapter is consecrated to the subject.
- The WP is available on http://www.gov.cn/english/official/2009-01/20 content_1210227.htm
- See http://web.mit.edu/chinapolicy/www/conference1/hartford.pdf
- See our article in a previous issue of the IDR.
- Quoted in: www.defenselink.mil/pubs/pdfs/070523-China-Military-Power-final.pdf.
- See article in http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/layout/set/print/content/view/full 73?id=95974&lng=en.
- The chapters are the following: I. The Security Situation; II. National Defense Policy; III. Reform and Development of the PLA; IV. The Army; V. The Navy; VI. The Air Force; VII. The Second Artillery Force; VIII. The People’s Armed Police Force; IX. National Defense Reserve Buildup; X. The Armed Forces and the People; XI. Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense; XII. Defense Expenditure; XIII. International Security Cooperation; XIV. Arms Control and Disarmament.
- China Brief of Jamestown Foundation, Volume 9, 3, February 5, 2009, see: http://www.jamestown. org/programs/chinabrief/
- Source: http://www.china.org.cn/government/whitepaper/2009-01/21/content_17162799.htm
- See www.defenselink.mil/pubs/pdfs/070523-China-Military-Power-final.pdf.
- India has the largest areas of ‘disputed territories’ with China.
- According to the WP: “As a component of China’s armed forces and subordinate to the State Council, the People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF) is under the dual leadership of the State Council and the CMC. The PAPF consists of the internal security force and various police forces. The border public security, firefighting and security guard forces are also components of the PAPF. The PAPF is charged with the fundamental task of safeguarding national security, maintaining social stability and ensuring that the people live and work in peace and contentment. Routine guard duties refer to duties the PAPF performs to maintain internal security, which are mostly carried out by the internal security force. The basic tasks are: to guard against all forms of attempted attacks and sabotage; protect designated individuals and facilities; ensure the security of important international and national conferences and large-scale cultural and sports events; protect important airports, radio stations, and key and confidential units, and vital places in such sectors as state economy and national defense; protect important bridges and tunnels; ensure the security of prisons and detention houses; and maintain public order in state-designated large and medium-sized cities or specific zones.” The PAP has a strength of 6,60,000 personnel.