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.