Geopolitics

Celebrating The Past: China’s Military Parade 2015
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 10 Sep , 2015

By order of missing out on the finer details of the military parade held in Beijing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Chinese military victory over occupying Japanese forces in 1945, an overview of China’s relation with its past and future provide the methodology for the possible use of military hardware displayed during the parade.

China’s display of armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and air borne early warning systems is in line with the general trend in warfare of the 21st century.

Following an evolving military doctrine which assumes the future warfare scenario to be – LOCAL, HI-TECH and LIMITED, China’s military prepares to fight and win modern warfare with a self-claimed orientation towards “defence” vis-a-vis “offence”. The distinction between the two methods is of course a matter of debate and shares a mutual relation. The first phase of modern combat is likely to start with manned/unmanned aerial bombing or jamming of air-defence forces. This act of initiating of offence is a defensive measure undertaken to secure the air space required to initiate armed combat sorties for further military missions.

China’s display of armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and air borne early warning systems is in line with the general trend in warfare of the 21st century. China’s display of inter-continental, inter-mediate, and short range missiles (Dong Feng 21-D, 26, 10A, 5B, 15B, 31A) exhibit the intention to deny the adversary space to remain effective during the first phase of offence in modern warfare. With extended range and effective targeting sensors China will hold the enemy forces beyond the second island chain.

The political motivation and possible derivatives of this parade far out-weigh the military implication as there are fewer surprises such as the inclusion of foreign contingents- Pakistan and 16 other nations. Breaking away from a trend of showcasing military achievements once in a decade, the symbolic value of this military parade is a case to study. The continuing focus on Japan’s invasion of the mainland and subsequent military will to resist and defeat Japanese forces, and its link to China’s rise to a modern polity in the 21st century is subject left to deep scrutiny and cause for concern. From an analytical perspective it is also a meter gauge to understand and quantify the idea of “revisionism”. Higher level of awareness and consciousness of the past requires one to be associated with them in the present and therefore having implications over their action and behaviour.

Chinese leadership has envisaged the idea of modern nation to be achieved in step-by-step process with the phase of industrialisation nearly complete.

Japan’s invasion of China are located within a specific condition of international situation and varied in interpretation. From a Japanese perspective there do exist concurring examples that defend Japan’s act of War that allows Japan to be unapologetic in un-equivocal measure as per China’s diplomatic requirements. Japan’s relation with its past during the World War II induces a behaviour change in China’s foreign policy by inspiring the spirit of nationalism. Managing nationalism being the subject matter for state, military as a long standing institution has been a valuable part of modern Chinese polity. This military parade reinforces this equation by being a domestic agent contrary to Japan as an external stimulant in managing nationalism.

China’s military-industrial complex today stands reflecting this phenomenon by achieving phenomenal levels of indigenous production capability of hi-tech military hardware and at par doctrine that accommodates such capabilities. Military cooperation with erstwhile Soviet Union and Russia which initiated the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) during the last quarter of the 20th century is a determinant to this outcome and well presented at the held parade. Russian military industrial complex has consolidated its strength that was lost with the idea of “End of Cold-War” in 1991 and has since remained at forefront of advanced military technology resulting in blacklisting of four Russian defence companies in United States immediately following the military parade in China and included the famous MIG company that is a traditional supplier of combat aircrafts to both China and India. Russia early this year commemorated its military victory during the Great War with German centrism in similar symbolic military parade amidst rising discomfort over North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) military behaviour in Eastern Europe and disagreement over the term “annexation” of what Russia perceives as a reunion of Crimea with Fatherland.

History and its instrumental nature at the hands of the state is central to an analysis of this phenomenon. While World War II was a European affair it started in East Asia and the first military operations under United Nations (U.N.) supervision also started in East-Asia. Extensive review of literature suggests a complex situation with varying interpretation and explanations. The political derivation of this complex situation and presentation through symbolic military events is lethal.

China is now relocating from a export oriented economy such as Germany to domestic consumption driven economy such as the US.

As a world event, World War II reshaped international politics which is consistently contested by major powers. In implication the War un-remained on the battle field, but had bearings on other aspects of international relations such as the world economic order well represented by the ongoing “currency wars” were the western developed nations disagree with China’s monetary policy of undervalued currency pegged against US dollar in the international market.

Since the international world order that was realised after WW II was predominantly under western leadership, the rise of erstwhile Great Powers such as China in the 21st century within this world order has been a phenomenon and likely to produce observable reflection of China’s interpretation of its past. The military and the option to use force at the hands of the state is critical to create and sustain this global order given the limitation of international law within a international system that is inherently anarchic. The idea of “Freedom of Navigation” is of consequence to trade and military, a phenomenon non-existent in Asia prior to its engagement with its western counterparts with upgraded naval technology. The capability among nations to secure this world order has remained centralised with few major powers in conjunction with each other such as the NATO which binds US to Europe in military terms. Multiple intangibles such as “values” define the structure of this world order and as it is in-vogue since the disintegration of erstwhile Soviet Union has inclined towards global structure that supports the evolution of market orientation that has at times less co-existed with the state.

With the acceptance of neo-liberal market based economy the contest to reshape the in-vogue world order has not simmered due to the disturbing economic shocks produced in various economic centres’ of the inextricably linked world. China declared a 16 trillion Yuan debt ceiling to keep borrowing within local governments’ ability to repay given the slowdown in its growth due to the transiting nature of its economy. China is now relocating from a export oriented economy such as Germany to domestic consumption driven economy such as the US. Given this transitory nature of China’s economy, its concern to maintain peace and stability in regions with strategic importance and create an overall favourable international situation will predominate the crafting of China’s foreign policy.

While the military parade appears to be a display of intention to meet future hi-tech military challenges, in essence it is fan the property of much required nationalism in Chinese polity.

During this transition China requires a involvement with contents of international macro-economies such as international trade and finance. China has initiated plan that remain nascent to break-away from a western led international financial order in close cooperation with Russia and India. Since the present international order is secured by military force, China’s concern for a military force adept at fighting modern warfare is but logic. Apart from economic and military indicators, nationalism in its myriad forms derived from the past such as the Japan’s use of military force during the WWII is prime catalyst within Chinese polity in providing necessary air-lift to China’s strategic objectives. Chinese leadership has envisaged the idea of modern nation to be achieved in step-by-step process with the phase of industrialisation nearly complete.

The problem with international world order is that it is based on a structure with normative variables and defended by international law and use of military force. Societal values in terms of religion and self-conceived notions of past have tested this structure of international order from time to time. A variety of international issues close to being a conflict are in fact a legacy of past and do not necessarily reflect the achievements made by humans as collective whole. Unlimbering military-security concerns in the Middle East, Balkans, East Asia, South China Sea and territorial disagreements among major powers has remained a recurring phenomenon and rooted in past for causes. Celebration of the past, of the kind enacted by China is mere testimony to this phenomenon.

Instrumental nature of history in serving politics is “double-edged” as it instils a sense of nationalism that may overrule rational method of resolving conflicts. Interpretation of history and preservation of such interpretations through institutions under the command of the state is often a source to future trajectories. Nation-states unrelentless quest for advanced war fighting capability and an operational doctrine to use such capabilities has never followed the dictum of the liberal school of international relations which view economic cooperation to overrule realist concerns for survival within anarchy and instead followed the revolution in military affairs. The international situation is by and large peaceful amidst high-low simmering military contest. Military contest in conjunction with nationalism derived from once interpretation of history is prime driver of an analysis preoccupied with the study of modern warfare. Role of history in conducting both domestic and international politics is often misrepresented one for the other. Was this military parade directed against any threat to China’s National Defence can be rightly misrepresented for a consolidated effort on part of Chinese leadership to strengthen its position in domestic politics. While the military parade appears to be a display of intention to meet future hi-tech military challenges, in essence it is fan the property of much required nationalism in Chinese polity.

China’s need to be engaged in a proactive manner to shape the world order, has reflected in its military development.

For example, Japan’s aggression during the Great War was a necessity for an island nation that depends almost entirely on imports for survival. Control over such resources at sea and land and purposeful denial of the same created the conditions where sanctioning of military use of force seems logical. While China’s foreign policy accepts many of the international conflicts to be a legacy of the past and agrees for it to be resolved over generations, its polity has been unable to accept the atrocities committed by the Japanese military forces. Furthermore, China demands Japanese apology nothing less than in unequivocal terms which Japan does not. China has built its international politics based around a narrative where breaches to its territorial sovereignty are seen as a function of non-repeatability. Given this limitation China has always sought to create a favourable environment to secure its military-security concerns and influence the world order to that effect. For example, China’s alleged sale of anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) Silkworm had blunted the offensive strike capabilities of naval ships and inhibited their operational space. United States naval power projection capability came to tests with this sale to Iran and later to other countries in Middle East. Since this sale, US relations with China never realised enough threshold of “trust” to develop sound bilateral relations. Allegations of such sale of ASCM have never found consent from China, similar to the sale of magnet rings to Pakistan to be used in production of nuclear weapons.

China’s need to be engaged in a proactive manner to shape the world order, has reflected in its military development. China today has developed niche military technology know-how that has produced J-20 5th generation stealth combat aircraft and hyper-sonic projectiles WU-15 in line with the new operational thinking to engage enemy forces within a highly contested battlefield. With overall balance in favour of defence, China opts a military doctrine that denies the adversary a chance to initiate interdiction mission during the first phase of military operation by overwhelming adversaries highly guarded defence far beyond China’s shore.

The capabilities displayed during the parade in this regard are more of a reassurance to the domestic audience that Chinese leadership is capable to deny any sought of militarism that challenges its territorial understanding. Two key military platforms, an indigenous 5th generation combat aircraft J-20 and imported S-400 Triumph missile defence system did not find their place in the parade which is crucial for modern warfare. Instead China chose to display indigenous built weapons of war. In case it is an exercise to deter potential adversaries, then perhaps the occasion does not meet the factual sensitiveness of how history unfolded during the Great War. Leaving aside the atrocities committed by the Japanese military forces which lasted for 14 years and saw 35 million Chinese causalities, which are of course consequential in nature, it was Japanese militarism that paved the way for the great Asian renaissance by knocking out western military bases in Asia and there by setting stage for de-colonisation.

The subject is of course open to critical debates.

References:

  1. Wendell Minnick (2015), “China’s Navy Puts US Navy on Notice” Defense News, 03 September, 2015. Available at http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/naval/2015/09/03/chinas-parade-puts-us-navy-notice/71632918/
  2. 16 Trillion Yuan Debt Ceiling Set”, China Daily, 31 August, 2015.
  3. “Statement by the President on the 70th Anniversary Commemorating the End of World War II in the Pacific” White House – Office of Press Secretary. Available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/09/02/statement-president-70th-anniversary-commemorating-end-world-war-ii
  4. Peter Wood (2015), “Chinese Military Parade Emphasises Peace, Displays Military Might While Cutting Troop Numbers” China Brief, 15 Issue: 17, The Jamestown Foundation.
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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Dr Sundaram Rajasimman

is with Jilin University, People’s Republic of China.

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