China’s fifth white paper, published in December 2004, outlines the objectives of a military policy focused on Taiwan1. Weaponry and equipment are identified as “the crucial material and technological basis for pushing forward the Revolution in Military Affairs with Chinese characteristics” and “building a strong military by means of science and technology”. Addressing the Cross Strait’s issue as the main concern for the PLA, the 2004 White Paper favours a more offensive posture around the concept of “offshore defensive operations”.
”Air strikes” are now listed as the Air Force number one mission while the Second Artillery’s role as a deterrent – “deterring the enemy from using nuclear weapons against China and carrying out nuclear counter attacks” – is supplemented by a role for offensive tactical/conventional pre-emptive strikes -”precision strikes with conventional missiles”. Decided by Deng Xiao Ping in 1992 and fuelled by economic growth, the current transformation of the Chinese military will serve to convince Taiwan and the United States that the PLA can win a military confrontation over the “renegade province” while giving China a world power status.
I – Strategic Concerns
“Win local wars under the conditions of formationalisation”
China sees itself as a weaker military power in a unipolar world where the US and their allies modernise their military and implement the Revolution in Military Affairs while initiating wars against smaller states like Serbia or Iraq. In his memoirs, Liu Huaqing – Commander-in-chief of the Navy (1982-88), Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission (1989-97) – stresses on the technical inferiority of China’s military – when “to become a grand nation you need a modern army”2.
The PLA works on long-range land attack cruise missiles which benefit from Russian, Israeli and captured US cruise missile technologies. It had extended the range of the subsonic anti-ship missile based on the French EXOCET and is developing the YJ-12/YJ-62, a supersonic anti-ship 300 km cruise missile.
This “informationalisation” challenge requires investments. Still a wanted career in many circles, the PLA can hardly attract the smartest elements of the society with its low wages and the White Paper underlines new solutions like the “Strategic Project for Talented People”3. The growth of China’s defence expenditures in the last three years (170.778 billion yuan/2002; 190.787 billion yuan/2003 ; 211.701 billion yuan/2004) is officially related to the personnel : “increase of the salaries and allowances of the military personnel4.
“Breaking the blockade against China’s maritime security”
Drawing the lessons from the second Gulf War (1990-91), the Chinese Military Commission defined in 1993 a new doctrine of “active defence”. Liu Huaqing, the then Vice-Chairman of the Military Commission, explains in his memoirs that “if we don’t choose offensive tactics in the battles we cannot achieve our overall objective of strategic defence”5. China’s new wealth and centre of gravity has shifted to its “gold coast” putting the emphasis on maritime air defence which has been traditionally the weaker side of the PLA6. Following on this new principle of “active defence” with the concept of “offshore defensive operations”, Chinese fifth White Paper reveals the basis for a doctrine of joint operations.
This new doctrine contributes to enhance the PLA’s credibility, influence the Taiwanese electorate against secession and bring the American politicians to stick to their one China policy and think twice before committing an overstretched and weaker US military against a stronger PLA. In that new context, the White Paper stresses that: the Navy has expanded the space and extended the depth for offshore defensive operations. China sees Taiwan – like Japan and the Philippines – as an outpost of America’s military presence on its shores. General Wen Zongren called for the breaking of the “international forces’ blockade against China’s maritime security” to enable “China’s rise7 So far, Beijing has been powerless to change this situation.
Chinese aviation industry depends on imports for propulsion, avionics and fire control.
The PLA’s missile firings demonstration around Taiwan in March of 1996, failed to achieve their objectives: two American carriers, moved alongside the Chinese coast undeterred and the Independence Party won the election in Taipei. American electronic reconnaissance aircraft incident in 2001, the deployment of seven American aircraft carriers off the coast of China in July 2004, and the basing of US and Japanese aircraft on the islands of Xia Di west of Okinawa, further underlined how the US military can operate at will on the maritime borders of China with the support of a stauncher Japan which now calls Taiwan a strategic concern8.
II – A Chinese Revolution in Military Affairs Reforming The Military Procurement System
In his memoirs published in 2004, Liu Huaqing, the former Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission, explains how he decided back in 1995 to reduce the gap with the major powers through technology and reform the inefficient weapons procurement process. He lamented the poor level of China’s aircraft and computers industries and stressed the vital importance of electronic warfare techniques in any future conflict. In a 1996 speech, Li Peng, then Prime Minister, sanctioned Liu Huaqing’s move declaring that China should attach “great importance to strengthening the army through technology”.9 The defence industrial reforms implemented in 1995-98, unlike the one adopted earlier, appear successful.
Chinese defence firms have gradually improved their R&D and production processes and quality. General Li Jinai, the head of China’s General Armaments Department, has acknowledged in 2003 the marked improvement in national defence scientific research and in building of weapons…the best period of development in the country’s history10.The growing funding for weapons procurement, the “demilitarization” of COSTIND and the creation of a General Armaments Department GAD (April 1998) have transformed the military industrial complex. T
he new COSTIND no longer manages PLA’s acquisitions and factories but regulates the eleven state-owned civilian enterprises. This reform separates the buyers and the contractors and introduces a competitive bidding system for PLA’s contracts11.
Obtaining And Absorbing Foreign Technologies Since Tiananmen
As Liu Huaqing stated in his memoirs, buying foreign weapons is an intermediary step to learn foreign techniques and fill gaps in capabilities and time. China’s ultimate goal is to access the industrial capacity to produce advanced weapons without foreign technical assistance12. The October 2003 first manned flight of the Shenzhou-5 spaceship stands as a proof of Chinese ability to absorb successfully foreign technologies.