Bottom Line Up Front
- On July 22, 2019, China issued a new defense white paper titled China’s National Defense in the New Era.
- The white paper stresses China’s ‘peaceful intentions’ and focuses on defensive capabilities while affirming the Communist Party’s stance on Taiwan and acknowledging the increasing strategic rivalry with the U.S.
- The strategic document also emphasizes how emerging technologies will shape the future of warfare and how China is readying the People’s Liberation Army for this new reality.
- China’s National Defense in the New Erais a response to the past U.S. National Defense Strategies and signals future strategic competition in the Asia-Pacific region.
On July 22, Beijing released its first national defense white paper since 2015, called China’s National Defense in the New Era. The 51-page policy document examines the modernization and development efforts of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and highlights the importance of President Xi Jinping’s leadership in instituting reforms to advance China’s military capabilities. China’s National Defense is a critical document providing insight into how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) views China’s role in an increasingly multipolar world. It also serves as an apparent response to the United States’ past two National Defense Strategies, which articulate China’s growing influence and ambitions as a strategic threat.
The new defense white paper reiterates Beijing’s long-standing disposition of China as a responsible emerging power committed to ensuring peace and stability. Such rhetoric stands in stark contrast with the CCP’s articulated resolve and stance on Taiwan: ‘To solve the Taiwan question and achieve complete reunification of the country is in the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation and essential to realizing national rejuvenation.’ The white paper identifies separatism activities in Taiwan, Tibet, and Turkestan as serious threats to Chinese national security and condemns the illegal military presence of external nation-states in China’s water and airspace—a clear reference to U.S. security and military engagement with Taiwan.
The paper notes that ‘International military competition is undergoing historic changes’ due to rapid technological developments such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data, the Internet of Things, and quantum computing. Although it notes that considerable progress has been made in this area, there is still a need to invest greater efforts in military modernization to ensure national security and avoid the risk of ‘technology surprise.’ The Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) with Chinese characteristics, responsible for ensuring China’s readiness in the military landscape of emerging technologies, is a key part of President Xi Jinping’s vision of China as a global leader in the field of big data and AI. Emerging technologies is not the only trend identified as reshaping the security landscape, but the policy paper states that ‘International strategic competition is on the rise’ and critiques the U.S. for ‘hegemonism’ and practicing ‘unilateralism.’ In such a changing landscape, the white paper highlights the need for China to ‘adapt to the new landscape of strategic competition.’
The new defense white paper must be put in the context of deteriorating Sino-U.S. relations, increased tensions in the South China Sea and Cross-Strait relations, Sino-Russian rapprochement, and amplified Chinese military and security presence abroad. It is also important to note that in its past two National Defense Strategies, the U.S. has shown a clear shift in strategy form focusing on counterterrorism to great power competition, specifically as it relates to Russia and China. China’s National Defense in the New Era is a response to U.S. strategy and signals a future positioned for geopolitical competition in the Asia-Pacific region.