China Releases Defense White Paper for 2006
By WENDELL MINNICK, TAIPEI
The latest in China’s series of biannual defense white papers reiterated threats against Taiwan, gave questionably low defense budget numbers, and accused the U.S. of aggravating tensions with Beijing by referring to a “China threat.”
But the 91-page document, the fifth produced by China’s State Council since 1998, offered plenty of new detail as well.
“While still lacking transparency in many ways, this report is the most comprehensive and detailed official and public document on the Chinese armed forces yet,” said Bates Gill of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies here, said the Dec. 29 report more clearly identifies “priorities of modernization in weapon systems and force capability of each individual force.”
Yang said the report also offers previously unseen emphasis on border and maritime security. For example, it underscored the importance of the People’s Armed Police as a homeland security force distinct from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). It also details border and coastal defense infrastructure work, including new patrol roads, barbed wire fences, and the installation of 600 sets of monitoring equipment and additional duty piers.
The report notes an effort to integrate land border defense and administration, noting that responsibility for the China-North Korean border and the Yunnan section of the China-Myanmar border was transferred from the border public security force to the PLA border police in 2003.
Among the primary policy concerns of the new white paper was “upholding national security and unity … opposing and containing the separatist forces for ‘Taiwan independence’ and their activities, taking precautions against and cracking down on terrorism, separatism and extremism in all forms.”
“Among sovereignty issues and border disputes, in Beijing’s eyes, Taiwan remains the most urgent security threat and convenient excuse/rationale for PLA modernization,” said Alexander Huang, a senior CSIS associate who lives in Taipei. “Before 2008, at least, Beijing worries primarily about two issues: One, unexpected events in the process of Taipei’s constitutional reengineering; two, passage of budget for major arms sales items by the Legislative Yuan.”
Huang said that “overall, I do not get a sense from the defense report that in the next two years, China is expecting a military conflict with Taiwan, or with the U.S. over Taiwan.”
“The continued de facto autonomy of Taiwan presents no real threat to Beijing’s national security per se,” said Fu S. Mei, director of the Taiwan Security Analysis Center and editor-in-chief of the Taiwan Defense Review, “but bringing the island into the fold is obviously considered a critical prerequisite for China’s rise to true great power status.”
The report put China’s 2006 defense budget at $35.3 billion, up 12.5 percent from $30 billion the previous year. That is far lower than estimates from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which earlier this year put Chinese military spending between $70 billion and $105 billion in 2006, up from $60 billion and $85 billion the previous year.
“The defense budget continues to grow, and the white paper attempts to minimize this with comparisons to Japan and the United States,” said Larry Wortzel, commissioner of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
The paper cited its new mantra of “zhixin xiquan,” or “informatization,” as one of the primary goals of the military.
“A clear stress is placed on informatization — that is, preparing the PLA to fight and win in a more fast-paced, high-tech, digitized battlespace,” Gill said.
China has been upgrading its C4ISR capabilities and continues to pursue programs that will enhance its combat effectiveness. These include a recent agreement between China and the Pakistan to jointly develop an airborne early warning aircraft. China is also developing more advanced satellites to augment its current deployment of 20 satellites that perform positioning, navigation, reconnaissance, scientific and meteorology missions.
The paper was released two days after Chinese President Hu Jintao urged naval officers to build a powerful Navy.
“We should endeavor to build a powerful people’s Navy that can adapt to its historical mission during a new century and a new period,” Hu said at an official gathering. “In the process of protecting the nation’s authority and security and maintaining our maritime rights, the Navy’s role is very important.”
Dressed in a military-green suit, Hu also emphasized the Navy’s role in deterring Taiwan from declaring independence. China has more than 20 surface ships and more than 50 submarines in its fleet and is continuing an ambitious naval modernization and manufacturing program.