China’s New White Paper Hints at Joint Ops
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — China’s air force and navy may be emerging from the shadow of the People’s Liberation Army, according to the latest version of China’s biennial defense white paper.
Released March 31 by China’s Information Office of the State Council, the paper calls the PLA “first among equals” among China’s military services. That appears to be a first for China’s publicly released papers, which had generally described the PLA as dominant over the People Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), said Andrew Erickson, a China defense analyst at the U.S. Naval War College. This suggests growing clout for the Air Force and Navy, “although they have a long way to go to fully realize a more equal institutional status in practice,” Erickson said.
Titled “China’s National Defense in 2010,” the paper also appears to indicate a growing focus on joint operations capabilities, particularly in terms of doctrine, training and logistics.
“Obviously, the PLA has a long ways to go before it can say it is fielding a truly joint force, let alone an integrated jointly operational one,” said Richard Bitzinger, an analyst at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore.
This year’s edition of the report omits for the first time a comparison of its defense budget to those of Japan and other neighbors.
“Chinese defense spending now outstrips every other nation except the United States,” Bitzinger said.
Earlier in March, China announced that its record $91.5 billion spending plan for 2011 would represent a 12.7 percent increase over $78.6 billion in 2010. The jump also marks a return to the double-digit growth recorded through most of the 2000s.
China’s defense budget rose from $27.9 billion in 2000 to $60.1 billion in 2008. It overtook Japan’s budget in 2007 and Britain’s in 2008. After rising 7.5 percent from 2009 to 2010, it is now second only to the roughly $660 billion spent by the U.S.
The paper also says the military is putting more emphasis on what the Pentagon calls military operations other than war (MOOTW). For example, the PLAN has sent eight task forces to the Gulf of Aden to run counterpiracy patrols. Other potential missions include humanitarian operations and disaster relief.
“This is in accordance with the four New Historic Missions with which President Hu Jintao has charged the PLA,” Erickson said.
Announced in 2004, those four missions are:
■ Consolidate the ruling status of the Communist Party.
■ Help ensure China’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and domestic security in order to continue national development.
■ Safeguard China’s expanding national interests.
■ Help maintain world peace.
Bitzinger said the report’s focus on MOOTW could be a “good way to mask power-projection efforts.” Erickson said that although “no nation is truly altruistic in its behavior, China deserves credit for such contributions as they are broadly beneficial.”
The 2010 edition of the paper lists confidence-building measures as a military mission, something no previous version has done.
Yet there have been no improvements in cross-Taiwan Strait military relations. China continues to upgrade and field new ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan, and the U.S. continues to deny Taiwan’s request for new F-16 fighters and submarines.
The mention of confidence-building measures with Taiwan “is more of a declaration by Hu Jintao to show he has done something,” said Arthur Ding, a cross-Strait military affairs specialist at the National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations, Taipei.
The English-language version of the white paper fails to deliver the nuances of the Chinese-language original with regard to confidencebuilding measures, said Alexander Huang, a Taiwan defense analyst.
In Section 9, the report uses the phrase “mechanism for military confidence-building,” or “junshi huxin jizhi,” in reference to China-U.S. confidence-building measures meant to “maintain national security, safeguard regional peace and stability.” However, in Section 2, as part of China’s own defense policy and in strict adherence to the “One China policy,” a different phrase is used: “military security mechanism of mutual trust,” or “junshi anquan huxin jizhi.” This is in reference not to confidence-building measures but to ending hostilities as a result of the Chinese civil war.
Huang said Western analysts have misinterpreted the terminology in both sections as being the same.
“‘Confidence’ or ‘xinxin’ is different from ‘trust’ or ‘xinren’,” he said. “But most analysts try to use the Western academic concept of CBMs to portray and interpret Beijing’s approach to Taipei regarding cross-Strait military exchanges.” This common mistake — applying Western concepts to Chinese terminology — often causes undue optimism in Washington for better cross-Strait and Sino-U.S. military relations, Huang said.