Analysis of China's defense paper shows national security posture: experts

November 25, 2015

The Chinese government unveiled its National Defense Paper on May 26, about two months after the Japanese government published its Defense White Paper for this year. The Genron NPO invited two China experts in Tokyo to discuss with Genron President Yasushi Kudo what the Chinese leaders are thinking. The analysis led to significant indications about China's national security concepts.

Professor Yasuhiro Matsuda of the Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, the University of Tokyo;
Bonji Ohara, former Maritime Self-Defense Force commanding officer, and currently a research fellow and project manager at the Tokyo Foundation, a non-profit think tank

Comparing the official defense papers of Japan and China, the two experts noted that they are very different in their history, volume and the nature of the paper's intention. Japan issued its first postwar Defense White Paper in 1970 and every year since l977, initially in order to show its people and the world the accountability of Japan's defense budget increases amid the Cold War years, according to Professor Matsuda.

Meanwhile, China issued something like a defense paper in l994, responding to a growing international consensus about the need for confidence building and calls for transparency. China has published its National Defense Paper every other year since l998.

The two defense experts further noted that the Chinese paper is pretty brief, consisting of six pages, visibly shorter than its 1995 paper. On the other hand, the Japanese paper runs more than 400 pages, and is a detailed analysis of the military landscape. China titled the paper this year, "China's Military Strategy," implying its intention to make it comparable to the National Military Strategy of the United States.

"We can see China is becoming more confident about its transformation into a superpower and its mind-set is shifting accordingly," said Professor Matsuda. It has regressed from its initial intention of providing greater transparency about its military buildup and of building confidence internationally, he remarked. For example, China used to deny any plans in the l990s to build aircraft carriers but then, all of a sudden, it unveiled a brand-new carrier and claimed the plan had only been finalized a year before. It is not possible to build such a vessel in one year. Of course, it means that Beijing was deceiving the rest of the world all these years. "It is therefore important to have China honestly present what kind of military plans it has, including the budget," he said.

Ohara, meanwhile, pointed out that China intends to empower its military so that it will match its growing economic might. In November 2012, President Xi Jinping sent out a clear message to his military that it has to "be able to fight, able to win." This message was repeated three times in this year's paper. According to Ohara, China is promoting military training to simulate actual fighting situations and also modernizing its military. Emphasis is shifting "from land to sea," calling to "unite the home sea and the sea far away," and even the "significance of the universe" is also mentioned.

Genron President Kudo remarked on the reference in the Chinese paper to the changing environment, including Japan's new security policies and the rebalancing of the U.S. - both coming together. "China's main concern is the U.S.," confirmed Ohara. Immediately after the foreword, the Chinese paper mentions the "National Security Formation" where they refer to the "changing strategic aspects in the Asia-Pacific Region." It then says a "neighboring country is taking aggressive actions that threaten China's territory and sovereignty" without mentioning Japan by name.

On the other hand, the Japanese Defense White Paper points out "China continues its high-handed approach that may lead to an unpredictable crisis, creating concerns for development in the future." According to a recent survey of Japanese opinion leaders by The Genron NPO, 56.5 percent shared such concerns. Meanwhile, 36.5 percent of the polled thought the white paper exaggerates the Chinese threat.

China, meanwhile, appears to the analysts to be holding to its "unchanging strategic defense," which means it will not move to attack another country. But China is paranoid in its defense theories, noted Ohara. China is afraid that the U.S. may attempt to prevent China's development and deploy military forces for that purpose.

Matsuda agreed that China is likely to believe the East China Sea, the South China Sea and Taiwan are its territories that are being encroached upon. China's actions around the Spratly Islands and the Senkaku Islands (Daioyu Island in Chinese) are taken as "defense," he explained. That leads Beijing to assume America is interfering on the side of those nations that are jealous of China's rapid rise to power.

China views the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II as an important year to define itself as a regional leader, taking the initiative in making new international rules on territorial, economic and other issues, according to Ohara. The Sept. 3 military parade is one demonstration of China's new capability and its notion of building a "New Type of Great Power Relations" with the U.S. is proposed in the same vein.

There is a problem that is more critical than the emergence of China as a big power, Ohara also noted. The global community is being driven to accept "the changes to the status quo by force" as if they happened within existing rules - that is the real problem, he warned.

The two defense papers indicate Japan and China have keen, growing concerns about each other's security policies. The two discussants and Genron President Kudo agreed that the two countries - including military and diplomatic officials - should engage in more efforts to understand each other better, patiently listening to the other and explaining their policies in detail, so that they can both contribute as respected members of the international community.

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