September 16, 2011

Peace, says the dragon

In a recent White Paper, Beijing explains its policy of development through peace even as China flaunts its military might to seize control of South China Sea!



Great news! China has confirmed that it will remain a peaceful nation! The Information Office of the State Council (Chinese Cabinet) recently published a White Paper on China’s peaceful development, detailing the measures that Beijing is taking to grow peacefully.

Affirming that China “with an ancient civilisation and a population of over 1.3 billion, is making big strides in its advance towards modernisation”, Beijing raises crucial questions: “What path of development has China chosen? What will China’s development bring to the rest of the world?” In some 9,000 words, the answer is ‘peace’.

The White Paper elucidates: “(It) is a strategic choice made by China to realise modernisation, make itself strong and prosperous, and make more contribution to the progress of human civilisation. China will unswervingly follow the path of peaceful development.” That is good and worth noting.

As we could have guessed, the White Paper asserts that it is the 1949 Communist takeover which changed the fate of China: “This marked the realisation of China’s independence and liberation of its people and ushered in a new epoch in China’s history.” The rosy picture of a peaceful China is described in detail, as well as Beijing’s “hard (work) to explore a path of socialist modernisation that conforms to China’s conditions and the trend of the times.”

But what is this ‘peaceful rise’? Is it a new type of ‘make love, not war’ campaign, once promoted by San Francisco’s hippies in the 1960s? Reading the White Paper one could almost imagine Mr Hu Jintao or Mr Wen Jiabao, with flowers in their hair, singing Joan Baez’s songs (although she was a true revolutionary of her times).

Beijing gives its own reading of a peaceful rise: “China should develop itself through upholding world peace and contribute to world peace through its own development. It should achieve development with its own efforts and by carrying out reform and innovation; at the same time, it should open itself to the outside and learn from other countries… It should work together with other countries to build a harmonious world of durable peace and common prosperity.”

These are nice words, but if one goes deeper into concrete facts, the reality is sometimes quite different. Take the South China Sea conflict: While the Chinese Government is speaking of peace, many in China are planning for war. The Qiushi Journal, a ‘theoretical’ publication of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, recently published a commentary affirming that “the precondition to any discussion is that China has sovereignty over the area. After that is agreed upon, there can be discussions among the countries involved on putting aside conflicts and collectively exploring resources”. In other words: “First you agree with us, we will discuss later”.

While some scholars believe that China should exercise self control, others think that Beijing should stand firm. A commentator wrote in the same journal: “China should hold a firm position and maintain its options, including war, to guard China’s rights … For China to exercise self-control does not help to solve the problem.”

The International Herald Leader, a Xinhua publication on international relations, published another commentary: “Chinese observers believe that China should consistently adhere to the principle of refusing third party (read the US) interference in the affairs of the South China Sea… Regarding waters under its jurisdiction, China must enforce its authority without mercy.”

One could ask, why publish a White Paper at this point in time? It is undoubtedly related to a Pentagon publication entitled ‘Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China’, an annual report for the Congress, which details the preparedness of the Chinese defence forces and the challenges for the US. The report says: “China’s modernised military could be put to use in ways that increase China’s ability to gain diplomatic advantage or resolve disputes in its favour.” A ‘peaceful rise’ using military power!

Today, the main focus of the PLA remains Taiwan: “The PLA seeks the capability to deter Taiwan independence and influence Taiwan to settle the dispute on Beijing’s terms.” Speaking about the ‘robust’ investment in modern hardware and technology, the report believes that “the decade from 2011 through 2020 will prove critical to the PLA”.

At the same time, China has only made “modest, but incremental, improvements in the transparency of its military and security affairs”. But the Department of Defence believes that “uncertainty remains about how China will use its growing capabilities.” The report also speaks of the concept of Three Warfares: Psychological warfare, media warfare and legal warfare and mentions “China’s desire to effectively exploit these force enablers in the run-up to and during hostilities.” Nowhere in the White Paper is there a mention of this.

Interestingly while psychological warfare seeks to “undermine an enemy’s ability to conduct combat operations”, media warfare aims “at influencing domestic and international public opinion to build support for China’s military actions and dissuade an adversary from pursuing actions contrary to China’s interests”. The publication of the White Paper seems part of the media warfare.

An article in The China Daily explains: “In recent years, contrary to the country’s desire, the rise of China on the world stage has aroused misunderstanding and suspicion… Such sentiments are not based on facts…Chinese leaders have on many occasions reiterated the country’s strategy of development.”

Part of the Pentagon report is consecrated to the development of new Chinese missiles. The Central Military Commission’s priorities are land-based ballistic and cruise missiles: “developing and testing several new classes and variants of offensive missiles, forming additional missile units, upgrading older missile systems, and developing methods to counter ballistic missile defences.”

The fact that several of these missiles are targeting India does not help to reinforce New Delhi’s trust towards Beijing. Then there is the first aircraft carrier (a renovated version of the Soviet Varyag) which will begin its trial at the end of the year. And the J-20, China’s fifth generation fighter plane. The fighter aircraft incorporating stealth characteristics was tested in January 2011, the very day Mr Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, landed in China. Was it a message of peace?

One could add a myriad of other examples to the list; one of them is cyber warfare. In an article in The China Youth Daily, “Fight A Cyber War, How?” a young Chinese explains: “Cyber warfare is different from the traditional warfare of the past, which featured gunfire and flying shells; cyber warfare is a completely silent and brand new type of warfare. It is not only active in war and all kinds of conflicts, but also flits in and out of political, economic, military, cultural, technological, and other everyday activities.”

It might be true that Beijing has lately made some efforts to bring more transparency in its international dealings and has opened up, particularly by engaging in bilateral military exchanges and participating in several UN “peace missions”, but more than a WP will be necessary to establish a sustainable and trustworthy relationship, with India in particular. The Chinese penetration in Nepal, Burma or Pakistan should remind Delhi that ‘peaceful development’ does not mean one should not be ready for any eventuality. That is what China does.

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