Aggressive Body Language

China released its 10th biennial White Paper on National Defence in the last week of May, 2015. Entitled “China’s Military Strategy”, this is the first White Paper that focusses on a specific aspect of national security unlike the previous ones that were about objectives, force levels, training and military modernisation.

According to the White Paper, China will follow a strategy of ‘active defence’. Clarifying the meaning of the term active defence, Senior Colonel Zhang Yuguo, from the General Staff Department of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), said, "Some countries adopt pre-emptive strategies, emphasising preventive intervention and taking initiative in attack… Being ‘active’ is only a kind of means and ‘defence’ is our fundamental purpose.”

Four ‘critical security domains’ have been highlighted in the Paper: the ocean, outer space, cyberspace and nuclear deterrence. Emphasis will be laid by the PLA on ‘winning informationised local wars’. To this end, the development of the ‘cyber force’ to tackle ‘grave security threats’ online, will be expedited. Several governments have already felt the power of the cyber fangs of China’s one million ‘laptop warriors’.

Though the White Paper calls active defence a strategy, military strategies are normally more specific and are a combination of ends, ways and means; hence, doctrine is perhaps a better term. The PLA’s warfighting doctrine has evolved from Mao’s “people’s war” to “people’s war under modern conditions” through a “limited/local war” phase to the current doctrine introduced in 1993. The new doctrine is more assertive than previously and is not bound by any restrictions to confine and limit future conflict to within China’s national boundaries.
Underpinning the new aspirations of the PLA is the basic doctrine of “active defence” that seeks to conduct “people’s war under modern conditions”, or “local wars under hi-tech conditions”. The PLA’s active defence doctrine envisages fighting future wars away from China’s territory. The doctrine emphasises firepower through integrated deep strikes – a concentration of superior firepower that is to be utilised to destroy the opponent’s retaliatory capabilities through pre-emptive strikes employing long-range artillery, short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and precision guided munitions.

The new doctrine has been influenced by the lessons of Gulf War-I of 1991 and the Iraq War of 2003, both of which have been extensively studied by Chinese scholars. The doctrine requires the creation of a capability to project force across China’s borders through rapid deployment, conventional SRBMs and cruise missiles, information warfare, electronic warfare, precision-guided munitions, enhanced night fighting capabilities and other advanced military technologies.

China also follows ‘anti-access and area denial’ (A2AD) strategies to deny the adversary access to his planned launch pads in an endeavour to prevent the initial build-up of forces and logistics. Planning for A2AD strategies flows from the apprehension that if superior, well-equipped forces (like the US and its allies) are allowed to arrive in the war zone with the force levels and in the time frame planned by them, they are bound to prevail.

The PLA expects to fight the next war under conditions of what it calls “informationisation”. Its analysts have called the revolution in military affairs (RMA) an “informationised military revolution”. According to General Liu Huaqing, former Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, “Information warfare and electronic warfare are of key importance, while fighting on the ground can only exploit the victory. 

Hence, China is more convinced (than ever) that as far as the PLA is concerned, a military revolution with information warfare as the core has reached the stage where efforts must be made to catch up and overtake rivals.” The PLA has adopted what it calls a “double historical mission” and a “leapfrog development strategy” – accelerating military informationisation while still undergoing mechanisation. Developing cyber-warfare capability is seen is presenting a level playing field in a David versus Goliath scenario.