Any threat perception can significantly influence a country’s policies and how that country wants to move forward. More threat perception gives rise to new policy actions against perceived threats. This is the case with Beijing, as over the year its focus on recognizing and explaining its security threat perceptions derived its policies. Chinese leadership believes that China is facing unprecedented national security challenges. Over the years, China has released several papers highlighting the threats to China. China’s State Council Information Office released white papers to provide insights into how Beijing views the global security environment and the evolving role of China. The recent 2019 defense white paper titled “China’s National Defense in the New Era” particularly highlighted the aspects of global strategic competition. It states that:
“International strategic competition is on the rise. The US has adjusted its national security and defense strategies and adopted unilateral policies. It has provoked and intensified competition among major countries significantly increased its defense expenditure, pushed for additional capacity in nuclear, outer space, cyber, and missile defense, and undermined global strategic stability. NATO has continued its enlargement, stepped up military deployment in Central and Eastern Europe, and conducted frequent military exercises”
Although China’s 2019 White Paper is considered as a response to changed US national security and defense strategy. In 2017, the US national security strategy and 2018 US National Defense Strategy flags a massive shift in US strategy, with changing its focus from counterterrorism and extremism to competition with rising China and resurgent Russia. In such an evolving security situation, the Chinese leadership is keen to secure and safeguard its national security. Its focus on military modernization is part of the overall policy to counter such emerging domestic and external threats. It considers sovereignty and domestic security issues as the main threat to the country’s safety.
China’s approach toward potential threats
These are some of the domestic challenges which pose a greater security risk to China’s internal stability and overall development, but the real threats are the external ones. The end of the Cold war with the dismantling of the Soviet Union opened the gates of uncertainty for China. The strategic importance of China vis a vis USA and Soviet was no more there. China tried to redefine its position in the international system.
Post-Cold War many believed that now Japan is likely going to be a major concern for China. However, a major event in the 1996 “Taiwan Strait crisis” proved that wrong and it was clear that there is a possibility of potential conflict with the United States. This also brought Chinese leadership attention to more rapid military modernization to achieve military parity. The rise of China has profound implications for international security, which in turn poses challenges to Beijing. The economic rise of China has made it dependent on the energy sources of the world. China is concerned about the security of its energy supplies. Most of its crude oil is imported from the Middle East. The security environment in that region is not much favorable as well. Meanwhile, the route of its energy supplies passes through the Strait of Malacca which is plagued by pirates attacks and has a heavy presence of US forces that makes it vulnerable during conflicts.
Likewise, China is also concerned about the maritime lanes of the Arabian and Indian Ocean, key links in its energy, and global trade line. Above all the United States has significantly increased its presence in the region under the pretext of terrorism after 9/11. Sea lines of communication (SLOCs) are crucial for the export-oriented Chinese economy. In 2018, China exported $2.49 trillion in goods while it imported $2.13 trillion. China is a country more dependent on foreign trade. Thus, securing its global trade route is its major priority.
In the meantime, territorial disputes with its neighboring states pose a constant and serious challenge to its territorial integrity. The disputes are not just limited to one region but have encircled China from all sides including a territorial dispute with India along the line of actual control, the Spratly Islands with Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, and Indonesia, the Paracel Islands with Vietnam in the South China Sea, Senkaku Islands/ Diaoyu with Japan in the East China Sea. Another significant one is China’s dispute with Taiwan, which can be the main flashpoint of conflict between China and U.S.A in near future. President Xi has, again and again, voiced the reunification of Taiwan with mainland China. While the United States is adamant to defend the sovereignty of Taiwan. Under such changing dynamics, China is preparing for any possible conflict in the future. This gave birth to apprehensive policy action. It provides PLA with an important role to play in the security architecture of China. PLA services have been tasked with a range of strategic missions and capabilities to defend China’s sovereignty. Some of the necessary tasks include maintaining CCP’s credibility, Safeguarding China’s territorial integrity, and global interests. providing an emergency disaster relief. Thus, such goals demand wider resources and technological edge to perform tasks in all different domains. Chinese leadership so far has provided necessary funds and other resources to fulfill the needs of PLA services. It is still far to say that PLA has got an edge in all domains however, it can be given a credible appraise for such a strong forward leap. The Xi’s dream of a strong capable and professional force is not far away but it has many challenges ahead that need time to overcome. At the same time, PLA has got the necessary technology at hand which can be a serious challenge for the US and its allies in the region. The need of the time is not to look suspiciously at each other but to take a step forward to formulate and implement a strong security mechanism in the region which provides the necessary security to regional countries.
Author: Syed Ali Abbas
About Author: Syed Ali Abbas has graduated in International Relations from NUML, Islamabad, and studies Chinese Politics at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Previously, Syed worked with Global Village Space magazine and as research internee at Center for Global and Strategic Studies, Islamabad.
Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Pakistan Strategic Forum.