Tag Archives: PLAN

China’s Synchronization of Party and Military

By Dr. Ching Chang

The Coming Synchronization

As many political observers have already noted, the Nineteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China is expected to be held in Beijing soon, most likely in the late fall of this year. Generally speaking, this event may lead to a major power reshuffle within the top leadership of the Communist Party of China (CCP). According to the general precedent in Chinese Mainland politics so far, the majority of the members in the Politburo Standing Committee will retire right after this meeting.

Members of the delegations from various provinces, municipalities, and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) commands will elect members and alternate members of the Central Committee as well as members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. The new members of these two Central Committees form the power basis for the CCP leadership in the future. The First Plenary Session of the Nineteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China will be held immediately after the CCP Nineteenth National Congress to elect General Secretary, members of Politburo, Politburo Standing Committee, endorse the members of the party Secretariat, and finally decide the members of the Military Commission of the Central Committee.

Per the political and strategic culture known as the principle of “the party commands the gun” established through the Sanwan Reorganization in 1927 and the Gutian Congress in 1929, the Communist Party of China is tightly linked with the military organizations of the People’s Liberation Army. As noted in the General Program of the Party Constitution of the Communist Party of China: “The Communist Party of China persists in its leadership over the People’s Liberation Army and other armed forces of the people, builds up the strength of the People’s Liberation Army, ensures that it accomplishes its historic missions at this new stage in the new century, and gives full play to its role in consolidating national defense, defending the motherland and participating in the socialist modernization drive”, the leadership over the People’s Liberation Army is absolutely non-negotiable to the Communist Party of China.

However, the party and military are interdependent in several aspects, including personnel career management and organizational alignment. Given the recent political reforms and consequences of the administrative power reorganizations in the mainland China, there are three issues concerning the synchronization of party and military that need to be well-managed in the coming CCP Nineteenth National Congress itself or the subsequent First Plenary Session of the Nineteenth National Congress.

Party Post and Military Billet

The party post is a required element for professional career development within the People’s Liberation Army and a prerequisite for further promotion. Any PLA members assigned to key leadership billets should have matching party posts compatible with their decision-making and policy formulation authorities. Those senior leaders with high military ranks who lose their party posts in the next five-year term National Congress of the Communist Party of China are likely to enter retirement in the near future.

On the other hand, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, the prerequisite of appropriate party posts, such as members and alternate members of the Central Committee as well as members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection for those who want to be promoted to the rank of three-star general or admiral, may be a thing of the past. Since his inauguration as the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Xi has personally handpicked five senior military members, two on July 31, 2015 and another three on July 28, 2017, to be promoted to the rank of the three-star general officers with no proper party post in the top tier of the Communist Party of China. Among these five senior newly promoted high rank general officers, none of them owns the party post such as members or alternate members of the Central Committee or even members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Apparently, there is a certain gap between party post and military billet developing in the top layer of the PLA leadership.

Three-Star PLA General Officers Promoted by Xi With No Proper Party Post

Name Billet as Promotion Promotion Date
宋普選Song, Puxuan Commander, Northern Theater Command July 31, 2015
李作成Li, Zuocheng Commander, Chengdu Military Region

(Now, Chief of Staff, the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission)

July 31, 2015
韓衛國Han, Weiguo Commander, Central Theater Command

(Now, Commander, PLA Ground Force)

July 28, 2017
劉雷Liu, Lei Political Commissar, PLA Ground Force July 28, 2017
于忠福Yu, Zhongfu Political Commissar, PLA Air Force July 28, 2017

There are various interpretations to explain why the mismatch of the party post and military billet may occur in such a high tier of the PLA leadership. Natural attrition together with unexpected disciplinary actions disrupted original leadership echelon arrangements is perhaps the most acceptable explanation to PLA observers. After all, a total of 24 incumbent, former, or alternate members of the Central Committee and members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection have been disciplined, including one former Politburo Standing Committee member and four present or former Politburo members under Xi’s leadership.

Other interpretations may include that Xi is basically following the tradition to promote those senior officers with party posts unless their specialties are in areas where appropriate military billets cannot be assigned. As no suitable candidate with proper party post may be available, the selection list may naturally extend to those without a party post in the high tier of the Communist Party of China.

General Li Zuocheng, who was newly promoted to Chief of the People Liberation Army’s Joint Staff Department. (Ren Dong/Color China Photo via AP Images)

In any case, the personnel reshuffle is unavoidable in the coming Nineteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China in order to let the military billets match with party post. Further, certain military elites with strong professional career potential also appeared in the list of members and alternate members of the Central Committee as well as members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Most importantly, members given positions on the new list will likely have a better potential for further promotion since they are chosen by Xi and he may stay in power for at least another five years.

Reinstitutionalization of the CMC after Military Reform

The second issue concerning the synchronization of party and military is the possibility of re-institutionalizing of the Central Military Commission after the PLA military reform. Members of the Central Military Commission were not matched with military posts until the Fourth Plenary Session of the Sixteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China on September 16, 2004, when Jiang Zemin resigned the chairmanship of the Central Military Commission.

As Hu Jintao succeed Jiang to be the new CMC Chairman, several senior members were selected into the Central Military Commission as new members according to their military billets. Members of the Central Military are institutionalized since then by the following order:  Defense Minister, Chief of the General Staff Department, Chief of the General Political Department, Chief of the General Logistics Department, Chief of the General Equipment Department, Commander, Commander of the PLA Navy, Commander of the PLA Air Force, and Commander of the Second Artillery Corps. Apart from the Chairman of the CMC, two senior military professionals will be appointed as the deputy Chairman of the CMC. An extra First Deputy Chairman of the CMC is likely to be appointed for the next generation of leadership. This similar practice was adopted for the cases both for Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping.

President Xi Jinping greets personnel at the Central Military Commission’s Joint Command Headquarters, where he called on the Chinese military to continue improving its capabilities for joint command. (Photo by Zhou Chaorong/China Daily)

So far, this institutionalized Central Military Commission structure was followed in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Military Commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Following selection of the Central of Military Commission membership, the National People’s Congress will elect another set of the members, drawing on the same pool of candidates, to the National Central Military Commission in late March after the National Congress of the Communist Party of China in the previous year. Obviously, there is a gap between the establishment dates of these two Central Military Commissions of the party and the nation separately. Nonetheless, the existing National Military Commission will somehow automatically cease to function in order to assure the synchronization of party and military.

The Central Military Commission is the highest mechanism for determining the military and defense policy proposals prior to submittal to the Politburo for further discussion and review. As we already know, there have been many organizational revisions in the People Liberation Army’s administrative chain of command and operational command and control structure. It is necessary to reorganize the members of the Central Military Commission to reflect the present PLA administrative and command structure. For instance, a new service equivalent organization known as the PLA Strategic Support Force was established in January 2016. The Joint Logistics Support Force directly subordinated to the Central Military Commission is another significant reorganizational arrangement. Four General Departments are reorganized into fifteen functional departments or agencies. Most importantly, there is no representative for the newly formed PLA Ground Force, the army equivalent, as the member of the Central Military Commission so far.

Due to the recent reforms noted above, the current PLA organization structure and the organization of the Central Military Commission are obviously not aligned. These reorganizations likely need to be matched with newly institutionalized Central Military Commission representation structure in order to assure their smooth operation. It is a reasonable prediction that this reorganization of the Central Military Commission will be a priority in the coming First Plenary Session of the Nineteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China right after the CCP National Congress itself.

Revision of Associated Party Constitution

Last but not the least, the PRC’s National Defense and Military Reform is a part of overall social reform policies as noted by a policy document known as “The Decision on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms” (中共中央關於全面深化改革若干重大問題的決定) that was approved by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party at the Third Plenary Session of the Eighteenth Chinese Communist Party Central Committee on November 12, 2013. It is naturally no surprise that numerous institutions need to be amended and experience organizational reforms in various aspects of Chinese political, legal, and social systems. This is also the case for the PLA organizational reform.

For instance, the previous General Political Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army was consolidated into a newly established organization known as the Political Work Department of the Central Military Commission on January 11, 2016. It remains the chief political organ under the Central Military Commission and still leads all political activities in the People’s Liberation Army.

Nonetheless, after this reorganization process, the authorities of this new Department are inconsistent with the Article 23 of the Constitution of the Communist Party of China:

“Party organizations in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army carry on their work in accordance with the instructions of the Central Committee. The political work organ of the Military Commission of the Central Committee is the General Political Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army; the General Political Department directs Party and political work in the army. The organizational system and organs of the Party in the armed forces are prescribed by the Military Commission of the Central Committee.”

Although clearly the Political Work Department of the Central Military Commission is intended to succeed the previous General Political Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army with all its powers, it is still necessary to revise the bureaucratic language in the Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party to fit with the new military establishment.

Since, per the point four of the Article 19 of the same constitution: “The functions and powers of the National Congress of the Party are as follows: ………4) To revise the Constitution of the Party;” we should expect certain work for revising the Constitution of the Communist Party of China will be taking place in the coming Nineteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

During his inspection of the PLA Hong Kong Garrison Force in this June, Xi Jinping himself called for efforts to build a highly centralized and unified military force, and run the military in accordance with law to forge a strong force with ironclad belief, faith, discipline, and responsibility. We should expect the synchronization of party post and military billet, institutionalization of the CMC after reform, and revision of the Chinese Communist Party Constitution to align with new military structures that will be a part of Xi’s legacies in the coming Nineteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China and its subsequent First Plenary Session of the Nineteenth National Congress in October 2017.

Dr. Ching Chang was a line officer in the Republic of China Navy for more than thirty years. As a very productive commentator on the Chinese military affairs, he is recognized as a leading expert on the People’s Liberation Army with unique insights on its military thinkings.

Correction: The month which the Nineteenth National Congress will occur is in October, not November.

Featured Image: President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, and other senior leaders Li Keqiang, Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan and Zhang Gaoli attend a grand gathering in celebration of the 90th founding anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Aug 1, 2017. (Xinhua)

The PLA Navy in the Baltic Sea: A View from Kiel

By Sebastian Bruns and Sarah Kirchberger

On 19 July 2017, after a long transit through the Indian Ocean and around the European continent, a three-ship People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) task group entered the Baltic Sea to conduct exercises with the Russian Navy (RFN). The flotilla reached Kaliningrad, the exercise headquarters, on July 21st. While hardly the first time that China’s naval ensign could be spotted in this Northern European body of water (for instance, a Chinese frigate participated in Kiel Week 2016), “Joint Sea 2017” marks the first ever Russo-Chinese naval drill in the Baltic Sea. The exercise raised eyebrows in Europe, and NATO members scrambled to shadow the PLAN ships on their way to the Baltic and carefully monitor the drills.

The timing in July was not a coincidence, given that relations between the West and East – however broadly defined – increasingly have come under strain. Mirroring a decidedly more robust maritime behavior in the Asia-Pacific, this out-of-area exercise also signals an increasingly assertive and maritime-minded China. The PLAN has been commissioning advanced warships in higher numbers than any other navy during 2016 and 2017, and is busy building at least two indigenous aircraft carriers. Earlier this summer, the PLAN opened its first permanent overseas logistics base in Djibouti, East Africa. The maritime components of the Chinese leadership’s ambitious “Belt & Road Initiative”– which includes heavy investments in harbors and container terminals infrastructures along the main trading routes – furthermore demonstrate the Chinese intent to play a larger role in global affairs by using the maritime domain. Is the Chinese Navy’s increased presence in the Indian Ocean and in European waters therefore to become the “new normal”?  

In the following essay, we argue that context matters when looking at these bilateral naval drills, and we seek to shed some light on the particulars revolving around this news item. In our view, it is important to review the current exercise against the general trajectory of Chinese naval modernization and expansion in recent years on the one hand, and of steadily deepening Russo-Chinese cooperation in the political, military, military-technological, and economic spheres on the other. We seek to offer some talking points which give cause for both relaxation and concern, and conclude with policy recommendations for NATO and Germany.

The Current Drills and Their Background

The July 2017 naval exercise with Russia in the Baltic Sea is the PLAN’s first ever excursion into this maritime area for a formal deployment. For China, it’s an opportunity to showcase the PLAN’s latest achievements in naval technology and shipbuilding prowess, which is perhaps why the Chinese task force includes some of its most advanced and capable surface warships: the PLAN’s Hefei (DDG-174), a Type 052D guided-missile air warfare destroyer featuring the “Chinese AEGIS”; the Yuncheng (FFG-571), a Type 054A guided-missile frigate; and a Type 903-class replenishment oiler from China’s Southern Fleet, the Luomahu (AOR-964). Originally the destroyer Changsha (DDG-173) had been scheduled for this exercise, but had to be replaced by its sister ship the Hefei after it suffered an apparent engine malfunction in the Indian Ocean while on transit from Hainan.

PLAN warship Hefei (DDG-174), a type 052D destroyer (Wikimedia Commons)

Simultaneous Excursions into Northern and Southern European Waters

It is probably not a coincidence that China has sent another three-ship task group to the Black Sea during the exact same timeframe. There, the PLAN’s Changchun (DDG-150), a Type 052C destroyer capable of carrying 48 long-range HHQ-9 missiles, the Jingzhou (FFG-532), a newly-launched Type 054A frigate, and the logistics support vessel Chaohu (AOR-890) have docked at Istanbul over the weekend under heavy rain. This excursion comes on the heels of the 17th Sea Breeze maneuvers that saw Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian, and NATO warships exercise together between July 10-22. Similarly, the Russo-Chinese Baltic Sea war games were scheduled to be held just four weeks after BALTOPS, a large annual U.S.-led multi-national naval exercise which until 2013 had included Russian participation under the Partnership for Peace (PfP) arrangements.

Just two weeks earlier Germany, the Baltic Sea’s largest naval power, had hosted the G-20 talks in Hamburg. When Australia hosted the G-20 summit in 2014, the Russian Navy deployed its flagship Varyag to the South Pacific. It is therefore sensible to assume a deliberate timing of the Chinese-Russian Baltic exercises, which are intended as a signal to NATO members and to the Baltic Sea’s coastal states. Russia, after all, sent two of its mightiest warships to “Joint Sea 2017”: The Typhoon-class Dmitry Donskoy, the world’s largest submarine, and the Russian Navy’s largest surface combatant, the Kirov-class nuclear powered battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy, both highly impractical for the confined and shallow Baltic Sea.

Regular Russo-Chinese naval exercises commenced in April 2012, when the first-ever joint naval drills were held in the Yellow Sea near Qingdao. Bilateral naval exercises have since been conducted every year.

As Table 1 shows (at bottom), the scope and complexity of these drills have steadily increased. Jane’s Defence Weekly reported that during the 2016 exercises, a joint command information system was used for the first time to improve interoperability and facilitate shared situational awareness. This is remarkable given that China and Russia are not formal military allies as of yet. What does this development indicate?

Ambitious Naval Modernization Plans in Russia and China

In terms of naval capability, China and Russia are aiming to recover or maintain (in the case of Russia) and reach (in the case of China) a true blue-water proficiency. After decades of degradation, the Russian Navy hopes to enlarge its surface fleet, retain a minimum carrier capability, and maintain a credible sea-based nuclear deterrence capability. So far, Russia talks the talk but fails to walk the walk. The PLAN is meanwhile hoping to transform itself into a fully “informationized” force capable of net-centric operations; it is planning to operate up to three carrier groups in the mid-term, and is developing a true sea-based nuclear deterrent for which submarine incursions into the West Pacific and Indian Ocean (and maybe even into the Arctic and Atlantic) will be essential, since China’s sub-launched missiles can’t threaten the U.S. mainland from a bastion in the South China Sea. 

Apart from developing, producing, and commissioning the necessary naval hardware, these ambitious goals require above all dedicated crew training in increasingly frequent and complex joint operations exercises in far-flung maritime areas. For Russia, the Joint Sea exercise series can function as a counterweight to the U.S.-led annual BALTOPS exercises (where they are no longer a part of) and a replacement for the FRUKUS exercises conducted during the 1990s and 2000s with France, the U.K., and the U.S. China has been slowly building experience with out-of-area deployments through its naval patrols off the Horn of Africa, which culminated in the establishment of China’s first overseas logistics hub in Djibouti earlier this year. So far China’s footprint in the world is nevertheless mainly economic, not military, as China still lacks military allies and does not have access to a global network of bases that could facilitate a truly global military presence. In the context of protecting Chinese overseas investments, installations, personnel deployments and trade interests, a more frequent naval presence in European waters can nevertheless be expected.

Potential Areas of Concern

From NATO’s and Europe’s vantage point, one thing to monitor is the prospect of a possible full-blown entente between Russia and China following a period of increasing convergence between Chinese and Russian economic, military, and strategic interests. Traditionally, relations between both countries have been marred by distrust and strategic competition. Russian leaders likely still fear China’s economic power, and are wary of a possible mass migration movement into Russia’s far east, while China is dependent on Russian cooperation in Central Asia for its ambitious Belt & Road Initiative. Russia is militarily strong, but economically weak, with resources and arms technologies as its main export products, while China is an economic heavyweight, but has lots of industrial over-capacities and is in need of importing the type of goods that Russia has to offer. Especially after the Western sanctions kicked in, Russia needs Chinese capital to continue its ambitious minerals extraction projects in the Arctic, while China continues to rely on some Russian military high-technology transfers, e.g. in aerospace and missile technologies. Cash-strapped Russia has ambitious naval procurement plans of its own that were hampered by its loss of access to Ukrainian and Western arms technologies, while China, having faced similar Western arms embargo policies since 1989, is now on a trajectory of significant fleet enlargement and, unlike Russia, has the financial resources to pay for it. Possible synergies in the naval area include diesel submarine design and construction, given China has reportedly expressed interest in acquiring Russian Lada- or Kalina-class subs.

Furthermore, both governments have strong incentives to cooperate against what they perceive as “Western hegemonialism.” Both reject the universal values associated with the Western liberal order and reserve the right to “solve” territorial conflicts within their periphery that are deemed threatening to their “core interests” by military means. Both governments are furthermore keen to preserve their power to rule by resisting urges from within their societies to transform, and they invariably suspect Western subversion attempts behind any such calls. Since both are subject to Western arms embargoes that have in the past caused disruption of large-scale arms programs, including in the naval domain, the already strong arms trade relationship between China and Russia has been reinforced through new deals. One side-effect of this long-standing arms trade relationship is a technological commonality between both militaries that furthers interoperability.

Enhancing bilateral mil-tech cooperation and cooperating more strongly in natural resources development therefore offers Russia and China multiple synergies to exploit, and the results can already be seen: After the Western shunning of Russia in the wake of the Crimea crisis in 2014, several large-scale arms and natural resources deals have been concluded between Putin’s Russia and Xi’s China, and the cooperation projects between China and Russia in the Arctic (mostly related to raw materials extraction) have now officially been brought under the umbrella of the vast, but somewhat diffuse Chinese Belt & Road Initiative. The recently concluded Arctic Silk Road agreement between China and Russia seems to indicate that China has somehow managed to alleviate Russian fears of Chinese naval incursions in the Arctic waters.

In sum, the longstanding Western arms embargo against China, combined with Western punitive sanctions against Russia since 2014, as well as unbroken fears in both countries of Western subversion through a strategy of “peaceful evolution“ (as employed during the Cold War against the Soviet Union), plus the perceived threat of U.S. military containment, creates a strong set of incentives on both sides to exploit synergies in the economic, diplomatic, and military realm. “Russia and China stick to points of view which are very close to each other or are almost the same in the international arena,” Putin said during a visit to China in 2016. The fact that Chinese internet censorship rules were recently amended to shield Putin from Chinese online criticisms, the first time a foreign leader was extended such official “protection,” further indicates a new level of intimacy in the traditionally strained relationship. It can therefore be assumed that both countries will continue their cooperation in the political and diplomatic arenas, e.g. within the U.N. Security Council. 

Russian battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy 099 (Peter the Great) joined the most recent exercise from the Northern Fleet (Wikimedia Commons)

Finally, both countries face a structurally similar set of security challenges. Internally, they are mainly concerned with combating separatism and internal dissent, and externally they fear U.S. military containment and Western interference in their “internal affairs.” The latter is addressed by both countries in a similar way by focusing on asymmetric deterrence concepts (A2/AD bubbles) on the one hand and nuclear deterrence on the other. Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, the headquarters of the current “Joint Sea 2017” exercise, is the cornerstone of the major Russian A2/AD bubble in Northern Europe. Furthermore, Russia’s traditional Arctic bastion concept for its strategic submarines is now likely echoed in Chinese attempts to make parts of the South China Sea into a bastion for the Chinese SSBN force. It should also be noted that both countries have also recently resorted to somewhat similar hybrid strategies in their dealings with smaller neighboring countries within their “spheres of influence” – a curious commonality. Russia’s “little green men” find their maritime counterpart in China’s “little blue men,” government-controlled maritime militia-turned-fisherman who are staging incidents in the South China and East China Seas.

To sum up, the steadily deepening mil-tech cooperation on the basis of past arms transfers have by now resulted in a certain degree of technical commonality, and regular joint exercises have recently been conducted with the explicit aim of adding a training component in order to achieve better interoperability. Their similarities in threat perception mean that both countries can benefit from exchanging information and experiences in areas such as hybrid warfare, A2/AD (or “counter-intervention”) strategies, and AAW and ASW missions. Even in the absence of a formal military alliance, these developments merit closer watchfulness by NATO and the Western navies, especially when seen in context with the common political interests and matching world perception shared by these two authoritarian countries.

What Challenges does this Pose to NATO in Particular?

While the exercise is not as such problematic and takes place in international waters that are open to any navy, there are some implications for NATO to consider. If this emerging naval cooperation deepens further, and bilateral Russo-Chinese drills in NATO home waters should become more frequent, then this could mean that NATO’s limited naval resources will increasingly come under strain. Shadowing and monitoring Chinese and Russian vessels more often implies dispatching precious vessels that would be needed elsewhere. This could in fact be one of the main benefits from the point of view of Russia and China. Some NATO navies have in the past expressed a willingness to support the U.S. in the South China Sea, which China considers to be part of its own sphere of interest. Putting up the pressure in NATO’s own maritime backyard could therefore serve the purpose of relieving U.S. and Western pressure on China’s Navy in its own home waters. In that sense, to adapt an old Chinese proverb, the Baltic exercise could be seen as an attempt to “make a sound in the West and then attack in the East.” On the other hand, Russian-Chinese exercises give NATO navies a chance to observe Chinese and Russian naval capabilities more closely, which can over time contribute to alleviating some of the opacity surrounding China’s naval rise. It will also help propel fresh thinking about the future of NATO maritime strategy and the Baltic.

Policy Recommendations

First, the exercise should be interpreted mainly as a form of signaling. As James Goldrick pointed out,

“A Chinese entry into the Baltic demonstrates to the U.K. and France in particular that China can match in Europe their efforts at maritime presence in East Asia (…) and perhaps most significant, it suggests an emerging alignment between China and Russia on China’s behavior in the South China Sea and Russia’s approach to security in the Baltic. What littoral states must fear is some form of Baltic quid pro quo for Russian support of China’s artificial islands and domination of the South China Sea.”

Second, the possibility of Russia and China forming a military alliance of sorts should be more seriously analyzed and discussed, as such a development would affect the strategic calculations surrounding a possible military confrontation. China has long been concerned with the problem of countering the U.S.-led quasi-alliance of AEGIS-equipped navies on its doorstep (South Korea, Japan, Australia, and the U.S. 7th Fleet), and some noted Chinese intellectuals (such as Yan Xuetong) have publicly argued in favor of China forming military alliances and establishing military bases in countries it has an arms trade relationship with. It is not hard to see that such remarks could have been made first and foremost with Russia in mind, China’s most militarily capable arms trade partner. Remote as the possibility might seem to some, the potential of such a development alone should concern NATO and all European non-NATO states, especially given Europe’s strong economic involvement with China.

Third, while it is hard to see how the arms embargoes against Russia and China could be lifted in the near and medium term, given both countries’ unwillingness to accept the right of smaller countries in their respective “sphere of interest” for unimpeded sovereignty, Western countries should more seriously analyze the impact that these sanctions have so far had in creating incentives for an entente, and find ways to engage China and Russia constructively in other areas to provide an alternative to a Russo-Chinese marriage of convenience.

Fourth, the German Navy and other Baltic forces should use this and future Chinese excursions into the Northern European maritime area mainly as an opportunity to gather intelligence, and to engage the Chinese Navy in the field of naval diplomacy. For Germany, it is also high time to start planning in earnest the replacement of the Oste-class SIGINT vessels, to expedite the procurement of the five additional Braunschweig-class corvettes, and to properly engage with allies in strategic deliberations regarding the Baltic Sea in a global context.

The authors work for the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University (ISPK), Germany. Dr. Sarah Kirchberger heads the Center for Asia-Pacific Strategy & Security (CAPSS) and is the author of Assessing China’s Naval Power: Technological Change, Economic Constraints, and Strategic Implications (Springer, Berlin & Heidelberg 2015). Dr. Sebastian Bruns directs the Center for Maritime Strategy & Security (CMSS) and is editor of the Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy & Security (London 2016).

Table 1: Major PLAN-RFN bilateral exercises

Designation/ Timeframe

Region Major Units

Type of missions

“Sino-Russian Naval Co-operation 2012” (April 22-27) Yellow Sea / near Qingdao China: 5 destroyers, 5 frigates, 4 missile boats, one support vessel, one hospital ship, two submarines, 13 aircraft, five shipborne helicopters

Russia: Slava-class guided missile cruiser Varyag, 3 Udaloy-class destroyers.

AAW. ASW. SAR MSO, ASuW
‘Joint Sea 2013’

(July 7-10)

Sea of Japan / Peter the Great Bay near Vladivostok China: Type 052C (Luyang-II class) destroyer Lanzhou; Type 052B (Luyang I-class) destroyer Wuhan; Type-051C (Luzhou-class) destroyers Shenyang and Shijiazhuang (116); Type 054A (Jiangkai-II class) frigates Yancheng and Yantai; Type 905 (Fuqing-class) fleet replenishment ship Hongzehu.

Russia: 12 vessels from the Pacific Fleet.

air defence, maritime replenishment, ASW, joint escort, rescuing hijacked ships

 

‘Joint Sea 2014’

(May 20-24)

East China Sea / Northern part China: Russian-built Sovremenny-class destroyer Ningbo; Type 052C (Lüyang II class) destroyer Zhengzhou

Russia: Missile cruiser Varyag plus 13 surface ships, 2 submarines, 9 fixed-wing aircraft, helis and special forces.

ASuW, SAR, MSO, VBSS

anchorage defense, maritime assaults, anti-submarine combats, air defense, identification, rescue and escort missions

‘Joint Sea 2015’ Part I’ (May 18-21) Eastern Mediterranean China: Type 054A frigates Linyi  and Weifang, supply ship Qiandaohu

Russia: six ships including Slava-class destroyer Moskva , Krivak-class frigate Ladny , plus 2 Ropucha-class landing ships

Navigation safety, ship protection, at-sea replenishment, air defense, ASW and ASuW, escort missions and live-fire exercises
‘Joint Sea 2015’ Part II (August 24-27) Sea of Japan / Peter the Great Gulf near Vladivostok China: Type 051C Luzhou-class destroyer Shenyang, Sovremenny-class destroyer Taizhou, Type 054A Jiangkai II-class frigates Linyi  and Hengyang, amphibious landing ships Type 071 Yuzhao-class (LPD) Changbaishan  and Type 072A Yuting II-class (LST) Yunwunshan, Type 903A Fuchi-class replenishment ship Taihu; PLAAF units: J-10 fighters and JH-7 fighter-bombers

Russia: Slava-class cruiser Varyag  and Udaloy-class destroyer Marshall Shaposhnikov, two frigates, four corvettes, two subs, two tank landing ships, two coastal minesweepers, and a replenishment ship.

ASW, AAW, amphibious assault, MCM
‘Joint Sea 2016’ (September 12-20) South China Sea / coastal waters to the east of Zhanjiang China: Luyang I-class (Type 052B) destroyer Guangzhou, Luyang II-class (Type 052C) ; destroyer Zhengzhou; Jiangkai II-class (Type 054A) frigates Huangshan, Sanya and Daqing, Type 904B logistics supply ship Junshanhu,  Type 071 LPD Kunlunshan, Type 072A landing ship Yunwushan, 2 submarines; 11 fixed-wing aircraft, eight helicopters (including Z-8, Z-9 and Ka-31 airborne early warning aircraft) and 160 marines with amphibious armoured equipment.

Russia: Udaloy-class destroyers Admiral Tributs and Admiral Vinogradov; Ropucha-class landing ship Peresvet; Dubna-class auxiliary Pechanga and sea-going tug Alatau plus two helicopters, 96 marines, and amphibious fighting vehicles.

SAR, ASW, joint island-seizing missions, amphibious assault, live firings, boarding, air-defense

 

‘Joint Sea 2017’ (July 21-28) Baltic Sea / off Kaliningrad China: Type 052D destroyer Hefei, Type 054A frigate Yuncheng, Type 903A replenishment ship Luomahu

Russia: 2 Steregushchy class corvettes, one support tug, naval Ka-27 helicopters and land-based Su-24 fighter-bombers as air support.

SW, AAW, ASuW, anti-piracy, SAR

Featured Image: In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, officers and soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy hold a welcome ceremony as a Russian naval ship arrives in port in Zhanjiang in southern China’s Guangdong Province, Monday, Sept. 12, 2016.

The Evolution of Chinese National Security Debates on Maritime Policy, Pt. 2

The following two-part series will delve into the evolution of China’s national security debates pertaining to maritime security. Part One focused on changes and trends during Deng Xiaopeng’s administration and the immediate post-Cold War era. Part Two will analyze Chinese maritime policy debates going into the modern era.

By Sherman Xiaogang Lai

Accepting New Players

In the mid-1990s, Chinese researchers suffered from a set of restraints. Among these restraints were China’s censorship, accessible materials, and researchers’ skills. The Chinese government did not want the public to discuss sensitive topics such as Mao Zedong and increased censorship. However, sensitive topics had good audiences. Therefore, publishers and researchers worked closely to find ways to talk on sensitive topics properly. The most difficult barriers at that time was the sources of materials. Materials in Chinese language were limited, and few PLA researchers had foreign language skills. The AMS library had a good collection of Western relevant publications but was not open to the public. Therefore, translation occupied a significant portion in China’s research projects and Western classic were systematically translated. Among the translated classics was the collection of some chapters of Mahan’s works.

While PLA and other Chinese researchers were searching for paradigms beyond Marxism, a group of Chinese PhD graduates of political science returned from the United States. One of the outstanding graduates was Yan Xuetong (Berkley, 1992) who would become a leading scholar in international studies in China. In the meantime, the Chinese government abolished the Soviet system of postsecondary education and began to restore China’s pre-1949 Western-styled university system. As the entire research community in China was restructured and Chinese leaders, including PLA leaders, were willing to listen to ideas beyond Marxist and Maoist paradigms, civilian university scholars began obtaining a voice in the field of national security research. After 9/11, the involvement of civilian universities accelerated because terrorism was a not traditional military threat. In the meantime, PLA leaders altered their bias against officers who graduated from civilian universities. They realized that these officers such as Pi Minyong had much better knowledge and understanding of strategic and defense issues than graduates from PLA universities.

While many of these civilian university graduates were promoted, the Chinese government recognized the value of Chinese diaspora and permitted them to appear in China’s public media either for directing China’s public opinion or for intellectual development. One of the outstanding scholars was Professor Zheng Yongnian at the National University of Singapore. The PLA’s monopoly of China’s national defense research therefore came to an end. Academic diversity occurred not only among civilian researchers but also within PLA universities. One of the factors that contributed to the gradual replacement of the PLA’s monopoly on military and strategic research with more diversity was the fact that China became a net oil-importing country since 1993 and only became increasing dependent on oil importation. Oil security, an issue directly linked with SLOC, led to intensive research and debates.1

Oil Importation, Exploration into Mahan and Debates

Some Chinese researchers called for energy self-sufficiency through liquidizing coals. Some others suggested that overland pipelines be built in order to reduce China’s dependence on SLOC, especially the Malacca Strait. Another group argued that energy self-sufficiency was out of date and overland pipelines could not solve the problem. As China had to depend on the world oil market, the best approach to oil security was to join the world market and protect the SLOC with other countries. As more and more Chinese families began to use automobiles, these debates attracted attention throughout coastal China, even some interior province such as Hunan.2 Because the security of the SLOC was directly linked with seapower, Mahan’s works were systematically translated and published in nine varied versions from 1997 to 2013.3 Together with “Mahan Rush” was the appearance of two opposing school on China’s maritime and naval policies.

The representative of the first school is the INA. Captain Zhang Wei, one of its senior researchers, asked for a Mahanian navy. She reiterated Mahan’s argument that a blue-water navy of capital warships was a symbol of great powers’ glory and strength.4 As China considered itself a great power, it has to have a blue-water navy of capital ships to demonstrate that power. As China’s economy is dependent on the SLOC, China has to have a blue-water navy. In addition, China has a humiliating past: The West and Japan invaded China from the sea. China therefore has to have a powerful navy in order not let it happen again.

The opposite school consists of researchers of various backgrounds. Among the influential scholars are Senior Colonel Xu Qiyu (PhD) at the Institute of Strategic Studies, the University of National Defense, Senior Colonel Ke Chunqiao at the Academy of Military Science, and Dr Wu Zhengyu at Renmin University. Xu pointed out that China’s big power status had nothing to do with its navy and that SLOC protection was an international effort.5 China should therefore participate in international escorting campaigns rather than acting alone. He went further and claimed that if China’s SLOC were in danger, it means that China was at the edge of war against the United States. Xu stated that China had tremendous shared interests with the United States and must do its best to stabilize the bilateral relations. Through reviewing Germany’s experience before World War I, Xu attributed the outbreak of World War I to Germany’s interest groups who advocated for greater sea power.6

Ke reinforced Xu’s view by using the German experience also. He pointed out that one of the principal lessons from that experience was that continental powers should not try to seize the command of sea from a maritime power. Through comparing the experiences of the United States, Germany, and Japan, Ke claimed that the best way was to respect and help preserve the existing international order.  He also reminded the Chinese public of the catastrophic roles that German and Japanese interest groups had played before the two world wars. In July 2014, Ke’s arguments were published in China’s largest newspaper, Cankaoxiaoxi (News for Reference) run by Xinhua News Agency.7 In 2016, Ke re-emphasized the same view in the same newspaper.8

In comparison with Xu and Ke, Wu was straightforward. He claimed that China’s anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM) are de-stabilizing.9 He said that China’s naval development should be focusing on large surface warships such as carriers because the United States enjoys overwhelming superiority and would feel comfortable with Chinese carriers. In the meantime, Chinese carriers will increase China’s contribution to the international SLOC protecting campaign and help China improve its international reputation.

Between these opposing schools is the State Oceanic Administration (SOA). In the early 1980s the SOA helped Deng in guiding China back to the international community and complete the shift from an enclosed continental economy to a maritime one based on international trade. It also introduced into China the concept of international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).10 In the meantime, it ardently promoted the concept of “maritime territories” and planted concepts of China’s “maritime territory” in South and East China Seas into the minds of the public. In 2014, it supervised China’s island-making program in Spratly Islands. Perhaps because of its inconsistent roles in China’s efforts in internationalization, the SOA remains silent in the debates over China’s naval policy. Nevertheless, SOA’s South China Sea policy did not go without sharp criticism. Although the criticizers were Chinese diaspora, their sharp criticism was published in China.

Professor Bing Ling at the University of Sydney termed the behaviors of the Chinese government over the case of South China Sea Arbitration as “stupid” and “brutal.”11 It damaged China’s national interests and China’s international image contrary to international trends, thereby undermining China’s position in the territorial disputes there.

Professor Zheng Yongnian at the National University of Singapore linked China’s South China Seas policy and the resulting Sino-American tension with North Korea. He pointed out that North Korea superbly exploited the tension by testing its rockets and nuclear devices, trying to persuade China and the United States to acknowledge its nuclear status.12 It goes without saying that a nuclear North Korea is a severe menace to China’s national security. Because the Chinese government could not hide from the public the North Korea’s nuclear menace, it permits the public to discuss the North Korea issue. The discussions show that Chinese society is highly divided over North Korea.13

The division over North Korea among the Chinese public is a reflection of China’s multiple challenges in foreign affairs. Professor Wang Yizhou, the Dean of College of International Relations, Beijing University, attributed these challenges to China’s outdated governmental organization.14 Wang stated that China’s efforts to seek bigger roles in international affairs is justified, but as China is a beneficiary of the current international order, Wang proposed the idea of “creative engagements in international affairs.”15 In order to achieve this goal, Wang went further by saying that China had to start a campaign of social and political reforms in order to fit into the international community. This is a daunting task, Wang claimed, due to China’s vastness and social diversity, as well as its political institution that was established through revolutionary wars. “Most Chinese provinces are as large as mid-sized countries in the world while the gap between the coastal areas and the inland is as large as that between the West and the underdeveloped countries….This situation makes the national governance extraordinarily difficult. Outsiders are impressed by China’s rapid economic growth, China’s rise to the world second largest economy and staggering landscape changes in metropolitan areas such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. But few of them realized the simultaneous existences of three worlds in China and understand their pressure on China’s national leaders.”16 Dr. Li Cheng at the Brookings Institution had a similar observation. He stated that the Chinese leaders are playing a “great game”, trying to use their “achievements in foreign affairs to start reforms and new policies in order to alter the unsatisfactory domestic situation.”17

Conclusion

In conclusion, contrary to the diplomatic success that Li Cheng mentioned, China in 2016 suffered significant diplomatic setbacks over the issues of the South China Sea and North Korea’s nuclear program. Nevertheless, the history of Chinese Communist Party shows that Chinese Communist leaders are more willing to reform in the aftermath of setbacks. Deng Xiaoping’s reform came from Mao’s devastating Cultural Revolution. His success lay in his leadership that guided toward China returning to the international community. This means that the SLOC is essential to Chinese economy. The combination of Chinese leaders’ insufficient comprehension of seapower with the issues of Taiwan and South China Sea resulted in the PLAN’s blue-water navy program. They did not realize the potential impacts of its blue-water navy on international politics and China’s domestic situation until its maritime neighbors felt threatened. China’s international position is therefore rapidly deteriorating. This situation is not serving China’s long-term national interests. A reform is necessary. The recent debates on China’s naval and maritime policy illustrate Chinese researchers’ efforts to help their national leaders find solutions to the unprecedented challenges to national security. In addition to the wild card of North Korea, among these challenges are the dilemmas of China’s dependence on SLOC without command of the sea, the uneasy compromise between capitalism with authoritarianism, and the fragile links in-between.

The COTS (Concept of Total Security), the theme of Xi’s speech on national security on 17 February 2017, is a synthesis of various concerns. Through his elaborated words, he addressed his priority of concerns in the year of 2017 while encouraging all the competing schools to continue their ongoing debates on China’s maritime and naval policies. As its history shows, the PRC’s survival is dependent on the subtle balance of its maritime and continental interest and the least costly approach to reaching a balance is through debates.

Dr. Sherman Xiaogang Lai is an adjunct assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, Royal Military College of Canada (RMC). Before he immigrated to Canada in 2000, he served as a frontline foot soldier in China’s war against Vietnam, UN military observer, and researcher in history and military strategy in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army during 1987-1997. The views expressed in this article are his own.

References

1. Sergei Troush, “China’s Changing Oil Strategy and its Foreign Policy Implications,” Brookings, 1 September 1999 (https://www.brookings.edu/articles/chinas-changing-oil-strategy-and-its-foreign-policy-implications/); National Bureau of Statistics of the People’s Republic of China, “Considerations on the strategy of China’s oil security,” (关于中国石油安全战略的思考), 11 September 2003  (http://www.stats.gov.cn/tjzs/tjsj/tjcb/zggqgl/200309/t20030911_37418.html)An Qiyuan (安启元), “An Urgent Task: Establishing a Strategy Reserve System of Oil,” (构建石油战略储备体系迫在眉睫), 2003 (http://www.people.com.cn/GB/paper2515/9528/880782.html); Zhang Wenmu (张文木), “China needs a powerful navy to protect its oil security,” (中国需要强大海军护卫石油安全), Liaowang Weekly 18 December 2003 ( http://www.china.com.cn/chinese/zhuanti/xxsb/547804.htm); Zhu Xingshan (朱兴珊), “War tests China’s oil security,” (战争考验中国石油安全), 2003 (http://www.people.com.cn/GB/paper81/9347/866466.html); Zhu Xingshan, “South Asia is Shocked: China will step aside Malacca Strait through constructing a canal through Thailand (中国撇开马六甲开凿泰运河将震动南亚), Zhou Yonggang (周勇刚),”Experts Analysis and Appeals: the Caspian Setback, Sino-Russian Deal and Adjustment of China’s Oil Strategy,” (专家析里海折戟与中俄突破 吁调整中国石油战略), 14 November 2003 (http://auto.sohu.com/73/84/article215608473.shtml).

2. “Full Expectations for Sin-Russian Cooperation in Energy,” (充满期待中的中俄能源合作),Radio Hunan (湖南广播在线), 27 April 2006.

3.  In addition to the publication of a collection of Mahan’s articles and book chapters in 1997 mentioned above, the following is the chronology of the publication of Mahan’s works in China.

  • The influence of sea power upon history (海权对历史的影响) (Beijing: Jiefangjun chubanshe, 1998 and reprint in 2014)
  • The Problem of Asia: Its Effect Upon International Politics (亚洲问题及其对国际政治的影响) (Shanghai: Sanlian shudian. 2007).
  • Naval Strategy (海军战略) (Beijing: Shangwu yingshuguan, 2009).
  • Big Power and Seapower (大国海权) (Nanchang: Jiangxi renmin chubanshe, 2011).
  • On Seapower (海权论) (Beijing: Tongxing chubanshe, 2012).
  • On Seapower (海权论) (Beijing: Dianzi gongye chubanshe, 2013).
  • Sea power in its relations to the war of 1812 (海权与1812年战争的关系) (Beijing: Haiyang chubanshe, 2013).
  • Influence of sea power upon the French revolution and empire (海权对法国大革命和帝国的影响) (Beijing: Haiyang chubanshe, 2013)
  • Influence of sea power upon history (1660-1783) (海权对历史的影响) (Beijing: Haiyang chubanshe, 2013).

4. Zhang Wei (张炜), A Short Introduction of Alfred T Mahan’s The Influence of Seapower Upon History, 1660-1783 (影响历史的海权论: 马汉 海权对历史的影响(1660-1783)浅说) (Beijing: Junshikexue chubanshe, 2000); Zhang Wei, Big Powers’ Statecraft (大国之道) (Beijing: Beijing University Press, 2011); Zhang Wei, “The Use of Beiyang Navy and China’s Traditional Strategic Culture,” (北洋海军的运用与中国战略文化传统), 4 March 2014, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, (http://cn-www.mediaresearch.cn/zt/zt_xkzt/zt_lsxzt/lsxzt_jwj/jw_jsp/jspyt/201403/t20140304_1018814_2.shtml)

5. Xu Qiyu (徐弃郁), “Reflections on Some Misleading Aspects of Seapower” (“海权的误区与反思”), Strategy and Management (战略与管理) 5 (2003): 17.

6. Xu Qiyu, “A Study of the Dilemmas of Big Powers during their Rises,” PhD dissertation, Graduate School of Chinese Academy of Social Science, 2007, 112.

7. Ke Cunqiao (柯春桥), “Five Major Lessons in Germany’s Strategy Transition prior to 1914” (“一战前德国战略调整五大教训”), Cankao xiaoxi (News for Reference) (8 July 2014): 13.

8. Ke Cunqiao, “Big Powers should learn from the lesson of ‘Syndrodom of Rising Power’.” (大国应对 “崛起综合征”经验教训), Cankao xiaoxi, 25 August 2016 (http://www.cankaoxiaoxi.com/world/20160825/1281068.shtml)

9. Wu Zhengyu (吴征宇), “Combined Powers of Seapower and Landpower” (“海权与陆海复合型强国”), World Economics and Politics (世界经济与政治) 2 (2012): 49–50. 

10. Sherman Xiaogang Lai and Joel J. Sokolsky, “A New Dimension in Sino-American Security: Chinese and United States Interests in the Arctic.” Bulletin on the International Studies on the Arctic Regions 3, No.3 (2014): 8-26.

11. Lin Bing (凌兵), “Why Does China’s Rebuke of the International Tribunal on the South China Sea Damage Its Own Interests?” (为什么中国拒绝南海仲裁有损中国的权益?), Talks in Shanghai in December 2015, https://commondatastorage.googleapis.com/letscorp_archive/archives/107426

12. Zhong Yongnian (郑永年), “North Korea: China’s Thorn in Flesh,” (中国的朝鲜半岛之痛), Veritas, 9 September 2016.  (http://dxw.ifeng.com/dongtai/340/1.shtml); Zheng Yongnian, “China cannot let North Korea Hold its Nose toward Catastrophe,” (中国不能被朝鲜牵着鼻子拖入灾难), 20 September 2016 (http://mp.weixin.qq.com/s?__biz=MzA4Nzk2NzEwNA==&mid=2651875583&idx=1&sn=db37730d7151dc7ca85c072e16e54a8a#rd)

13. “The Six Divergent Opinions on North Korea’s Nuclear Program in the Chinese Academia and their Controversies,” (中国学界关于朝核问题的六种看法极其争论), 8 January 2016, WIC ( http://www.siciwi.com/Item/Show.asp?m=1&d=5493); Du Baiyu (杜白羽), “Facing North Korea’s Program: Dialogues Work Better than Sanctions,” (应对朝核问题:需要制裁更需对话), Asia Pacific Daily, 19 September 2016 (https://read01.com/An5DDP.html); Wen Jing and Guo Qi (文晶and 郭琪), “Our Major Misunderstanding of North Korea: An Interview of Dean Jiang Qingguo (贾庆国) of the College of International Studies, Beijing University, “(我们认识朝鲜的三大误区),  Sina Xinwenzhongxing, 27 August 2016 (http://news.sina.com.cn/w/2016-08-27/doc-ifxvixer7324757.shtml); “Increasing numbers of Chinese people regard North Korea as a bad neighbor,” (越来越多中国人正在转变对朝鲜看法), Opinion Huanqiu, 15 February 2016 (http://opinion.huanqiu.com/editorial/2016-02/8536686.html); Shi Yinghong (时殷弘), “How could China balance its core interests in Korea Peninsula?” (中国如何平衡朝鲜半岛局势各项核心利益?) Zhengzhixue yu guoji guanxi luntan (Forum of Politics and International Relations), 20 July 2016 (http://mp.weixin.qq.com/s?__biz=MjM5NDMzNTk2MA==&mid=2659702589&idx=5&sn=bc0754fe63e3ec827c14ba6697d406f5&scene=0#wechat_redirect)

14. Wang Yizhou (王逸舟), “Challenges in coordination from programs of international assistance to emergent evacuation: What could we do?” (从援外到撤侨屡遇部门协调新难题, 怎么破?), The Paper, 28 December 2015 (http://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1414113); Wang Yizhou, “Four Key Words of Social Restructure to Redefine China’s Diplomacy in Transition,”(社会构造四大关键词重新定义中国转型期外交), The Paper, 24 December 2015 (http://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1412185)   

15. Wang Yizhou (王逸舟), Creative Engagements: China’s Diplomacy in Transition (创造性介入: 中国外交的转型) (Beijing: Beijing University Press, 2015).

16. Wang, “Four Key Words of Social Restructure to Redefine China’s Diplomacy in Transition,” http://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1412185

17. Li Chen (李成), “China’s Strategy in 2015: Double Game and Great Game,” (中国策:双盘棋局、宏图略展), 25 December 2015, Brookings, (https://www.brookings.edu/zh-cn/opinions/2015%E4%B8%AD%E5%9B%BD%E7%AD%96%EF%BC%9A%E5%8F%8C%E7%9B%98%E6%A3%8B%E5%B1%80%E3%80%81%E5%AE%8F%E5%9B%BE%E7%95%A5%E5%B1%95/)

Featured Image: The Chinese Navy replenishment ship Qinghaihu in front of the frigates Hengshan (rear L) and Huangshan (rear R) in Valletta’s Grand Harbor, March 26, 2013. (Reuters/Darrin Zammit Lupi)

The Evolution of Chinese National Security Debates on Maritime Policy, Pt. 1

The following two-part series will delve into the evolution of China’s national security debates pertaining to maritime security. Part One will focus on changes and trends during Deng Xiaopeng’s administration and the immediate post-Cold War era. Part Two will analyze Chinese maritime policy debates going into the modern era.

By Sherman Xiaogang Lai

In his recent speech on China’s security policy on 17 February 2017, Xi Jinping, the General-Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) reiterates his Concept of Total Security (COTS, Zongti anquan guan) that he announced for the first time in April 2014.1 The COTS is a call for a kind of balanced approach to China’s post-Cold War security dilemmas that comes out of the country’s varied domestic and international security interests. On the top of Xi’s priority list is the balance between China’s continental and maritime interests, an ongoing intensive subject of debates involving a wide range of Chinese agencies from the military to civilian universities.2 At one end of the debates are rhetorical nationalistic outcries while at the other end are well-considered proposals. These polarized arguments came from fundamental socio-economic changes from when Deng Xiaoping started his market-oriented reforms at the end of the 1970s. They reflect a series of challenges that the Chinese government is facing. A review of these debates could help us identify not only the changes to Chinese national leaders’ priorities but also some of their underlying reasons. As Chinese research institutions are behind the changes, a review of the evolution of debates reveals some dynamics and developments within China’s research institutions. It would therefore help us understand China’s current security dilemma in maritime affairs and Chinese researchers’ intellectual restraints in finding solutions to the dilemma. As Deng’s reforms was the seed of this dilemma, it is necessary to review the impacts of Deng’s reform on China’s national security first.   

Deng’s Reforms, the Security Dilemma and the Ban Lift

Deng’s reforms saved the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from the same fate of the Soviet Union through re-entering the international community and the world market. Thirty years after the start of the reforms, the People’s Republic has become the world’s second largest economy in 2010. In the meantime, however, Chinese leaders find that their country is falling into a security dilemma.3 On the one hand, China’s well-being is dependent on its overseas trade. This means that China has shared interests with the United States and other countries in the security of Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC). And it serves China’s interests for China to develop a blue-water navy in order to contribute more to the international naval campaign of SLOC protection. But on the other hand, some legacies of China’s imperial and revolutionary past are pushing the country toward confrontation against its maritime neighbors and the United States. Among these outstanding legacies are the issues of Taiwan4 and China’s territorial disputes with countries around the South China Sea.5 Many of these countries are dependent on the presence of the United States to negotiate with China. Because Japan’s SLOC go through the South China Sea and close to Taiwan, these issues concern Japan’s security. Japan reinforces its ties with South China Sea countries with the tacit support of the United States. A formidable maritime coalition is therefore formed. To make the situation worse is the wild card of North Korea. Although China saved North Korea in 1950 and has been the latter’s quiet patron, Pyongyang does not trust Beijing, especially after China established diplomatic relations with South Korea in 1993.6 North Korea’s nuclear program not only poses a direct threat to China’s Northeast, but also led to the deployment of the American THAAD system that undermines the credibility of China’s missiles forces against Taiwan and the U.S. forces that might come to its rescue.

Facing these unprecedented and complicated security issues, the Chinese government quietly lifted its ban on discussions on national security among the Chinese public. This lift resulted in a flood of publications. Many of them came from government-funded research projects.7 A few are from the Chinese diaspora. The Chinese public’s involvement in the discussion of China’s national security added a group of new players in the process of policymaking and implementation. Until this quiet lift of the ban in the mid-1990s, the discussions were restricted within the military and the relevant government agencies. Because the Chinese government altered research institutions after the Cold War, a brief review of China’s institutional evolution and historiography on maritime and naval affairs would help understand the reasons of this change and this change’s relations with current debates. 

The pre-1992 Research Institution in China

China did not have a public community of defense and security thinkers until the mid-1990s.8 Although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), the Ministry of State Security (MSS) and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had their institutes of research and enjoyed support from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, these highly bureaucratized institutes were extensions of the executive branches of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Few researchers questioned CCP leaders’ decisions. The PLA monopolized strategic and military studies and was indulged in its victory over the Nationalists and its achievements during the Korean War. Few PLA researchers had incentives to do independent research. Nor did they have necessary skills such as foreign language skills. Because the PLA was modeling the Soviet Red Army, the Academy of Military Science (AMS), the PLA’s principal research institute, had more researchers with Russian language skills instead of English until the early 1990s.9 Therefore, China’s defense study had been a hybrid discourse of the Soviet military doctrines and Maoist doctrines of revolutionary warfare. Soviet military publications were the PLA’s principal intellectual source. As Russia/Soviet Union was a land power and had few mentionable naval victories, it was not surprising that seapower was downplayed. The same situation occurred in China. Although Admiral Sergei Gorshkov’s works were translated almost immediately into Chinese after they were published in the 1970s,10 it was not until 1978 when some of Alfred T. Mahan’s views were introduced into China in Maoist discourse.11 In the same year, Deng started his market-oriented reforms and altered the dynamics of PLA’s naval studies. In April 1979, Deng appointed General Ye Fei as the commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). In addition to the daunting task to cleaning-up the devastating factional struggles within the PLAN, Deng asked Ye to consider China’s naval strategy. He told him that he did not want a blue-water navy, which always reminded him of the West’s invasions.12

In 1982, Deng replaced Ye of poor health with General Liu Huaqing, a veteran of the CCP’s revolutionary wars and a graduate of a Soviet naval academy. Liu, who was later dubbed as “China’s Gorshkov,”13 continued Ye’s unfinished task of exploring a proper strategy for the PLAN. As early as 1969, Liu served as a PLAN’s deputy chief of staff responsible for shipbuilding affairs. He had recognized that foreign trade was increasingly important to the Chinese economy and China would need a blue-water navy, even aircraft carriers, to protect its SLOC.14 In order to have necessary intellectual support, Liu, with Deng’s approval, established the PLAN’s Institute of Naval Affairs (INA) in 1985. The INA served Liu’s drive for a naval strategy and aircraft carriers. In 1987, Liu and the PLAN submitted a formal proposal for a PLAN strategy to the Central Military Commission (CMC), the commanding agency of China’s armed forces.15 But Deng did not approve the proposal and suspended the discussion on China’s naval strategy. However, in the meantime, he promoted Liu into the CMC and asked him to take charge of the PLA’s equipment affairs. By the time of Liu’s promotion, the Cold War was coming to an end, and the CMC began considering transforming toward the post-Cold War era. But the following discussions were strictly restricted to a few PLA senior officers. In 1991, three years after Liu’s promotion, the First Gulf War broke out and ended with an overwhelming Western victory that surprised the CMC.

General Zhang Zheng’s Reform (1993)

The First Gulf War demonstrated to the Chinese leaders and public that the Soviet and Maoist military doctrines were outdated, and the United States enjoyed comprehensive military superiority over China. The PLA would be in a disadvantageous situation if Taiwan’s efforts for de jure independence led to war. By that time, Chinese leaders had hardly taken into account the prospect of Taiwan’s de jure independence because the Chinese Nationalists were ruling the island. In the meantime, China and the West had a common enemy of the Soviet Union. As Taiwan was in rapid democratization and the Soviet Union no longer existed, the prospect of Taiwan’s independence became imminent. In response to the challenges across the Taiwan Strait, Deng, in 1992, ordered General Zhang Zheng, then 78 years old, to develop a new military strategy.16 The outcome of Zhang’s efforts was the Military Strategic Guideline of the New Era (MSGNE). The PLA’s focus of attention then began shifting from continental defense to a potential war across the Taiwan Strait.

Zhang was open-minded. He acknowledged frankly to the PLA’s entire officer corps in many speeches that the West had left the PLA behind not only in equipment but also in military theories and doctrines. In order to promote research, he ordered the PLA to open its doors to graduates from civilian universities, a practice that was suspended after the Tiananmen Incident in 1989. Zhang’s new policy also encouraged the PLA’s young researchers to work on maritime and naval issues. One of them was Pi Mingyong, the current director of a research department of the AMS. He proved that the Chinese imperial and Republican governments had done their best to protect China’s maritime interests.17 The concept of seapower then began entering into the PLA’s thinking about future conflicts.18 In 1997, a collection of Mahan’s articles and book chapters were translated and published in Beijing.19 These were the first translated publications of Mahan’s works in China.

 While General Zhang encouraged the PLA to develop its intellectual power to meet the post-Gulf War challenges, the Gulf War also provoked Chinese public’s interest in military affairs. Commercial markets for military publications expanded tremendously. Publishers approached AMS researchers for manuscripts. At that time, PLA researchers including those in AMS were underpaid. AMS leaders had been tacitly permitting, even encouraging their researchers to work for extra income.20 The coincidence of General Zhang’s new policy and the market drive therefore altered the dynamics of research inside and outside of the PLA.

Part Two will analyze Chinese maritime policy debates going into the modern era.

Dr. Sherman Xiaogang Lai is an adjunct assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, Royal Military College of Canada (RMC). Before he immigrated to Canada in 2000, he served as a frontline foot soldier in China’s war against Vietnam, UN military observer and researcher in history and military strategy in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army during 1987-1997. The views expressed in this article are his own.

References

1. “Xi Jinping called and chaired a seminar on national security affairs,” (习近平主持召开国家安全工作座谈会), Xinhua, 17 February 2017 (http://news.xinhuanet.com/politics/2017-02/17/c_1120486809.htm ); Xi Jinping (习近平:坚持总体国家安全观 走中国特色国家安全道路), 15 April 2014, Xinhua, (http://news.xinhuanet.com/politics/2014-04/15/c_1110253910.htm); Liu Jianfei, “The Concept of Total Security,”(总体国家安全观:理论指导和根本方法), Xuexi shibao, 3 May 2016, (http://theory.people.com.cn/n1/2016/0503/c376186-28319452.html).

2. See: Sherman Xiaogang Lai,  “China’s Post-Cold War Challenges and the Birth of its Current Military Strategy,” Journal of Military and Strategic Studies 16.4 (2016):183-209; Zhang Li and Ren Linlan (张丽任灵兰), “A Review of the Study of Maritime History in China in the Last Five Years” (“近五年来中国的海洋史研究”), World History (世界历史) 1 (2011): 118–27; Xu Qiyu, “A Study of the Dilemmas of Big Powers during their Rises,” PhD dissertation, Graduate School of Chinese Academy of Social Science, 2007, p. 112. 98 Wu Zhengyu (吴征宇), “Combined Powers of Seapower and Landpower” (“海权与陆海复合型强国”), World Economics and Politics (世界经济与政治) 2 (2012): pp. 49–50; Ke Chunqiao (柯春桥), “Historical Lessons of Big Powers’ Responses to ‘Syndromes of Rising,’(大国应对“崛起综合征”经验教训), Cankaoxiaoxi, 25 August 2016, (http://www.cankaoxiaoxi.com/world/20160825/1281068.shtml).

3.  Graham Allison, “Thucydides’s trap has been sprung in the Pacific,” Financial Times 21 (2012); Xi Jinping, “Rising China should avoid Thucydides’s trap,” (习近平:中国崛起应避免陷修昔底德陷阱), Fenghuang1 January 2014 (http://news.ifeng.com/mainland/detail_2014_01/24/33325262_0.shtml)

4. U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2016, pp. 86-88 (https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2016%20China%20Military%20Power%20Report.pdf)

5. Eric Hyer, The Pragmatic Dragon: China’s Grand Strategy and Boundary Settlement (Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press, 2015), pp. 237-262.

6. Zhang Tingyan (张庭延), “Kim Il-song’s ominous comments on China’s establishment of diplomatic relations with South Korea,” (中韩建交,金日成对中国说出惊人之语), Fenghuang, 10 August 2009 (http://v.ifeng.com/zt/zhongguochaoxianhanguo/)

7. Why does Jingping pay extra attention to the ‘building of new-type think tanks’?”  (习近平为何特别强调“新型智库建设”?), 29 October 2014, Renmin wang (http://theory.people.com.cn/n/2014/1029/c148980-25928251.html)

8. David Shambaugh, “International Relations Studies in China: History, Trends, and Prospects,” International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, Volume 11 (2011), pp. 339–372

9. The author served in this unit during 1987-1997.

10. Ge’ershikefu (戈尔什科夫), Navies in War and Peace (战争与和平时期的海军) (Beijing: Sanlian chudian, 1974); See also: Robert G.Weinland, Robert W. Herrick, Michael MccGwire and James M.McConnell, “Admiral Gorshkov’s ‘Navies in War and Peace,” Survival, Volume 17, No.2 (1975): 54-63.

11. Feng Chengbo and Li Yuanliang (冯承柏, 李元良).  “Alfred Mahan and his Seapower Theory (马汉的海上实力论).” History Studies (历史研究), No.2 (1978):72-83

12. Wu Dian Qing (吴殿卿), “Ye Fei” (“叶飞”), in Leading Generals of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (中国人民解放军高级将领传), Vol. 7 (Beijing: Jiefangjun chubanshe, 2007). See also Sherman Xiaogang Lai, “Ensured Loyalty versus Professionalism at Sea: A Historical Review of the PLA Navy (1949–1982)” (paper presented at the annual meeting of Chinese Military History Society 2016, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 14 April 2016).

13. You Ji, The Armed Forces of China (London: I.B. Tauris & C Lit, 1999) from Peter Howarth, China’s Rising Sea Power: The PLA Navy’s Submarine Challenge (London: Routledge, 2006): 126

14. Liu Huaqing’s Memoir (刘华清回忆录) (Beijing: Jiefangjun Chubanshe, 2004), 349.

15. Liu Huaqing’s Memoir, 431 and 439.

16. Lai, “China’s Post-Cold War Challenges and the Birth of its Current Military Strategy,” p.199.

17. Pi Mingyong (皮明勇), “Seapower Concepts and Theories of Naval Development in late-Qing China,” (海权论与清末海军建设理论), Studies of Modern History (近代史研究), No.3 (1994): 37-47; Pi Mingyong, “A Review of Theoretical Exploration to China’s Naval Strategies and Tactics in the early Republican China,” (民国初年中国海军战略战术理论述论), Military History (军事历史研究), No.5 (1994):101-108.

18. Zhang Zongtao (张宗涛). “Alfred Mahan and his Seapower Theory (马汉及其’海权论’). Military History, No.6 (1993): 42-43; Xiao Defang (肖德芳). “Alfred Mahan’s Theory and the Evolution of the Maritime Strategies of the United States and Japan (马汉理论与美日海上战略演变).” Journal of Yibin Teachers College. No. 3 (1993): 70-74; Zhang Xiaolin and Liu Yijian (张晓林 刘一健). “Alfred Mahan and his The Influence of Seapower Upon History (马汉与海上力量对历史的影响).” Military Historical Research, No.3 (1995):121-134; Qi Qizhang (戚其章). “The Command of Sea and the Outcome of the First Sino-Japanese War (从制海权看甲午海战的结局).” Dong Yue Tribune (东岳论丛), No.4 (1996): 91-97;

19. Alfred T Mahan, Haiquan lun (海权论) (Naval Strategy: Compared and Contrasted with the Principles and Practice of Military Operations on Land (Beijing: Zhongguo yanshi chubanshe, 1997).

20. The author’s experience. A PLA captain’s monthly salary in 1992 was around RMB 300 while the official exchange between USD and RMC was around 1:5.5. But the exchange rate in black market in Beijing was around 1: 8. A couple of PLA junior officers could not raise their nuclear family of three in Beijing. See: Pi Mingyong reminded the PLA and CCP leaders of the severe impacts of underpaying servicemen by using an example of the late Qing China. See: Pi Mingyong, “An Exploration into Servicemen’s Financial Situation,” (晚清军人的经济状况初探), Studies of Modern History (近代史研究), No.1 (1995): 11-35

Featured Image: PLA Navy warships (Reuters/Stringer)