Last month, China released its white paper on national defense, the eighth since Beijing began releasing the document in 1998. The white paper is invariably an exercise in frustration: China’s detractors are always disappointed by the document, unsatisfied with its contents and the many questions it leaves unanswered.
The Chinese government adopts an aggrieved tone in responses to questions that highlight its flaws rather than acknowledging the distance Beijing has traveled since it began the white paper process.
Defense white papers are intended to offer insight into a government’s security and defense policies. They provide transparency about planning and purposes by facilitating the understanding of the mind-set that guides national defense policy and identifying threats and challenges, and the specific measures taken to address them.
In a world characterized by multiple and complicated security threats and challenges — and the “arduous task to safeguard its national unification, territorial integrity and development interests” — that means the modernization of China’s military will continue.
To allay concerns about the expansion of those capabilities, the white paper insists that China’s foreign and defense policies are “defensive in nature.”
It reiterates the claim that “China will never seek hegemony or behave in a hegemonic manner, nor will it engage in military expansion.”
In a departure from previous editions, this year’s white paper provides actual numbers of military personnel, designations of the force organization and structure, and details of China’s missile forces.
According to the white paper, there are some 850,000 men and women in the People’s Liberation Army, organized in 18 corps and brigades under seven military area commands.
White papers are intended to provide context for defense thinking and spending, and answer the question “how much is enough?” This white paper does the first, but not the second.
The Japan Times, Tokyo