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The Chinese Military’s Historic Position and Current Issues

On October 26, 2009, Study Times, the official publication of the Party School of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, published an article entitled “The Chinese military’s historic position and current issues.” [1]. The article states that “Chinese military is now at a special period defined by four stages,” while listing the “three complex strategic relationships China’s military faces,” and “three major current issues China’s military [should] focus on tackling.” However, the final conclusion of the article is to “insist on using the party’s innovative theory to guide the army,” “always put ideological and political buildup in the first place for the army,” and “unswervingly uphold the party’s leadership over the military.” The following is a summary of this article.

Analyzing the changing and developing environment is a basic premise of research on and finding solutions for all the contemporary issues the Chinese military faces. From now into the near future, under both domestic and international forces, the Chinese military is at a special period defined by four stages.

(A) A stage in which the military faces the challenge of transformation
At the beginning of the 21st century, the new military transformation gradually entered into a phase of qualitative change. Under its impact, international competition has become more intense in the military field; major countries around the world further have accelerated the pace of military transformation. In a struggle for world hegemony and a full range of military superiority, the U.S. has accelerated its implementation of the global military strategic adjustment and military transformation. Russia has also speeded up its military reform in recent years, with significant success in modernizing weaponry and professionalizing the armed forces. Britain, France, Germany and neighboring countries, including India, Japan, and South Korea have also adopted an array of new measures in the military. Driven by the new global military revolution, the modern military will continue to change in weaponry, combat models, organizational structure, and military theory. Information technology weapons will become a key factor in combat capability; new weapons will be developed at an accelerating speed; medium-to-long-range precision strikes will increasingly show the military’s power; non-linear, non-contact combat will become the main operational mode; the combat field will be multi-dimensional with land, sea, air and the electromagnetic field, with integrated joint operations becoming the basic form of combat; “network-centric warfare” and other new combat theories will gradually be applied to real combat, shaping the information warfare. Light, multi-functional, modular, intelligent forces are paving the way for future development, and an informationalized armed forces is entering the stage.

With the deepening of the new military transformation, the imbalance of global strategic forces will be intensified. In human history, the advantage of Western countries’ guns and cannons over swords and spears in Asian, African and Latin American countries has turned into that of Western countries’ information technology over the developing countries’ mechanized and semi-mechanized technology. This torrent of global military transformation poses a serious challenge to the Chinese army. To avoid the tragedy of swords and spears against guns and cannons, China must continue to accelerate the pace of its military transformation.

(B) A stage of broadened strategic missions

Eying the new historic conditions and new epochal requirements, Comrade Hu Jintao has proposed the military’s historic mission for the new century and new stage: “To provide solid assurance for the CCP to strengthen its ruling position, to provide a strong security guarantee for national development in this important strategic period, to provide strategic support for the expansion of national interests, and to safeguard world peace and play an important role in promoting joint development.”

In the new stage and the new century, the meaning and scope of China’s national security is continuously expanding, gradually from the “security of national sovereignty” to the “security of national interests,” from “three-dimensional space security” to “multi-dimensional space security,” from the traditional security field to political security, systemic security, economic security, science and technological security, social security, cultural security, information security, ideological security, military security and many other arenas. Generally speaking, China is endowed with a good environment and conditions for peaceful development; however national security issues are becoming more comprehensive, complex and volatile in nature. Many threats are intertwined:  traditional security threats and non-traditional security threats, realistic threats and potential threats, military security forms and other security forms, domestic security issues and international security issues, which together constitute the overall situation of China’s national security. In such a complex security situation, military security is in a particularly important position. The missions and tasks of the military must evolve with the development of the country, and extend with the expansion of the national strategic interests.

(C) A stage of complicated environment for military buildup

China’s military forces are operating in China’s overall environment. The contemporary social reform has entered into a crucial phase, characterized by the “restlessness of modernization.” During this period, some deep conflicts that accumulated during the reform and opening up are prominent. Various ideologies and cultures clash; all kinds of social conflicts interact; industrial structures rapidly adjust; the social fabric dramatically changes; the gap between rich and poor further widens; and unstable factors in society increase. Compared with other developed countries, China is unique because social transformation and institutional transition started at the same time. Economic, social, political, cultural, and ecological conflicts are intertwined and complicated, making China a typical high-risk society. … Revolution in military affairs is not taking place in a vacuum, but rather in a complex social environment. All kinds of unhealthy social thoughts and trends will inevitably be reflected in the military sphere to varying degrees. In addition, the outside hostile forces view the army as a great barrier to its strategic schemes to “westernize” or “divide” China. They advocate “separating the military and the party,” “depoliticizing the army,” and “nationalization of the military.” In essence, they attempt to corrupt our military forces ideologically and politically, and to separate our army from the party’s leadership, in order to subvert our country’s socialist system and the Communist Party’s ruling status. The above factors indicate that we are in a stage of complicated environment for military buildup.

(D) A stage of looming internal conflicts

In response to the serious challenge of the global military transformation, China initiated military reform with Chinese characteristics on a relatively weak foundation. Chinese military forces entered a time of major restructuring, showing conflicts and characteristics inherent to a typical transformation period, which can be summarized as follows: the old system is broken; the new system has not yet formed; weapons and equipment, operational theory, personnel structure, organizational structure, and education and training are all undergoing a major transition. Both old and new conflicts are intertwined; deep-rooted problems have surfaced; many have emerged and the emerging issues must be resolved; foreseeable or unforeseeable problems may occur at any time; and the task of reform or change is very heavy and arduous. Specifically speaking, the contemporary Chinese military is facing a series of conflicts and complex problems: conflict between backward scientific and technological personnel and weapons and equipment of a modern level, between the current military system and future development, between the military policy and developing a socialist market economy, and between the military’s capabilities and its mission. It is the Chinese military’s historic task to effectively solve a series of conflicts within the army buildup.
The above-mentioned “four stages” are intertwined, influencing and constraining each other. They constitute the coordinators of the new era for China’s military forces. In such a coordinated system, the contemporary Chinese military inevitably faces three complex strategic relationships.

(1) The coincidence of “double transformation”: military transformation and social change
The interaction of military transformation and social transition is an important “Chinese characteristic” that differentiates China from other countries, especially Western countries, China thus faces extremely complex issues that Western countries never faced. The military transformation in U.S.-led Western countries was carried out in a quite mature market economy and stable social environment, with the social risks associated with a period of the “restlessness of modernization” nonexistent. There was no significant conflict between military transformation and socio-economic transition; the transformation in these countries’ military field was “a single change.” In contrast, China’s military transformation is carried out in the macro environment of social changes, conflicts during military transformation, and conflicts during socio-economic transition interacting with each other. The nation is experiencing a “double transformation” in both the military field and the social system. In particular, the immature economic environment and unstable social environment during this period will inevitably have China’s military transformation facing a number of conflicts and issues that Western countries never encountered.

(2) The coexistence of the “dual task” of mechanization development and information technology buildup

From the perspective of China’s own military development under the current situation, the core issue to be solved is the modernization of China’s military. Modernization is a dynamic development concept, with different special implications in different time periods. The most essential feature of the current military modernization is information technology modernization, which is the strategic objective that militaries from all over the world strive to achieve during the global trend of military transformation. In the West, and in particular the U. S., its military transformation towards information technology modernization is taking place after its military has achieved a high degree of mechanization. Therefore, the U.S military only faces a “single task” of how to modernize the information technology. By contrast, China’s military hasn’t finished the mechanization part, but needs to move towards information technology modernization at the same time. Therefore, China’s military inevitably faces problems of “dual buildup.” This is one of most important features that China’s military has to face at the initial stage of transformation. It is a major problem that cannot be avoided by China’s military during its development.

(3) The “dual capacity” of winning wars and carrying out non-war military operations
The ability to win a war is an army’s core military capability, which is determined by the nature of the army’s functions. The top priority of the Chinese army’s buildup is to be able to win a war at all times. However, beginning from the 1990s, non-traditional security threats have increased significantly. They have become a major security threat to human society, and thus have raised new demands on the army’s military capabilities. Normally speaking, the concept of non-traditional security threats is in relation to traditional threats, which mainly refer to threats of war breakouts that a nation, an ethnic group, or a political group face, or even that the international community faces. Non-traditional security threats are threats, other than a war or a military threat, that any sovereign state and human society face for its survival and development. They include  threats involving institutional security, terrorism, major natural disasters, the outbreak of contagious diseases, economic and financial security, ecological security, energy and resource security, culture and information security, smuggling and drug trafficking, transnational crimes, and illegal immigration. Many of these threats are within the scope of or related to military operations. The military faces a series of new operation modes, including operations of anti-terrorism, maintaining stability, peacekeeping, disaster rescue, border control, protection of public transportation, international aid, evacuation and protection for overseas citizens, information support, and international joint military exercises. Thus, non-war military capability is an important parameter to measure the military’s capacity to deal with non-traditional security threats.

In the crisscross of history and reality, China’s military faces a series of complex strategic issues, which can be summarized in three topics.

(1) Scientifically coordinate both the military transformation and social transition, coordinate the reform and development of elements within military system against the background that both national economic and defense development have entered into a crucial stage.

In the current society, the army must face a reality: at the historic stage of social transition, the revolution in the military cannot exceed the range of what is allowed by the extent of social changes, and cannot cause any political or social instability. In this sense, tackling China’s military needs is no longer determined by the military’s own situation. Whether a number of major military policies can be timely issued is more dependent upon what is tolerated by the social transitions, especially the transitions at the current crucial stage. From the national level point of view, when important reforms are taking place in several major areas, how to handle the relationship between military transformation and social transition, so as to match the reforms in political, economic, and other areas, is an important issue that has to be resolved during China’s overall development and progress. If these problems cannot be correctly resolved, the process of national development and military buildup will both be seriously affected.
 At the same time, it’s necessary to scientifically coordinate various elements within the army system. Military buildup includes quite rich contents, the major issues being the development of four elements (weapons and equipment, military personnel, organizational structure, and combat theories). With the rise of the nation’s comprehensive power, and science and technology level, the army’s weapons and equipment have made a leap forward. However, it is worth noting that our armed forces may suffer losses or lead to historic tragedies in future operations by only focusing on the weapons and equipment while neglecting other aspects, or by not coordinating well with other factors. . . . Therefore, from a historic and practical point of view, being guided by the Concept of Scientific Development and comprehensively coordinating the development of the four elements is the basis for deepening military reform elements.
(2) The improvement of the armed forces’ capabilities to win the information warfare, and to carry out non-war operations against the background that the world’s military revolution is experiencing rapid development. National security is under multidimensional threats.

The ability to win wars and other military abilities are components of our military’s capacity to carry out diversified military tasks. Experience has proved that the ability to win the war is the basis of other military capabilities. Conversely, other military capabilities help empower the capacity to win the war. However, there are three main differences between the two. First, the objectives are different: the ability to win wars directly serves the purpose of war, and responding to traditional security threats, while other military capabilities serve other operations, mainly responding to non-traditional security threats. Secondly, the content is different: the core military capability buildup and other military capacity buildup are different in theoretical research, commanding system, strength buildup, organizational structure, equipment, and laws and regulations. Thirdly, requirements are different: under normal times, there are signs when a war is about to break out and opportunities for the military to prepare, while non-war military operations deal with sudden and emergent situations, focusing on the preparation on a daily basis and a quick response to emergencies.

The connection and contrast of the two military capacities requires that China’s armed forces must coordinate well between developing the capacity to win a war and the capacity to carry out other military tasks. Non-war military, based on being able to win a war, has its own special laws to follow, including theories, human resources, equipment, and combat tactics. It is necessary to highly emphasize researching the specialties of non-war military capacities due to its particular focus, policy, and profession. At the same time, one needs to avoid prioritizing the non-war military capacities to an improper level. Our military must deal with a variety of security threats, the primary being invasion, subversion, or secession. In other words, the traditional security threats are still major factors affecting national security and development. Overemphasis of the importance of non-war capacities and playing down war preparations may cause damage and irreparable loss to our nation and military forces.

(3) Ensure that our military is under the party’s command and at the service of the people, against the background of ever-deepening reform and opening up
First, insist on equipping the whole army with party’s innovative theory. Our army is a people’s army that is under the party’s absolute leadership, and under the party’s banner. It is our army’s infrastructure and long term strategic task to consistently equip the army with theory, to help officers and soldiers strengthen their ideals and beliefs, and to forge a strong spiritual backbone for our army, for the purpose of maintaining a firm and correct political direction for the advanced nature of the army.
Secondly, always put the ideological and political work as the top priority. Under the new circumstance, the social environment and conditions to carry out the ideological and political work have gone through profound changes, with the work’s areas, targets, and tasks being very different from before. The new situation thus requires to continue exploring and grasping the laws in the ideological and political work that fit the new age, and to do the job with more relevance, effectiveness, and initiative, so as to maximize its service to the army.
Thirdly, unswervingly adhere to the party’s leadership of the army and a series of fundamental systems. The highest military leadership and command orders come from the Central Committee of the Chinese Community Party and the Central Military Commission; the party committees at different levels within the military should adhere to the organizational principle of Democratic Centralism; (army units) should implement a unified collective leadership under the party committees; units above the regiment level should establish a political commissar and political organs; each company should have its own party branch. These elements constitute a rigorous, scientific, and integrated system to achieve the party’s integration with the military structure, implement the integration of the party’s leadership and the military’s administrative leadership, and provide a solid organizational assurance for the party to exercise it absolute leadership over the armed forces.

[1] Study Times, October 26, 2009