China’s 10th White Paper on Defence: Reading Between the Lines


China released its 10th White Paper on Defence, giving the world a front albeit curated view into the inner workings of its military strategy and concerns. While going through it, one must remain consistently aware that this document has been created solely for external consumption and attempts to create a specific narrative for the world[1]. Converted from Chinese, the English version is a 51-page document filled with exalted Chinese adages and slogans that claim that China’s entire line of defence thinking is a means to an end of worldwide peace[2]. Peace being the most prominent theme, is followed immediately by an undercurrent of a need for a strong defence, justifying all military and strategic developments in the name of the latter.

Re-emphasizing its peaceful yet defensive intensions, the White Paper outlines Xi Jingping’s achievements of modernizing and doing away with corruption in the People’s Liberation Army. It is important to note that Xi’s anti-corruption drive is a blanket term for the purges he carried out in the higher echelons of the army. Historically, each Chinese leader is known to purge the military and political leadership of those individuals that may not agree with his policies. Hence, there is no way of knowing whether the individuals purged were actually guilty of the crimes they were accused of[3]. In terms of modernization, China’s military outlook is to get rid of heavy machinery that would slow their troops down, by doing away with older prototypes and buying weaponry like the lighter tank 15 which is easier for deployment[4].

In tandem with current tensions, the United States has been identified as China’s most concerning competitor having “provoked and intensified competition among major countries, significantly increased its defence expenditure, pushed for additional capacity in nuclear, outer space, cyber and missile defence, and undermined global strategic stability[5].” Citing a long list of transgressions, China’s condemnation of the US extends from its deployment in South Korea to its NATO expansion towards Eastern Europe[6]. The 10th White Paper is China’s clear answer to the US unilateralism, to show itself poised to create a bipolar world, and continue its clash of ideologies with the United States. However, in its bid to portray its ‘peaceful’ intentions, China toes the line between peace and defence, promising to never seek hegemony as its ultimate goal is “common development[7]”. 

China’s white paper is also one of the few peepholes through which we can estimate how insecure it is about its various separatist movements. Taiwanese separatists are termed as the primary concern with China claiming that there are actually very few separatists in Taiwan “interference of outside powers[8]” being the main encouragement for the people. Even though there is increasing volatility in Xinjiang with increasing internment of Uighur Muslims, China placed Xinjiang after Tibet in its list of concerns. Furthermore, while the South China Sea remains a hotbed of conflict, it seems as though China is not worried about its claims in the region. Stating that all countries involved are in the process of developing a Code of Conduct, the Chinese believe the security threat has been contained.

While its relationship with Nepal does not factor in separately, China makes sure to highlight to the world that it has “set up defense and security consultations as well as working meeting mechanisms with 17 neighboring countries to keep exchange channels open[9].” Detailing the nature of these meetings, China cites more than 40 reciprocal military visits, several joint exercises, training on counter-terrorism, peacekeeping, and exchanges of tactical skill. All of these examples are then followed by the proclamation that its military ties with neighboring nations is “generally stable[10]”. Nepal is specifically mentioned in its relief work section providing a detailed overview of the PLA’s work after the earthquake. The report states, “The PLA sent 8 specialized teams totaling 1,088 people including rescue teams, medical and epidemic prevention teams, and transport teams to the affected area[11].”

Significantly, this White Paper also sheds some light on China’s plans of its immediate surroundings. In its statement that Asian-Pacific countries are “increasingly aware that they are members of a community with shared destiny[12],” a phrase such as a ‘shared destiny’ is conveniently vague and allows multiple interpretations. It is clear that China is the self-appointed leader of the region. With an increase in participation in the Shanghai Cooperation and dominance among the ASEAN countries, China is looking at regional dominance as the first step to counter the US Indo-pacific network. Thus, through this document, we can catch a glimpse of the official security and strategy of the Chinese government. That being said, since there is no alternative information source, we must take all facts and figures of the document with a pinch of salt. Only a nuanced reading of the document will reveal a layered understanding of Chinese interests and enable us to understand the unspoken strategic part of their defence plan.  

Author: Natasha Todi













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