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Chinese security situation

July 30, 2010

TRAILOKYA RAJ ARYAL <trailokyaa@yahoo.com>
Republica (Nepal) 
July 29, 2010  

The character for country (guo) in the
traditional variant of Chinese characters is
quite interesting. The character when broken down
represents enclosure and a weapon to defend the
enclosure. This can be explained to mean that a
country has definite boundaries and it needs
weapons to protect it. This also explains why the
Chinese always put an emphasis on country’s
security and were one of the pioneers in the
field of military strategy. Sun Tzu’s Art of War,
written almost 2,600 years ago suggests the
rulers how to maintain territorial integrity and
domestic peace. According to Sun Tzu, the
greatest of victory is the one that is won without fighting a war.

Now that a new approach in understanding China is
getting popular among the students of Chinese
studies, one finds that the Chinese rulers have
always followed Sun Tzu’s advice and want to win
a war without ever fighting it as long as it is
possible. Thanks to the new theory in
understanding China’s relations with other
countries, known as the world-centric view, we
now have a better understanding of diplomacy of
imperial China. Unlike, the Sino-centric view of
the earlier pioneers of Chinese studies in the
West, which stated that China’s might made the
bordering states pay tribute to it, the new
world-centric view states that it was not
necessarily the case. The Chinese state was more
concerned with the activities of its neighbors,
and the tribute system, a misnomer, by the way,
was a brilliant diplomatic move. When the
tributary missions paid their tributes to the
emperor, the emperor would in return give them
more than the money paid in tributes and bestow
them with expensive gifts, and make sure the
diplomatic missions returned home happy. All that
Beijing court wanted was that the other states
did not create any problems in the border areas.
Therefore, it is safe to say that Chinese
diplomacy was guided by its geography from very
early on. Even today, Chinese diplomacy and
defense are guided by the activities in/around
its bordering states. But unlike in the past, the
neighboring countries are not expected to come to
Beijing and pay tributes, instead, China is
reaching out to its neighbors, through various
forums to discuss strategic and economic issues,
such as Asean Regional Forum, BOA Forum, Shanghai
Cooperation Organization and as an observer in
the SAARC. One only needs to look at China’s
neighbors to understand Chinese active engagement
with its neighboring countries.

China is probably the only emerging world-power
in the world that is surrounded by three nuclear
powers (Russia, India and Pakistan), two
potential nuclear powers (Japan and North Korea),
countries with political instability and
uncertainties (Nepal and Kyrgyzstan who happen to
border the most politically sensitive regions of
Tibet and Xinjiang respectively) and unresolved
historical and border issues with Japan (Second
World War atrocities and the dispute over
Diaoyutai islands), India, and some other
countries of South East Asia over the islands in
the South China sea. Unlike America whose
geographic position – i.e. Atlantic and Pacific
oceans separating it from Europe and Asia, and
friendly and militarily weak neighbors – works to
its advantage, China ‘s geographic position works
to its disadvantage. Of course risks of full
fledged wars between China and its neighbors or
other powers are miniscule now, thanks to China’s
extensive diplomatic involvement in the regional
forums and bilateral engagements with the
neighboring countries. No country wants to take
risks when it comes to its defense, and China is
no exception. These reasons explain why China has
to spend a significant amount of money to
maintain the largest army in the world, and to
procure and develop latest technologies for its army.

External threats notwithstanding, China faces
more internal threats. Possession of nuclear
weapons and intercontinental missiles such as
Dong Feng (DF) series whose latest model DF-41
has a 12,000 KM range, may work to its advantage
when dealing with other countries/traditional
security threats, but are useless when faced with
domestic threats. It cannot possibly use the
missiles or nuclear might when it comes to
protecting itself from terrorist and secessionist
activities emanating from its own borders. The
Chinese defense white paper released by the
Ministry of Defense in 2009 specifically mentions
the secessionist and terrorist activities in
Tibet, Taiwan and the majority Muslim province of
Xinjiang as its major national security threats.
Beijing strategists are particularly more
concerned about Taiwan because the issue is no
longer between China and Taiwan. By specifically
mentioning Taiwan as a mutual security concern in
the US-Japan security pact of 2005, these
countries have internationalized the issue and
have put a tremendous pressure on the Chinese to
make sure that Taiwan does not do anything to change the status quo.

Additionally, with the broadening of the idea of
national security, it is no longer limited to
security against external threats. Now, the
concept includes, economic security, information
security, fighting terrorism and even lessening
the impact of natural disasters. And one of the
biggest impediments to China ‘s development is
natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods.
Being a country with the largest population and
obviously having one of the highest population
densities (almost six sevenths of the population
lives in one third of the land; big provinces
such as Tibet, Xinjiang and Qinghai have extreme
weather conditions, and lack cultivable land),
earthquakes and floods pose a serious challenge
to its human and economic security. As a result,
China has changed its defense strategy. More
emphasis is placed on training the People’s
Liberation Army (PLA) for military operations
other than war (MOOTW), and emphasis is being
placed on making the PLA a defensive army.

PLA, was established as the army of the Communist
Party on Aug 1, 1927. Although in theory, it
still is the party’s army, but for Chinese and
foreigners alike, it is the national army of
China. 2.3 million-strong PLA has undergone many
changes since the reforms and opening up campaign
started by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s. One
of the four stated goals of opening up was
modernization of the defense forces. From that
point onward, R&D in military technologies has
been a major focus of the Chinese government.
China’s defense spending is also increasing. Some
analysts believe that the rise in China’s defense
spending has led to the rise in defense spending
in India and Japan, and if the trend continues,
there is a real danger of arms race in the region
which will not be in anybody’s interests.

Therefore, next week when the celebrations of
PLA’s 83rd anniversary will be over and when the
defense strategists sit down to review defense
strategy, they should, besides discussing the
ways to combat internal threats, also come up
with a policy of increasing the degree of
engagement with its neighbors on security issues.
Internationally, the focus has to be on assuaging
the fear of its military might among its
neighbors, and the ways to control arms race in
Asia to further minimize the possibility of
border skirmishes and full fledged wars. Just as
China is concerned about its neighbors’ military
development, its neighbors too are concerned
about its growing might. China’s neighbors should
be sensitive to China’s valid security concerns
and vice-versa to avoid any untoward situation in the region.

Like mentioned in the beginning, China has been
constructively engaging with its neighbors
individually and in various regional forums, but
both China and its neighboring countries need to
do more. Its neighbors should share any
intelligence information they have on anti-China
activities and expertise on lowering the risks of
natural disasters, and vice versa. Intelligence
sharing, organizing more joint military
exercises, promoting trade and cultural exchanges
can do wonders to solve the outstanding issues
between China and some of its neighbors. This
kind of constructive engagement will on the one
hand lower China’s internal security threats, on
the other hand, has the potential to end the arms
race in Asia in the long run especially between
India and China, which will be in everybody’s
advantage— more so to Nepal’s advantage because
of our location between them. Therefore, it’s
also our responsibility to make sure that
SAARC-China engagement is constructive and also
work toward establishing SAARC regional forum
with China as a member to discuss regional
security issues. The more talks, the more
engagements, the better for the countries of the region!
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