Read between the lines of Beijing’s message

Md Sharif Hasan
Published : 19:02, Aug 07, 2019 | Updated : 19:16, Aug 07, 2019

Md. Sharif HasanGlobal military competition is on the rise and China believes it's lagging behind the USA. Beijing has outlined its defense plans that include a modern and advanced army. Beijing says the US. has increased its defense budgets, modernized its weapons, and developed its capability in cyberspace - and space itself.
And the Chinese government wants to catch up. Now it's detailed how it intends to do just that. In a national defense paper released recently, Beijing has declared it wants greater modernization of its armed forces and weapons. It says its ambitious plans are peaceful, but they may change if Taiwan tries to declare its independence from the mainland. China's defense ministry has warned it is ready to go to war to safeguard its national unity and take all necessary measures to defeat those it calls 'separatists'.
The White Paper is a strong political statement. It doesn't represent any real strategies or surprises for strategy analysts. But, it’s a very strong political statement in so far as how China perceives its regional and international environment, how it sees the role played by US as counterproductive and regionally destabilizing .
It signals China's new determination to take more concrete action when it comes to Taiwan. However, there are questions as to whether this is more of a diversionary tactic to shift public attention from its internal and domestic policies while quietly expanding its own influence overseas?
Analysts feel that certainly the domestic aspect has emerged as a top priority issue on Beijing's political agenda. If one looks at the 2015 Defense White Paper, issues relating to Taiwan, Tibet and Shenzen are not explicitly mentioned in detail. But, in this case, they have been incorporated into the tasks and missions of the Chinese military. So, it’s very clear that such matters have more importance for the Chinese party state. The other thing is that there’s added language with reference to maintaining political security and social stability.
One of the other big messages from this is that the US is undermining global stability. How exactly the us is doing this has been spelt out in the 2019 defense White Paper.
In Beijing’s view the U.S. is pursuing what it called hegemon-ism, threatening the security of others , to exercise a degree of power that is seized as illegitimately. The United States is increasingly antagonistic towards Beijing whether in the South China Sea or reference to Taiwan.
There is also the reinforcement of U.S. alliance networks and deployments in the region and beyond, it’s unilateralism, it’s enhancement of military capabilities. So, all of that threatens Beijing and IS perceived as potentially threatening China's national interests.
From the US perspective, Americans feel they are in the region because they’re asked to be there by its allies, the Japanese, the South Koreans, and the Australians. The US is there to protect them. For example, if the Chinese try and take over some of the islands that traditionally belonged to Japan, the US would prevent that. The US would come to the defense of Taiwan if the Chinese decided that they’ve waited long enough and they had to use force to take control of the island. So, US is there to provide the stability and the Chinese are the aggressors. It’s very interesting now US has tightened its ties with India. It’s no longer the Pacific Command , rather it’s the Indo-Pacific Command and India and China have been traditional rivals in the area.
We see two narratives here. From China’s perspective, the US is threatening global stability. From the U.S. point of view, they’re merely defending their allies in the region and China is becoming more of a destabilizing factor. Can both perceptions be true? Yes, China obviously sees its military modernization, its military investment , its non-military activities such as the Belt and Road initiative as steps aimed at building strategic and economic influence primarily.
All these go hand in hand and China’s strong development that we’ve seen in the past will continue. So, this White Paper is part of the process of laying down the foundation and explaining China’s position between the global powers. From the China’s perspective, it’s showing to the US that we’re here, we’re a dominant power in the region and we will continue and expand our power over the coming decade.
And, the lines it’s put in the sand with this White Paper in terms of Taiwan is a warning and one that will be understood in the US. But the US will obviously not stand back. So, there’ll be a requirement for diplomacy, for discussions and negotiations. And, there will be also threats and concerns about misunderstanding occurring somewhere in the region. So, it requires a certain level of diplomacy because neither of these two powers, the US and China are going away anytime soon from the region and beyond.
It gives rise to the questions: how likely are we to see some kind of military intervention because already US and China are in the middle of a trade war given that neither side is willing to back down? Does this increase a risk of military confrontation?
One can conjecture that one reason why that has not happened is because there’s an understanding that what’s happening at the moment in certainly in areas like South China Sea where China’s military power has grown to such an extent that its deterrence has also grown. This means the chances of military engagement have decreased. So, China’s military power has increased to such an extent that chances of any real military conflict with other countries have probably decreased. However, not with the US and that’s where the complication is and the real danger is misunderstandings, miscalculations about patrols etc are an area of concern. Diplomacy will be a key a aspect going forward to these two nations.
Xi Jinping has made it abundantly clear that China is looking for a service power status when it comes to its military force. The White Paper clearly highlights that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is not where Beijing wants it to be, acknowledges that tremendous modernization and reform has already happened. But, it also says that it still lags behind world's leading militaries. And, that’s what China’s military were working towards and it’s got milestones in 2020, 2035  with a view to become world leading military by 2050. Indeed, we’re looking at China’s pursuit of that military superstardom. It’s another matter to evaluate whether that’s possible in the timeframe given by Xi Jinping.
Md. Sharif Hasan teaches International Relations at University of Rajshahi.

***The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions and views of Bangla Tribune.