Rukmani Gupta
Date published on SAFPI: 
Monday, 22 April, 2013
Date published on source: 
Monday, 22 April, 2013
Source organisation: 
The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA)
Keyword tags: 

China’s Defense White Paper 2013: an assessment

New Delhi:  The first Defense White Paper released by China under the new leadership of Xi Jinping initially appears to follow the general trend set by the seven white papers published earlier. Even as it emphasizes the familiar “five principles of peaceful coexistence,” the “new security concept” and China’s commitment to peaceful development, it differs from its predecessors in small, but very significant ways. The first notable change is the very title.  From the bland heading of “China’s National Defense in –” this year’s White Paper has a thematic title “The Diversified Employment of China's Armed Forces.”

The sections are not as numerous as previous papers and conform broadly to theme suggested by the title. What this has meant for the contents is that, although the White Paper does for the first time give numbers of the forces in the various arms of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), it does not elaborate on the domestic systems for the transformation of a mechanized army to an informationised one.

The focus is on highlighting the activities of the armed forces, and the exercises, operations and joint-training programmes are adequately catalogued -  but do not present any new information. The White Paper on China’s National Defense in 2006 had put the number of PLA troops at 2.3 million. Subsequent White Papers did not give a comprehensive number. This latest document gives the figures for the PLA Army, PLA Navy and PLA Air Force as almost 1.5 million. The status of the 800,000 plus that were counted in the 2006 document is not explained. These obviously include officers and troops of the PLA Second Artillery Force and possibly others in research organizations. That there has been a reduction in total numbers is a safe assumption but where precisely reductions have been affected remains unclear. The figures provided are far from comprehensive and can hardly be considered a major step towards transparency.

Conspicuous by its absence is also any mention of China’s defence expenditure. As a document that purported to explain China’s thinking on national defence, especially to other states, an exposition of defence expenditure was made in each previous edition. This was seen as recognition of the persistence of the “China threat” thesis and the need to mitigate it at least on the count of defence spending. That defence expenditure does not feature at all in this eighth white paper is significant.

It seems to suggest that the Chinese government is no longer concerned with fighting the idea of a China threat premised on its defence spending. Far from elaborating on earlier explanations (which were deemed unsatisfactory by a vast number of scholars), it would appear that Chinese leaders have decided to do away with the entire enterprise. Statements made during the National People’s Congress with regard to the defence budget will now have to suffice.

Unlike the last White Paper, the current one does not mention “suspicions about China, interference and countering moves against China.” Is the new leadership then prepared to give up the rhetoric of victimhood that has pervaded China’s foreign policy articulation?

Absent also is the reiteration of China’s nuclear policy or its stance on issues of non-proliferation. Developments related to the Korean peninsula and its nuclear dimension are notable omissions. Were China seriously considering a change in its policy towards the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as some readings into China’s support for limited sanctions in the aftermath of the third nuclear test by North Korea have suggested, the White Paper would have been an excellent avenue for communicating this. That the White Paper steers clear of DPRK related issues hints, at best towards attempts to not overemphasise the problem, and at worst, an aversion to reviewing China’s policy stance.

The latest White Paper clearly indicates growing Chinese confidence on the international stage. From emphasizing that China’s “comprehensive national strength has stepped up to a new stage” in 2011, the current white paper simply states modernization of China’s armed forces should be “commensurate with China’s international standing.” 

The Asia-Pacific region is once again identified as the hub of global economic development and strategic interaction. Curiously this white paper (unlike the last) stops short of identifying the United States (US) directly as the country that is reinforcing its military relationships in the Asia-Pacific and thereby making the situation there “tenser”. The new leadership in China is perhaps aiming at reducing friction with the United States on maritime issues?

  • Extract from: China’s Defense White Paper 2013: an assessment, by Rukmani Gupta, The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, 22 April 2013.  Readers can access the full text, here.


Extract:  China issued its eighth bi-annual Defence White Paper entitled: ‘The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces’, on April 16, 2013. The last White Paper, pertaining to 2010, was published in 2011. China’s Defence White Paper, 2013, is a 47-page document with five sections and 3 short appendices listing: joint exercises and training with foreign armed forces from 2011-2012; participation of China’s armed forces in international disaster relief and rescue (2011-2012); and China’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations (2011-2012).

The Defence White Paper, 2013, makes it apparent that the Asia-Pacific region currently dominates Chinese military thinking. This Defence White Paper is at once an expression of the Chinese leadership’s self-confidence and its confidence in the capabilities of its armed forces. After the ritual assertion that China will “not seek hegemony, behave in a hegemonic manner or engage in military expansion” and brief token acknowledgement of the importance of international cooperation, it states clearly that the military build-up and modernization will continue. There is discernible emphasis on expanding the capabilities and operational reach of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and PLA Air Force (PLAAF) together with increased investment in domestic R&D to upgrade the indigenous defence industry. [Read more]



I. New Situation, New Challenges and New Missions  

II. Building and Development of China's Armed Forces  

III. Defending National Sovereignty, Security and Territorial Integrity  

IV. Supporting National Economic and Social Development  

V. Safeguarding World Peace and Regional Stability  

Concluding Remarks  



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