COLOMBO: In its White Paper on Defense released last week, China has listed the principal defense and security issues facing the country.

Surprisingly, the border issue that China has been facing vis-à-vis India for decades, does not figure in the list of challenges. Equally surprisingly, South China Sea in which China is in fierce competition with the US, Japan and Australia, is also not listed as a problematic area.

Instead, the wrath has been directed at the “separatists” in Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang, especially Taiwan. Taiwan’s existence as an independent country challenging Beijing’s ‘One China’ policy, remains a major eyesore for the latter.

As per the White Paper, China’s main defense concerns are as follows: (1) to deter and resist aggression; (2) to safeguard national political security, the people’s security and social stability; (3) to oppose and contain “Taiwan independence”; (4) to crack down on proponents of separatist movements such as “Tibet independence” and the creation of “East Turkistan”; (5) to safeguard national sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity and security; (6) to safeguard China’s maritime rights and interests; (7) to safeguard China’s security interests in outer space, electromagnetic space and cyberspace; (8) to safeguard China’s overseas interests; and to support the sustainable development of the country.

Taiwan, Xinjiang And Tibet

As one can see, Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang are in the third and fourth place in the list of seven challenges.

On Taiwan the White Paper says: “The fight against separatists is becoming more acute. The Taiwan authorities, led by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), stubbornly stick to ‘Taiwan independence’ and refuse to recognize the 1992 Consensus, which embodies the one-China principle. “

“They have gone further down the path of separatism by stepping up efforts to sever connection with the mainland in favor of gradual independence, pushing for de jure independence, intensifying hostility and confrontation, and borrowing the strength of foreign influence.”

“The Taiwan independence separatist forces and their actions remain the gravest immediate threat to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the biggest barrier hindering the peaceful reunification of the country.”

“Aiming at safeguarding national unity, China’s armed forces strengthen military preparedness with emphasis on the sea. By sailing ships and flying aircraft around Taiwan, the armed forces send a stern warning to the Taiwan independence separatist forces.”

On Tibet and Xinjiang it says: “External separatist forces for Tibet independence and the creation of East Turkistan launch frequent actions, posing threats to China’s national security and social stability.”

Positive On India

In contrast, the border issue with India is dismissed in a few words and the tone is not in the least confrontationist.

The White Paper says that Beijing’s policy on the Sino-Indian border question is: “to implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of China and India.”

Going further it says: “The two militaries have exchanged high-level visits and pushed for a hotline for border defense cooperation and mechanisms for border management and border defense exchanges.”

South China Sea

On the South China Sea, where the Chinese navy has been having issues with the US, Japan and Australia, the White Paper says that “the situation is generally stable and improving as regional countries are properly managing risks and differences.”

Another positive step noted in the White Paper is that “steady progress” has been made in building a coordinated counter-terrorism mechanism among the militaries of the regional countries.

Disputes Remain

But disputes still exist over the territorial sovereignty of some islands and reefs, as well as maritime demarcation.

“Countries from outside the region conduct frequent close-in reconnaissance on China by air and sea, and illegally enter China’s territorial waters and the waters and airspace near China’s islands and reefs, undermining China’s national security,” the White Paper says indirectly referring to the US.

As the world economic and strategic center continues to shift towards the Asia-Pacific, conflicts have stretched to this region, the White Paper notes.

“The US is strengthening its Asia-Pacific military alliances and reinforcing military deployment and intervention, adding complexity to regional security. The deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in the Republic of Korea (ROK) by the US has severely undermined the regional strategic balance and the strategic security interests of regional countries.”

“In an attempt to circumvent the post-war mechanism, Japan has adjusted its military and security policies and increased input accordingly, thus becoming more outward-looking in its military endeavors. Australia continues to strengthen its military alliance with the US and its military engagement in the Asia-Pacific, seeking a bigger role in security affairs.”

“China’s overseas interests are endangered by immediate threats such as international and regional turmoil, terrorism, and piracy. Chinese diplomatic missions, enterprises and personnel around the world have been attacked on multiple occasions.”

China’s Deficiencies

The White Paper notes that China has made “great” progress in “Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) with Chinese characteristics.” But the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is yet to complete the task of mechanization, and is in urgent need of improving its informationization (using information technology to good effect).

“China’s military security is confronted by risks from technology surprise and growing technological generation gap. Greater efforts have to be invested in military modernization to meet national security demands. The PLA still lags far behind the world’s leading militaries,” the document says.

Time Table For Progress

However China has set itself certain goals with a timetable for their achievement.

The country’s strategic goals are: (1) to achieve mechanization by 2020, with significantly enhanced informationization and greatly improved strategic capabilities; (2) to comprehensively advance the modernization of military theory, organizational structure, military personnel, and weaponry and equipment in step with the modernization of the country and basically complete the modernization of national defense and the military by 2035; (3) and to fully transform the people’s armed forces into world-class forces by the mid-21st century.”

On the progress so far, the White Paper says: “300,000 personnel have been cut to keep the total active force at 2 million. Thus, the number of personnel in the leading organs at and above regiment level has been cut by about 25%, and that of non-combat units by almost 50%.”

Military Withdraws From Business

The document says that the Chinese armed forces will concentrate on its professional duties and not indulge in any commercial activity. In fact, it has stopped its businesses.

“As of June, 2018, paid services provided by leading organs, operational units, and military-affiliated public institutions at all levels had been basically suspended, involving 15 sectors such as real estate lease, agricultural and associated products, and hospitality. “

“Over 100,000 such projects have been suspended as scheduled, accounting for 94% of the total. The armed forces have achieved the goal of withdrawing from running businesses.”

Modernization of Equipment

Old equipment is being phased out. Type 15 tanks, type 052D destroyers, J-20 fighters, and DF-26 intermediate and long-range ballistic missiles have been commissioned.

On the whole, defense expenditure has grown in tandem with the growth of the national economy and government expenditure. Expenditure is controlled, depending upon the need and the funds available in the national exchequer, the White Paper says.

Defense expenditure as a percentage of GDP has fallen from a peak of 5.43% in 1979 to 1.26% in 2017. It has remained below 2% for the past three decades.

Defense expenditure as a percentage of government expenditure was 17.37% in 1979 and 5.14% in 2017, a drop of more than 12 percentage points. The figures are on a clear downward trend.

From 2012 to 2017, China’s defense expenditure increased from RMB 669.192 billion to RMB 1,043.237 billion. China’s GDP and government expenditure grew at an average rate of 9.04% and 10.43% respectively, calculated on the price of the indicated years, while its defense expenditure increased by an average of 9.42%.