People's Republic of China - Introduction
China poses a fundamental challenge of the existing international order. While Chinese leaders speake of the country's "peaceful rise", it is increasingly clear that what is envisioned is a return to some half remembered golden age in which China was the world's preeminent power, and the international system was organized on this basis.
The present international order is predicated on the juridical equality of sovereign states. Although some states are obviously more equal than others, and the "rules" are ignored as often as obeyed, the international system is predicated on a set of rules that are equally applicable to all states. This has been the case since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 ended the Thirty Years War and marked the end of the Holy Roman Empire as an effective institution.
Chinese history is frequently said to reach back nearly 5,000 years. The subtext is the China is the oldest civilization [or at least that there are none older], and therefore the most senior. For the past 2200 years China was, in fact, by far the largest single polity in Asia, and rulers of other lesser polities derived their legitimacy from the authority of the Chinese Emperor, the Son of Heaven.
But China only has about 2,200 years of actual recorded history. The first Universal Emperor ordered all scholarly works destroyed around the year 213 BC. Written historical records exist for a period of another 500 years prior to that time, but these were "recovered" after the originals were detroyed, and were doubtless improved in the process. The Shang "dynasty" oracle bone inscriptions on animal bones and tortoise shells date from 1200 BC-1045 BC, but these are magic spells, not histories. The 2000 preceeding years of Chinese "history" are the stuff of myth and legend. Archeologists affirm that China was inhabited at this time, but the inhabitants dwelled in small villages and mud huts.
China has a long and glorious military tradition, dating back to the earliest days of recorded history. The martial exploits of kings and emperors, loyal generals and peasant rebels, and strategists and theorists are well known in Chinese high culture and folk tradition. Throughout the centuries, two tendencies have influenced the role of the military in national life, one in peacetime and the other in times of upheaval. In times of peace and stability, military forces were firmly subordinated to civilian control. The military was strong enough to overcome domestic rebellions and foreign invasion, yet it did not threaten civilian control of the political system. In times of disorder, however, new military leaders and organizations arose to challenge the old system, resulting in the militarization of political life.
When one of these leaders became strong enough, he established a new political order ruling all China. After consolidating power, the new ruler or his successors subordinated the military to civilian control once again. In the past 150 years, a third factor entered the Chinese military tradition--the introduction of modern military technology and organization to strengthen military capabilities against domestic and foreign enemies.
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, all three tendencies have been discernable in the role of the military in national life. These factors have been particularly apparent in the role of the People's Liberation Army in the rise to power of the Chinese Communist Party, in the military's role in the politics of the People's Republic of China, and in the efforts of Chinese leaders to modernize the armed forces.
After decades of development from a peasant guerrilla force to a conventional military organization capable of achieving longsought national liberation, the People's Liberation Army pursued further technical competence and improved organization, with Soviet assistance, in the 1950s. Political involvement in the Great Leap Forward (1958-60) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) delayed these efforts until the late 1970s, when the People's Liberation Army embarked on a military modernization program, which had three major focuses.
First, military modernization required both the strengthening of party control over the military and the continued disengagement of the armed forces from politics. These steps were necessary to ensure that a politically reliable yet professionally competent military would concentrate on the task of military reform. Second, defense modernization attempted to achieve improved combat effectiveness through organizational, doctrinal, training, educational, and personnel reforms (including recruitment, promotion, and demobilization). These reforms emphasized the development of combat capabilities in waging combined arms warfare. Third, military modernization was aimed at the transformation of the defense establishment into a system capable of independently sustaining modern military forces. This transformation necessitated the reorganization and closer integration of civilian and military science and industry and also the selective use of foreign technology.
Since the 1960s China had considered the Soviet Union the principal threat to its security; lesser threats were posed by long-standing border disputes with Vietnam and India. Beijing's territorial claims and economic interests made the South China Sea an area of strategic importance to China. Although China sought peaceful reunification of Taiwan with the mainland, it did not rule out the use of force against the island if serious internal disturbances, a declaration of independence, or a threatening alliance occurred.
The scope of foreign military cooperation has evolved gradually. In the 1950s China dealt only with communist nations and insurgencies. In the 1960s it began to provide military assistance to Third World nations to counteract Soviet and United States influence. Beginning in the late 1970s, China shifted its arms transfer policy away from military assistance in favor of commercial arms sales and began developing military ties with Western Europe and the United States. Chinese military contacts with foreign countries expanded rapidly with the introduction of the military modernization program and the policy of opening up to the outside world.
By the late 1980s, People's Liberation Army forces consisted of the various arms of the ground forces, and the Air Force, Navy, and Strategic Missile Force (also known as the Second Artillery Corps). The ground forces were divided into group armies and regional forces. Ground force equipment was largely of Soviet design and obsolescent, although some weaponry had been upgraded with foreign technology. The Air Force had serious technological deficiencies despite incremental improvements of aircraft. The Navy was developing a blue-water capability and sea-based strategic forces. China possessed a small but relatively credible nuclear deterrent force with an incipient second-strike capability. Paramilitary forces consisted of the militia, reserve service system, Production and Construction Corps, and People's Armed Police Force.
The Government Work Report 2004, made by Premier Wen Jiabao to the Second Session of the 10th National People's Congress, was adopted by the top legislature in March 2004. According to the report: "Stepping up efforts to modernize our national defense and armed forces is an important guarantee for safeguarding national security and building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. We will strengthen the building of our armed forces in keeping with the general requirements of "being qualified politically and competent militarily and having an excellent style of work, strict discipline and adequate logistic support." We will energetically carry forward military reforms with Chinese characteristics and work hard to take efforts to modernize our national defense and armed forces to a higher stage of development. As part of our strategy of using science and technology to build strong armed forces, we will focus on developing new and high technology weaponry and equipment, foster a new type of highly competent military personnel, and promote modernization of our armed forces with IT application as the main content and mechanization as the basis in order to enhance our overall defense capability under hi-tech conditions. We will adhere to the principle of running the army in accordance with the law and increase its standardization.
"We will continue to balance efforts to strengthen national defense and economic development and raise the overall effectiveness of efforts to strengthen defense. We will adhere to the principle of combining civilian and military production and letting military production reside in civilian production and vigorously promote the reform, adjustment and development of defense-related science, technology and industry to enhance our capability for independent innovation. We will work painstakingly to adjust and realign our military strength to ensure that the armed forces are reduced by 200,000 troops and that related tasks are completed by 2005. We will intensify our efforts to build and reform our military logistics apparatus and enhance our logistic support capability. We will make the People's Armed Police more proficient and more capable of responding to emergencies. Education in national defense among the people will be intensified to raise their awareness of its importance. We will vigorously support the strengthening of national defense and the armed forces and we will build up the reserve forces and the militia to develop a fully functioning national defense mobilization system that is highly effective and can respond rapidly. We will intensify activities to promote mutual support between the military and civilian sectors and their cultural and ethical programs to forge solidarity between the military and the government and between the military and civilians."
The 2004 Report also stated that "We will adhere to the basic principle of "peaceful reunification and one country, two systems" and, during this current stage, to the eight-point proposal for developing relations across the Taiwan Straits and promoting the peaceful reunification of the motherland. We will vigorously expand visits of individuals across the Straits and economic and cultural exchanges and energetically promote establishment of the "three direct links" between the two sides. We will protect the legitimate rights and interests of our Taiwan compatriots on the mainland in accordance with the law and continue to pursue the resumption of dialogue and negotiations between the two sides on the basis of the one-China principle. With the utmost sincerity, we will do everything possible to bring about the peaceful reunification of the motherland. We stand firmly opposed to any form of separatist activities aimed at "Taiwan independence" and will never allow anyone to split Taiwan from China by any means. We are convinced that with the unremitting efforts of all the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation, including our Taiwan compatriots, we will realize our common aspiration, the complete reunification of the motherland, as soon as possible."
Amy Chang noted in 2012 that " many of China’s observable trend lines in the 1990s appeared to point in the direction of continued economic reform, with the hope of attendant political reform. However, the course of Chinese economic reform significantly reversed course in the 2000s, turning back in the direction of increased state control over the economy. The democratic reforms predicted at the turn of the century have not occurred, and under the leadership of CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao since 2002 the Chinese government has cracked down even harder on dissent and further tightened controls on the media.... The conventional wisdom failed to appreciate the sense of threat that China’s leaders feel regarding the capabilities and intentions of the “hegemonic” United States, and the impetus this provides to China’s military modernization. Similarly, it also failed to predict the far more assertive behavior displayed by the PRC in pursuing its territorial claims in 2010-2011, and the seriousness of the PRC’s longer-term intent to displace U.S. influence and presence in Asia.... A decade on, it is now clear that much of the conventional wisdom about China dating from the turn of the century has proven to be dramatically wrong."
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