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Doctrine Overview

"If China does not have atomic and hydrogen bombs and has not launched satellites since the 1960s, it is not worthy of being called a big and influential country and will not have its present international prestige."
Deng Xiaoping

Socialism with Chinese characteristics has crossed the threshold into a new era, Xi Jinping said 18 October 2017 at the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). It will be an era that sees China moving closer to center stage and making greater contributions to mankind, he said. It means that the path, the theory, the system, and the culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics have kept developing, blazing a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization. It offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence; and it offers Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to solving the problems facing mankind, he said.

China's proposals, ranging from the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, created to complement multilateral financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, to the strengthening of multilateral institutions such as BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization, have provided alternative solutions to major issues in global development. When the world faces uncertainties arising from persistent economic problems and serious disputes, China takes on greater global responsibilities, and China's growing role in global affairs means a larger presence of emerging economies and developing countries in global governance.

China said May 26, 2015 it will continue expanding its military strength further from its borders, including in disputed areas at sea, but insisted it does not want a confrontation with any of its neighbors. In a policy paper, China's cabinet said the People's Liberation Army will shift its focus "from territorial air defense to both defense and offense." It also will put a greater emphasis on "open seas protection."

China has used military power extensively in pursuit of its geopolitical aims. A confrontationist and belligerent image of China was therefore inevitable. Chinas choice of the military option in a series of cases confirmed the image of a militarist state willing to use its power to settle issues by force. Formosa (Taiwan), Korea, the conflicts on the Sino-Soviet borders, the war with India in 1962, Chinas open espousal of the Pakistani cause during 1965 in what was a purely bilateral conflict, Chinas actions in the South China Sea, its role in Vietnam-Cambodia-Laos make a very long list of contributive factors compounding the image. The image is not made any less adverse by the continuing growth and modernisation in Chinas military capabilities in the new century.

The PLA's strategic considerations call for avoidance of wars, major ones in particular. The thinking also is that even if a war cannot be avoided, there should be efforts to keep it from becoming a major nuclear one or even a medium-scale non-nuclear one. The drive meanwhile is to build PLA as a force capable of winning localized small-scale warfare by means of high-tech facilities. More recently, certain military sources have come up with theories of "on limited operations" and "asymmetric warfare" whereby in case of hostilities against a superior enemy, various military or non-military means should be employed, irrespective of battlefield and non-battlefield limitations, so that ultimate victory may be clinched.

Doctrinal literature is developed by the PLA Academy of Military Science (AMS) under the authority of the CMC and in close coordination, probably, with the PLA General Staff Department (GSD). The AMS is responsible for the development of theoretical and applied military strategy, operational theory and methodology, and combat tactics for China's armed forces. Service-specific tactics, techniques, and procedures are developed variously by the Navy, Air Force, and Second Artillery; however, each service must adhere to the greater context and guidance for military strategy and operations at the theater level of war and above promulgated by the AMS. Officers from the AMS Campaign and Tactics Department had a major role in developing the new operational regulations. This department also is responsible for drafting and writing documents and manuals that are the functional equivalents of U.S. Joint Publications and Field Manuals. Very little is known, however, about the actual substance of the new operational directives that emerged in 1999.

People's War

People's War denotes the most traditional vision and derives from Mao Tse-tung's doctrine. In this scenario, China would defend its own territory against a land invasion by exploiting its advantages in manpower and geography. Conventional strategy and weapons would eventually dominate in a long war of attrition. Though a mass ground assault on the mainland seems highly implausible, this construct still accounts for more military resources than the others.

The People's War doctrine, which was the result of lessons learned from the War of Resistance against Japan (1937-1945), emphasized the preparation of masses of foot soldiers and militia to engage in prolonged guerrilla warfare in China's vast interior. China postulated that a potential enemy could not rely exclusively on nuclear weapons in dealing with China because of China's vast territory, complicated terrain and huge numbers of people. Thus, their defense strategy provided for the possibility of a protracted war on Chinese soil, requiring large conventional forces.

China's decision to develop nuclear weapons stands in contrast to widely distributed public commentaries that such weapons were of far less significance than the United States declared them to be. Beijing's public attitude toward nuclear weaponry between 1945 and 1954 was generally disparaging, but in October 1951, when the Korean War was going badly for the Chinese, a Xinhua statement indicated that Beijing's view of nuclear weapons was not as derogatory as it often appeared to be:

Now we understand more clearly that only when we ourselves have the atomic weapon, and are fully prepared, is it possible for the frenzied warmongers to listen to our just and reasonable proposals.

The Chinese strategic debates of 1955-56 focused on the question of whether China should acquire her own weapons or should reliance be placed on a Soviet nuclear umbrella. In the first Taiwan Strait crisis of 1954-55 the USSR had been quite ambiguous in its support for China's campaign to "liberate" Taiwan, whereas the United States had indicated that it was willing to use tactical nuclear weaponsin defense of the island. During the crisis, it became evident that the USSR was not going to be drawn into a war with the United States that was not of its own choosing; and by March 1955, the PRC had called off its military operations against Quemoy. The Soviet refusal to back the Chinese in any risky situation was evident in the Quemoy crisis of August-September 1958. Events made it clear to Chinese leaders that while the US might be willing to use nuclear weapons if pressed too hard, the Soviets were unwilling to take similar risks in protecting China. Here was reason to question the validity of Chinese reliance on the Soviet nuclear shield.

Sino-Soviet relations began to deteriorate as early as 1956. Subsequent events caused further schism and in 1959 apparently contributed in large degree to a renewed policy debate among the Peking leadership and the dismissal of the Minister of National Defense and four vice ministers. During that same year, the Soviets abrogated the 1957 national defense technology agreement. The final breach in Sino-Soviet military cooperation occurred in 1960 when the Soviets withdrew their military advisors and a large portion of arrangements for economic-military cooperation were phased out. China was on her own.

To cope with the external nuclear threat, a campaign was initiated in 1959 to disperse and harden military installations. This was clearly a passive defensive strategy undertaken to reduce the effects of a nuclear attack. China's lack of a nuclear capability dictated the necessity for such a campaign. In the early 1960's, this campaign was expanded to include heavy industries. The attainment of a nuclear capability in 1964 did not lessen the pace of dispersal and hardening, and the "war preparations" campaign of 1969 broadened the scope of such activities to include civil defense measures to protect the population.

During the early 1960s the formulation of a comprehensive Chinese strategy was characterized by major gaps and unresolved problems. Chinese thinking about nuclear war continued to be concerned with defense, and survival. The Chinese had little to propose as a defense against a strategic nuclear attack except improvement of air defenses and the dispersal, hardening and camouflage of military targets.

In October 1964 China joined the nuclear club by conducting its initial atomic test at Lop Nor. In announcing this test, the Chinese promulgated a "no-first use" policy, reiterated Mao's atom bomb-paper tiger theme, repeated China's advocacy of complete prohibition and destruction of all nuclear weapons, condemned the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963 as a "big fraud to fool the people of the world," and stated that "China's aim is to break the nuclear monopoly of the nuclear powers..."

On 07 August 1971, Peking rejected a Soviet proposal for the convening of a five-power conference, to include the US, the USSR, China, Great Britain, and France, to discuss the question of nuclear disarmament. In their statement, the Chinese said that they had consistently stood for the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons and had declared on many occasions that under no circumstances will China be the first to use nuclear weapons. It urged Moscow and Washington to openly agree not to be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances and called for the dismantling of all nuclear bases and stockpiled weapons on foreign soil.

People's War Under Modern Conditions

From the early 1950s until the mid-1970s, people's war remained China's military doctrine. The PLA's force structure, however, which came to include nuclear weapons as well as artillery, combat aircraft, and tanks, did not reflect the concept of people's war. In the late 1970s, Chinese military leaders began to modify PLA doctrine, strategy, and tactics under the rubric of "people's war under modern conditions." This updated version of people's war lacked a systematic definition, but it permitted Chinese military leaders to pay tribute to Mao's military and revolutionary legacy while adapting military strategy and tactics to the needs of modern conventional and nuclear warfare. Elaborating on Mao's concept of active defense--tactically offensive action with a defensive strategy--Chinese strategy was designed to defeat a Soviet invasion before it could penetrate deeply into China. Chinese strategists envisaged a forward defense, that is, near the border, to prevent attack on Chinese cities and industrial facilities, particularly in north and northeast China. Such a defense-in-depth would require more positional warfare, much closer to the border, in the initial stages of a conflict. This strategy downplayed the people's war strategy of "luring in deep" in a protracted war, and it took into account the adaptations in strategy and tactics necessitated by technological advances in weaponry. The PLA emphasized military operations using modernized, combined arms tactics for the dual purpose of making the most effective use of current force structure and of preparing the armed forces for more advanced weaponry in the future.

The doctrine of "people's war under modern conditions" also incorporated the use of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons. China's own nuclear forces, which developed a second-strike capability in the early 1980s, provided Beijing with a credible, if minimum, deterrent against Soviet or United States nuclear attack. China repeatedly has vowed never to use nuclear weapons first, but it has promised retaliation against a nuclear attack. Chinese strategists also evinced an interest in tactical nuclear weapons, and the PLA has simulated battlefield use of such weapons in offensive and defensive exercises.

Local War

Chinese military planning has increasingly focused primary attention on the preparation for and conduct of local wars in which the launch of nonnuclear versions of strategic missiles would not only have a direct effect on the important political and military targets, but also serve as a warning of the possible escalation of the conflict to the nuclear level. Local War is shorthand for conflict on the mainland's periphery. Possible adversaries include Taiwan and India, with the PRC projecting force to respond to provocation or to force a foe into submission. Beijing's intervention in the Korean War is one precedent. In the 1980s Deng Xiao-ping promoted the view that -- with modern technology and refined strategies -- the PRC could win relatively short, intense wars in its own neighborhood. This approach commands a small but growing share of resources.

As the Chinese develop and deploy more reliable and accurate systems, they will probably develop a nuclear weapons doctrine that is closer to those developed by the United States and Russia. China has adopted a new nuclear doctrine during the past 5-10 years of limited nuclear deterrence. Until about 1987, China postured its nuclear capability to achieve a "minimum deterrence." This term contrasted China's nuclear posture with that of the United States and the Soviet Union, which maintained "maximum deterrent" postures based on counterforce warfighting doctrines and technologies that provided a distinct first-strike advantage in disarming one's opponent.

Beginning in 1987 the Chinese began to use the term "limited deterrence" defined with a limited counterforce, warfighting flavor. As it is now defined, "limited deterrence" falls between the extremes posited by minimum deterrence and maximum deterrence doctrine. This posture is intended to pose a significant nuclear deterrent to those global powers that might be tempted to intervene in a local war, such that China could deter the escalation of that conflict by ensuring that it has a credible nuclear warfighting capability that includes a survivable second-strike potential, even if nuclear weapons are used at the theater level.

This limited deterrence doctrine was in evidence during the March 1996 Taiwan straits confrontation, during which several Chinese M-9 missiles were fired at various open-ocean target areas near Taiwan, as part of a larger series of military exercises intended to intimidate the Taiwan government. In January 1996 meetings with top Chinese military officials, Chas. W. Freeman [a former Clinton administration assistant secretary of defense who had served as President Nixon's interpreter in Beijing in 1972] was told by Lt. Gen. Xiong Guangkai, deputy chief of China's general staff:

"In the 1950s, you three times threatened nuclear strikes on China, and you could do that because we couldn't hit back. Now we can. So you are not going to threaten us again because, in the end, you care a lot more about Los Angeles than Taipei."

Revolution in Military Affairs

The Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) is the newest school, gaining adherents in the 1990s. RMA concentrates on futuristic systems and the belief that a dominant power -- the United States, when the scholars are specific -- can be neutralized or even defeated if a weaker contender knows how to exploit key vulnerabilities. For instance, the seemingly overwhelming advantage in naval power that the U.S. enjoys could be undermined if the fleet is "blinded" by corruption of its information systems. Though only a small part of the current force structure is organized along RMA lines today, this school is gaining adherents and is the subject of applied research.

The Gulf War of early 1991 was a big eye-opener to PRC military. The subsequent trend of thought concerning what became known as "revolution in military affairs" impacted even more sharply on PLA leaders' thinking, making them see distinctly that high technologies were already the foremost key to determine the outcome of any war.

At its expanded meeting in January 1993 the Central Military Commission readjusted the PLA strategic guideline and declared that the cardinal point of preparations for military struggle would be shifted to the winning of limited wars by means of modern know-how and, in particular, under conditions of high technologies. Also pointed out were following major directions of possible operations: 1) southeast coastal areas of the Chinese mainland, 2) South China Sea, and 3) Sino-Indian border areas. Development emphasis, would be on the PLA Navy and Air Force, but efforts would at the same time be made for the upgrading of the ground forces' overall combat capabilities, enhancement of the Second Artillery Corps' deterrence capability, and speedy formation of rapid-reaction forces.

At the same time, the PLA observers judged that the technological advances surrounding the RMA also increased the demands on military forces in other areas, to include greater emphasis on C4ISR, combined arms and joint service operations, the need for professional, technically qualified personnel to operate and maintain advanced equipment, and the need, especially, for a professional corps of non-commissioned officers. The PLA has been trying to improve all these areas.

U.S. observations of the RMA also have migrated into PLA thinking on the impact of the RMA on future warfare. Over time, the internalization of U.S. and other foreign concepts of RMA will be manifested in actual changes in doctrine, strategy, tactics, and equipment.

China's military planners are working to incorporate the concepts of modern warfare attributed to the RMA and have placed a priority on developing the technologies and tactics necessary to conduct rapid tempo, high-technology warfare in Asia.

On balance, PLA authors assess that the current RMA holds the potential for producing radical new forms of warfare, enhanced information warfare, networks of systems, and "digitized" combat forces. At the same time, however, based on observations and lessons learned from the Gulf War and Operation ALLIED FORCE, Beijing perceives certain weaknesses in what it considers U.S. over-reliance on technological advances offered by the RMA. Consequently, revised PLA doctrine, in addition to incorporating RMA advances, emphasizes measures to target and exploit its weaknesses.

Operation ALLIED FORCE in 1999 appears to have had at least as much impact on PLA thinking as the Gulf War, although more as a validation of earlier assessments of the trends of modern warfare than as a catalyst for change. PLA commentary on NATO's Kosovo air operation concluded that a superior enemy's situational awareness and precision-strike systems could be stymied through effective, and often low-tech, counter-reconnaissance measures such as camouflage and concealment, simple decoys, dispersion, and frequent movement of forces. NATO air operations reinforced the PLA's focus on the use of underground facilities, landline communications, and well-concealed supply depots.

The Serbian military's survival in a modern battlefield against a superior force reportedly impressed PLA observers. These observers, however, also noted that the Serbs suffered from inferior equipment, inadequate defense of civilian installations, and poor logistics.

The PLA implemented lessons from Operation ALLIED FORCE in the restructured Three Attacks and Three Defenses air defense training regime. Three Attack and Three Defenses concentrates on attacking stealth aircraft, cruise missiles, and helicopters, while defending against precision strikes, electronic warfare, and enemy reconnaissance. Many PLA training events also now incorporate this new training regime. Although it is still too early to tell what lessons the PLA has learned from the U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Chinese media have highlighted the use of U.S. Special Operations Forces and mobile warfare in the Afghan conflict

China and Arms Control

China was the first state to pledge "no first use" of nuclear weapons. It joined the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1984 and pledged to abstain from further atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in 1986. China acceded to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1992 and supported its indefinite and unconditional extension in 1995. In 1996, it signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and agreed to seek an international ban on the production of fissile nuclear weapons material.

In 1996, China committed not to provide assistance to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities. China attended the May 1997 meeting of the NPT Exporters (Zangger) Committee as an observer and became a full member in October 1997. The Zangger Committee is a group which meets to list items that should be subject to IAEA inspections if exported by countries which have, as China has, signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In September 1997, China issued detailed nuclear export control regulations. China is implementing regulations establishing controls over nuclear-related dual-use items in 1998. China also has decided not to engage in new nuclear cooperation with Iran (even under safeguards), and will complete existing cooperation, which is not of proliferation concern, within a relatively short period.

Based on significant, tangible progress with China on nuclear nonproliferation, President Clinton in 1998 took steps to bring into force the 1985 U.S.-China Agreement on Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation. Implementation of this agreement, which establishes a mechanism that will enable the U.S. and China to continue discussing export controls and China's nuclear cooperation with other countries, will give the U.S. an effective basis for continuing to promote progress by China on nonproliferation.

China is not a member of the Australia Group, an informal and voluntary arrangement made in 1985 to monitor developments in the proliferation of dual-use chemicals and to coordinate export controls on key dual-use chemicals and equipment with weapons applications. In April 1997, however, China ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and, in September 1997, promulgated a new chemical weapons export control directive.

In March of 1992, China formally undertook to abide by the guidelines and parameters of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the multinational effort to restrict the proliferation of missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. China reaffirmed this commitment in 1994.

The Assasin's Mace

PLA operational theory reflects the transition undertaken during the 1990s to shift from predominately annihilative to coercive war-fighting strategies. Shock and surprise are considered by PLA strategists as crucial to successful coercion. Accordingly, PLA operational theory emphasizes achieving surprise and accruing "shock power" during the opening phase of a campaign. The pre-eminent role that surprise and pre-emption have in potential conflicts is best illustrated in the fundamental principles of "Actively Taking the Initiative" and "Catching the Enemy Unprepared" in PLA operational doctrine.

Throughout the 1990s, PLA writers highlighted pre-emptive strikes as a means to offset advantages that a technologically superior power brings to the fight. Lessons from Kosovo added impetus to developing a capacity for offensive operations against targets at the operational and strategic levels of warfare. PLA writers have asserted that offensive strike assets, which are more cost-effective than defensive assets, must focus on an opponent's ability to carry out strikes and/or conduct counterattack operations. The measure of effectiveness, in this context, is not the capture of territory but the effects the strikes have on an enemy's ability to resist.

The PLA believes that surprise is crucial for the success of any military campaign, and it likely would not be willing to initiate any military action unless assured of a significant degree of strategic surprise. With no apparent political prohibitions against pre-emption, the PLA requires shock as a force multiplier, to catch Taiwan, or another potential adversary such as the United States, unprepared. Observers such as PLAAF Chief of Staff LTG Zheng Shenxia have noted that without adopting a pre-emptive doctrine, the chances of a PLA victory are limited.

PLA writings indicate a number of methodologies that could enhance the success of surprise, including strategic and operational deception, electronic warfare, and wearing down or desensitizing an opponent's political and military leadership. At least one objective would be to reduce indications and warning of PLA military action.

The relative technological inferiority of the PLA has led to the exploration of asymmetric methods enabling "the inferior to defeat the superior."

PLA writings suggest that China's armed forces remain relatively confident of their ability to defeat a regional military force of comparable technological development with traditional battles of annihilation, or operations that rely on mass and attrition to attack the enemy forces, formations, and troops directly. The PLA also is convinced that this traditional approach to campaigns will not suffice against an enemy with advanced technologies. Consequently, there is an emphasis on conducting operations that will paralyze the high-tech enemy's ability to conduct its campaign, including operations to disrupt and delay the enemy campaign at its inception and operations that are highly focused on identifying the types and locations of enemy high-tech weapons that pose the greatest threat. After identifying those weapons, the PLA must then attempt to neutralize them, either through hard-kill methods, e.g., firepower and special operations, or soft-kill methods, also termed technological interdictions. Degrading a high-tech adversary's ability to process or gather information is viewed as an absolutely essential task if the weak is to defeat the strong, especially if that high-tech adversary is perceived to be overly dependent upon information systems to enable its own operations.

Captain Shen Zhongchang from the Chinese Navy Research Institute, for example, envisions a weaker military defeating a superior one by attacking its spaced-based communications and surveillance systems. "The mastery of outer space will be a requisite for military victory, with outer space becoming the new commanding heights for combat." He also noted that "lightning attacks and powerful first strikes will be more widely used in the future." In future wars, Shen highlights radar, radio stations, communications facilities, and command ships as priority targets vulnerable to smart weapons, electronic attack, and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons.

According to the Chinese military publication Junshi Wenzhai, China already has an "Assassin's Mace" or "Trump Card" doctrine to counter US air superiority in the Western Pacific. One article specifically identifies five major "assassin's maces," including fighter bombers, submarines, anti-ship missiles, torpedoes, and mines to destroy aircraft carriers. China is acquiring these weapons from Russia or developing them itself. The last paragraph of the article claims that China can coordinate all these five weapons to attack an aircraft carrier simultaneously from several directions and leave it "in flames."

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Page last modified: 06-12-2017 14:59:26 ZULU