Xi Jinping has called for breaking new ground in weaponry and equipment development, while at the same time China is leading in military provocations around territorial issues in East Asia.
In an October 2021 communiqué, Xi signaled a new push in the arms and equipment arenas for advances that shall “contribute to the realization of the goals set for the centenary” of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
While addressing a military-wide conference on October 25 to 26 in Beijing, Xi underscored the achievements made by China in weaponry and equipment development over the past five years. These specifically serve as the material and technological underpinning for China’s overall strategic capabilities and military strength. At the same time, Xi’s call also needs to be read in relation to accelerating the implementation of tasks set out in China’s 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025).
Creating a strong synergy further augments the building of a modernized management system for weapons and equipment. The focus on boosting reliance on scientific and technological advances, and speeding up the modernization of weapons and equipment, are key objectives for China’s global military strategy ー especially for East Asia and the Indo-Pacific regions.
Notably, China’s earlier official “White Papers on Military Strategy” highlight Beijing’s interpretation of contemporary “global trends toward multi-polarity and economic globalization.” While economic interaction appears the ideal driver for states to adopt cooperative frameworks, pressing geo-strategic realities have always provided the pivot. And it is these strategic realities that hold the potential to invade any realignments, including China’s complex relationships with its key Asian neighbors. China’s relationship with Japan is testament to this submission.
In shaping the region’s strategic posture and policies, it is critical for the Indo-Pacific security order and for key individual stakeholder nations in the region to manage the growing Chinese power and influence. The internal discourse in China seems to acknowledge that even the remotest receipt of international intervention (for example, on Taiwan) would prove detrimental to Chinese claims with other countries in Asia.
There is recognition of the notable increase in China’s comprehensive national strength and core competitiveness, and its reverberations in the Indo-Pacific geo-strategic landscape, which has become the center stage in China’s overall tactical thinking. China has consistently referred to the United States’ rebalance, enhanced military presence, and alliances in the region. It has also referenced Japan’s overhaul of its military and security policies.
Xi Jinping’s latest call for breaking new ground in weapons and equipment development directly furthers the missions and strategic tasks of the PLA. Moreover, it branches out from Xi’s larger vision of placing greater emphasis on military-backed diplomacy as a part of China’s overall foreign policy strategy.
The call for “reclaiming lost historical Chinese territories” — reiterated at many central conferences of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — is at the core of China’s current initiatives. It touches on the very existence of China’s political structure. To promote China’s overall influence in East Asia and beyond, Beijing has been advocating applying the country’s growing power and influence by employing pressure on identified weaknesses. In sum, it represents the long-term strategic foreign policy agenda the Xi administration has chosen to pursue.
Beijing’s increasingly assertive actions in the South and East China Seas appear to clarify the ongoing and future focus of the PLA Navy, in line with a strategy shifting gradually from offshore waters defense to a combination of offshore and open seas active naval presence.
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China’s official military White Papers have further outlined the need for the PLA to “prepare for military struggle,” using terms of reference such as “hotspot issues, such as ethnic, religious, border and territorial disputes…small-scale wars, conflicts that are recurrent in some regions.”
These developments tend to vitally corroborate the argument that the much-debated thesis of China’s “peaceful rise” is rather based on belligerence, primarily because the direction, objectives, and future course of China’s ambitions do not remain ambiguous anymore. The robust military modernization program undertaken by the PLA has become the primary foundation for deterrence as Beijing seeks to attain its military objectives.
Today, China needs its forces to possess an adequate deterrent force in order to assure Beijing’s credibility to cope with future small-scale, high-intensive regional combat and military operations. The Chinese armed forces are not just preparing to fight future wars, but to decisively deter efforts to interfere with China’s ambitions.
Showcasing its military prowess to the world, the Chinese armed forces are signaling that they have come a long way from the rustic and bucolic Red Army that waged a “People’s War” more than seven decades ago.
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Author: Dr. Monika Chansoria
Dr. Monika Chansoria is a senior fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the JIIA or any other organization with which the author is affiliated. She tweets @MonikaChansoria. Find other articles by Dr. Chansoria here on JAPAN Forward.