STRATFOR VIDEO CONVERSATION

China’s defense strategy

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[The following is the video transcript of the conversation at the Stratfor Media Center between Stratfor analysts Paul Floyd and Rodger Baker. Videos of such conversations are available for Stratfor clients to watch on the Stratfor website.]

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PAUL FLOYD: Hello. I’m Paul Floyd and today I’m joined by Roger Baker. And we’ll be discussing the recent release of China’s defense white paper that just came out. So Roger, on the surface of it, what did you first notice within the white paper that kind of stood out to you? Was there anything that was notable or that was different from previous white papers?

Roger Baker: Well I think the first part of it is that this is really China’s first white paper that defines their overarching defense strategy. Previous white papers focused more on specific sectors of the military or on the size or things of that sort. So this is a strategy paper. Now the second part is really how much this highlighted the expanding role of the Chinese military that it’s no longer a military that’s solely focused on territorial defense or that has even its primary function is only territorial defense. It truly is evolving into a global military and a global military that’s designed or intending to be designed to respond to the expanding economic and political interests of China around the globe.

Paul: So a lot of people perceived this kind of expanding role as being aggressive at least in a military sense. And a lot of times rising powers, rising military powers, do disrupt the international system. But in the white paper, China is very careful to state that this is being done in a non-hegemonic peaceful way. Does that make sense to you?

Roger: Well I think that the intent certainly is not to become a hegemon, not to get entangled and be forced to intervene in situations. The Chinese don’t necessarily have the military capability yet to be engaged all over the world all the time. Their military really doesn’t have the same capability set that the US military has, and even the US military has limitations in how many things it can deal with where it can interact. But there are also economic and political costs for being interventionist. And there’s a sort of a natural pushback by nations if they see China coming in in this manner. That said, it doesn’t mean that China is going to truly going to be able to avoid intervention and action. When you state very clearly that one of the roles of the military is to protect your economic interests overseas, to protect your economic interests you have to intervene. And often if there is a crisis in a location, the military is going to be picking a side, even if it’s by default.

Paul: And I’ll also point out that just having that capability, as this capability grows, as we see with the US often, because you have a certain capability, people try to pull you into different conflicts internationally, even if they are irrelevant to your own national self-interest, just because you can be a decisive factor if you decide to weigh in. So China will probably be walking a fine line in that sense as well. So since I referenced the US, do you see parallels between how the US and its rise in the international system and what China is doing with this defense white paper anyway?

Roger: Well one of the things I think when you look at China is in some ways the rapid economic expansion of China, now the growing global role of China, mirrors the US expansion in the 1800s into the early 1900s. As China has greater commitments, greater responsibilities, greater dependencies and greater vulnerabilities around the globe, it is finding itself pulled into political crises, security issues that in the past it was able to sort of let sit at the side. Just as the US didn’t necessarily initially seek to become the global policeman, and certainly tried to avoid being drawn in before it was ready and tried to avoid being seen all the time as an aggressive power, China certainly wants that. But it may find that maintaining its noninterference policy and maintaining neutrality are going to be harder and harder to do as its interconnectedness with the globe grows and grows.

Paul: And to your point there was a recent Sudanese op-ed that addressed this point with China’s interest in Sudan.

Roger: Yes, and it was pointing out that even by choosing to supply arms to the South Sudanese government that was effectively taking sides because the South Sudanese government is fighting rebels in South Sudan. That fighting threatens China’s oil interests, and China effectively picked a side. Then China, after people raised that issue, decided they weren’t going to send the second set of weapons to try not to pick a side. But in doing that, the security situation got out of hand, China had to withdraw its personnel and it now has a higher risk. So what the Chinese are going to find is that they’re going to have a decision to make. They will either protect their interests, which in many ways is going to force them to take a side. Or they will have to allow their interests to be susceptible to the local forces, in which case they’re going to lose access. And in the end I think they’re going to, whether they want to or not, be drawn to the former option.

Paul: Well, thank you Roger. All great and salient points for this defense white paper. For further information and further reading on such topics, please join us at Stratfor.com.

© 2015, STRTAFOR GLOBAL INTELLIGENCE

Publishing by The Manila Times of this transcript of the Stratfor video conversation on China’s new defense white paper is with the express permission of Stratfor.

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