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2011 China Defense White Paper: Points of Concern

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by Richard Fisher, Jr.
Published on April 11th, 2011

On 31 March 2011 the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) largely ceremonial Ministry of National Defense discharged one of its few serious duties by issuing its 7th defense white paper.[1]  China’s defense white papers are not intended to describe the scope of its hard military capabilities or to detail future plans; such information is to be denied to potential adversaries.   Providing such a measure is one of the goals of the United States Department of Defense’s annual People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Military Power Reports, which is why they are harshly criticized by Beijing.  But in recent years, looking beyond their usual political boilerplate, China’s defense white papers gradually have increased their descriptions of larger Chinese national security goals and strategy while providing insights into structure and missions. The 2011 white paper continues this trend by revealing new developments in strategy and structure, but also gives insights into the PRC’s integration of foreign and national security policy.  This white paper is also disturbing for several reasons. It is a direct contribution to the PRC’s political warfare against Taiwan; it makes clear that PRC global military activism will be increasing; it justifies PRC aid to rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran; and, it defends the PLA’s nuclear missile buildup, while opposing missile defenses that would defend against North Korean and Iranian nuclear missiles. 

Political Warfare Intervention In Taiwan

The 2011 white paper is noteworthy in that it provides a disturbing insight into the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) strategy of coercive envelopment of Taiwan.  While the CCP may expect Taiwanese and others to regard the white paper’s description for a diplomatic path forward with Taiwan as putatively generous and peaceful, in reality it is a stark reminder of the PRC’s ongoing strategy of economic and political “united front” warfare combined with military intimidation, which the PRC could decide to change into a direct military campaign at any point in the future.[2]

While the PRC has used previous defense white papers to convey threats to Taiwan, the 2011 white paper is used as a weapon to convey the CCP’s divide-and-conquer strategy against Taiwan.  This is illustrated by the different tone used in passages likely addressed to Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang Party (KMT) and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).   Passages addressed to the KMT are calm and straightforward but make clear that it is time to begin political negotiations that ultimately could end Taiwan’s era of freedom.  To its credit the government of President Ma Ying Jeou has consistently rejected the suggestion that it begin political negotiations with China.  But pro-PRC factions within the KMT are quite willing to push the CCP’s goals.[3] Passages addressed to the DPP are harsh and likely presage how the CCP will treat Taiwanese once they gain control. As the PRC has a well versed capacity for coordinating its public and private messages, it would not be surprising that the white paper’s message is a public summation of that already conveyed to Taiwan’s political elite on multiple levels, as well as to CCP cadres and the PLA leadership. 

There is an emphatic rejection of the current status quo desired by almost 90 percent of Taiwanese[4], in which Taiwan retains its de-facto independence while benefitting from better economic and political relations with the PRC.  This is most clearly expressed in the white paper’s statement, “The two sides of the Taiwan Strait are destined to ultimate reunification in the course of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” This sounds like a CCP agitprop slogan, which for communist parties is a fine art; they express the Party’s demands in a rubric of larger interests, like patriotism, while foreclosing the opportunity for critical thought of myriad complex issues. For example, such a statement appears to deny that Taiwanese have developed their own sense of identity and political culture apart from China.  “Reunification” is also a PRC term, not used by Taiwan or the United States, as the term presumes CCP control over Taiwan.  By declaring that Taiwan is “destined” or has no choice but for “reunification,” the PRC also makes clear that the growth in economic relations and personnel contacts with Taiwan it has allowed since 2008 are not for the benefit of the people of Taiwan, but to assist the PRC’s ultimate goal of conquest. 
A second element of the white paper’s coercion is the message that it is time for Taiwan (the current KMT government) to begin political negotiations with China.  This is possible because after having boycotted substantial negotiations with the previous DPP government for eight years, the PRC’s mere three years of economic and cultural agreements with the KMT government constitute great progress. “The Chinese government has formulated and implemented principles and policies for advancing peaceful development of cross-Strait relations in the new situation promoted and maintained peace and stability in the area.”  It lists some of the recent economic and cultural improvements but then concludes, “The peaceful development of cross-Strait relations accords with the interests and aspirations of compatriots on both sides of the Straits, and is widely applauded by the international community.” 

Based on this far-reaching conclusion, the CCP wants the KMT to start political negotiations regarding Taiwan’s future now.  The operative paragraph calling for political negotiations is calmly stated, but its placement in the section “National Defense Policy” provides a subtler coercive context.  It begins by stating the CCP’s preferred final outcome: “The two sides of the Taiwan Strait are destined to ultimate reunification….” If this is the only outcome, then the CCP apparently believes it can be generous and offer to “strive to create favorable conditions to gradually resolve, through consultation on an equal footing, both issues inherited from the past and new ones that emerge in the development of cross-Strait relations…[and]…discuss political relations in the special situation that China is not yet reunified in a pragmatic manner.” While the Ma government has repeatedly called on the PRC to withdraw or destroy the now 1,400+ PLA missiles aimed at Taiwan, the 2011 white paper says not so fast, “The two sides can hold contacts and exchanges on military issues at an appropriate time and talk about a military security mechanism of mutual trust, in a bid to act together to adopt measures to further stabilize cross-Strait relations and ease concerns regarding military security.” The white paper’s apparent near-term goal is to “formally end hostilities and reach a peace agreement.”

By dictating the ultimate outcome and making multiple false conclusions and assumptions such as “Significant and positive progress has been achieved in cross-Strait relations,” the CCP is denying the legitimacy of the democratic debate within Taiwan regarding its future relationship with China.  But as is usual communist party practice, it is ready to label, demonize and make enemies of Taiwanese and others who would question or oppose the CCP’s dictat.  The white paper intones, “The ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist force and its activities are still the biggest obstacle and threat to the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations.” These passages are likely intended for the Democratic Progressive Party, especially its factions that do aspire to a de-jure sovereign status for Taiwan. For the CCP, there is no consideration that those in favor of “independence” would be willing to live in peace with China, or that most Taiwanese simply do want to be ruled by the CCP.  As far as the CCP is concerned, apparently, they are all potential enemies to be dealt with by military force. 

Right after the paragraph describing how “unification” will follow from “negotiations,” there is a new sub-heading “The goals and tasks of China's national defense in the new era are defined as follows:” The first paragraph under this sub-heading details the goal of defending China’s sovereignty. The third sentence lists the first specific task, “to oppose and contain the separatist forces for ‘Taiwan independence,’ crack down on separatist forces for ‘East Turkistan independence’ and ‘Tibet independence,’ and defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”  The latter two “independence” forces require a PLA and People’s Armed Police occupation force, plus decades of patient work by a large force of CCP and security service cadres to exterminate any sense of political, cultural or other ethnic identity beyond what is considered safe by the CCP.  Should the CCP seek to “oppose and contain” Taiwan “independence” forces with the same level of political and military violence expended in Tibet and Xinjiang, then CCP is promising the people of Taiwan a bloody and horrific future.  By this measure it would not be inconceivable that CCP control of Taiwan could result in a tragedy similar to that which befell South Vietnam in 1975 -76 after its conquest by Communist North Vietnam. 

Advancing Military Capabilities

While the 2011 white paper does not detail the PLA’s new military capabilities arrayed against Taiwan, it does give a sense of broad goals and provides insights into the development of PLA “strategy,” their closest term for the Western concept of “doctrine.”  Recent white papers have stressed the PLA’s strategy development in terms of advancing “informationization,” or the application of new information technologies to all aspects of warfare.  On progress made toward informationization, the 2011 white paper reports:

“Significant progress has been made in building information systems for reconnaissance and intelligence, command and control, and battlefield environment awareness. Information systems have been widely applied in logistics and equipment support. A preliminary level has been achieved in interoperability among command and control systems, combat forces, and support systems, making order transmission, intelligence distribution, command and guidance more efficient and rapid.”

This progress is readily seen in the growth of the PLA’s space information architecture, its development of layers of short and long range radar, multiple new communications, command and control systems, and its investments in information warfare and electronic warfare. 

Progress toward greater informationization has likely been instrumental in enabling the 2011 white paper’s new strategy mantra for the PLA of “joint operations under conditions of informationization.”  The white paper states, “The PLA takes the building of joint operation systems as the focal point of its modernization and preparations for military struggle, and strives to enhance its fighting capabilities based on information systems.”  Critical to this effort, a “series of theoretical works and training textbooks on joint campaigns have
been compiled…”  There is also the first mention of “tri-service integration,” which was not defined, but is likely the goal of the following passage on joint operations:

“Catering to the needs of the military's informationization, the PLA reforms and improves its leadership and command systems, adjusts and optimizes the organization and structure of combat forces, deploys new types of combat and support forces, gives priority to the building of land, maritime and air task formations, speeds up the transformation of various arms and services, and raises the level of modularized grouping and combined employment, so as to form a system of streamlined, joint, multi-functional and efficient system of combat forces.”

Progress toward higher levels of joint operations is also seen in recent PLA exercises such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organizations (SCO) Peace Mission 2010 in Khazakhstan in September 2010, for which the PLA deployed a combined arms force of mechanized army and air force units—the first time that PLA Air Force bombers and fighters have deployed from PRC bases to conduce combat exercises in a foreign country. 

For Taiwan, the United States and its allies, PLA progress toward higher levels of jointness means the PLA growing counter-space, missile, air strike, naval strike and amphibious-airborne assault forces can be employed with far greater effectiveness.  Such jointness would be critical to the success of developing PLA strategies of “anti-access” or “area-denial” for which it seeks to coordinate missile, air, submarine and cruise missile strikes against U.S. naval forces and bases to prevent U.S. forces from aiding Taiwan in the event of an attack.  At the forefront of new PLA capabilities in this regard are its novel anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), initially based on the 2,000-3,000km range DF-21C medium range ballistic missile, and a force of modern conventional attack submarines that could exceed 50 in number this decade, compared to about 30 today. 

Such a large attack submarine fleet would be instrumental in any operations intended to coerce Taiwan’s leadership onto the path toward “reunification.”  But the PLA’s growing number and variety of missiles, its nearly 600 4th generation fighters and now 4+ generation fighters all armed with precision attack munitions, give the PLA multiple options for taking down Taiwan’s defenses. The PLA has also rapidly improved its Army and Marine units dedicated to amphibious invasion operations, but currently only has the formal naval sealift to take 1-2 divisions (10-20,000+ troops) to Taiwan.  What is less noted is that the PLA also can call on a large fleet of civil ferries and ships, which in 2006 the Taiwan Ministry of Defense estimated could transport an additional 5 to 7 divisions (50-70,000+ troops) to Taiwan.  The PLA also could call on about 80 large cargoliners (mainly built by the U.S.[5]) to supplement its current 20 or so Il-76 transports.  The 2011 white paper actually highlights this PRC policy when its states, “China is working to integrate combat-readiness as an element in the national transportation grid, and improve capabilities in strategic lines of communication support, strategic projection support, and rush transportation and rapid repair.”

“Maintaining World Peace and Stability”

In December 2004 CCP and PLA leader Hu Jintao announced the “New Historic Missions” for the PLA.  The first mission was to defend the power position of the CCP, but in this list was a call for the PLA to increasingly defend the CCP’s interests abroad.  Since this announcement the PLA has increased its foreign military activities, from participation in SCO “Peace Mission” exercises, to a sharp increase in contributions to United Nations peacekeeping operations,  a notable   increase in military consultations with countries important to PRC interests, and an increase in bi-lateral exercises with countries from around the world.  The 2011 white paper includes descriptions of many of these developments, and it includes for the first time -- as the last section under the sub-heading, “goals and tasks of China's national defense in the new era,” -- the task of “Maintaining World Peace and Stability.”  A seemingly anodyne list of policies follows:

“China consistently upholds the new security concepts of mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination, advocates the settlement of international disputes and regional flashpoint issues through peaceful means, opposes resort to the use or threat to use of force at will, opposes acts of aggression and expansion, and opposes hegemony and power politics in any form.”

Indeed, the PRC appears to be adjusting its rhetoric in the face of years  of entreaties by the United States and others that it become a “responsible stakeholder” and increase its contributions to combating common global threats.  When the PRC increases its contributions to United Nations peacekeeping operations or sends naval forces to anti-piracy patrols off of Somalia, these are largely positive contributions.  But it is not clear that the PRC’s vision for “world peace and stability” is the same as that of the U.S. and its democratic friends and allies.  The major alliance in which it invests, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, has become an increasingly militarized alliance of dictatorships.  The PRC’s most lauded friends are also anti-democratic, from Vladimir Putin’s Russia to Fidel Castro’s Cuba, Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and for as long as he lasts, Libya’s Muammar Qaddaffi.  The PRC does not regard its continued preparations to attack democratic Taiwan, or its increasing military pressures in the East China Sea and South China Sea, as a threat to peace and stability in Asia.  Furthermore, the 2011 white paper for the first time makes clear that increasing U.S. and international pressure on North Korea and Iran to end their nuclear weapons program is not acceptable -- but “dialogue” that gives them more time to complete their nuclear missiles is acceptable:

“China advocates resolving the nuclear issue in the Korean Peninsula peacefully through dialogues and consultations, endeavoring to balance common concerns through holding six-party talks in order to realize the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and maintain peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the Northeast Asia. China, always considering the whole situation in the long run, painstakingly urges related countries to have more contacts and dialogues in order to create conditions for resuming six-party talks as early as possible. China is for the peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiation, and for maintaining the peace and stability of the Middle East.”

The PRC  historically has been a key source of nuclear weapon and missile technology to Pakistan, North Korea and Iran, who in turn have formed a network selling and bartering this technology to enable their progress toward nuclear missile state status.  In 2010, the PRC not only refused to condemn North Korea’s March attack that killed 46 South Korean sailors, it also sharply increased political support for North Korea. The PRC  also has likely sold new 4th generation surface-to-air missile technology to North Korea, which it may in turn sell to Iran.[6]

It is necessary to ask what will the CCP version of “world peace and stability” look like in the 2020s, when the PLA may have completed its initial fleet of 4-5 aircraft carriers, 6-12 large amphibious projection ships, a fleet of C-17 size transport aircraft, and deploys more capable space combat systems.  Absent a radical change in priorities and perspectives in Beijing, this larger globally deployable military force may be actively opposing the interests of the United States and other democracies more often that it supports them. American military leaders already have been concerned with how to react to the PRC’s looming “anti-access” capabilities like new anti-ship ballistic missiles.  During his January 2011 visit to Beijing, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted this effort, saying, “They clearly have the potential to put some of our capabilities at risk and we have to pay attention to them; we have to respond appropriately with our own programs.”[7]

Protecting the PLA Nuclear Missile Buildup

As the United States and Russia have recently agreed to reduce their deployed nuclear warhead numbers to 1,550 each, and as the Obama Administration considers additional cuts,[8] the PRC is in the midst of a substantial buildup in numbers and lethality of its nuclear missile forces that could result in a dramatic increase in PLA nuclear warhead numbers.[9]  The U.S. clearly has some anxiety about PLA nuclear weapons plans, as both the Bush and Obama Administrations have sought to engage the PLA on this subject.  More recently, as part of its April 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, the Obama Administration declared it would seek “strategic assurance dialogues” with the PRC. 

So far, the PRC has refused to engage in any substantive discussions on its nuclear missile plans, refuses to reveal its current nuclear missile inventory, and will not even allow the commander of its Second Artillery missile force, its main nuclear missile force, to visit the United States.  However, the 2011 white paper offers a more expansive PRC justification for avoiding dialogue or even negotiations regarding its nuclear weapons:

“China maintains that countries possessing the largest nuclear arsenals bear special and primary responsibility for nuclear disarmament. They should further drastically reduce their nuclear arsenals in a verifiable, irreversible and legally-binding manner, so as to create the necessary conditions for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. When conditions are appropriate, other nuclear weapon states should also join in multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament. To attain the ultimate goal of complete and thorough nuclear disarmament, the international community should develop, at an appropriate time, a viable, long-term plan with different phases, including the conclusion of a convention on the complete prohibition of nuclear weapons.”

One point that emerges from all this is that while the PRC has the world’s largest military force, it does not agree that it also has a responsibility for demonstrating to others that it can contribute to confidence regarding its nuclear weapons intentions.  The PRC purposely sets an unrealistic standard for nuclear disarmament by others, so that it will have more than enough time to continue with its own nuclear forces modernization and buildup plans.   

Opposing Missile Defense While Leading the Space Arms Race

The 2011 white paper includes longer and more focused statements on missile defense and space warfare than did prior iterations.  The 2011 paper opposes both,  but provides no information on the  PLA’s  aggressive expansion of  its own missile defenses and space warfare capabilities. Missile defenses are the key response of the United States and many of its allies to Iran’s and North Korea’s potential nuclear missiles made possible by PRC proliferation.  Reflecting longstanding PRC policy that opposes U.S.-European and U.S.-Japan missile defense cooperation, the 2011 white paper states:

“China maintains that the global missile defense program will be detrimental to international strategic balance and stability, will undermine international and regional security, and will have a negative impact on the process of nuclear disarmament. China holds that no state should deploy overseas missile defense systems that have strategic missile defense capabilities or potential, or engage in any such international collaboration.”

The clause “will have a negative impact on the process of nuclear disarmament” could be a not- so-veiled threat that the PLA will increase in its own nuclear missile and warhead count, and continue to refuse to talk to Washington about its nuclear forces buildup, because of U.S. efforts to defend against North Korean and Iranian missiles. Another implication is that the PRC wants to continue to buildup up its nuclear proxies while denying to those threatened by their nuclear missiles the means to defend themselves.  Meanwhile, the PRC avowedly does not oppose missile defense capabilities for itself.  Chinese sources have recently disclosed that the PLA may soon deploy the “HQ-15,” which has a longer range than the 150-200km range HQ-9 surface-to air missile[10], meaning that it likely has a missile defense capability.  In 2008, an Asian military source disclosed to the author that the PLA could have a national missile defense system before 2025.

The 2011 white paper offers the same double standard regarding weaponization of outer space.  Reflecting longstanding PRC policy, the white paper states:

“The Chinese government has advocated from the outset the peaceful use of outer space, and opposes any weaponization of outer space and any arms race in outer space. China believes that the best way for the international community to prevent any weaponization of or arms race in outer space is to negotiate and conclude a relevant international legally-binding instrument.”

What the white paper does not state is that the PLA’s space weapons program is likely among the most advanced and best funded in the world--and that the PRC has no intention of allowing this capability to be limited by international treaties, no more than it will accept treaty limitations on its nuclear weapons. The PRC’s manned and unmanned space program is controlled by the PLA, and the its successful January 2007 anti-satellite (ASAT) interception reportedly was preceded by several ASAT system tests.  The PLA is likely developing an unmanned space plane for military missions based on its Shenlong space plane program[11], analogous to the U.S. X-37B.  All seven of China’s manned and unmanned Shenzhou space capsule missions have performed military missions, and the larger Tiangong space station technology development craft, to be launched later in 2011, will carry cameras and/or payload modules.  It should be expected that the PLA’s larger 60-ton space station, slated to be lofted by 2020, will also perform military missions. 


For Washington, the PRC’s 2011 defense white paper is another douse of cold water from Beijing. While on the rhetorical surface seemingly a step forward in responding to longstanding U.S. demands for greater military transparency, the white paper’s progress in this regard is not sufficient, but the agenda that it reveals should diminish further hopes that the PRC will eventually become a “partner” that shares U.S. and Western global interests.  The white paper’s direct intervention into Taiwan’s political debate about its future is coercive in nature and affirms that despite its many recent actions to alleviate tensions with Taiwan, it is doing so to advance its consistent goal of taking over Taiwan.  As such, the white paper’s direct involvement in coercive diplomacy, combined with the PLA’s continued military buildup against Taiwan, constitutes a direct challenge to American policy expressed with the force of law in the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, “to consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States.” 

Furthermore, the PLA’s consistent buildup of new “anti-access” capabilities aimed at U.S. military forces in Asia challenge the TRA’s policy clause, “to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.”  Given the growing military imbalance against Taiwan, it is imperative that the U.S. State Department review its longstanding restrictive interpretation of the TRA’s requirement that the U.S. sell “defensive weapons” to Taiwan.  State Department restrictive interpretations serve to deny Taiwan access to modern weapons such as the Lockheed Martin ATACMS missile that could effectively deter a PLA invasion, and thus a PRC decision to attack Taiwan.[12] 

The 2011 white paper displays a new confidence in the PLA’s expansive two-decade long  modernization which is now enabling modern joint operations. It underscores a growing inclination to create a pro-PRC system of “world peace and stability,” while remaining uncooperative regarding nuclear proliferation and protecting the PRC’s rogue regime clients which threaten an age of nuclear terrorism. The white paper also offers new justifications for the PRC to refuse to consider constraints on its nuclear weapons or space warfare programs. Today the PRC is only poised for serious aggression on the Taiwan Strait, but is distinctly uncooperative from Tehran to Tripoli. The 2011 white paper provides a warning that the PLA  expects to be capable of aggression regionally and globally by the 2020s, should the CCP decide such is necessary to defend its paramount interests.

[1] See, “Full text: China's National Defense in 2010,” March 31, 2011,

[2] For an earlier examination of the PRC’s cooptation-coercion strategy see Joel Wuthnow, “The Integration of Cooptation and Coercion: China’s Taiwan Strategy since 2001,” East Asia, Fall 2006, pgs 22-45.

[3] On 31 March 2011, the day the white paper was issued, a spokesmen for the Ma government rejected the call for political negotiations saying it was not the time to discuss political and military issues, while the pro-PRC former KMT leader Lien Chan called for the government to begin political talks with Beijing, see Ko Shu Ling, “China’s Call for CBMs Rejected,” The Taipei Times, April 1, 2011,

[4] The Taiwan government’s Mainland Affairs Council conducted a poll on relations with China from December 24-27, 2010 that concluded, “The great majority (87.3 percent) of the public support maintaining the status quo defined in a broader sense.”  See, “Summarized Results of Public Opinion Survey on the ‘Public's View on Current Cross-Strait Relations,’” December 24 to 27, 2010,

[5] See the author’s, “Relaxing the Tiananmen Arms Embargos: Still A Bad Idea,” International Assessment and Strategy Center Web Page, October 18, 2010,

[6] Ibid.

[7] Daniel Dombey, “Gates warns over Chinese stealth aircraft,” Financial Times, January 9, 2011,

[8] “US Reviewing Nuclear Arsenal With Eye To New Cuts,” The New York Times, March 23, 2011.

[9] For analysis of this buildup see the author’s, “China and Start: Missile buildup may surpass U.S., Russia as they denuclearize,” The Washington Times, September 15, 2010,

[10] See, “Hong Kong Media: China’s Red Flag-9, 15, 16, 17 constitutes an airspace defense network,” March 28, 2011,

[11] For more background on the Shenlong space plane, see the authors, “Shenlong Space Plane Advances China’s Military Space Potential,” International Assessment and Strategy Center Web Page, December 17, 2007,

[12] For a view on how the “offensive” U.S. ATACMS missile would increase Taiwan’s “defense,” see the authors, “A Story That Should Have Been, The Taipei Times, January 10, 2011,

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