There is an excellent article on the RAND Corporation‘s website by Timothy R. Heath, Kristen Gunness, and Cortez A. Cooper entitled “The PLA and China’s Rejuvenation, National Security and Military Strategies, Deterrence Concepts, and Combat Capabilities.” It covers a FREE E-book. “Recent analysis of China’s military modernization effort,” the report says, “has focused heavily on the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) development of concepts and capabilities to deter or delay foreign forces responding to crises along China’s periphery. However, China developed these capabilities within the context of broader strategic requirements. This study describes China’s overarching national and security strategies and its approach to war and escalation control; summarizes its military capabilities developments; and reviews its concepts for deterrence in strategic and conventional domains.” The report is intended for “senior defense officials and other policymakers seeking an understanding of the links between China’s national development strategy and its security and defense policies, strategies and concepts.” I sincerely hope some members of Team Trudeau read it.
The key findings of the study are that:
- “Chinese perceptions and assessments are not static, they change and evolve as China’s standing in the world increases and its national interests grow, and the conclusions Chinese planners draw from such assessments also evolve;
- It is necessary to continue monitoring and analyzing emerging literature and assessments on concepts discussed in this report — particularly those with broader implications for current events;
- China might have a higher threshold for risk than the United States may expect, particularly when it comes to defending such “core interests” as territory and sovereignty claims. This could lead Chinese leaders to do something that they would not consider escalatory but which the United States might;
- Although “active defense” and China’s “no first use” policy state that China will not fire the first shot (or nuclear weapon), the definition of what the “first shot” entails is ambiguous;
- The strength of our alliances, defense capacity of our allies and partners, and U.S. military presence in the region does impact the direction of Chinese research, development and acquisition and capabilities development, particularly in high-technology areas; and
- China’s expanding interests increasingly require a capacity to provide security for investments and business ventures around the world.“
The third bullet, related to China’s potentially higher threshold for risk in defence of its core interests and the possibility that the US might consider such risks escalatory, is, in my opinion, a serious threat to regional and global peace.
The report’s authors assess and recommend that:
- “Understanding and managing competition with China on a global scale will be of the highest priority for U.S. leaders in the coming decade and beyond;
- U.S. policymakers should work to develop a broad range of regional and global scenarios to support crisis planning in the context of U.S.-China competition;
- U.S. and allied planners should develop a broad menu of options to respond to various levels of Chinese coercion and aggression; and
- Understanding how China responds to U.S. and allied security initiatives, and how China itself seeks to shape the regional security environment, is key to maintaining US extended deterrence (strategic and conventional) in the coming years.“
The third bullet (again) is, or ought to be, of interest to prime Minister Trudeau’s government.
The Chinese seem, to me, to be intent, in the mid to longer term to displace the USA as the dominant power in Asia ~ not as the ONLY power, but as the dominant one. It wants, I think, to force every government from New Zealand through the Philippines, Malaysia and on to Japan to think “what does China want?” before it thinks “what doe America want?” or even “what is best for me?” That is not, in my opinion, an unreasonable policy goal for a country like China. The danger, as the RAND Corporation analysis points out, is that what might seem to be a reasonable “core interest” to China might seem like “Chinese coercion and aggression” to America and it might provoke a dangerous response from the USA.
We all, including Canada, have a vital interest in preserving peace in the Pacific and, especially, in helping America and China to manage their constantly evolving relationship in a peaceful manner. Canada is not a major player in the Asia-Pacific region but our “weight” and our “footprint” should both be larger in terms of trade, aid and military power projection. We should be, simultaneously, “courting” the Chinese for free(er) trade and ‘warning’ the Chinese away from becoming regional bully-boys. We should be supporting e.g. Malaysia and Philippines and Vietnam as they try, peacefully, to cope with Chinese expansion into the South China Seas even as we ask China to expand the RCEP trade deal to include us. Increasing our military and foreign aid footprint in South East Asia will, also, help to increase the “weight” of our case in Beijing.