14 March, 2013

"The Great Renewal"

Xi Jinping 习近平
Xi Jinping 习近平 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Recent statements out of China point to some changes in how the Chinese view themselves, their role in the world, and their future.  Party Congresses are a time to reveal changes in doctrine, and the most recent Congress falls into the pattern. According to Xinhua on 13 March "The Chinese Dream" is the hot topic, and
"China's new Communist Party leader Xi Jinping said during a museum tour last November the Chinese dream meant for him the 'great renewal of the Chinese nation.' He has pledged to pursue the shared Chinese dream of national rejuvenation."
Nightwatch does its typically fine job of evaluating the changes: 
"The Chinese dream" is being introduced on the margins of the National People's Congress (NPC) as the new strategic concept that replaces "China's peaceful rise."
In practice, this means the recognition of an inflection point in China's progress to the status of a global power, from "rising power" to national renewal.  Xi's speech of March 11th to the PLA delegation to the People's Congress was described as one that

National emblem of the People's Republic of China
... scientifically answers a series of important questions, that is,why to strengthen the military under the new situation,what to be the goal of military strengthening,how to take the path of military strengthening with Chinese characteristics."

It declares that "effecting civil-military integrated development is an important way of realizing the integration of enriching the nation and strengthening the military," and "to build a military force of the people that obeys the party's orders, is able to win in war, and keeps a good behavioral style; fully and clearly understand that obeying the party's orders is the soul, being able to win in war is the core, keeping a good style is the guarantee."  Nightwatch sums up the changes:

The circular makes the point that there is a new situation. Xi has scientifically evaluated it as requiring integration of economic and military strength in order to fulfill The Chinese Dream. In The Chinese Dream concept, Xi explicitly connects economic growth with military modernization and links them to Chinese renewal. 
His speech is called a programmatic document which means that it is not cheerleading, but guidance. An intense study period for the entire armed forces is prescribed in order to explain the purpose and direction of a more rapid development of national defense and military modernization. 
In the 1990s, indoctrination about "fighting wars under modern conditions" disrupted normal armed forces training and reshaped the training that followed the indoctrination period. 
The new situation requires military obedience to the Party; the ability to win wars; and good behavior. Obedience to party orders and behaving well are longstanding issues in the PLA. The new requirement is "to win in war," which replaces, "fighting wars under modern conditions." 
In the circular the PLA was instructed that the PLA is expected to provide the "strong power guarantee" for national rejuvenation. 
This appears to portend a more muscular and militarily assertive China during the next five years at least. China remains committed to peace, but not at the expense of its national interests and claims. The pace of military modernization will quicken.
Maritime claims in the South China Sea
Maritime claims in the South China Sea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That seems to me to be a fair reading.  I'd only add a couple of points of my own.  The requirement "to win in war" not only strongly suggests that there will be a sizable increase in resources to the armed forces.  It implies that the wars that China may fight are, in fact, ones they can win.  It does not say that China wants war, or even that it expects war.  It does say, however, that war is possible - including, presumably, great-power war - and if it happens China can, and should, be prepared to win.  Furthermore, backed by that kind of power - at least on a regional scale, and perhaps globally - one should expect a more assertive foreign policy.  The sort of claims we've seen in the South China Sea, for example, are a foretaste of things to come.  And if others (read the US) believe a "show of force" will be sufficient to assure retreat they may be surprised.  Rising power, hegemonic retrenchment, plenty of room for miserception of capabilities and will.  This is not a formula for stability.

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Sean said...

Dr. McIntosh, I must admit the prospect of nuclear armed great powers clashing is a disturbing one. One thing I have never been completely clear on is theory with respect to nuclear powers fighting each other. If the US and China were to go to war over some hypothetical "core interest", does the use of strategic nuclear weapons become essentially inevitable?

Daniel McIntosh said...

That is the question, isn't it? In principle I suppose so, but what would that "core interest" be? It's further complicated by the common tendency in negotiations to express desires in terms of requirements, and by the fact that different people within a government may have different ideas of what core interests are. It's not something to panic about, by any means, but I'm always a little concerned that people will misperceive what others really care about, and how far they are willing to go -- especially when the other side isn't entirely sure itself, and may feel bound by statements it regrets having made.