The PRC claims that its policy for national defense is inherently defensive. However, the scope and scale of what the PLA may be called upon to defend is expanding, motivated by the “fundamental goal” of “resolutely safeguarding China’s “sovereignty, security, and development interests.” This phrasing has replaced, and is tantamount to, earlier assertions of China’s “core interests” (核心利益, hexin liyi). There have been changes and a degree of consistency in the framing of these interests over time.  However, the characterization of the tasks of the Chinese military and objectives of Chinese defense policy have evolved slightly between the 2015 and 2019 NDWPs.  In particular, the PRC’s commitment to safeguarding “national sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity and security” is expanding.
“China’s National Defense in the New Era” declares, “The South China Sea islands and Diaoyu Islands are inalienable parts of the Chinese territory.” Although the militarization of islands in the South China Sea has provoked serious concerns in the region, the PRC’s apparent confidence in its approach appears to have only increased. In 2015, “China’s Military Strategy” had highlighted the importance of “safeguard[ing] maritime rights,” calling for the PLA to “strike a balance between rights protection and stability maintenance.” By contrast, this 2019 NDWP lacks that emphasis on stability, and instead provides a direct defense of PRC actions: “China exercises its national sovereignty to build infrastructure and deploy necessary defensive capabilities on the islands and reefs in the South China Sea, and to conduct patrols in the waters of Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.” The justification of such measures as defensive reflects the flexible concept of defense that animates China’s strategy of active defense, which involves an offensive approach at the operational level.
Read the full article in The National Interest.
More from CNAS
CommentarySharper: Global Coronavirus Response
As regions across the United States enforce states of emergency and a growing list of countries restrict travel, close schools, and quarantine citizens, the economic and human...
By Chris Estep & Cole Stevens
PodcastChina, Europe, and COVID-19 with CNAS’s Ashley Feng and Kristine Lee
Ashley Feng and Kristine Lee join Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Jim Townsend to explain China’s response to COVID-19 on the latest episode of Brussels Sprouts. Feng is a Research ...
By Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Jim Townsend, Kristine Lee & Ashley Feng
CommentaryCan the G7 Stop the Coronavirus?
The world’s leading governments are throwing all they have into the coronavirus fight. Recent days have seen dramatic social distancing requirements, novel border controls, ma...
By Gary Edson & Richard Fontaine
CommentaryVirus Competition Is Wrecking China-U.S. Cooperation Hopes
As Washington shifted its worldview over the last several years to a sharp focus on China competition, even the most claw-bearing hawks generally left open the possibility of ...
By Richard Fontaine