July 31, 2019

Major Themes in China’s 2019 National Defense White Paper

By Elsa B. Kania and Peter Wood

On July 24, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) issued its first new national defense white paper (NDWP) since 2015 (Xinhua). “China’s National Defense in a New Era” attempts both to articulate a vision of global security in which China is a driving force for “world peace,” and to establish clear red lines on China’s core “sovereignty, security, and development interests.” While unsparing in its critique of power politics and “hegemonism,” this document also calls for China’s armed forces to “adapt to the new landscape of strategic competition.” Although the paper includes some notable information regarding the modernization and development of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), these issues will be examined specifically in a later article.

While caution is required against over-interpreting a document intended for messaging to a global audience, certain themes provide important takeaways. In particular, “China’s National Defense in a New Era” offers insights into how the PRC leadership imagines a world order characterized by greater multipolarity, its aspirations to exercise leadership within that “community of common destiny,” and the strategic objectives on which Beijing will brook no compromise. This paper reveals Beijing’s intentions to reshape the current architecture of the global order towards a future more favorable for its interests, which are expanding into new domains around the globe.

Read the full article in The Jamestown Foundation's China Brief.

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