The Chinese Military Threat

  • Rudolf Fürst


Now that the Cold War is over the People's Republic of China has become a regional power. Its economic strength, its population and its traditionally strong cultural and political influence in Asia make it clear that in the future it will play an increasingly significant role on a global scale. In their reflections about a future strategic balance and security, many Western theoreticians warn against the growing ambitions of China and against its unaccountable behaviour in future international relations. A frequent cause of concern is the country's rising expenditures on security and its growing aggressiveness vis-a-vis Taiwan and the ASEAN countries with regard to territorial claims on the archipelago in the South China Sea.
China's future aspirations must be seen in the context of its traditions which motivate also the current wave of rising Chinese nationalism. Following the collapse of the communist ideology and the breakup of the socialist bloc this nationalism becomes the predominant ideology of the Chinese state as well as an instrument of the defence of the legitimacy of communist power. The threat that it will turn into militarization and an aggressive foreign policy does not appear likely; this is demonstrated by the unambiguously declared endeavour of the reformist Chinese government which wants to be accepted in global economic structures (WTO). It seems that the idea of economic self-sufficiency and political isolation from the rest of the world has been overcome. China appears strong to the outside world, but inside it is most vulnerable in many respects.
Another limiting factor of possible aggression is the technical backwardness of the Chinese army, lagging behind worldwide standards in many parts of the world. But this shortcoming could be overcome during the next decades by the purchase of modern weapons and the acquisition of modern technologies. The real threat of a military conflict with China is more likely to neighbouring countries, but even wars of a smaller scale would have serious consequences in foreign relations and economic cooperation with the West.
When analyzing Chinese strategic thinking it is necessary to proceed from Chinese historical traditions, from the character of the imperial state and from modern traditions, but first and foremost from present military doctrine which is characterized as active protection, in other words, it invollves activities beyond the borders of the state and places emphasis on the role of the navy and air force.
The most active advocates of the use of military force are to be found in the ranks of the Chinese army but their direct influence on official foreign policy has not been proven. Chinese propaganda clearly proclaims its security policy as a defence policy but concrete events after 1945 question this position. Chinese thinking regards Western civilization as unequivocally aggressive. That is why on the international scene China puts forward a distinct interpretation of state sovereignty which does not tolerate foreign intervention, not even motivated by humanitarian causes.
With regard to the theoretical possibility of a military conflict, a direct attack on the US or on NATO members does not appear likely. Most categorical behaviour can be anticipated in matters referring to "territorial integrity" (Tibet, the Uygur autonomous region, Xinjiang). States neighbouring with China, such as India, Vietnam and the ASEAN countries, have every reason to be on guard. It is more than likely that the Korean Republic, Japan and Taiwan will maintain their ties with the US. In the case of Taiwan, rather than the threat of an invasion, it is theoretically possible that China will use a blockade or use missiles with conventional ammunition. However, owing to political and economic connections even this is only relative. It is necessary to reckon with China's attempts to gain gradual strategic positions in the area of the South China Sea and to penetrate into the Indian ocean.

Author Biography

Rudolf Fürst



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