China revisions to defense law push Beijing closer to war: scholar

01/17/2021 08:22 PM
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Beijing. CNA file photo
Beijing. CNA file photo

Taipei, Jan. 17 (CNA) Beijing's recent amendments to its National Defense Law indicate that China has shifted its defense strategy to a more pre-emptive posture, making it more likely that it wages war, according to an expert with a government-funded think tank in Taiwan.

The assessment was made in a paper by Lin Cheng-jung (林政榮), a visiting research fellow from Taiwan's military at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), that was posted on the institute's website on Jan. 12.

China's National People's Congress approved the amendments to the National Defense Law on Dec. 26, 2020, and they took effect on the first day of 2021.

According to Lin, the National Defense Law, which was introduced in 1997, serves as the parent law of all Chinese military laws.

Lin argued that through the revisions, Beijing has laid the groundwork for giving legal legitimacy to launching a war.

The possibility of China waging war has increased significantly because the amendments added a condition under which the state can mobilize its forces, including the military and paramilitary forces, such as the Chinese People's Armed Police Force and the China Militia.

One of the revisions added the term "development interests" to a provision permitting Beijing to "defend its national interests and development interests, and resolve differences with the use of force," he said, giving China a wider scope for using force.

According to Article 47 of the newly amended law, the state can fully or partially "mobilize its forces," when its sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity, security and development interests are threatened, with "development interests" newly added.

Judging from current international circumstances, the phrase "development interests" encompasses the Taiwan Strait, South China Sea, and Diaoyutai (Senkaku) Islands issues, non-traditional threats, overseas interests, and security in space and on the internet, Lin said.

The change reflects a major shift in its defense strategy, Lin said, with the emphasis now on "pre-emptive defense" rather than "active defense," "especially when related to matters affecting its national security or development interests," Lin wrote.

Active defense refers to the use of limited offensive action and counterattacks to repel an enemy attack, while pre-emptive defense refers to taking unilateral action against a threat that is merely perceived.

"This may translate to China being proactive in the battlefield by initiating a limited attack against its aggressors or secession forces, and by seeking support from its allies," he said, citing the China-Iran-Russia joint military exercise in 2017 as an indication of such a trend.

In another paper written by Lin, published on the website of INDSR on Jan. 15, he said the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is currently stepping up its joint warfare capabilities to increase the effectiveness of its military.

That should help different service branches of China's armed forces work together and complement each other in joint operations, rather than executing military operations independently.

The paper, titled " Strategic Implications of the PLA's Trial Implementation Guidelines to Promote Joint Combat Operations," said Beijing's implementation of the guidelines in November 2020 showed that the PLA has made the improvement of its joint operations capabilities a top priority.

Lin noted, however, that it will be hard for the PLA to achieve the goal in the short term, citing its lack of experience in modern warfare, the lack of training in that field, and parochialism among military branches.

Other factors such as the compatibility of weapon systems between military branches and coordination of command chains also exist.

(By Emerson Lim)

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