The construct of China’s national security strategy

The Chinese model is based upon the binary of opposites — Yin-Yang

Inam Ul Haque September 17, 2020

Most war colleges teach a national security pyramid, wherein the ‘National Purpose or Aim’ occupies the top of the pyramid as the raison d’être of a nation. Below this are ‘national interests’ which can be core/vital, important and supplementary or peripheral. These interests give birth to various national policies and policies to respective strategies. For example, national security/defence policy would lead to national security strategy (NSS) and military strategy (MS), and from MS various service strategies would flow.

We discussed the “The Paradox of China’s Grand Strategy,” in this space on September 3, 2020, dilating upon China’s national interests and shaping of its grand strategy. Different countries take different approaches in formulating respective NSS. The US adopts an approach similar to ‘concentric circles’, wherein the president and the NS staff remain at the decision-making core. Other circles include public, media, Congress, etc. with influence decreasing as you move away from the core. Under the Goldwater Nichols Act 1986, the US government issues a NSS every four years. Other models include the ‘elite model’ and ‘system-analysis approach’.

The Chinese NSS bears more colours of peacetime, fusing with other aspects like physical or population security, cultural security, economic security, political/ ideological security, science and technology security, information and media security and environmental security, etc. In military construction, China aims to convert defence potential into capability and in force employment, it emphasises readiness and deterrence. The Chinese model is encompassing to the point of cultural xenophobia and ideological obsession.

The Chinese model is based upon the binary of opposites — Yin-Yang. In the Yin-Yang, there is a white half with a dark circle and a dark half containing a white circle. In ancient Chinese philosophy, this concept reflects dualism, when apparently opposite forces actually complement each other. Such forces remain interconnected and interdependent in the physical world.

China embraces this duality in the universality of ‘contradictions’. Chairman Mao’s classic, On Contradiction (1937), takes upon this dialectic, dividing contradictions into ‘principal’ and ‘primary’ categories. China takes the ‘materialistic-dialectic’ methods of Karl Marx to resolving these contradictions, such as whole versus part, present versus future, capability versus potential, need versus possibility, standing versus reserve force, peace versus war and maintenance versus development, etc.

China’s NSS has gone through distinct phases of transformation according to Chinese literature. The “One-side-Leaning” strategy of 1950s and 60s was adopted by Chairman Mao after founding the PRC. China opted for the Soviet camp against the US-led ‘imperialist’ camp, once rebuffed by the Truman Administration. USSR provided the crucial aid that enabled the CCP to overthrow the Kuomintang forces; expel other imperial forces and complete Chinese independence; and resist US aggression and aid Korea. USSR helped revitalise Chinese economy through industrialisation, beginning the famous ‘156 foreign-aided construction projects’. The Chinese, however, were careful enough not to become a Soviet satellite, like the Eastern European countries.

The second stage is referred by China as “the Double-Anti” strategy, when China had to meander carefully through the hostility of both — the US and the USSR — during the 1960s. Sino-Soviet split had severe economic repercussions for PRC. The Soviet Communist Party exposed the ‘Stalin Problem’ during its 20th National Congress in 1956, when party secretary Nikita Khrushchev, in his “Secret Speech”, denounced Stalin’s personality cult and dictatorship.

Consequently, Mao labelled USSR a “revisionist” power in league with the imperialists (US) to dominate the world. The breakup with the Soviet Union was unavoidable as China had rebuffed Soviet demand for Sino-Soviet joint fleet and establishing long-wave propaganda radio stations on mainland. The USSR was also unhappy about China shelling the Kuomintang-held Jinmin and Mazu islands. It asked China to allow Taiwan to be independent temporarily. It also rescinded agreements and contracts withdrawing all experts from China.

The USSR did visibly side with and aided India in ‘nibbling Chinese territory’ in the 1960s, pressurising China to make concessions to the Indian territorial demands. It also secretly supported India to escalate the border dispute, deploying more than a million troops on the Sino-Soviet border.

Consequently, Chairman Mao re-oriented China towards Asia, Africa and Latin America, improving relations with Japan and Western Europe.

The third stage is termed as “the Three-Worlds Strategy” of the early 1970s. Imminent collapse in the Soviet camp, weakening of the US in the imperialist camp and the rise of Third World countries led to ‘non-alignment’ against prevalent bipolar construct of international order. The ‘contradictions’ of bipolarity for world hegemony was considered inimical to the developing nations. So in 1974, while meeting the Zambian president, Mao mapped out the “Three-Worlds Strategy” labelling the US and USSR as the First World; middle-tier Japan, Europe and Canada as the Second World; and China and others as the populous Third World. He considered the US-Soviet détente aimed at oppressing and exploiting the Third World, and called for it to be resisted. In his reckoning, the conflict between the hegemonic rich and powerful and the poor Third World was the ‘main contradiction’ of the world.

Then comes the “One-Line-One-Large-Area” construct of the late 1970s and 80s. The rise in Soviet power at the cost of a subdued US, post-Vietnam war, led to the Sino-US rapprochement. This broke the 20-years long deadlock in bilateral relations. China assumed its seat in the UN. Sino-US strategic cooperation involved joint defence of Soviet threats. One-Line-One-Large-Area — according to China — entailed strengthening unity with developing nations and better relations with the Second World and the US. The double-pincer strategy relieved pressure on China from both superpowers, turning the tables on the USSR. The bonhomie with the US ended with the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Since the 1990s, Chinese strategic construct involves “Go Out Policy” or ‘Zǒuchūqū Zhànlüè,’ encouraging its enterprises to invest overseas, shunning conflict. Flush with money, PRC feels its envisaged ‘harmonious world’ is possible through a ‘peaceful rise’ of the Chinese dragon that helps developing economics through projects like OBOR (with CPEC as its flagship project). When fully operationalised, the OBOR would cover most of the developing world and some parts of Europe. In the ‘4R’ grand strategic construct; revolution (1949–1977), recovery (1978–1989), and rising (1990–2003), the “Go Out Policy” fits within the ‘rejuvenation’ (2004–present) phase.

China’s NSS today constitutes continued economic/military construction, reunification with the motherland; working for a balanced multipolar world order; international cooperation to oppose hegemony; improving ties with the West; exploring newer markets; and keeping a stable regional environment. Conflict whether with India or the US is ostensibly ruled out, without compromising readiness.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 17th, 2020.

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