China, in an ongoing bid to be more transparent about its military modernization, released the 2010 defense white paper, China’s National Defense in 2010, this week.
The overall picture painted is of Beijing operating in an increasingly complicated security environment. The 21st century is a time of cooperation, says the report, and "the current trend toward peace, development and cooperation is irresistible." At the same time, "international military competition remains fierce." The Asia-Pacific region remains "intricate and volatile" because of continued tension on the Korean Peninsula, and the United States is reinforcing its military alliances and asserting itself in regional security issues. The key goals are:
- Safeguard national sovereignty, security, and national development
- Maintain social harmony and stability
- Accelerate the modernization of national defense
- Maintain world peace
After a quick reading, two things stand out. First, as Andrew Erickson points out, this seems to be the first time that a white paper refers to the ground forces as the PLA Army as opposed to just the PLA. This is a demotion of sorts—before it was just the navy and air force that needed the descriptive nouns following PLA—and seems to suggest the growing importance of the PLA Navy and PLA Air Force, which makes sense given the military’s focus over the last two decades on improving power projection capabilities out into the South China Sea and the Western Pacific.
Second, while previous white papers have had numerous references to informationization (the integration of information technology systems into military systems and war fighting), this is, I think, the first time that there have been specific mentions of cyberspace. The white paper refers to "some powers" that have built out missile defense, developed global strike capabilities, and "enhanced cyber operations capabilities to occupy new strategic commanding heights." Of course the list of powers that have done all of those things is not very long. In the face of these threats, the military is tasked with defending China’s "security interests in space, electromagnetic space and cyberspace."
That is not a great deal of detail about how China is thinking about conflict in cyberspace. But it is an oblique acknowledgement that China and the United States are now engaged in strategic competition in cyberspace. To be fair, the United States has only recently begun moving toward greater transparency; U.S. Cyber Command is reportedly finalizing its new warfighting strategy. The Chinese reliance on nonstate actors, patriotic hackers and criminals, to conduct attacks increases the ambiguity and opacity. Both sides are going to have to tilt toward greater openness if they want cyberspace to be anything other than "intricate and volatile."