Key point: China used to bide its time and speak softly. But now, Beijing is boasting out loud and carries a big stick.
First published in 1995, China’s biannual White Paper has long been regarded as one of the foremost sources of Chinese strategic messaging. What does its 2019 edition, “China’s National Defence in the New Era,” tell us about the PRC’s security orientation?
Popular news coverage has focused on the report’s repeated insistence that Chinese “national sovereignty” is irreconcilable with Taiwanese independence, and rightly so; the White Paper reaffirmed that China “makes no promise to renounce the use of force”, and reserves “the option of taking all necessary measures” to reunify with the wayward island off its east coast. So as to preempt any ambiguity, the report confirms that these “necessary measures” include a military solution: “the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) will resolutely defeat anyone attempting to separate Taiwan from China and safeguard national unity at all costs.
A great swathe of the report is devoted to similar kinds of political signalling vis-à-vis the US and China’s Asia-Pacific competitors, but interspersed throughout the White Paper is a trove of valuable information concerning China’s defense priorities.