China’s 2010 Defense White Paper: No Leap Forward in Transparency

By Isaac Kardon, Ross Rustici, and Phillip C. Saunders, PhD
Center for Study of Chinese Military Affairs



Chinese soldiers in formation in front of the Forbidden City, Beijing.

The PRC State Council Information Office released the seventh edition of its biennial Defense White Paper, “China’s National Defense in 2010” on March 31, 2011. The document aims to communicate the latest information on China’s military development, strategy, capabilities, and intentions.

After analyzing the white paper using the methodology developed in a June 2010 INSS study, “Assessing Chinese Military Transparency” – which defined military transparency as “providing information about military capabilities and policies that allows other countries to assess the compatibility of those capabilities with a country’s stated security goals” – we concluded that the 2010 version includes little new information and provides less information than previous white papers about military command structure, strategic national security goals, PLA missions, and China’s military modernization. While there are indications that the drafters of the DWP are sensitive to foreign perceptions and interested in improving China’s military transparency, the new document does not make much progress towards that goal.

This year’s white paper continues to emphasize “informationization”, in keeping with the mission of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) mission to “win local wars under the conditions of informationization,” a programmatic and doctrinal objective that flows from the PLA’s New Historic Missions. It also shows that the informationization agenda—developing integrated forces with advanced C4ISR capabilities—has been widely adopted throughout the military apparatus. In parallel with this emphasis, there was an increased discussion of space and cyber as strategic issues.

Discussion of actual military capabilities decreased in comparison to the 2008 white paper, which devoted separate chapters to each individual service and the Second Artillery. This year’s paper contains only five paragraphs on military service modernization efforts. As usual, the white paper focuses heavily on discussion of Chinese intentions coupled with vague references to capabilities – and no mention of any specific weapons systems (e.g., China’s aircraft carrier or ballistic missile defense programs). PLA leadership has long insisted that intentions rather than capabilities are the more important quantity in military transparency.

An INSS analysis of differences between the Chinese version of the white paper and the English translation finds that the English text has been massaged to make it more palatable and less threatening to foreign audiences, while the original Chinese document is consistently more strident, stark and assertive. In several cases, there are notable and substantive differences in the information presented.


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