By Dennis J Blasko ï½œ
The Art of WarÂ byÂ Sun Tzu can be summarized into what I call 1)Â the prime objective: to win without fighting and 2)Â the prime directive: to know yourself and know the enemy.
All other rules for fighting inÂ The Art of WarÂ and in current PLA doctrine follow directly from these two guidelines. Today, Sun Tzuâ€™s prime objective and prime directive are reflected in the PLAâ€™s continued emphasis on:
All of these atavistic concepts have been adapted and modified for the 21stÂ century. They will continue to develop as conditions change, especially as new technologies become available to the PLA.
With regards to the prime objective, â€œwinning without fightingâ€ is the belief that China can achieve its objectives through methods other than the use of brute military force, such as political, economic, or diplomatic means. Nonetheless, this concept permits the gradual use of force through both deterrence and other non-military government agencies, while keeping a strong military in reserve as a basis for deterrence. However, if deterrence and other non-military means fail, deadly force may be employed as a last resort and is to be used cautiously and only when China feels confident in its ability to win.
As required by Active Defense, if China is attacked or its sovereignty is challenged, China will respond even when it considers itself weaker than the enemy. Though PLA doctrine is based upon a strategically defensive posture, the PLA understands that offensive operations are essential at all levels of war in all phases of a campaign to achieve victory. If circumstances require, doctrine permits China to use military force to preempt an impending hostile action if an enemy is clearly preparing to strike first at Chinese sovereignty, territory, or core interests.
Such calculations, whether at the strategic or tactical levels of war, require a significant degree of knowledge about China and the PLAâ€™s capabilities, as well as the PLAâ€™s potential opponentsâ€™ intentions and capabilities. The PLA constantly assesses its own and its potential adversaryâ€™s â€œcomprehensive national power,â€ which consists of many elements beyond military force. Thus, we see the enduring emphasis on knowing yourself, knowing the enemy, and the use of all elements of national power present in PLA doctrine.
Additionally, the PLA operates under several principles that most other contemporary militaries do not:
These principles are reinforced by the continuing role of Peopleâ€™s War as the basis for PLA strategic thinking in conjunction with the strategy of Active Defense. The principles of Peopleâ€™s War are ingrained in the collective minds of PLA leaders. Various descriptions of Peopleâ€™s War can be found in many sources, but they are most easily accessible in the 2005 English-language version ofÂ The Science of Military Strategy, which actually contains two different but similar lists of the â€œPrinciples of Peopleâ€™s Warâ€ (pp. 107-112/230-31). The various colors show parallel principles in the two lists; note the light red and green entries below, stressing caution and prudence.
Maoâ€™s Strategic Guidance Principles of Peopleâ€™s War, Chapter 3
|Strategic Principles for Peopleâ€™s War, Chapter 10|
Additionally, later in the book (pp. 456-57) â€œfive combinationsâ€ of Peopleâ€™s War provideÂ additional details in general terms of how Chinese forces and resources will be used. These â€œfive combinationsâ€Â overlap in the followingÂ ways:
The 2006 Chinese Defense White Paper states, â€œThe Navy is enhancing research into the theory of naval operations and exploring the strategy and tactics of maritime peopleâ€™s war under modern conditions.â€ Needless to say, one can find many examples of the â€œfive combinationsâ€ in PLA organization, training, and in its real world missions. Based on the location, opponent, and other variables, the â€œfive combinationsâ€ can result in a multitude of operational methods and techniques.
However, PLA leaders most likely understand that the farther away from Chinaâ€™s borders they attempt to apply Peopleâ€™s War principles, the lower the chances of success. Therefore, we now see an emphasis on building forces and creating doctrine for air and maritime operations in waters beyond the near seas.
For the last six to eight years we have been watching the Chinese government execute a maritime Peopleâ€™s War under modern conditions; incorporating the principles of both deterrence and Active Defense in the South and East China Seas. Beijingâ€™s objectives in this total government effort are to demonstrate its sovereignty over disputed territories and to deter the U.S. military from conducting close-in surveillance in its Exclusive Economic Zone, utilizing all available methods short of going to war.
Two examples illustrating the combinations of Peopleâ€™s War are found in the case of theÂ USNS ImpeccableÂ and in Chinese efforts to challenge Japanese administrative control of the Senkaku Islands. In March 2009, theÂ USNS ImpeccableÂ was operating in international waters in Chinaâ€™s EEZ in the South China Sea when two civilian trawlers â€œshadowed and maneuvered dangerously closeâ€ to theÂ Impeccable. These trawlers were backed up by a Fisheries Patrol vessel, a State Oceanographic Administration vessel, and a PLAN intelligence collector, an example of combining regular troops with the masses. They combined the low-tech trawlers with the high-tech naval intelligence collector and could have been vectored to the area based on high-tech reconnaissance or low-tech visual means. The close quarter operations to cut the towed array were an example of â€œsparrow warfareâ€ or ambush. These actions, however, did not achieve Chinaâ€™s objective of deterring U.S. surveillance in its EEZ and, in fact, it only hardened U.S. resolve over its Freedom of Navigation missions (if that resolve needed to be hardened any more than it already was).
In the East China Sea, around the Senkakus, once again we see Chinaâ€™s mix of the masses with regular PLA forces with the use of Chinese Coast Guard vessels and aircrafts to patrol near the islands, coupled with a mostly over the horizon presence of the regular PLA Navy. Presumably, there is some sort of high-tech communication between these forces. What Beijing is attempting to do is send the political message that the Chinese Coast Guard can exert control over the waters around the islands in the same way Japan can. They could send the same message much more forcefully by substituting gray Navy ships for the white colored Coast Guard, which they do occasionally.
We can find other recent examples of variations of the â€œfive combinationsâ€ in action, such as the land-reclamation construction underway in the Spratly Islands or the activities of the civilianÂ Haiyang ShiyouÂ 981 oil rig and its accompanying escort in the SCS last year.
In the East China Sea, Beijing knows that the U.S.-Japanese Security Treaty would apply if it first used military force in a hostile action over the Senkaku islands. It likely calculates the PLA could not at this time win a shooting war 300 kilometers from the Chinese coast against combined Japanese and U.S. naval and air forces.
The distances are greater in the South China Sea and the chance of U.S. involvement still remains high, therefore Chinaâ€™s current calculations regarding the South China Sea are most likely the same. However, China is actively working to shift that balance over the long term.
For the foreseeable future, in any of its contingency operations where the U.S. military has a potential role, the PLAâ€™s calculations of the balance of power will not provide it with the confidence it desires in order to initiate major hostilities. However, no matter what those calculations, if Chinaâ€™s core interests are threatened it will respond. Though how it responds will depend on the specific situation, the time, and other international factors.
Yet, the Chinese government probably understands its Peopleâ€™s War at Sea strategy for the ECS and the SCS has not achieved its objectives and has resulted in an escalated spiral of action taken by both China and the countries with which it has territorial disputes. Fortunately, to date, all sides have succeeded in keeping the level of intensity below the intentional use of deadly force, but accidents and miscalculations could change that in an instant. If any participant in these territorial disputes intentionally decides to use deadly force in this action-reaction cycle, then Chinaâ€™s strategy will have failed and what comes next could be devastating. The best solution, desired by everyone in the region, is a negotiated settlement and while the beginning of that process may be underway with Japan, it will require the good faith support of all military, paramilitary, government, and civilian actors from all sides who have a stake in the outcome.
Chinaâ€™s calculations of its relative political, diplomatic, economic, and military strength will change as conditions in China and the region evolve. Unless compelled to respond to a challenge with direct military action, Beijing likely will attempt to calibrate its actions by continuing to employ a wide array of civilian, government, paramilitary, and military capabilities up to the line of the intentional use of deadly force to achieve its objectives. To do so effectively will require the Chinese government and the PLA to understand their own strengths and weaknesses as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the other players in the region. Chinaâ€™s use of integrated, multi-dimensional approaches that differ based on the specifics of each dispute presents an asymmetrical test to foreign governments who do not have the same range of options available but, unlike China, may have the explicit, implied, or potential support of the American military presence in the region.
(This essay is adapted from remarks presented at Project 2049â€™s conference on â€œChina’s Military Development and the U.S.-Japan Alliance,â€ March 20, 2015.)
Dennis J. Blasko, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired), was an army attachÃ© in Beijing and in Hong Kong from 1992-1996. And He is the author of ã€ŠThe Chinese Army Today: Tradition and Transformation for the 21st Centuryã€‹, second edition (Routledge, 2012).