Last month, the Information Office of the State Council, China's cabinet, published a white paper on its armed forces. The document scrutinises the latest situation, fresh challenges and new missions; examines building and development of China's armed forces; reflects on defending national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity; appraises supporting national economic and social development; and analyses the role of China’s armed forces in safeguarding world peace and regional stability.
China's armed forces comprise People's Liberation Army (PLA), the People's Armed Police Force (PAPF) and the militia. The PLA’s branches include the army, navy, air force and the second artillery force, which play a significant role in China's overall strategies of security and development, and shoulder the mission of safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests.
In peacetime, the PAPF's main tasks include performing guard duties, dealing with emergencies, combating terrorism and participating in and supporting national economic development. In wartime, it is tasked with assisting the PLA in defensive operations. The mission statement of China’s armed forces becomes complicated because of a borderline of more than 22,000 km and a coastline of about 18,000 km; China is a country with the most neighbours and the longest land borders. Among all China's islands, more than 6,500 are larger than 500 square meters each. China's island coastline is over 14,000 km long.
Despite propaganda to the contrary, China has no hegemonic designs and it has signed border cooperation agreements with seven neighbouring countries, and established mechanisms with 12 countries for border defence talks and meetings. It regularly conducts scenario based bilateral as well as multilateral training exercises to hone the skills of its armed forces.
The constitution and relevant laws entrust China's armed forces with the important tasks of safeguarding the peaceful labour of the Chinese people, taking part in national development and serving the people wholeheartedly. Subordinate to and serving the overall situation of national reform and development, the armed forces of China actively participate in national development, emergency rescue and disaster relief, maintain social harmony and stability according to law, and endeavour to protect national development interests.
China's armed forces bring into full play the advantages of hydroelectric, transportation, engineering and cartographic units, and support national and local infrastructure construction related to national economy and people's livelihood in such areas as transportation, water conservancy, energy and communications.
China is often blamed for being oblivious to ecology and climate change. In fact, its armed forces and reserve organic troops are organised to help afforest barren hills, control desertification and preserve wetlands. Specifically, they have supported the construction of key national reserves and ecological engineering projects, such as controlling the sources of sandstorms affecting Beijing and Tianjin, afforesting the periphery of the Taklimakan Desert, protecting the ecological environment of the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers, and harnessing the Yarlung Zangbo, Lhasa and Nyangqu rivers in Tibet.
China’s location in a region with more varieties, wide distribution and high frequency of natural disasters endanger its economic and social development as well as the lives and property of many Chinese people. The armed forces of China are tasked to act as the shock force in emergency rescue and disaster relief, and undertake the most urgent, arduous and hazardous rescue tasks, both at home and abroad. Pakistan has been a beneficiary of this largesse when the Chinese armed forces came to its assistance during various natural calamities.
Keeping abreast of the latest challenges, the PLA also assists public security and PAPF forces in providing security for major events, being mainly tasked with counter-terrorism, NBC and explosive item checks, and medical aid, while the PLA navy is primarily responsible for guarding against potential maritime threats, terrorist attacks and keeping its Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC)s open.
As a rising world power, China is fully cognisant of its international responsibilities, as its security and development are closely connected with the peace and prosperity of the world as a whole.
China's armed forces have always been a staunch force upholding world peace and regional stability, and continue to increase cooperation and mutual trust with the armed forces of other countries, participate in regional and international security affairs, and play an active role in international political and security fields, including contributing peacekeeping forces.
It is appreciable that China has issued a forthright white paper, breaking many myths, clearing numerous cobwebs and taking a hard look at its armed forces, which are a pillar of its society working for its betterment.
The writer is a former group captain of PAF, who also served as air and naval attaché at Riyadh. Currently, he is a columnist, analyst and host of programme Defence and Diplomacy on PTV.