The multilingual contents of the site are the result of an automatic translation.


Other sources

Saut de ligne
Saut de ligne

⚡️La modernization in China: the case of the armed forces

International relationships
Saut de ligne
Saut de ligne

Modernize the country! A vast project, which occupied the thoughts of successive Chinese governments for almost two centuries and which began in the second half of the 19th century, after the humiliations of the Opium Wars and the Unequal Treaties. This modernization is a challenge: it is not just a matter of copying Western powers, but of drawing inspiration from their technologies, while preserving the essence of Chinese civilization. The objective has been summed up in the following formula: "Western technology, Chinese spirit1 ». However, the implementation of this maxim is proving more difficult than expected.

From the Qing empire to Maoist China, successive regimes have all found that material and technical change - in order to be effective - necessarily implies a profound change in social and political organization.

It was not until the death of Mao Zedong on 9 September 1976 that the authorities who had survived the political purges could really see the state of disintegration of the country.It was only after Mao Zedong's death on September 9, 1976, that the authorities who had survived the political purges could truly see the state of decay in which China found itself at that time - after the failures of the "Hundred Flowers", the "Great Leap Forward" and the "Cultural Revolution". Under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, the PRC is undertaking major political and economic reforms and opening up internationally to attract foreign investors. During this period (1978-1990), the communist regime was careful to keep a "low profile" on the international scene, so as not to attract attention during its renewal. The next leaders, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, did not become part of Deng Xiaoping's line until Xi Jinping came to power in 2012. The latter completely breaks with the policies of his predecessors, both internally and externally: Several popular mobilization campaigns are launched around the themes of the fight against corruption and the slogan of the "Chinese Dream", presented as an alternative to the Western development model.

Un système de combat moderne à la Chinoise

As the world's second largest power, the country continues its modernisation effort, driven by the dream of becoming a great power. The objective was reaffirmed by Xi Jinping in October 2017, during a speech before the 19th Congress of the CCP. It is "to fight relentlessly to realize the Chinese dream of the great renewal of the nation.2 ». The army is not to be outdone in this great project - in fact, it is an essential part of it. To have a prosperous country, you need a powerful army. In order for the Chinese dream to come true, it is necessary that first of all "the dream of the rise of the Chinese army3 " be realized. 3 It must enable China to become a first-rate power by 2050 and, to achieve this, Xi Jinping specifies in his speech the need to set up a "modern Chinese-style combat system".4 ».

China has a long tradition in terms of strategic and tactical thinking, the first traces of which date back to the times of "Spring and Autumn" (6th-4th centuries) and the "Warring Kingdoms" (4th-3rd centuries). To mention just a few, Sun Zi and Wun Zi still occupy a central place in Chinese military thought from ancient times. The richness of this period when "One Hundred Schools of Thought" flourished and dealt with a multitude of subjects, including military strategy. To this ancient heritage, the PLA adds Soviet training in military academies of the early 20th century, such as the Whampoa Academy. It is difficult to assess the weight of these combined legacies and to determine which one is the most preponderant, especially since a third influence is now being added, that of the United States.

By studying the various conflicts in which China has been involved since 1949, it is possible to identify some key concepts and principles of Chinese military thought:

  • Wēishè" is the threat of the use of armed force, but not necessarily its use. When it is used, it is always a matter of waging wars of limited scope, with clearly defined objectives, in order to force the adversary to return to the status quo ante and to the negotiating table. Wēishè also involves - when force is used - humiliating the adversary in combat, so that he has no choice but to acknowledge Chinese military superiority. E.g.: China militarily crushed India twice in 1962 (where the latter was the strongest) and each time unilaterally announced a ceasefire.

- Mass: APL always seeks to have numerical and material superiority, by carefully choosing the place and time of the confrontation. If this mass used to result in the sending of human waves, China has since decided to take inspiration from the Western model of concentration of efforts, while taking care to maintain a general balance of power which must necessarily be favourable, even overwhelming.

It should be noted that the current modernisation and cuts in human numbers are not leading to a reduction in China's mass but, on the contrary, should make it possible to mobilise it better, making the PLA a more agile army. Thus the human mass is giving way to a strategic and tactical mass.

Moderniser et control

In order to better employ its personnel, the PLA needs "strong and highly effective command bodies5 "in order to be able to conduct joint and combined operations. Until recently, the joint and combined arms existed only in name in China - each army conducted exercises on its own. But since the shock of 1991 and the American "Desert Storm" operation in Iraq, Chinese officials have realised the need to operate as a system and to make the different weapons inter-operational. The objective is to rationalise and centralise decision-making around the Central Military Commission (CMC), headed by Xi Jinping, which is at the top of the military chain of command. This rationalization is accompanied by a number of territorial and structural changes, mainly concerning the transformation of [seven] military regions into theatres of command [five]. These are responsible for directing the joint services, ensuring territorial defence and overseeing external interventions.

Thus, "the CMC controls the whole, the theatres of command direct the fighting, [while] the armies manage the construction of the forces....6 ». Alongside this reform of command and hierarchy, China has set itself the objective of simultaneously mechanising and computerising its armed forces.The aim is to simultaneously mechanize and computerize its armed forces, while developing a niche sector through so-called "breakthrough" weapons (ballistic; hypersonic; directed energy; electric; space; AI). President Xi in his address to the 19th Congress stressed that science and technology are among the essential elements of combativeness.7. However, the modernisation of the forces continues to stumble over the training of officers: training and combat simulations point to the lack of initiative of PLA officers, even their tendency to give in to panic when they are caught in ambushes, as well as their lack of knowledge about the means placed at their disposal.8.

The modernisation of the armed forces paradoxically contributes to the tensions between the Party and the PLA. Wanted by civilian cadres to fulfil their desire for power, professionalisation causes a distancing of military personnel from political affairs. This distrust is not new and the relationship between the two institutions is complex. When the PLA was founded in 1927, relations between civilians and the military were symbiotic, i.e. there was no clear distinction between the two personnel. However, the CCP soon sought to assert its authority over the military more forcefully. And for good reason, the seizure of power by ambitious generals, when they were in a position of strength, has been a constant in Chinese history throughout the millennia. At the beginning of the 20th century, China was still fragmented under the influence of the Warlords and this trauma did not disappear with the seizure of power by communist forces. After the "Cultural Revolution", the military reached key positions in the civil administration - it would take several years for Party cadres to oust them. Even today, political education campaigns continue, with the current theme being "passing on the revolutionary genes and ensuring the mission of strengthening the army".9 ».

To ensure control over the troops, the CCP relies on the Political Commissioners, whose task is to ensure the indoctrination of the troops and their loyalty to the Party.

The commissioners are torn between two loyalties: they are military personnel who must perform a political task. Especially since after the great heroes of the Revolution and the Civil War, such as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, the political successors were pale in comparison and had to negotiate the loyalty of the servicepersons by making the political education courses lighter and allocating more funds to the armies. When he took over the leadership of the PRC in 2012, Xi Jinping focused on bringing the PLA back into the fold of the CCP by eliminating its opponents in the military through the anti-corruption campaign (which continues today). Thus the CCP needs the PLA to carry out its policy of modernizing the nation, but cannot trust it. Moreover, it is possible that this lack of trust and civilian interference in military affairs may eventually become a brake on the modernisation of the armed forces.

Un contextSocially unfavourable social conditions the limits of modernization

This is not the only difficulty the regime faces and it has to deal with a constraining social environment. The PLA has difficulty recruiting motivated and educated profiles because of its poor image among the population. The condition of soldiers is painful and the plight of veterans is hardly enviable. Young people - who have the means - are encouraged to join the large private groups, where they are sure to make a name for themselves. Efforts have recently been resumed to improve living conditions in barracks, and several government announcements have ensured better follow-up with veterans and their families, so that

In the same vein, he said, "The military profession is a profession respected by all.10 ». Even so, the PLA has had to revise its recruitment criteria downwards, particularly with regard to physical conditions - recruitment centres having taken note of the increasing obesity in China. Obesity affects both rural and urban populations and by 2014 will affect 17% of boys and 9% of girls, down from less than 1% in 1985.11. PLA executives note that Chinese society has changed: the gradual decline in birth rate that China is facing (2008, 500,000 young people eligible for conscription; in 2014, 300,00012), there has also been a significant increase in the number of graduates: in 2013, 34.5 per cent of students will follow a higher education course after high school. The population is urbanising and the PLA has a growing need for educated soldiers able to handle the new sophisticated weapons.13even if they are less rustic.

As a direct consequence of the evolution of Chinese society, the PLA has a measured recourse to feminization (about 5% of the workforce).

- the number of female graduates has surpassed the number of men. However, since the early 2000s, women have been are confronted with a new conservatism in Chinese society (Chinese women over 30 years of age are referred to in the media as "leftovers").14 ") and this is felt within the armed forces. Thus, the situation is paradoxical: Chinese women reach the rank of general, fly fighter planes and command cruisers on the high seas, but must demonstrate artistic talent (singing, calligraphy, dancing, etc.) when they are recruited.15).

Derrière modernization, Mala's dilemmacca

All these difficulties do not, however, hamper the grand Chinese strategy, which has so far managed to meet its objectives within the political timeframe - even ahead of schedule. These symbolic milestones are 2020 and 2050. The modernisation of the Chinese army, which is helping to achieve the Chinese objectives, is in fact part of an older strategy, which is that of the "Pearl Necklace". The Chinese themselves do not use such a denomination and prefer to speak of the "Malacca dilemma" (Hu Jintao speech of 2003). Fearing encirclement by the United States and its allies, and asphyxiation of the Chinese economy in the event of a crisis, China has undertaken to open new trade routes to circumvent the Malacca problem (trade routes to Myanmar and Pakistan). This policy aims both to defend the national sanctuary and to pacify the vital areas of the "Silk Roads" (Xinjiang and Tibet) and not to hesitate to use force to assert its sovereignty (India conflict in the summer of 2017). The objective is also to increase the number of political and commercial partners, while ensuring the defence of Chinese national interests.

To do so, China uses peacekeeping operations (PKOs) to build economic ties with the countries where it intervenes and at the same time to provide its troops with their first experience of fire - in a limited intervention framework.16. The Djibouti base, inaugurated in August 2017, should make it possible to better coordinate Chinese interventions within the framework of the United Nations. But these PKOs could only be a first step before more direct interventionism. Thus, the 2015 anti-terrorist law provides, via Article 75, that the PAP (the gendarmerie) and the PLA will be able to send troops outside the borders as part of anti-terrorist missions. There has also been mass production since 2016 of heavy troop transport aircraft (Y-20, 65 tonnes, 140 men), which is to continue until 2036.17. Xi Jinping has already broken with the "low profile" policy of his international predecessors and seems determined to continue along this path.

La Chine aux borders of France

Extending its influence in the Indo-Pacific region, China is now on the doorstep of France. China's sphere of influence now extends to the Pacific Islands18 including Vanuatu, and is now only 600 km from New Caledonia. Chinese investments are characterised by the construction of ports and infrastructure, which may subsequently be mobilised by the PLA, as has been observed in Sri Lanka.19and Djibouti20. China is also a new military player in Africa: Chinese troops are intervening in South Sudan, as well as in Mali and the Central African Republic, as part of peacekeeping operations. France thus finds itself faced with a military model that is profoundly different from that of the Western world in its modes of action, its thinking and its objectives, in short the strategic priorities of the APL.

The miserable and fanatical China of the second half of the 20th century is no more. Once ravaged by civil wars and revolutions, subject to foreign predators and the struggles of political cabals at court, China is now unified, prosperous and modern. While factional clashes within the CCP persist, the purges carried out since 2012 have unified the party leadership behind Xi Jinping. After the 19th CCP Congress, Chairman Xi managed to grant himself a status similar to that of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, further strengthening his position as head of state. China is on the way to realizing its dream of power and regaining a central role in Asia and the world. Such modernization was made possible by the decision in the 1990s to support economic development, with leaders understanding that it was better to accompany change than to endure it. By contrast, in the nineteenth century, China seems to have succeeded in combining "Western techniques" and "Chinese spirit". In this respect, the 1990s are essential for understanding current changes.

1 Another translation is given in the Encyclopaedia Universalis: "Chinese knowledge plays a fundamental role, Western knowledge has a utilitarian interest" (zhong xue wei ti, xi xue wei yong). In Encyclopædia Universalis, Dictionary of Chinese Civilization, Ed. Albin Michel, 1998, p. 203.

2 XINHUA, 'Continuing the Chinese-style path of strengthening the army and fully promoting the modernization of national defense and the army', Full text of Xi Jinping's report to the 19th CCP National Congress, 03/11/2017.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 XINHUA, Art. Cit.

6 BONDAZ Antoine & JULIENNE Marc, "Moderniser et discipliner, la réforme de l'armée chinoise sous Xi Jinping," in Fondation pour la Recherche Stra- tégique, 2017, p. 4. This principle, known as the "twelve-character principle", was conceived in November 2015 during a working conference bringing together senior Party and army officials.

7 XINHUA, Art. Cit.

8 COZAD Mark R., 'PL A Joint Training and Implications for Future Expeditionary Capabilities', in Rand Corporation, Testimony, 21/01/2016.

9 XINHUA, Art. Cit.

10 XINHUA, Art. Cit.

11 NEIL Connor, "Chinese army surrenders to flably recruits as weight criteria loosened," in The Telegraph, 31 May 2016.

12 WANG Shumei, "The PL A and Student Recruits: Reforming China's Conscription System," in Asia Paper, p. 14.

13 Idem.

14 KANIA Elsa, "Holding Up Half the Sky? (Part 1) - The Evolution of Women's Roles in the PL A", in Jamestown Foundation, China Brief Vol. 16 Issue 15, 10/04/2016.

15 ZHANG Nini, "Female Honor Guards train for National Day celebration", in CCT, 30/09/2014.

16 GENEVAZ Juliette, " La Chine et les opérations de maintien de la paix de l'ONU : défendre la souveraineté ", in Politique Étrangère, IFRI, 04/2015.

17 DUCHATEL Mathieu, " Vers des OPEX chinoises en matière de contre-terrorisme ", in Benoît de Tréglodé & Céline Pajon (dir.), L'Asie stratégique, de l'Inde au Pacifique, RDN, IFRI, Summer 2018, pp. 84-89.

18 L AGNEAU Laurent, "Towards a Chinese military base in the South Pacific? "in Opex 360, 14/04/2018.

19 ABI-HABIB Maria, "How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port", in The New York Times, 25 June 2018.

20 DELHEURE Fabien, " Base militaire chinoise à Djibouti : symbole d'un changement de posture stratégique ", in Centre de Documentation de l'École Militaire, of 14/12/2017.

Title : ⚡️La modernization in China: the case of the armed forces
Author (s) : Monsieur Arthur Pouzet