May 29, 2012 - Shorenstein APARC News
Stanford's Eikenberry discusses the future of China's national security strategy
On May 18, 2012, the Pentagon released its annual report about the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) recent military developments. The PRC Ministry of Defense has sharply criticized the report, saying it portrays China as rapidly building up its military for non-defense purposes.
Military strength is only one part of the national security strategies of both countries and stable U.S.-China relations are an important factor for the overall peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region, said Karl Eikenberry during the annual Oksenberg lecture, held May 14 at Stanford.Eikenberry, FSI’s Payne Distinguished Lecturer and a Shorenstein APARC affiliate, discussed key factors shaping China’s national security strategy and corresponding developments in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA); constraints on China’s military capabilities; and implications of China’s economic and political growth for U.S. defense strategy.
In his opening remarks, Eikenberry, who served as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2009 to 2011 and whose distinguished military career included three decades of significant China experience, described Shorenstein APARC senior fellow Michel Oksenberg’s passionate commitment to teaching Stanford students about China. The annual lecture, established by Shorenstein APARC in 2002, honors the memory of Oksenberg’s academic career and the major role he played in normalizing and strengthening U.S.-China relations.
The key drivers behind the PRC’s current national security strategy, Eikenberry said, include preserving the legitimacy and power of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), resolving territorial and sovereignty issues, and maintaining China’s rapid economic growth. The PLA, which has watched its budget grow at an annual rate of 10 percent nearly every single year since 1989, exists to support the goals of the CCP. Its own tasks are, in turn, driven by the most urgent needs of the CCP, including protecting China’s economic and territorial interests in the Asia-Pacific region, bringing it into potential conflict with the United States. A major goal of the PLA at present, Eikenberry said, is to develop its technological capabilities, in areas such as space and naval defense, to prevail in regional conflicts if peaceful resolution is not possible. He said China’s immediate motive, however, is less about driving the United States out of the Asia-Pacific as it is about reconfiguring the region’s—and the overall U.S.—power paradigm, which has remained unchanged since World War Two.
China’s defense budget is second in the world only to the United States—approximately 1.3 percent of the country’s GDP—but it faces several potential challenges to its continued rapid expansion and operational capabilities, Eikenberry said. Maintaining economic growth and social stability are likely to tax the CCP in the coming years, he said, and domestic security concerns could constrain the pace of Chinese defense modernization. In addition, issues within the PLA itself, such as corruption and the over-centralization of its command, could hold China’s military capabilities back.
Eikenberry concluded his remarks with thoughts on how the United States should respond to China’s “rise” and increasing military strength. An important first step, he said, is to address U.S. domestic issues, including balancing the national budget while still allowing significant resources for military R&D and personnel training. Eikenberry also advocated supporting regional and global institutions, both economic and security oriented, in which China can participate as a responsible stakeholder. He further stressed the importance of improved engagement with U.S. regional allies. Finally, he emphasized the significance of developing processes of dialogue for avoiding and managing future conflicts between the United States and China.
Eikenberry’s remarks were followed by a lively question-and-answer session with the audience, which included numerous China experts from the Stanford community, students, and members of the general public.