Amid simmering tension in the South China Sea over disputed islands, China on Tuesday said it was changing its military strategy from the posture of “offshore water defence” to “open sea protection”.
The People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) white paper on China’s evolving military strategy, the first ever to be released, did not mention India directly but said it continues to have “smouldering” disputes over land territory. “We will not attack unless we are attacked, but we will surely counterattack if attacked,” the paper said.
China has long-standing land border disputes with India and Bhutan. The Sino-India border question has been the sharpest point of difference between the two nuclear-powered countries, leading to occasional stand-offs along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and causing deep mistrust between New Delhi and Beijing.
On land border disputes, the paper said, “Certain disputes over land territory are still smouldering”.
It focused on China’s changing maritime strategy and it devotes much thought to countries that are “meddling” in the island disputes.
“Some of its offshore neighbours take provocative actions and reinforce their military presence on China’s reefs and islands that they have illegally occupied.
Some external countries are also busy meddling in South China Sea affairs; a tiny few maintain constant close-in air and sea surveillance and reconnaissance against China,” the paper noted.
The strategy document highlighted four areas of critical importance — the ocean, outer space, cyber space and nuclear force.
The paper also touched on the problems in Xinjiang in northwest China and in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. “Further, China faces a formidable task to maintain political security and social stability. Separatist forces for ‘East Turkistan independence’ and ‘Tibet independence’ have inflicted serious damage,” the paper said.