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Stanford University Press
Imagined Enemies: China Prepares for Uncertain War / Edition 1

Imagined Enemies: China Prepares for Uncertain War / Edition 1

by John Wilson Lewis, Litai Xue


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804753913
Publisher: Stanford University Press
Publication date: 07/13/2006
Edition description: 1
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

John Wilson Lewis is William Haas Professor Emeritus of Chinese Politics at Stanford University and Director of the Project on Peace and Cooperation in the Asian-Pacific Region at Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation. Litai Xue is Research Associate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University.

Read an Excerpt

Imagined Enemies

By John Wilson Lewis Xue Litai


Copyright © 2006 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-5391-3

Chapter One


Should China survive the trials of the coming decades, history may record this as the time it crossed the threshold to become a global power. In a twinkling it seems, the world's most populous nation has become the dominant manufacturer and exporter. While many Chinese remain impoverished, the sheer number of those relentlessly pressing into the middle and even upper classes is staggering. We have examined elsewhere the unique challenges of Chinese economic successes, and despite the many unresolved regional, social, and environmental contradictions that plague this land, China has a reasonable chance to regain its historical stature.

One reason for this opportunity is the grit and endurance of a talented people, but power is relative, and lest it be forgotten, over the past century several once-powerful states have lost vast amounts of their national treasure in warfare and from military or other unproductive programs in comparison to China. Comparatively speaking, these states may now face near-irreversible decline. While many current powers can still boast an edge in such critical areas as science and technology, China is working to lessen that advantage through favorable business deals, strategic technology acquisitions, and targeted scientific programs. Should that effort continue unimpeded, China's race to greatness could succeed within the next twenty years.

To increase the odds for that success, China has dramatically reversed direction from the combative rule of Mao Zedong and even Deng Xiaoping. It has resolved virtually all its contested boundaries—the glaring exception being the Sino-Indian border—and in the case of the South China Sea and several disputed islands it has shelved the most contentious disputes indefinitely. Over the last decade or so, China has increasingly made its voice heard in the United Nations, joined multilateral organizations in East Asia, created the Shanghai Cooperation Organization jointly with Russia and four Central Asian states, moved aggressively in the common struggle against terrorism, and pursued a negotiated solution to the Korean nuclear crisis.

Standing outside the inner sanctum of Beijing's political-military high command, we cannot accurately determine whether this striking redirection toward growth and diplomacy stems from real choices and the political acumen of Mao's successors or from a more intelligent expression of the Machiavellian opportunism that underlay much of his strategy. Whatever the causes, China's path to greatness seems ever wider and smoother. Its current and potential rivals lack the fierce resolve of China's leadership, its near-universal appeal for investors, and the global dispersion of its people.

The Chinese know well that the past is littered with cases of nations with high promise missing or sacrificing their time of greatness. Their leaders in the new millennium have been acutely aware of the possible dangers for China, having so recently witnessed the rise and fall of the Soviet state. Still, they, too, cannot escape their own legacy with its false dreams and hidden perils. The very nationalism that mixed so uncomfortably with imported Marxism and revolutionary Maoism helped propel them to victory but then dogged them for the first thirty years of the People's Republic. Marxism and Maoism receded, it seems clear, but Chinese nationalism did not. It replaced discredited ideology and reinforced popular visions of grandeur, and it became the creed of the nation's youth and undercut strict economic rationalism. It came in the guise of "one China," and the fear of losing Taiwan gripped the Chinese soul.

It is Taiwan's moves toward de jure statehood that pose the most-dangerous threat to China's long-term ambitions. In an important interview in November 2004, President Hu Jintao told an overseas Chinese audience that Beijing's priorities are development first and reunification second, but he then said, "We absolutely do not allow anyone to separate Taiwan from China in whatever form."

A war to prevent the island from becoming a sovereign state would slash the odds that China could become a great power within a generation, if ever. Though they profess to grasp the danger and thus to be acting with caution, all Chinese leaders feel compelled to advance toward an endgame that could ruin their fondest aspirations. Also in November 2004, President Hu told President George W. Bush that Taiwan's independence would "wreck the peace in the Taiwan Strait and seriously disrupt peace, stability, and prosperity in the entire Asia-Pacific region." Even so, China's leaders would once more prepare for deadly warfare, though this time the enemy would resemble the images in their mirrors. Hence this study's focus on China, war, and the coming confrontation with Taiwan, a confrontation that could doom China's long-sought promise.

Just as Mao's anti-American and anti-Soviet pronouncements blithely dismissed the consequences of a nuclear war for his nation, his heirs would now willingly mortgage the nation's destiny in order to preserve Taiwanas a province of China despite the huge losses that the effort could inflict. One need only speak to a Shanghai college student or a Guangdong merchant to appreciate the depth of that commitment, its hold on the national psyche. China's defense White Paper for 2004 called the cross-strait situation "grim," and declared: "We will never allow anyone to split Taiwan from China through whatever means. Should the Taiwan authorities go so far as to make a reckless attempt that constitutes a major incident of 'Taiwan independence,' the Chinese people and armed forces will resolutely and thoroughly crush it at any cost."

This is a book about conflicts waged since the 1960s and preparations for a renewed, but more deadly civil war that no one wants but all see coming. Facing any large conflict in the nuclear age is sometimes said to clear the mind and simplify the available alternatives, though considerable evidence exists to the contrary. In the decades encompassed in this study, moreover, the old rationales for going to war, at least in East Asia, have come into conflict with the compelling forces of economic globalism and regional cooperation. Were it not for the specter of terrorism, the notion of inevitable conflict between states, let alone civilizations, could well have been relegated to historical annals and fading memories.

Military intentions and capabilities have constantly shifted, to be sure, but for the Chinese people the possibility of war in this nuclear era, though low, has not disappeared, nor have they made a clear choice between national development and imposed unification. At the same time, thoughtful Chinese appear to understand that when the flames of war have finally died out, no one would be able to distinguish victor from vanquished among those they once called brothers.


This book begins in the Middle Kingdom's ancient but hardly forgotten past and moves quickly to events only a few decades old. It thereby acknowledges what all current military leaders in China assume: They are at heart a product of both proud tradition and events within their own memories or that of their immediate forebears. That tradition and those events, future historians will correctly hold, help justify otherwise prudent Chinese and their commanders embracing policies that could lead to national disaster.

For two centuries, war has gone hand in hand with China's quest for survival, independence, and unity. Born in 1949 after decades of chaos and devastating violence, the People's Republic of China applied the lessons and culture of the revolutionary years to the next three decades of near-perpetual hostilities and repeated warfare. Korea, America, India, Russia, and Vietnam came one after the other in the parade of enemies.

While inherited dogma dictated the primacy of Party rule over the nation's powerful armed forces, the recurrent warfare and constant external tensions in those thirty years reinforced military traditions and gave license to imposing military solutions on political problems, thereby shaping economic plans and social institutions. Nevertheless, Mao's China was never a typical military dictatorship, though People's Liberation Army (PLA) commanders did temporarily hold state power in the aftermath of their victory in 1949 and did grab it again for a few fleeting months during the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s. Moreover, the unrelenting quest for nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them in those years dominated the nation's industrial policies, and each nuclear explosion or missile launch was heralded as great-power symbols as well as agents of retaliation or deterrence. For Mao, political power grew out of the barrel of a gun, and in later days the gun enforced the authority of his Party and state.

Although those symbols and their architects held sway during the first decade or so after the Korean War and then again in the 1980s to restart China's industrial programs, the leaders after Mao Zedong's death in 1976 always had more in mind than just raw military power. They saw beyond the swords to the plowshares. During the 1980s, under the guidance of Deng Xiaoping, economic and social priorities came dramatically to the fore, and with the end of the Cold War and the country's opening to the West, many senior cadres and educated youth were motivated to demonstrate for more rapid political reforms and personal freedoms in defiance of traditional Party values. The resultant crisis in 1989 forced the Party elders to choose, and they opted to use force to suppress those incipient reforms and freedoms at the showdown in Beijing that June. The appreciation of the social limits of politically induced change came slowly and at significant additional cost to the Party's legitimacy and mystique.

Nevertheless, the momentum of national modernization had its own logic over the next decade as China moved to become a powerful economic engine, and the grip of the People's Liberation Army on the national consciousness and state's purse strings was steadily diminished. Only the threat of Taiwan "separatism" and the far lesser danger of widespread domestic turmoil seemed to justify spending much on advanced armaments or a multimillion-man army, and when Party leader Deng Xiaoping ordered the slowdown of military modernization and then the end of military-run businesses in the 1990s, the army lost most of its autonomous economic base. The recurrent debate over whether the Party would control the army seemed ever more dated and far removed from other high-profile concerns. Since Jiang Zemin became chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) in 1989, its leadership has been held by men with no modern military experience and who have viewed the armed forces as contributing little to China's "peaceful rise," though vital to preserving national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Nevertheless, the PLA elite judged these transitions in a very different light, though generational changes, career advancement, and infrastructure requirements made some of them more sympathetic to the new domestic priorities than others. Recognizing these variations and the problems in integrating them in a coherent study, this book attempts to reveal and analyze the full range of security decisionmaking from the national command authority to operations in the field, from planning and research centers to weapons procurement and war preparations.

We first probe the traditional Chinese approaches to military power and how they have been transformed in response to lessons of the battlefield and the revolution in weaponry and information technology. High-performance weapons and technology have radically altered how militaries act and widened the gap between the leading military powers and all others. For the last forty or more years, on an extraordinarily slim budget and slowly evolving technology base, the Central Military Commission has sought to leave "all others" behind and join the first rank of military powers.

This volume builds on our earlier studies that focused on the making of China's atomic bomb, ballistic missiles, and nuclear-powered submarines and summarized the decades-long development of China's strategic nuclear forces and their influence on PLA plans and objectives. Our purpose here is to go beyond these advanced military technologies and to examine the underlying decision processes and operations of a Chinese military on the move, the People's Liberation Army in action.

As we explore the intellectual and operational world of the Chinese military and security establishment, we touch on but do not deal with the raging academic dispute in the West about China's long-term goals. The questions often posed in that debate are: Is China a status quo or dissatisfied power? Is China a potential or an unlikely threat in the future? These are important questions for the Chinese state and those who must deal with it in this century, but they are not the most compelling questions for the military. They do what they are told, and there is no doubt that senior generals are unhappy with the status quo not because they are seized of the question of China's ultimate status but because the PLA has been tasked to deal with threats on budgets that would seem ludicrously small in Washington's terms.

As we shall see, especially in the final chapter, many of the modernization campaigns within the command, weapons procurement, and strategic planning systems over the past decade have concentrated on a possible war with Taiwan. Given the history of the Taiwan crisis, the high command has concluded that should the order come to attack or militarily contain Taiwan, the United States undoubtedly would intervene on the side of Taipei and the war could easily become regional and even nuclear.

While this potential conflict poses great dangers and uncertainties, it also has focused the Chinese military on a single mission, the forceful preservation of one China. That mission has given Beijing's military planning what might be termed mission coherence. Such coherence in turn has structured national security decisionmaking and operational command and control. It has given direction to acquisitions, deployments, and logistics and helped refine doctrine and strategy. To a remarkable degree, the steady but reasonably low-budget growth of the PLA's capability has depended on the mission's objective requirements, and those requirements have collided with and reshaped the security establishment's thinking about war.

To reach the point in our story on a potential future conflict, we have chosen to divide this study into four parts. The first deals with the traditional military mind-set or culture reaching back over the centuries to the writings of Sun Tzu. In Chapter 2, we attempt to trace the evolution of tensions between Chinese and Western military philosophies and between old and new concepts. The search for understanding then leads us to consider what in Chinese planning for war has changed and why and to examine the post-1989 reappraisals about what wars might come.

Still within this first part of the book, Chapter 3 revisits the pivotal decade of the 1960s, the years of internal political struggle and a two-front confrontation with the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War struggle for Indochina. We examine the tortuous path that led Party chairman Mao Zedong in these tumultuous years to move closer to Washington and to define Moscow as his main enemy.

The conflicts along the Soviet border toward the end of the decade coincided with the meteoric rise of Marshal Lin Biao, a figure whose position in Chinese history is only now coming into balance. The moment of truth arrived in October 1969, during the showdown with the Soviets and the apparent triumph of Lin, then Mao's anointed successor, when Beijing's missile forces were put on a war footing apparently without Mao's prior approval. The results of this episode came just as China was deploying the missile delivery systems for its first-generation nuclear warheads. Its lessons then shaped China's national command authority and the PLA's command-and-control system, the Second Artillery, and the air force, each the subject of the chapters that follow.

The second part of the book deals with how those lessons were applied over the coming thirty-five years. Chapter 4 details the structure and operations of the national command authority (NCA), primarily as it functions in peacetime. Like almost everything else in China, the origins of the central Party and state systems can be traced to the pre-1949 revolution and its powerful legacy. That experience proved the efficacy of authoritarian rule and the necessity of a small core within the Party Politburo having supreme command. The terminology and organizational details affecting that core—whether Standing Committee or Central Secretariat—would change over time under the rule of Chairman Mao Zedong, but the principle of Party dominance of the state and army remained constant.

While it is generally known how Communist systems such as China's work, we concluded that a comprehensive treatment of the NCA's history and its structural and operational peculiarities were essential to a full understanding of the overall political-military system. So, while much of the initial treatment of the subject may seem formalistic, it should quickly become obvious that the very bureaucratic formalism was having a crippling effect on a leadership faced with fast-paced, complex political-military crises.

Deng Xiaoping also recognized that effect and revived an interagency institution introduced by Mao in the 1950s, the leading group, to counteract it. We review the further development of leading groups as their number increased in the 1990s, and suggest that those dealing with security, foreign policy, Taiwan affairs, and counterterrorism might be merged and streamlined. This could well constitute an interim solution whose final form could resemble the U.S. National Security Council, as the Chinese understand the present-day NSC. As the number of leading groups and their composition changes, however, the central Party and military decision, reporting, and enforcement structures remain in place. We end this examination of the NCA with our analysis of the likely institutional transformations that lie ahead.


Excerpted from Imagined Enemies by John Wilson Lewis Xue Litai Copyright © 2006 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


2. The Threat of War, the Necessity of Peace....................19
3. Strategic Challenges and the Struggle for Power, 1964–1969....................44
4. National Command Authority and the Decisionmaking Process....................77
5. Military Command, Control, and Force Operations....................113
6. Redefining the Strategic Rocket Forces....................173
7. The Quest for a Modern Air Force....................214
8. Sun Tzu's Pupils and the Taiwan Challenge....................247
References Cited....................313

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