The People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) perception that China is facing unprecedented security risks is a driving factor in China’s approach to national security.

In May 2015, China’s State Council Information ion Office published a white paper titled China’s Military Strategy, which outlined how Beijing views the global security environment, China’s role in that environment, and how the People’s Liberation Army(PLA) supports that role. The document presented a vision for the PLA’s services and emerging security domains that would trans form the PLA from its legacy posture to one focused more on long-range mobility. Within the context of Beijing’s “period of strategic opportunity,” Beijing calculates in China’s Military Strategy that world war is unlikely in the immediate future, but China should be prepared for the possibility of local war.

Authoritative Chinese publications typically avoid explicitly listing direct threats, but these threats can be gleaned from several documents that point to Beijing’s security concerns. Beijing’s primary threat perceptions include sovereignty and domestic security issues that it believes could undermine the overriding strategic objective to perpetuate communist rule. These include longstanding concerns regarding Taiwan independence, Uighur and Tibetan separatism, and perceived challenges to China’s control of disputed areas in the East and South China Seas. Authoritative documents also highlight the Korean Peninsula as an area of instability and uncertainty, and express concern regarding unsettled territorial disputes along China’s border with India, which periodically result in tense stand-offs like the one that occurred in the summer of 2017 in the disputed Doklam region. Finally, while it calls for a peer-to-peer cooperative relationship with the United States, China also believes that U.S. military presence and U.S.-led security architecture in Asia seeks to constrain China’s rise and interfere with China’s sovereignty, particularly in a Taiwan conflict scenario and in the East and South China Seas. Since at least the 1990’s, Beijing has repeatedly communicated its preference to move away from the U.S.-led regional security system and has pursued its own regional security initiatives in support of what it views as a natural transition to regional predominance.

China’s Military Strategy reflects Beijing’s drive to establish a coherent, unified approach to managing national security in a world where Beijing perceives that China’s expanding interests have made it more vulnerable at home and abroad. The following excerpt from the document illustrates Beijing’s perception of this security environment: China’s Military Strategy is directed primarily at an internal audience. Thus, it is replete with party jargon, but it does contain the broad underpinnings of China’s military decision-making calculus. For example, Beijing sees both threats and opportunities emerging from the evolution of the international community beyond the U.S.-led unipolar framework toward a more integrated global environment shaped by major power dynamics. Furthermore, China sees itself as an emerging major power that will be able to gain influence as long as it can maintain a stable periphery. As it emerges, Beijing will use its growing power to shape the regional environment in the face of interconnected threats while trying to avoid conflict over core interests: sovereignty, development, and unification. More specifically, China believes it must plan to address the many threats to regional stability because they are individually complex and at the same time contain a potential for external actors, most importantly the United States, to become involved. Nevertheless, China must also look to safeguard its international interests as they multiply and incur additional threats. Finally, as new threats emerge and as other militaries adjust their acquisition, strategies, and structure, China knows the PLA must be prepared to fight in new realms and adapt to the modern, high-tech battlefield.

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