It is necessary to immediately formulate a national security strategy by proactively initiating high-level planning and strategic goal-setting to strengthen the work of national security and further the great cause of National Rejuvenation.
The decision of the Third Plenum of the 18th CPC Central Committee1 to establish the [Central] National Security Commission (hereafter abbreviated as the “CNSC”) has extraordinary significance. It will safeguard the security [environment] for development and is thereby conducive to both development and security; It will coordinate [our approaches] in both the domestic and international arenas and integrate external and internal affairs; it will break down the barriers of departmental interests, and thereby advance the interests of the country as a whole; it will equip China to participate with ease in the strategic great games of the major powers and to lead the tide of peaceful development in the world.
The establishment of the CNSC is an innovation in the work processes and institutional architecture of national security with Chinese characteristics. It marks the point where national security work has entered a new historic stage of “strong coordination by the Center, cross-departmental integration, and active strategic planning.” It is necessary to pay close attention to the planning of a national security strategy, by proactively initiating top-level planning and strategic goal-setting, in order to strengthen the work of national security and further the cause of National Rejuvenation.
The Current National Security Environment
General Secretary Xi Jinping offered a special explanation of the establishment of the CNSC at the [Third] Plenum. From the outset, he made clear that “national security and social stability are the prerequisites for reform and development. Reform and development cannot advance without national security and social stability.” Regarding the necessity and urgency of establishing the CNSC, General Secretary Xi further pointed out that “at the present, our state faces the dual pressure of safeguarding our national sovereignty, security, and development interests from external [threats] while also safeguarding political security and social stability from internal [threats]. Various foreseeable and unforeseeable risk factors have clearly increased significantly. Moreover, the institutional architecture and processes of [our] security work are still unable to adapt to the requirements of safeguarding national security. A strong platform needs to be built to coordinate national security work. The establishment of the [Central] National Security Commission to strengthen, centralize, and unify leadership over national security work is a top priority.”2
General Secretary Xi also clarified the main responsibilities of the CNSC: namely, “to formulate and implement a national security strategy, promote the construction of a legal foundation for state security, formulate guidelines and policies for the work of national security, and study solutions to major problems in national security work.” Among them, formulating a “national security strategy” has also been put on the agenda.3 The national security strategy is not only a massive systemic project, but is also a new project for China, and it requires [us] to profit from a wide range of suggestions, gain from the wisdom of many, and stay at the cutting edge of the planning process.
To comprehensively evaluate and formulate a national security strategy, we must first accurately grasp the overall characteristics of the current national security environment. Concretely, it roughly includes the following three points:
The first is the coexistence of “internal worries” and “foreign troubles.” Under the conditions of comprehensive opening to the outside world and in the era of globalization, informatization, and network-ization, the internal and external factors that affect national security frequently intersect, and have interlinked consequences. [A]s a rapidly developing socialist country, China faces a twofold challenge: on the one hand, “foreign troubles” are increasing and becoming more complex. [O]n the other hand, there are still “internal worries” that affect the overall landscape of domestic reform, development and stability. [T]he focus of national security work is still internal.
Second, the “internal content” of national security is becoming increasingly complex while its “external implications” are becoming broader. The increasing complexity of its “internal content” refers to the reality that while the “subject” of national security remains basically unchanged—that is, the sovereignty of the state and its central government as a whole—the “objects” of national security are growing more numerous, which include [both] Chinese and foreign legal entities and individuals within our border, as well as Chinese and foreign legal entities and individuals outside of our border. As Chinese enterprises and citizens “go out” with great strides, the boundaries of China’s national security extend further outward. Maintaining and expanding “overseas interests” has gradually become a major task for China’s national security. Broader “external implications” refer to the reality that the domain of national security is increasing and expanding.
The third is the coexistence of traditional and nontraditional security. [T]raditional security is still important, but nontraditional security is more complex. Traditional security pressures such as maintaining political and social stability, consolidating the security of our sovereign power, and safeguarding national unity and territorial integrity remain unabated, while nontraditional security pressures such as terrorism, cybersecurity, and climate change have increased. Take for example the Turkestan Islamic Party’s terrorist attack on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, as well as the [extent of] the United States’ network penetration into China that was exposed by former NSA employee Edward Snowden, and so forth.4
Next, it is necessary to distinguish the opportunities and challenges facing [our] national security. In particular, [it is necessary] to clarify how to rank and prioritize different national security threats.
Concretely, there are two opportunities that China's national security [system] can exploit:
First, China's comprehensive strength is continuously increasing. The socialist political and economic system with Chinese characteristics is maturing and possesses great advantages. The new central leadership with Xi Jinping as General Secretary are coordinating internal and external affairs, striving for excellence as they perfect their governance, [keeping] a global perspective, and acting proactively.
Second, globalization and multi-polarization are difficult to reverse. When comparing [strengths and weaknesses of] the world powers, the dynamic of “rise of the new and fall of the old” is beneficial to China.
The challenges facing China’s national security are roughly encompassed in the following five points:
First, social contradictions accumulated during the domestic transition period. [V]arious kinds of mass incidents occur frequently.5 [E]xternal hostile forces have taken advantage of [these incidents] to meddle [inside China], making it more difficult to maintain social harmony and stability and consolidate and promote reform.
Second, separatist forces such as the Taiwan independence movement,” "the Tibetan independence movement,” and "the East Turkestan independence movement" are agitated to stir up troubles, and [they are being] supported and exploited by anti-Chinese forces abroad. The task of countering separatism, terrorism, and religious extremism is daunting.
Third, China's accelerated rise has changed the international and regional landscape, causing anxiety and dissatisfaction among Western powers as well as [moments of] backlash and confrontation with certain neighboring countries. The United States, whose strategic center of gravity has "shifted eastward” to the Asia-Pacific region, is striving to maintain global hegemony and predominance in the Asia-Pacific region. The contest between China and the United States has become more sensitive, complex and fierce. Not resigned to being completely overtaken by China, Japan is trying to undo the constraints of its pacifist constitution and realize its ambitions as a military power. The deepening of the U.S.-Japan alliance and the two power’s growing efforts to use the other [for their own ends] have led to a decrease in the "safety coefficient” of the surrounding environment and have intensified maritime disputes.6
Fourth, the sustained medium to high level of growth of the Chinese economy is heavily dependent on the import of overseas energy resources and demand on the international market. Our economic security is very vulnerable, and can be easily controlled by others.
Fifth, global climate change and the deterioration of China's ecological environment are superimposed on the other factors, and major natural disasters are becoming more frequent and damaging.
Strategic Guidelines and Strategic Objectives
The strategic guidelines for safeguarding national security are: a dialectical and integrated approach, using the past for the sake of the present, proactive operations planning, and gradual progress [over time]. This has three requirements.
First, it requires strengthening and implementing "Comprehensive Security” and "Overall Security”; 7 [this means] integrating our approach to domestic security and international security, integrating our approach to traditional and non-traditional security, and integrating our responses to present threats and long-term challenges.
Second, it requires vigorously promote the excellent tradition of Chinese "strategic culture.” Traditional Chinese political wisdom and strategic thought are broad and profound, and can even be called "a treasure chest of strategy.” It should be studied systematically so that the past can serve the present. Exemplars of [this culture] include the reign of three prosperous eras of the Western Han Dynasty (from the rule of Emperors Wen and Jing to the rule of Emperors Wu and Xuan], the Tang Dynasty (from the rule of Zhenguan [Emperor Taizong] to the prosperous age of Kaiyuan [Emperor Xuanzong], and the early Qing Dynasty (the rule of Emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong). [These reigns] exemplify "a pragmatic ‘Way of the true King’” that combines justice with profit, virtue and strength, and power and flexibility.8 This way [of kingship] is worthy of contemporary China, committed [as it is] to realizing the "China Dream” of the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation, including both hard and soft power, tempering justice with mercy, cooperation with struggle, and striking a balance between safeguarding its own interests and assuming international responsibilities.
Third, it requires being good at exploiting contradictions, leveraging our strength to maximum effect, utilizing geopolitical stratagems and diplomatic maneuvers, planning and moving with initiative, preventing [situations where we] are passive targets, and controlling others instead of being controlled by others.
Following the guideline above, the strategic objectives should include both short-term and long-term goals, falling in four time periods:
First, over the next five years (2013-2017): our objective is to improve the institutional architecture and processes of national security work, enhance the means and capabilities of national security work, and create opportunities for comprehensively deepening reforms, maintaining medium-to-high-speed economic growth, and promoting the transformation of developmental methods for use in a favorable domestic and international security environments. The objective is to provide a strong security guarantee for the successful implementation of the "Twelfth Five-Year Plan” and "Thirteenth Five-Year Plan,” safeguard sovereignty and territorial integrity, ensure overall peace and tranquility in the security environment of our periphery, and steadily expand overseas interests.
Second, by the eve of the “first hundred years,” the centenary of the founding of the Party (2020): maintain the “Important Period of Strategic Opportunity” and “promote the modernization of the state governing system and capacity,”9 in order to achieve “the completion of a moderately prosperous society in all respects.” The strategic goal is to create a favorable domestic and international security environment, and gradually become an active sculptor of the international security environment on our periphery and internationally.
Third, during the “30-year gap” between the centennial of the Party and the centennial of the People's Republic of China (2021-2049): our objective is to ensure stable domestic governance, sculpt the international security environment in a more proactive manner, increase the provision of "public goods" for international security, and realize a positive and complementary relationship between the broader domestic and international security landscapes. Meanwhile, during this period we need to achieve complete national unity and territorial integrity in an appropriate manner.
Fourth, by the bi-centennial of the People's Republic of China and the middle of this century (2050): our strategic objective is to become a “middle developed country,” realize the “China Dream” of the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation, and create a favorable domestic and international security environment. [China should] become a major architect of the new regional security order and a major participant within a new international security.
Strategic Deployment and Strategic Focus Points
The strategic deployment of the national security strategy should uphold the principles of: balancing effort in both the internal and external domains, with a focus on the internal as the top priority and the external as a secondary priority; advancing on all fronts, while maintaining focus on prominent areas; taking both traditional and non-traditional security into account; making extensive use of standardized management, preemptive warning and emergency response, and crisis management and control. To put it more concretely, [our policy] should focus on the following eight domains of security strategy:
First: Political Security. To maintain social stability on a broad scale, a more total harmony, and the security of our sovereign power,10 we must strengthen the fight against separatism, terrorism, and religious extremism, help populations that are vulnerable [to infiltration or indoctrination] through the comprehensive deepening of reform, the promotion of fairness and justice, resolving social contradictions, perfecting ethnic and religious policy, continuing to construct institutional procedures to counter corruption, and continuously improving the governing capabilities of the Communist Party of China.
Second: Strategic Security. We must develop relations with major powers in a comprehensive and balanced manner. We must actively promote Sino-US relations according to the New Model of Great Power Relations, expanding areas of cooperation, and managing areas of competition. We must steadily deepen our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination with Russia,11 and promote “coordination based on benefit and equality” between China and the EU. We must improve the “BRICS” mechanism, expand and strengthen mutual trust and cooperation among emerging powers, prevent them from being divided by Western powers, and prevent them from being repressed by Western powers.
Third: Security on the Periphery. We must perfect our geo-strategic deployment, taking an integrated approach to our position both on land and at sea, while focusing our efforts on opening up new maritime capacity. We must resolutely resist Japan's rightward shift, fight a “new protracted war”13 to catch up with Japan in a comprehensive manner, and prevent the United States and Japan from joining forces. We must effectively manage the hotspots and problems on our periphery, properly resolve disputes in the South China Sea, increase non-traditional security cooperation, and enhance our peripheral security discursive power.
Fourth: Military Security. We must steadily advance China's military modernization, strengthen and refine preparations for military struggle, enhance military deterrence, and resolutely defend our territorial integrity. [We must] strengthen military diplomacy and enhance mutual trust; As for the sea, outer space, the internet, the polar regions, and other “global commons,” we must increase our investment [in them] in order to seize the commanding heights of the future.
Fifth: Economic Security. We must vigorously support national industries and domestic brands, actively invest in state-of-the-art technologies, new industries and the new energy revolution, gradually reduce dependence on external energy resources, maintain financial security through reforming and strengthening risk management; [we must] steadily promote the construction of economic cooperation in our periphery and in global free trade zones; we must construct and actively participate in global economic governance, expand the right to formulate international economic and trade rules, prevent the adverse effects of TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and TTIP (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), and strengthen the protection of our overseas interests by formulating and implementing the “Go Out Policy.”
Sixth: Cultural Security. We must uphold “putting our own autonomy at the center, use the past to serve the present, use Western ideas to serve China, and synthesize [both Chinese traditional culture and foreign ideas] in order to innovate.” [We must] create core Chinese values that are convincing, attractive, competitive [with outside ideals], and which have the power to make others identify with them. We must strengthen civic education and traditional cultural education, and take an integrated approach to internal and external propaganda, improve our methods and manner in the struggle for public opinion in the Internet age, effectively enhance the credibility and discursive power of the Party and the government, expand and strengthen national cultural industries, and proactively respond to the persistent intrusion of Western values and ideology.
Seventh: Information and Network Security. At the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee, General-Secretary Xi specifically pointed out that “network and information security involves national security and social stability and is a new comprehensive challenge that we face.” [He also said] “the current management system has obvious drawbacks, mainly redundancy in management, overlapping functions, gaps between decision-making authorities and management responsibilities, and inefficiency.” In face of the rapidly expanding user base of social networks and communication tools which instantly disseminates information, exerts great influence among a wide audience, and has the power to mobilize large masses (such as Wechat, Weibo, and so forth), we need to think about how to strengthen legal control, how to direct public opinion online, and how to maintain the orderly dissemination of information, as well as maintain state security and social stability. These questions have become increasingly pressing. [General-Secretary Xi] emphasizes the need to “integrate the functions of relevant institutions, form a joint force in internet management from technology to content, from daily security to combating crimes, and ensure the correct use and security of the internet.”
Eighth: Non-traditional Security. This mainly includes: public health and food safety; effectively dealing with with major epidemics, such as the new respiratory virus raging in the Middle East;14 and ecological security, which we should [manage by] strengthening disaster prevention and rescue/relief work to prevent the severe damage caused by extreme weather and other major natural disasters, such as Typhoon Haiyan, which recently hit the Philippines.15
1. The Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee was held in Beijing from November 9 to 12, 2013. The Plenum adopted the “Decision of the CPC Central Committee on Several Major Issues of Comprehensively Deepening Reform” and received to Xi Jinping’s statement on the “Decision.”
3. Since 2013, China has passed several national security laws and policies, including the 2015 National Security Law, the 2017 Cybersecurity Law, and the 2017 National Intelligence Law, which all aim to enhance China's ability to identify and counter potential threats to its national security. In addition, China has also passed a national security strategy that remains classified. For a concise overview of these developments, see Jude Blanchette, “The Edge of an Abyss: Xi Jinping’s Overall National Security Outlook,” China Leadership Monitor, 1 September 2022.
4. The two events listed here exemplify what the CPC identifies as “non-traditional” threats to national security. The first event was a terrorist attack that occurred in Tienanmen Square on October 28, 2013, when a man drove a vehicle into a crowd of pedestrians, killing five and injuring forty. China's security chief attributed the attack to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, also known as the Turkistan Islamic Party, which subsequently claimed responsibility and threatened future attacks. The latter reference is to the surveillance operations of the United State’s National Security Agency, which former CIA employee Edward Snowden leaked to South China Morning Post in 2013.
5. Social unrest in China increased at an alarming rate in the years before this essay was written. There are few incidents of public demonstrations, disruptive actions or riots occurred in the early 1980s. By 1993 this number had risen to 8,700 “mass incidents”; by 2005, their number had grown tenfold, to 87,000. Estimates for the number of public protests in 2010 range between 180,000 and 230,000. Christian Gobel and Lynette H. Ong, “Social Unrest in China,” Europe China Research and Advice Network, 2012.
6. Around the time this piece was published, the United States and Japan were reshaping and strengthening their alliance in response to security challenges in the Asia Pacific. In November 2001, the government of Junichiro Koizumi dispatched the Maritime Self-Defense Force to the Indian Ocean to provide logistical support for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. In 2003, it sent forces to aid in Iraq’s postwar reconstruction efforts. These operations marked a period of increased defense cooperation between the U.S. and Japan. Later, during Shinzo Abe’s first term as prime minister between 2006 and 2007, he attempted to form the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD or “the quad”) – composed of the United States, Japan, India, and Australia. Prime Minister Abe would use the template to push for an informal security framework to address Japan’s concerns regarding China’s growing power. Abe returned to power less than a year before this piece was published on a platform that put the threat posed by China to Japanese interests at the center of the election. The United States met his election with statements reaffirming America's commitment to defend Japan in the event of a military conflict over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Island Chain.
7. “Comprehensive security” and “overall security” refer to China's national security outlook that combines traditional and non-traditional security concerns and connects the country's economic development with its security strategies. Both first entered into wide circulation after the 18th Party's Congress. See “xue xi wang ping: jian chi xi tong si wei gou jian da an quan ge ju 学习网评：坚持系统思维构建大安全格局 [Study network comment: adhere to the system thinking to build a large security pattern],” Xinhua, December 2020.
8. During the Western Han Dynasty, there were three prosperous eras that spanned from the reign of Emperors Wen (180-157 BCE) and Jing (157-141 BCE) to the reign of Emperors Wu (141-87 BCE) and Xuan (74-48 BCE). The Tang Dynasty experienced a period of prosperity that started with the reign of Zhenguan under Emperor Taizong (627 -649 CE) and continued until the prosperous age of Kaiyuan under Emperor Xuanzong (712-741 CE). In the early Qing Dynasty, the reigns of Emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong were particularly notable for their achievements and stability. The Kangxi era, which lasted from 1661 to 1722, is known for its expansion of the empire, while the Yongzheng era, which spanned from 1722 to 1735, was marked by economic and administrative reforms. Finally, the Qianlong era, which ran from 1735 to 1796, was characterized by cultural achievements and a period of relative stability.
On the “way of the true king” see our glossary entry HEGEMONISM.
9. “The modernization of the national governing system and capacity” is an objective first proposed at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on November 12, 2013. One Chinese scholar dubs this objective the “fifth pillar” of modernization following the earlier pillars of modernization in industry, agriculture, national defense, and science and technology. See “Decision Of The Central Committee Of The Communist Party Of China On Some Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening The Reform,” USC US-China Institute, November 12, 2013. For a discussion of the concept as the “fifth pillar” of modernization in Chinese, see Xu Yaotong, “Yingti ‘Guojia Zhili Xiandai Hua’ 应提‘国家治理现代化’ [Examining ‘The Modernization of National Governance’],” Beijing Daily, 30 May 2014.
10. Translated here as “security of our sovereign power,” the term zhèngquán ānquán [政权安全] is difficult to render accurately into English. When Chinese translate English phrases like “regime change” into Chinese, 政权 (zhèngquán) is the word they most often us for “regime.” “Regime security” is therefore an acceptable gloss. Yet unlike the English “regime,” zhèngquán does not describe the institutional architecture of rulership so much as the sovereign power that rulership grants. Thus its appearance in Mao’s most famous aphorism: “枪杆子里面出政权” [usually translated as “political power (zhèngquán) grows from the barrel of a gun”].
11. The formulation “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination” dates back to the 1989 Sino-Soviet Summit, in which Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Beijing to meet with Deng and other Chinese leaders. The visit signified the renormalization of Sino-Soviet relations following their conflict in the 1950s. The Chinese relationship with Russia survived the Soviet collapse. In 2001, China and Russia inked the Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, which “endeavor[ed] to enhance relations between the two countries to a completely new level.” In 2011, the two countries celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation by elevating their partnership to a “comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation." Eight years later, they upgraded their relationship once again to a “comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation for a new era." See “How Has the China-Russia Relationship Evolved?,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 26 March 2021.
12. “Coordination based on benefits and equality” is another catchphrase in China's partnership diplomacy.
13. Chinese state media first started to claim that Sino-Japanese relations have entered a “new protracted war” in January 2014, following former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Yasukuni Shrine, a nationally significant Shinto shrine and war museum that commemorates those who died in service of Japan, including those who served during the Second Sino-Japanese War. China's relationship with Japan deteriorated after Abe's visit. See “Anbei baigui ling zhongri xianxin ‘chijiu zhan’ 安倍拜鬼令中日陷新‘持久战’ [Abe's ghost worshiping puts China and Japan in a new ‘protracted war’],” China News, 22 January 2014.
14. The author is referring to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak in 2012. The outbreak originated in Saudi Arabia and quickly spread to other countries in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and the United States.
15. Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines on November 8, 2013, causing widespread devastation and loss of life. The storm affected over 14 million people, destroyed homes, infrastructure, and crops, and led to over 6,000 deaths.