Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2009

China's National Defense in 2008

February 2009

Academy of Political Science


On February 6, 2009, CNA China Studies and the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University convened a panel discussion on China’s sixth defense white paper, which had been released by Beijing on January 20, 2009. The following are the main observations that emerged from that roundtable. China is asserting a new global role. The 2008 White Paper displays a China that is more confident and assertive about its role in the world than at any time in the past. The White Paper says that China has reached a “historical turning point” and, for the first time, depicts China as a central player in global military, political, and economic affairs, saying that “China cannot develop in isolation from the rest of the world, nor can the world enjoy prosperity and stability without China.” The Asia-Pacific region is depicted as more stable than in the past. This year’s White Paper provides an upbeat view of China’s security situation as having “improved steadily.” The paper touts numerous regional cooperative efforts as evidence that the Asia-Pacific region is “on the whole” stable. It also depicts a less volatile Korean peninsula, and it makes no mention of Japan’s external military orientation. In the greatest shift, this White Paper declares that “the situation across the Taiwan Straits has taken a significantly positive turn.” However, all is not well. This edition stresses the growing “influence of military.