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Chapter 2. Literature Review Overview on Sources

Although studies of the PLA have traditionally been limited, its popularity is growing following the general western trend of increased Chinese studies. As a result, there have been several recent publications on many aspects of the PLA from a family of mostly western-educated authors. The majority of this literature review is derived from two books that resulted from separate conference proceedings on the PLA. The first book, titled PLA Influence on China’s National Security Policy Making, was published in 2015 and was a product of a conference on “The PLA’s Role in National Security Policy-Making” co-sponsored by Taiwan’s Council of Advanced Policy Studies (CAPS), the RAND

Corporation, and the U.S.’s National Defense University (NDU). It presents eleven articles by twelve different experts on the PLA.

The second book, titled The People’s Liberation Army and Contingency Planning in China, was also published in 2015 and resulted from a conference on “Contingency Planning, PLA Style” that was co-sponsored by CAPS, RAND, the Carnegie Endowment for

International Peace (CEIP), and NDU. Seventeen experts with extensive academic and operational experience present fourteen articles on a wide range of PLA recent operations. In November 2015, I also attended a conference co-sponsored by CAPS, RAND, and NDU on

“The PLA at 90: Evolutions, Revolutions, Legacies and Disruptions” where twelve draft articles were presented by thirteen PLA specialists. Although these articles are not yet ready for publication, a significant amount of raw data was presented that will be useful for further analysis. While some of the authors attended all three conferences, the majority of articles were based on research from both western and Chinese sources. The imbedded diversity of sources within these articles along with the fact that there are 39 different authors in total, eliminates the threat of source bias.

Additionally, Roger Cliff’s newly published book, China’s Military Power: Assessing Current and Future Capabilities, provides a comprehensive overview of the PLA’s

competencies from a functional perspective. He covers changes in the PLA’s doctrine, personnel management, training, logistics, and weapons to assess and predict current and future power, respectively. Andrew Nathan and Andrew Scobell’s China’s Search for

Security present insightful perceptions of the current security environment from China’s point of view and attempt to make sense of China’s sometimes seemingly confusing or

contradictory policies. This book provides important political considerations for China’s MOOTW.

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PLA Decision Making and MOOTW

In order to fully comprehend the political objectives of the PLA’s MOOTW, one must first grasp China’s understanding of its own security situation. Andrew Nathan and Andrew Scobell in their book China’s Search for Security argue that China’s perception of its own vulnerabilities dictate its foreign policy initiatives. They suggest that threats to Chinese security are located in four domains, which they label “rings.” The first and most important ring covers both foreign and domestic threats located within Chinese territory, which includes claimed disputed areas such as Taiwan and littoral features within its self-proclaimed 9-dash line. China is particularly sensitive to foreign activities in these areas because it is skeptical that they will attempt to undermine internal political stability.

The second ring includes China’s twenty bordering nations, all who have had border disputes with China. The regional systems that surround China’s location, including Central Asia, Northeast Asia, Oceania, South East Asia, and South Asia—45 nations in total—define China’s third ring. The last ring is anywhere outside of the first three rings and events in this region traditionally have not directly threatened China’s security (Nathan & Scobell, 2012, Ch 1). Historically, most of China’s military operations have been conducted in the first ring.

However, in the past ten years, the PLA’s military operations other than war have expanded all the way to the fourth ring, suggesting that China’s vulnerabilities are growing along with its political ambitions.

Nathan and Scobell explain the overall decision making process in China. They briefly acknowledge the dual state-party structure within China’s governmental

organizations. The state structure is led by the National People’s Congress (NPC), which has approximately 3000 delegates while the party structure is led by the 200 to 400-member Central Committee. These organizations only meet twice per year and their major duties involve appointing senior government leaders across several departments. However, the authors describe how the party-controlled Politburo (some 20 members) and even more elite Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC, 5-11 top leaders) have regular meetings to make important decisions that effectively run the country (Nathan & Scobell, 2012, Ch 2).

It is also important to realize that the PLA has not had any uniformed military officers on the PBSC since 1997 (Saunders & Scobell, 2015). The only military representative on either the Politburo or PBSC is the Secretary-General, who is also the CMC chairman.

Although the Secretary-General is the most powerful official in China, the military often feels its interests are often underrepresented, especially since Deng Xiaoping was the last

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Secretary-General with true military experience (Li, Top Leaders and the PLA: The Different Styles of Jiang, Hu, and Xi, 2015).1

During periods of crisis requiring PLA intervention, China’s bureaucratic processes often prevent it from making critical decisions in a timely manner. First, the military must pass information to a number of “Leading Small Groups” (LSGs), committees organized with both military and civilian officials that deal with specific functional issues. Once each of the LSG recommendations is determined, they are passed up to the PBSC which deliberates and makes a consensus-based decision that directs PLA strategy. Consequently, the rate at which events occur in real time exceeds the capacity of the Chinese decision making process to effectively set policy. As a result, both senior PLA leaders and field commanders often wait an excessive amount of time while the PBSC determines an appropriate course of action.

Occasionally, out of necessity, the PLA fills this void by determining its own initial response, resulting in a disorganized and uncoordinated response. This trend is especially apparent in MOOTW actions outside of China’s borders. Examples include PLAAF and PLAN

“aggressive” maneuvering in contested territories over the past fifteen years and the surfacing of a PLAN submarine close to a U.S. aircraft carrier in 2007 (Swaine, The PLA Role in China’s Foreign Policy and Crisis Behavior, 2015). However, in 2013 President Xi Jinping consolidated decision making power regarding national security issues to a single body by establishing the Chinese National Security Commission (CNSC; Zhao K. , 2015).

Lastly, Bonnie Glasser discusses how the PLA is able to utilize both the media and military-to-military exchanges with other nations to promote its agenda (2015). Although her essay focuses on the PLA’s influence over China’s Taiwan policy, she presents important PLA capabilities that could apply to MOOTW. Just like in the Taiwan case that she

presented, Chinese media coverage of the PLA’s MOOTW missions can generate domestic support for overall military spending as well as psychologically condition Chinese citizens for the expanded scope of PLA operations. Furthermore, as the PLA increases its contact with foreign militaries through multinational MOOTW, it may seek to build sympathy and support towards its causes from foreign military officers (Glaser, 2015). As the PLA

continues to develop its proficiency in MOOTW, it will increase its credibility with the party giving it access to additional political tools it did not previously have (Saunders & Scobell, 2015).

1Xi Jinping served in the PLA from 1979-1982 as Defense Minister Geng Biao’s personal secretary.

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PLA Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief Operations

Given the number of natural disasters in China over the past decade, there have been several opportunities to study both the civilian and PLA’s response. Catherine Welch suggests that China’s poor response to the bird flu (avian influenza) and severe acute

respiratory syndrome (SARS) crises in 2002-2003 drove the 2006 innovation of the National Emergency Response Plan. This plan provides an insight to the top level Chinese civilian authorities’ approaches to disaster planning. It sets general guidelines for a wide variety of emergency plans and describes how China classifies emergencies by type and severity. She provides a detailed organizational chart of the China National Commission for Disaster Reduction, which shows the interaction of 35 different agencies. Welch (2015) suggests that an understanding how China’s civilian disaster response mechanisms are implemented provides researchers with an important awareness of the PLA’s role in preparing for, planning, and executing these types of MOOTW missions.

Notable natural disasters include earthquakes in 2008, 2010, and 2012. Additionally, in 2008 a wide-spread winter storm struck a large portion of China and there were mudslides in 2010. All of these disasters resulted in the mobilization of the PLA; however, the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake has been studied most frequently. Despite mobilizing over 120,000 troops, Nan Li argues that the PLA’s response revealed significant vulnerabilities. He notes how PLA officers were frustrated with senior CCP leaders’ lack of understanding of military capabilities and often assigned tasks the needlessly endangered the lives of the soldiers.

Moreover, he describes how this ignorance led to the tasking of inappropriate units who were ill-trained and ill-equipped to provide an effective response (Li, 2015).

Jeffery Engstrom and Lyle Morris submit an interesting perspective by reviewing the logistical aspect of the PLA’s disaster response efforts and attempt to interpolate its wartime mobilization capacity. They measure mobilization effectiveness by evaluating both the time it takes forces to arrive at the disaster area against the distance travelled. From their data collection, they determine the troop throughput of each operation, which describes on average how many troops were mobilized in one day. By plotting each case study, the authors developed a “mobilization capacity curve” that illustrates the relationship of distance travelled versus throughput capacity. As expected, the more distance required to travel resulted in the ability to move fewer troops per day (Engstrom & Morris, 2015).

Despite these efforts, more work needs to be done in studying China’s foreign HA/DR missions. A notable case that has not been publicized is the PLA’s response to the

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2014 Ebola outbreak in western Africa. Given the fact that western Africa is in China’s fourth ring, a great deal can be learned about the improving capabilities of the PLA’s

mobilization capacity. Furthermore, because this response was of medium duration, question arise about how the PLA ensured security for its workers, how it developed and maintained a supply chain over a great distance, and whether or not this operation was executed

successfully. Limited or no PLA involvement would signal important limitations.

Understanding the details of this operation would contribute to a greater understand of the PLA’s ability to conduct a large-scale war outside of Asia.

PLA Noncombatant Evacuation Operations

Chinese overseas business interests have only recently required Chinese nationals to live overseas in large numbers. As a result, since 2006, the number of noncombatant

evacuations conducted by the Chinese government has continued to rise. However, nearly all of these examples provide little information in determining PLA capabilities because it is frequently excluded from the execution phase of the operations. Instead, China relies on commercially charted aircraft, busses, and ships to evacuate its citizens. The Jamestown Foundation’s Michael Chase notes that the primary factor for the PLA’s exclusion in these operations is its lack of assets, such as strategic airlift and amphibious ships, that would be useful in executing operations. However, he does cite that in Chinese academic and military circles, there is recognition of the fact that the “protection of overseas citizens and expatriates cannot do without military measures” (Chase, 2013). Chase (2013) argues that increased requirements for Chinese NEO will help the PLAAF to acquire more strategic airlift aircraft such as the Y-20, and the PLAN to acquire more large amphibious ships such as the

Yuzhao-class amphibious transport docks.

In 2011, China successfully evacuated over 35,000 of its citizens from Libya when tensions began to rise. This case is particularly interesting for a number of reasons. First, the PLA had never been previously used to conduct NEO; second, the scale of the operation was one of the largest evacuations in Chinese history; and third, the location of the operation was the extremely far from China. Marcelyn Thompson provides a brief overview of the planning process from the Chinese civilian perspective comparing it to U.S. crisis action planning in response to the 2004 Asian tsunami. She outlines several lessons learned by both the PLA and the Chinese government. These included the importance of maintaining positive diplomatic and military relationships with nations located near potential flashpoints, the importance of acquiring and utilizing nearby resources to reduce logistics requirements, and

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the importance of nearby military presence to reduce response times. In order to improve its NEO capabilities, Thompson concludes that China will have to be diplomatically more proactive to develop contingency plans with partner nations around the globe instead of merely being aware of potential crises. She notes that China’s 2010 National Defense Mobilization Law allows the the Chinese government to seize a variety of civilian-owned assets (transportation, telecommunications, factories, etc.) during national crises, allowing it to immediately multiply its capacity to respond (Thompson, 2015, pp. 37-39).

Chase also provides a detailed case study of the Chinese Libya operation. He notes that the PLA still relied heavily on civilian assets to transport the majority of its citizens. To supplement the PLA’s 4 Il-76 transport aircraft and single Jiangkai II-class frigate, the Chinese government utilized 91 domestic chartered flights, 35 foreign chartered flights, 5 cargo ferries, 11 voyages by foreign passenger liners, and approximately 100 bus runs (Chase, 2015, p. 304). He also explains that this operation is significant from the PLAN’s perspective because it was the first time it participated in a non-combat operation. Chase does however, provide the caveat that the only reason the PLAN was capable of participating in this operation is because it was already close by conducting counterpiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. If the PLAN’s ship were not already pre-positioned, the Navy’s response time would likely have been too slow to provide any meaningful contribution (Chase, 2015, pp.


Chase and Thompson conclude that the Libya operation was a largely symbolic gesture for the PLA revealing significant deficiencies in intelligence and logistics capabilities. It is unclear whether or not the PLA specifically trains for NEO scenarios (Chase, 2015, p. 312), but it seems as if its intervention in Libya is a signal that it will participate in future operations. Because China has only participated in NEO under

permissive conditions, there is little speculation on how the PLA would intervene in a more complex operation that required defensive firepower. Since these publications, in 2015 the PLAN participated in a large NEO in Yemen that he not been formally studied, which offers an opportunity to study China’s most recent improvements. Furthermore, no research

indicates that the U.S. assisted or cooperated with any of China’s evacuations, suggesting that the U.S. does not desire to help China develop its NEO capabilities. However, the reasons why this is the case and how China’s greater proficiency in NEO could translate into large-scale war capabilities remain unstudied.

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Counterpiracy and Protection

Since 2008, the PLAN has participated in twenty counterpiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden to combat Somali pirates (Wortzel, 2015, p. 227). Although several other countries also conduct operations in these waters, China has not joined any formal coalitions. Kirsten Gunness and Samuel Berkowitz provide an in-depth case study of PLAN deployments to the Gulf of Aden from 2008 to 2012. They divide their findings into five categories: logistics and replenishment, equipment and maintenance, training, care for personnel, and

communications. They estimate the PLAN can operate for approximately two months prior to being resupplied and explain how it has significantly improved its ability to refuel at sea and deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to its sailors. Importantly, the PLAN has been conducting naval diplomacy since its second deployment, making port calls to 26 different nations to improve relations (Gunness & Berkowitz, 2015, pp. 328-331). They also describe how during the first deployments, the sailors often became seasick, indicating that the PLAN initially conducted little training prior to its deployments. However, it currently conducts daily training exercises while at sea and in 2011 a helicopter pilot made the first Chinese nighttime landing aboard a ship that was underway (Gunness & Berkowitz, 2015, pp. 334-335).

Gunness and Berkowitz also note that the PLAN has been more willing to let less experienced officers lead the deployments. Although command of every deployment has been at the admiral level, lower ranking admirals are gaining important operational leadership experience (Gunness & Berkowitz, 2015, p. 336). One of the biggest limitations the PLAN still encounters is restrictions generated from an overly complicated communications process.

Because commercial vessels must first contact the Ministry of Transport prior to transiting dangerous waters, there is a lack of situational awareness on the part of the PLAN. However, its greater reliance on satellite communications have allowed some of the decision making process to become more decentralized (Gunness & Berkowitz, 2015, p. 337).

NDU’s “China Strategic Perspectives, No. 3” on China’s “out of area naval operations” also conducts a case study on its Gulf of Aden counterpiracy operations. It develops a comprehensive table of specific capabilities required to conduct successful counterpiracy missions to the Gulf of Aden and compares it to a notional out of area major combat operation (MCO). Figure 4 illustrates that the overlap between China’s Gulf of Aden counterpiracy missions and a MCO are mostly limited to rudimentary military functions such

as basic operational skills, command and control, and logistics. However, escort shipping, intra-task force supply, replenishment at sea, and vertical replenishment represent capabilities that the PLAN is developing proficiency in that directly translate into skills required for major combat operations (Yung, et al., 2010, pp. 35-38). This table provided the inspiration for the research framework of comparing skills needed for MOOTW missions against those needed for large scale war. This framework is discussed in the next chapter.

Gulf of Aden Deployment Notional out of Area MCO Taiwan contingency

Seamanship Seamanship Seamanship

Navigation Navigation Navigation

Formation-keeping Formation-keeping Formation-keeping Command and control Command and control Command and control Sector monitoring Sector monitoring Sector monitoring Search and rescue Search and rescue Search and rescue Long-distance logistics Long-distance logistics Mainland logistics Escort shipping Escort shipping Local air superiority Intra-task force supply Intra-task force supply Special forces insertion/


Replenishment at sea Replenishment at sea Local ASW (PLAN bases) Vertical relenishment Vertical relenishment Local ASUW (bases)

Littoral force protection Carrier operations Local AAW/combat air patrol (bases)

Visit board search seizure Air to air refueling Antiaccess/area denial Direct action Task force antisubmarine

warfare (ASW)

Mine warfare (mine countermeasure and offensive)

Small boat operations Task force antisurface warfare (ASUW)

Missile strike

Taskforce antiaircraft warfare (AAW)/combat air patrol

Shore to shore (landing craft)

Maritime missile defense Mainland tactical control of

Maritime missile defense Mainland tactical control of

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