China outlines plans to boost role of military

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) navy frigate Weifang setting sail in the Bosphorus, on its way to the Mediterranean Sea in Istanbul, Turkey on May 14, 2015. China has outlined an expanded role for its military and particularly its navy as it seeks
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) navy frigate Weifang setting sail in the Bosphorus, on its way to the Mediterranean Sea in Istanbul, Turkey on May 14, 2015. China has outlined an expanded role for its military and particularly its navy as it seeks to secure growing interests overseas. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

CHINA on Tuesday outlined an expanded role for its military and particularly its navy, as it seeks to "effectively secure" its growing interests overseas, even as tensions simmer over regional territorial claims.

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) navy will add the duty of "open seas protection" to "offshore waters defence", while its air force will shift its focus "from territorial air defence" to "both defence and offence".

"With the constant expansion of the maritime battlefield, it is no longer effective for national maritime safety to just concentrate on the defence of coastal waters," senior PLA colonel Wang Jin told reporters.

The PLA fleshed out these points in a defence white paper released Tuesday morning, its first on military strategy.

The white paper emphasised the importance of the seas to China's stability and development, pointing out that the "traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned".

It said it is critical for China to safeguard the country's sovereign and maritime rights and interests.

In the latest report, the ocean is highlighted as one of China's four "critical security domains", with the others being the outer space, cyberspace and nuclear force.

These points were made just days after China and the United States exchanged barbs over China's reclamation of artificial islands in contested waters in the South China Sea.

The US warned that it could test China's territorial claims by venturing to within 12 nautical miles of the islands, while Beijing reacted by saying it was "strongly dissatisfied" and said such actions risked causing an accident.

The PLA, however, said on Tuesday that the timing of the white paper's release had "nothing to do with ongoing developments".

The white paper is a declaration of China's security policy to the international community and advocates security cooperation with the rest of the world, said PLA spokesman Yang Yujun.

China's defence white papers, which have been released roughly once every two years since 1998, are aimed at deflecting criticisms about the lack of transparency in the PLA.

China's last defence white paper was released in 2013.

chengwee@sph.com.sg