(From the Jamestown Foundation)
By M. Taylor Fravel
In November 2013, the report of the Third Plenum of the 18th Party Congress hinted that China might adjust its national military strategy. The Plenum’s Decision outlined the need to “strengthen military strategic guidance, and enrich and improve the military strategic guideline for the new period.”  In May 2015, the new Defense White Paper, China’s Military Strategy (中国的军事战略), reveals that China has now officially adjusted its military strategy. This follows previous practice, such as when the 2004 strategic guideline was publicly confirmed in China’s defense white paper published in December 2004.
In China’s approach to military affairs, the military strategic guideline represents China’s national military strategy. It provides authoritative guidance from the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for all aspects of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) combat-related activities. Since the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949, China has issued eight strategic guidelines (军事战略方针). The 2015 Defense White Paper reveals that a ninth change has occurred (Xinhua, May 26). The new guidelines shift the goal of China’s military strategy from “winning local wars under the conditions of informationization” to “winning informationized local wars.” The change in the strategic guidelines reflects an evolution of the existing strategy, not a dramatic departure.
Two key assessments serve as the basis for the change in strategy. First, what the Chinese military calls the “form of war” or conduct of warfare in a given period of time, has changed. The application of information technology in all aspects of military operations is even more prominent. Second, China faces increased threats and challenges in the maritime domain, including over disputed islands and maritime jurisdiction in waters close to China as well as through the growth of interests overseas in waters far from China.
This article reviews how the language of the white paper indicates that China has officially changed its military strategy. The first section introduces briefly China’s concept of the strategic guideline. The second section reviews the language in the 2015 white paper to demonstrate that a change in the strategic guideline has occurred. The third section considers the timing of the adoption of the new strategy. It speculates that the change occurred sometime during the summer of 2014, as the Plenum’s Decision was being implemented. Read more