China’s armed forces are to extend their operations and its air force will become an offensive as well as defensive force for the first time, in a major shift in policy that will strengthen fears of accidental conflict.
A policy document by the state council, or cabinet, said China faced a “grave and complex array of security threats”, justifying the change.
The People’s Liberation Army, including its navy and air force, will be allowed to “project power” further beyond its borders at sea and more assertively in the air in order to safeguard its maritime possessions, the white paper stated.
Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef
The navy will add “open seas protection” to a traditional remit of “offshore waters defence”, it said.
The posture risks escalating the tension over disputed islands in the South China Sea and elsewhere in the Pacific, where the United States is determined to protect the interests of allies like Taiwan and the Philippines.
Only last week, a US aircraft ignored repeated warnings from the Chinese military to fly a reconnaissance mission over the islands.
The on-going reclamation by China at Subi reef seen from Pagasa island
Global Times, a tabloid newspaper run by the Communist Party, said that China might have to “accept” there would be conflict with the United States.
“If the United States’ bottom line is that China has to halt its activities, then a US-China war is inevitable in the South China Sea”, said the paper, which is often seen as a mouth-piece of hardline nationalists in the government in Beijing.