People's Liberation Army tasked with protecting 'overseas interests' under new China security law
People's Liberation Army tipped to extend its reach after legislation cements its responsibility to protect China's 'overseas interests', by military action if necessary
China's military is expected to expand its offshore presence with the passage yesterday of a wide-ranging new national security law that highlights the country's need to protect its "overseas interests".
Besides underscoring the need to protect national territorial sovereignty and integrity, the law passed by the National People's Congress says it is the military's duty to defend these overseas interests, through military action if necessary.
This is in addition to the People's Liberation Army's responsibilities in peacekeeping, international rescue operations and escort missions.
"The amendment indicates the PLA Navy has been given the challenging and tough long-term task to defend China's overseas interests. More resources and political support will be required to turn the navy into a capable blue-water force [to carry out these tasks]," Shanghai-based naval expert Ni Lexiong said.
The law also includes a clause saying the state should protect strategic resources and energy reserves , as well as transport channels on sea and land to safeguard the country's social and economic development.
"In this clause, Beijing is showing its determination to protect its oil lifeline at sea, hinting that it will continue to set up a network of offshore military supply depots in strategic ports to protect its national interests overseas," Ni said.
NPC approval would be needed for China to declare war against other nations, and all activities of the PLA - both domestic and overseas missions - should be approved by the Central Military Commission headed by President Xi Jinping, according to the law.
The passage of the law comes roughly a month after Beijing signalled in a defence ministry white paper that it would pursue a strategic shift to a more assertive military, transforming its navy from an "offshore defence" power to one committed to "open-seas protection" as well.
The law also calls for tighter controls over the internet, foreign investment, core information technology and services, critical infrastructure and national security systems, saying these should be "secure and controllable" to prevent online attacks, theft of secrets and the spread of illegal or harmful information.
One addition to the final version was a clause on China's determination to pursue and develop its capacity to "explore and use assets in space, deep seas and in polar regions".
He Qisong, a defence policy specialist at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said the new law signalled that China was more committed to protecting its national security interests.
"Beijing has sent a clear message to its people and the military, the whole country will provide full support to the armed forces to defend the country's interests, be they overseas, in space, in deep seas and even in polar regions," He said.
Zeng Zhiping, a military law expert at the Nanchang Institute of Technology in Jiangxi, said the law legitimised the armed forces' non-traditional offshore security missions.
"The amended national security law has finally caught up with developments in the armed forces at home and overseas," Zeng said.
"The armed forces' function in peacetime today is not about going to war, but more about non-traditional security issues.
"The legitimacy given by the new national security law will help the military fight for bigger budgets, as well as increase its transparency."