New China Defense Law Could 'Justify' PLA Action Against U.S.—Think Tank

China could exploit changes to its defense law as rationale for military action against the United States, an analyst has told Newsweek.

Beijing has redefined its national interests at home and abroad, expounding on the just causes that would trigger the mobilization of troops and civilian resources in the name of national defense, according to a report by Taiwan's Institute for National Defense and Security Research.

Amendments to China's National Defense Law, effective from January 1, included the consolidation of decision-making power in the Central Military Commission—chaired by President Xi Jinping—and a reduction in the influence of cabinet-level officials in the State Council.

The document, the significance of which is second only to the Chinese constitution, will define the direction of the People's Liberation Army, said the institute's report, published on Tuesday.

The law, adopted in 1997, now includes four uses of the phrase "development interests," which China uses to define a range of domestic and foreign interests.

It widens the scope of the law and provides legal grounds for full or partial military mobilization, to include insurrection, secession, as well as threats to China's sovereignty, unification, territorial integrity, national security and overseas interests.

"As long as a war is legal and justified, it can attack," the report said.

"References to China's 'development interests' are widely believed to be directed at the United States," the institute's Chinese military and politics researcher Hung Tzu-chieh told Newsweek on Wednesday.

"If China feels its development interests have been infringed upon, the law could justify military action," he added.

Amendments to the law have been in the works for some time, Hung noted. They are part of Xi's military reforms spanning several years.

According to the institute, the changes—rubber-stamped on December 26 last year by the National People's Congress, China's top legislative body—focus on a call for countrywide mobilization in the name of national defense.

The phrase "mobilization"—which makes 21 appearances—in effect puts the onus of national defense on China's entire population, said the think tank. The law asks for a level of preparedness not seen in past decades.

China's Ministry of National Defense, announcing the legislation last month, wrote on its website: "All state organs and armed forces, political parties and people's groups, enterprises and public institutions, social organizations and organizations of other types should support national defense and participate in its development, fulfill their defense duties and accomplish defense tasks in accordance with the law."

The think tank concludes that Xi, who abolished presidential term limits in 2018, now wields "exclusive control" over the PLA.

While aiming to modernize the PLA by 2035, Xi is said to be casting his eye on three significant centenaries: the Chinese Communist Party in 2021, People's Liberation Army in 2027 and People's Republic of China in 2049.

Chinese Military Trains In Cold Weather
File photo: People's Liberation Army soldiers assemble during military training at Pamir Mountains in Kashgar, northwestern China. STR/AFP via Getty Images