Communist China’s rubber-stamp parliament is deliberating on revisions to the Law on National Defense Education that would mandate military drills for middle school pupils and incorporate defense studies in primary schools. It is a step toward the securitization of Chinese society not seen since Mao Zedong. It is, perhaps, a sign Beijing is readying for war. For the West, it is a call for a more realist approach to foreign policy.

Security has long featured in Chinese strategic thought. Imperial dynasties fixated on defending the nation-state from perceived threats from neighboring “barbarians.” Mao’s obsession with establishing China as a communist state militarized Chinese society against itself and in defense of the party. Deng Xiaoping, too, revamped the military to confront “modern conditions.”  The drive to fortify China against the outside is not new. 

Under Xi Jinping it has intensified, shaped by a view that regards internal and external security as linked. Such understanding is reflected in the “comprehensive national security concept,” introduced in 2014. The framework spans 16 realms from political security as the “bedrock” to economics, maritime, and ideology. It has precipitated political crackdowns, military restructurings, and restrictive regulations.

Last month, Beijing overhauled the People’s Liberation Army, establishing independent units for space, information, and cyber operations. It marked the most extensive military shake-up since 2015. The move likely signals Beijing’s view of future warfare. …