China’s military rise is well-planned, and Chinese leaders are following a strategy they believe will lead to greater power and influence both regionally and globally, according to an unclassified report released today by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The 125-page report, “China Military Power — Modernizing a Force to Fight and Win,” details some of the efforts made by the world’s most populous nation to build a military force that will allow it to back up plans for “great rejuvenation.”
“As we look at China, we see a country whose leaders describe it as moving closer to center stage in the world, while they strive to achieve what they call the ‘great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,’” said Dan Taylor, a senior defense intelligence analyst with the DIA. “This ambition permeates China’s national security strategy and guides the development of the People’s Liberation Army.”
Taylor pointed out that the PLA is not actually a national institution in China, but rather the military arm of the Chinese Communist Party. About 3 million serve on active duty in the PLA, making it the largest military force in the world. Additionally, it’s thought the PLA receives about $200 billion a year in funding — about 1.4 percent of China’s gross domestic product — though lack of transparency means exact numbers can’t be determined.
Comprehensive National Power
Communist party leaders in China, Taylor said, are looking to build “comprehensive national power” over the first few decades of the 21st century, and a key component of that is enhanced military power.
“China is rapidly building a robust, lethal force, with capabilities spanning ground, air, maritime, space and information domains, designed to enable China to impose its will in the region, and beyond,” Taylor said.
Economic growth in China has enabled it to spend significantly to modernize the PLA, and continued development is expected, Taylor said.
“In the coming years, the PLA is likely to grow even more technologically advanced and proficient, with equipment comparable to that of other modern militaries,” Taylor said. “The PLA will acquire advanced fighter aircraft, modern naval vessels, missile systems, and space and cyberspace assets as it reorganizes and trains to address 21st century threats farther from China’s shores.”
According to the DIA report, Chinese efforts to advance the PLA have been informed, at least in part, by what it has observed of the U.S. military during past military operations — including both abilities and gaps in capability.
“The Gulf War provided the PLA stark lessons regarding the lethal effectiveness of information-enabled weapons and forces, particularly mobility and precision-strike capabilities, that had become the standard for effectively waging war in the modern era,” the report says.
The Chinese also have adapted their forces and doctrine to exploit perceived gaps in U.S. defenses.
Following the Gulf War and the fall of the Soviet Union, Chinese leaders perceived a period of strategic opportunity, the report says.” Convinced they would not see a major military conflict before 2020, China embarked on a period of economic and military development.
The Chinese increased the PLA budget by an average of 10 percent per year from 2000 to 2016, for instance. They additionally reformed the way the PLA bought weapons, and instituted several broad scientific and technical programs to improve the defense industrial base and decrease the PLA’s dependence on foreign weapon acquisitions.
The PLA saw the capabilities U.S. and Western forces fielded. Those forces used realistic training scenarios, and the Chinese adapted that to their forces as well. Leaders also implemented personnel changes to professionalize the PLA.
“The PLA developed a noncommissioned officer corps and began programs to recruit more technically competent university graduates to operate its modern weapons,” the report says. “PLA political officers assigned to all levels of the military acquired broader personnel management responsibilities in addition to their focus on keeping the PLA ideologically pure and loyal to the CCP.”
Professionalization of the PLA, with an increased push to focus on an ability to “fight and win” — a goal that mirrors U.S. doctrine — has been a hallmark of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent military strategy, said one defense official speaking to reporters on background.
Key takeaways from the DIA report include the Chinese emphasis on cyber capabilities, the defense official added. “It’s clear to us it’s a very important area to the Chinese,” the official said. “But it’s hard to know exactly how effective a cyberattack capability is until it’s actually used.”
China’s focus on Taiwan also is a focus of the DIA report.
“Xi Jinping has made it clear that resolving or making progress, at least, on resolving … the Taiwan situation is a very top priority for him,” the defense official said.