China is clearly following a strategy of using its vast and growing military prowess as its essential means to not only gain a preeminent status in Asia and the Pacific, but to solidify its role as a globally dominant superpower.
The Department of Defense (DoD) has published its annual “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China.” It portrays a Beijing government that has, through years of repeatedly increased spending on its armed forces, developed a force that possesses vast and advanced martial strength that it un-hesitantly uses to achieve its international goals.
The DoD Report notes that “Throughout 2015, China demonstrated a willingness to tolerate higher levels of tension in the pursuit of its interests, especially in pursuit of its territorial claims in the East and South China Sea… China’s military modernization is producing capabilities that have the potential to reduce core U.S. military technological advantages. China’s officially-disclosed military budget grew at an average of 9.8 percent per year in inflation-adjusted terms from 2006 through 2015, and Chinese leaders seem committed to sustaining defense spending growth for the foreseeable future, even as China’s economic growth decelerates…The PLA [People’s Liberation Army, the overall term for China’s military establishment] continued to improve key capabilities that would be used in theater contingencies, including cruise missiles; short, medium, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles; high performance aircraft; integrated air defense networks; information operations capabilities; and amphibious and airborne assault units. The PLA is developing and testing new intermediate- and medium-range conventional ballistic missiles as well as long-range, land-attack, and anti-ship cruise missiles, which once operational would extend the military’s reach and push adversary forces further from potential regional conflicts. China is also focusing on counterspace, offensive cyber operations, and electronic warfare (EW) capabilities meant to deny adversaries the advantages of modern, information technology-driven warfare.”
While the DoD review only discusses the “officially disclosed budget,” it must be noted that China also has a vast stream of unreported funds dedicated to its military establishment.
The New York Analysis of Policy and Government (NYA) has previously noted that China’s interests extend far beyond its own borders. It has developed military to military contacts and commercial interests in Asia, Africa, and Latin America as well. The DoD notes that “China seeks to leverage engagement with foreign militaries to enhance its presence and influence abroad, bolster China’s international and regional image, and assuage other countries’ concerns about China’s rise. PLA engagement activities also assist its modernization by facilitating the acquisition of advanced weapon systems and technologies, increasing its operational experience throughout and beyond Asia, and giving it access to foreign military practices, operational doctrine, and training methods.”
China’s military interests extend into space, where it has a highly advanced program that includes the ability to shoot down American satellites.
Of particular concern is Beijing’s growing military ties, including sharing weapons systems, training exercises and advanced technologies, with Russia.
As NYA has reported, China already has more submarines than the United States, and is moving on schedule to have a navy that is larger than its American counterpart by 2020. The DoD notes that “Over the past 15 years, China’s ambitious naval modernization program has produced a more technologically advanced and flexible force. The PLAN now possesses the largest number of vessels in Asia, with more than 300 surface ships, submarines, amphibious ships, and patrol craft. China is rapidly retiring legacy combatants in favor of larger, multi-mission ships equipped with advanced anti-ship, anti-air, and anti-submarine weapons and sensors. China continues its gradual shift from ‘near sea’ defense to ‘far seas’ protection.”
China has extensively modernized and developed a massive nuclear capability, even as the U.S. has reduced its own increasingly overaged arsenal. At sea, Beijing currently has four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. On land, China has modernized its nuclear forces by enhancing its silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and adding more survivable, mobile delivery systems. China’s ICBM arsenal consists of 75-100 ICBMs, including silo-based and multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles. Its missiles can reach most locations within the continental United States. Additional missile systems are being developed.
As American military power recedes due to budget cuts, China’s prowess grows not just in quality and numbers but in its willingness to use its growing strength to intimidate other nations into submitting to its unlawful demands.
Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government at usagovpolicy.com.