The China Challenge

Shortly before the end of the Trump Administration, the U.S. State Department issued a significant analysis of the dangers posed by China.


China has made inroads within every region of the world, the report notes. It’s goal is to “fundamentally revise [the] world order, placing the People’s Republic of China (PRC) at the center and serving Beijing’s authoritarian goals and hegemonic ambitions.”

Beijing has developed a world-class military that is intended to rival and in the long-term surpass the U.S. military and those of its allies.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) owes allegiance to the ruling Communist Party. Following his selection in 2012 as the Communist Party’s General Secretary, Xi Jinping intensified the military’s decades-long modernization. Xi has directed the PLA to achieve a status “commensurate with” China’s “international standing.” On January 1, 2016, the PLA announced a comprehensive reorganization of its force structure, setting the military on a path of expansion that paralleled China’s economic advances, and which would enable it “to combat and win battles.”

The CCP’s extensive military transformation exhibits China’s strategic intentions. The 2016 reorganization created five theater-based joint commands — akin to the United States’ geographic commands — and two functional commands. The responsibilities of the newly formed Strategic Support Force (SSF) include cyber and space operations and electronic warfare as well as psychological-warfare operations. The SSF, along with Joint Logistics Support Force, will enable the PLA to project military power over great distances and to contest “new military strategic commanding heights.” The 2016 reform elevated China’s nuclear forces, which Xi emphasizes are essential to China’s major-power status, from a subordinate command to a separate stand-alone military service. Accordingly, he called upon the PLA Rocket Force “to enhance its nuclear deterrents and nuclear counterstrike capabilities.”

Beijing has carefully studied America’s military success in the 1991 Gulf War. Key Pentagon officials have warned that the United States can no longer take for granted military superiority in East Asia.

China has placed more satellites in space than any country other than the United States. Beijing is also working on a range of anti-satellite capabilities designed to threaten U.S. nuclear and critical military command and control assets. The PLA demonstrated its progress in 2007 when it conducted a successful anti-satellite test, destroying a Chinese satellite operating in the same low-earth orbit as U.S. military-imaging satellites.

Despite Chinese commitments, Iran, North Korea and Syria continue to obtain material and technology for weapons of mass destruction from China.

According to the State Department’s annual report on international compliance with arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament agreements, China “has failed to adhere to its November 2000 commitment to the United States not to assist ‘in any way, any country in the development of ballistic missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons (i.e., missiles capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kilograms to a distance of at least 300 kilometers).’” The report went on to note, “This failure to adhere to its November 2000 commitment is reflected in Chinese entities’ continued supply of items to missile programs of proliferation concern.” China continues to support, or at least condone, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missile technology.”

In the near-to-medium term, China will use its military capabilities, operational concepts, and overall doctrine to turn the U.S. military’s technological strengths in the Indo-Pacific into weaknesses by credibly threatening to deliver massive punishment against American forces while thwarting the United States’ ability to provide reinforcement. This would signal to regional powers a fait accompli too costly to overturn. China’s strategy is not only to prevail but also to demoralize America’s friends and partners by demonstrating that the United States cannot meet its security commitments in the region — at least not quickly or at an acceptable cost.

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government.

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