WHAT IS CHINA’S STRATEGY?
China’s leaders have benefited from what they view as a “period of strategic opportunity” during the initial two decades of the 21st century to develop domestically and expand China’s “comprehensive national power.” Over the coming decades, they are focused on realizing a powerful and prosperous China that is equipped with a “world-class” military, securing China’s status as a great power with the aim of emerging as the preeminent power in the Indo-Pacific region.
In 2018, China continued harnessing an array of economic, foreign policy, and security tools to realize this vision. Ongoing state-led efforts, which China implements both at home and abroad and which often feature economic and diplomatic initiatives, also support China’s security and military objectives:
> China continues to implement long-term state-directed planning, such as “Made in China 2025” and other industrial development plans, which stress the need to replace imported technology with domestically produced technology. These plans present an economic challenge to nations that export high-tech products. These plans also directly support military modernization goals by stressing proprietary mastery of advanced dual-use technologies.
> China’s leaders seek to align civil and defense technology development to achieve greater efficiency, innovation, and growth. In recent years, China’s leaders elevated this initiative, known as Civil-Military Integration (CMI), to a national strategy that incentivizes the civilian sector to enter the defense market. The national CMI strategy focuses on hardware modernization, education, personnel, investment, infrastructure, and logistics.
> China’s leaders are leveraging China’s growing economic, diplomatic, and military clout to establish regional preeminence and expand the country’s international influence. China’s advancement of projects such as the “One Belt, One Road” Initiative (OBOR) will probably drive military overseas basing through a perceived need to provide security for OBOR projects.
> China conducts influence operations against media, cultural, business, academic, and policy communities of the United States, other countries, and international institutions to achieve outcomes favorable to its security and military strategy objectives. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seeks to condition foreign and multilateral political establishments and public opinion to accept China’s narrative surrounding its priorities like OBOR and South China Sea territorial and maritime claims.
Recognizing that programs such as “Made in China 2025” and OBOR have sparked concerns about China’s intentions, China’s leaders have softened their rhetoric when promoting these programs without altering the programs’ fundamental strategic goals.
A COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH TO MANAGING REGIONAL DISPUTES
China seeks to secure its objectives without jeopardizing the regional stability that remains critical to the economic development that has helped the CCP maintain its monopoly on power. However, China’s leaders employ tactics short of armed conflict to pursue China’s strategic objectives through activities calculated to fall below the threshold of provoking armed conflict with the United States, its allies and partners, or others in the Indo-Pacific region. These tactics are particularly evident in China’s pursuit of its territorial and maritime claims in the South and East China Seas as well as along its borders with India and Bhutan. In 2018, China continued militarization in the South China Sea by placing anti-ship cruise missiles and long-range surface-to-air missiles on outposts in the Spratly Islands, violating a 2015 pledge by Chinese President Xi Jinping that “China does not intend to pursue militarization” of the Spratly Islands. China is also willing to employ coercive measures – both military and non-military – to advance its interests and mitigate opposition from other countries.
BUILDING A MORE CAPABLE PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY
In support of the goal to establish a powerful and prosperous China, China’s leaders are committed to developing military power commensurate with that of a great power. Chinese military strategy documents highlight the requirement for a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) able to fight and win wars, deter potential adversaries, and secure Chinese national interests overseas, including a growing emphasis on the importance of the maritime and information domains, offensive air operations, long-distance mobility operations, and space and cyber operations.
In 2018, the PLA published a new Outline of Training and Evaluation that emphasized realistic and joint training across all warfare domains and included missions and tasks aimed at “strong military opponents.” Training focused on war preparedness and improving the PLA’s capability to win wars through realistic combat training, featuring multi-service exercises, long-distance maneuvers and mobility operations, and the increasing use of professional “blue force” opponents. The CCP also continued vigorous efforts to root out corruption in the armed forces.
The PLA also continues to implement the most comprehensive restructure in its history to become a force capable of conducting complex joint operations. The PLA strives to be capable of fighting and winning “informatized local wars” – regional conflicts defined by real-time, data-networked command and control (C2) and precision strike. PLA modernization includes command and force structure reforms to improve operational flexibility and readiness for future deployments. As China’s global footprint and international interests have grown, its military modernization program has become more focused on investments and infrastructure to support a range of missions beyond China’s periphery, including power projection, sea lane security, counterpiracy, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, and noncombatant evacuation operations.
China’s military modernization also targets capabilities with the potential to degrade core U.S. operational and technological advantages. China uses a variety of methods to acquire foreign military and dual-use technologies, including targeted foreign direct investment, cyber theft, and exploitation of private Chinese nationals’ access to these technologies, as well as harnessing its intelligence services, computer intrusions, and other illicit approaches. In 2018, Chinese efforts to acquire sensitive, dual-use, or military-grade equipment from the United States included dynamic random access memory, aviation technologies, and anti-submarine warfare technologies.
REORGANIZING FOR OPERATIONS ALONG CHINA’S PERIPHERY
China continues to implement reforms associated with the establishment of its five theater commands, each of which is responsible for developing command strategies and joint operational plans and capabilities relevant for specific threats, as well as responding to crises and safeguarding territorial sovereignty and stability. Taiwan persistently remains the PLA’s main “strategic direction,” one of the geographic areas the leadership identifies as having strategic importance. Other strategic directions include the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and China’s borders with India and North Korea.
China’s overall strategy toward Taiwan continues to incorporate elements of both persuasion and coercion to hinder the development of political attitudes in Taiwan favoring independence. Taiwan lost three additional diplomatic partners in 2018, and some international fora continued to deny the participation of representatives from Taiwan. Although China advocates for peaceful unification with Taiwan, China has never renounced the use of military force, and continues to develop and deploy advanced military capabilities needed for a potential military campaign.
THE U.S.-CHINA BILATERAL DEFENSE RELATIONSHIP IN CONTEXT
The 2017 National Security Strategy, the 2018 National Defense Strategy, the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, and the 2019 Missile Defense Review recognize the growing trend of military competition in a dynamic security environment.
The United States will compete from a position of strength while encouraging China to cooperate with the United States on security issues where U.S. and Chinese interests align.
Maintaining a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China is an important part of U.S. strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. U.S. defense contacts and exchanges with China conducted in 2018 were designed to support the long-term goal of transparency and non-aggression. U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) engagements with China seek to reduce risk and prevent misunderstanding in times of increased tension. Engagements are conducted in accordance with the statutory limitations of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000, as amended.
Although DoD engages with the PLA, DoD will also continue to monitor and adapt to China’s evolving military strategy, doctrine, and force development. The United States will adapt its forces, posture, investments, and operational concepts to ensure it retains the ability to defend the homeland, deter aggression, protect our allies and partners, and preserve regional peace, prosperity, and freedom.
China`s developments that have military and security implications for the United States:
Reflecting changes in the PLA’s mission, priorities, and organizational structure, “Capabilities for Operations along China’s Periphery” includes not only on a Taiwan contingency, which remains the PLA’s main “strategic direction,” but also on military and security developments in each of the five theater commands.
> The PLA has emphasized the development of its Three Warfares strategy in its operational planning since at least 2003, which is comprised of psychological warfare, public opinion warfare, and legal warfare. Consistent with this strategy, China conducts influence operations against cultural institutions, media organizations, and the business, academic, and policy communities of the United States, other countries, and international institutions to achieve outcomes favorable to its security and military strategy objectives. A cornerstone of China’s strategy includes appealing to overseas Chinese citizens or ethnic Chinese citizens of other countries to advance CCP objectives through soft power or, sometimes, coercion and blackmail. Furthermore, China harnesses academia and educational institutions, think tanks, and state-run media to advance China’s security interests. China’s foreign influence activities are predominately focused on establishing and maintaining power brokers within a foreign government to promote policies that China believes will facilitate China’s rise, despite China’s stated position of not interfering in foreign countries’ internal affairs.
> China has increased activities and engagement in the Arctic region since gaining observer status on the Arctic Council in 2013. China published an Arctic Strategy in January 2018 that promoted a “Polar Silk Road,” self-declared China to be a “Near-Arctic State,” and identified China’s interests as access to natural resources and sea lines of communication (SLOCs), and promoting an image of a “responsible major country” in Arctic affairs. The strategy highlights China’s icebreaker vessels and research stations in Iceland and Norway as integral to its implementation. Arctic border countries have raised concerns about China’s expanding capabilities and interest in the region. Civilian research could support a strengthened Chinese military presence in the Arctic Ocean, which could include deploying submarines to the region as a deterrent against nuclear attacks.
Data source: Annual Report to US Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019