How China's Military Is Becoming Stronger

Decades in the making? 

How China’s Military Is Becoming Stronger

“China’s National Defense in the New Era” declares, “The South China Sea islands and Diaoyu Islands are inalienable parts of the Chinese territory.” Although the militarization of islands in the South China Sea has provoked serious concerns in the region, the PRC’s apparent confidence in its approach appears to have only increased. In 2015, “China’s Military Strategy” had highlighted the importance of “safeguard[ing] maritime rights,” calling for the PLA to “strike a balance between rights protection and stability maintenance.” By contrast, this 2019 NDWP lacks that emphasis on stability, and instead provides a direct defense of PRC actions: “China exercises its national sovereignty to build infrastructure and deploy necessary defensive capabilities on the islands and reefs in the South China Sea, and to conduct patrols in the waters of Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.” The justification of such measures as defensive reflects the flexible concept of defense that animates China’s strategy of active defense, which involves an offensive approach at the operational level.

China Brief, March 22). Inherently, China’s national defense requires supporting “the sustainable development of the country.” At a time when growth is slowing and depending ever more directly upon access to markets and resources worldwide, China’s future growth is directly linked to this global outlook. This concern justifies the call for the PLA to contribute to “global security goods,” which may see continued internationalization of China’s military power in ways that could start to challenge the United States.” data-reactid=”26″>China has continued to concentrate on safeguarding its “overseas interests,” which are expanding worldwide. This imperative has been relatively consistent across the past couple of NDWPs, but the language in this document indicates its heightened importance. In particular, China’s armed forces intend to “address deficiencies in overseas operations and support,” including “build[ing] far seas forces” and “develop[ing] overseas logistical facilities,” such as the base in Djibouti and a potential base in Cambodia, which may be the first such bases of a number to come (China Brief, March 22). Inherently, China’s national defense requires supporting “the sustainable development of the country.” At a time when growth is slowing and depending ever more directly upon access to markets and resources worldwide, China’s future growth is directly linked to this global outlook. This concern justifies the call for the PLA to contribute to “global security goods,” which may see continued internationalization of China’s military power in ways that could start to challenge the United States.

China Brief, October 4, 2016). As a result, the PLA has been greatly concerned with the risks of “technology surprise attacks” (技术突袭, jishu tuji), wary of a “growing technological generation gap” that could emerge as a result of this competition. By its own assessment, the PLA “still lags far behind the world’s leading militaries,” and a failure to adapt could place the PLA in a position of dangerous disadvantage.  This unfavorable situation necessitates innovation as a military, and indeed strategic, imperative.” data-reactid=”30″>“China’s National Defense in the New Era” reflects the PRC response to the 2018 U.S. National Defense Strategy, which centered on sharpening the U.S. military’s competitive advantage. [4]American initiatives have evidently provoked a powerful response in the PLA, spurring on Chinese defense innovation (China Brief, October 4, 2016). As a result, the PLA has been greatly concerned with the risks of “technology surprise attacks” (技术突袭, jishu tuji), wary of a “growing technological generation gap” that could emerge as a result of this competition. By its own assessment, the PLA “still lags far behind the world’s leading militaries,” and a failure to adapt could place the PLA in a position of dangerous disadvantage.  This unfavorable situation necessitates innovation as a military, and indeed strategic, imperative.

The Diplomat, June 6, 2017). However, the PLA’s approach to the requisite technical and conceptual challenges is still taking shape.” data-reactid=”32″>The PLA’s recent reforms have introduced unprecedented transformation into a force once considered resistant to change. However, the PLA continues to confront considerable challenges as a result of the disparities that persist even within the force. Chinese military leaders must “promote the integrated development of mechanization and informatization and accelerate the development of military intelligentization.” [6] The PLA today must undertake all three processes simultaneously, which presents distinct difficulties and potential chances to leapfrog in its development. Notably, this innovation is reportedly extending to the development of new military theories that may be formalized eventually into new “doctrine” or operational regulations (作战条令, zuozhan tiaoling) (The Diplomat, June 6, 2017). However, the PLA’s approach to the requisite technical and conceptual challenges is still taking shape.

China Brief, January 18) has been officially designated to lead the military scientific research enterprise. Guided by Lieutenant General Yang Xuejun (杨学军)—the former commandant of the PLA’s National University of Defense Technology, known for his expertise in artificial intelligence and supercomputing—AMS appears to be undertaking rapid recruitment of the talent required to promote defense innovation in emerging technologies. The “new” AMS is also leading a new initiative to facilitate the integration of theory and technology (理技融合, liji ronghe), which could enable the innovative thinking required to realize the potential of emerging capabilities (Xinhua, February 14).” data-reactid=”34″>Today, the PLA is changing its paradigm for military power: the PLA is “striving to transform from a quantity-and-scale model to that of quality and efficiency, as well as from being personnel-intensive to one that is S&T-intensive.” This objective has involved a significant downsizing of personnel, with 300,000 demobilized on the course of these reforms, and increased investment in human capital. At the same time, the PLA’s approach to military research has been restructured: the CMC Steering Commission on Military Scientific Research has been established, and a transformed Academy of Military Science (China Brief, January 18) has been officially designated to lead the military scientific research enterprise. Guided by Lieutenant General Yang Xuejun (杨学军)—the former commandant of the PLA’s National University of Defense Technology, known for his expertise in artificial intelligence and supercomputing—AMS appears to be undertaking rapid recruitment of the talent required to promote defense innovation in emerging technologies. The “new” AMS is also leading a new initiative to facilitate the integration of theory and technology (理技融合, liji ronghe), which could enable the innovative thinking required to realize the potential of emerging capabilities (Xinhua, February 14).

China Military Online, September 12, 2018). China’s armed forces continue to attempt to reconcile such apparent contradictions.” data-reactid=”36″>The PLA’s apparent enthusiasm for technology and innovation can appear incongruous when juxtaposed against a concurrent attachment to tradition. For instance, Mao Zedong’s concept of “people’s warfare” (人民战争, renmin zhanzheng) was described in “China’s Military Strategy” as a “magic weapon” (法宝, fabao) for the PLA. Even as China’s national defense enters this “new era,” the espoused dedication to “give full play to the overall power of the people’s war[fare]” is again reiterated with calls for “innovating in its strategies, tactics and measures.” This is not merely rhetorical, but rather reflects a core concept: “China’s national defense is the responsibility of all Chinese people,” as the 2019 NDWP declares. This approach may appear to be anachronistic in an age of informatized warfare, yet arguably possesses enduring relevance, from cyber defense to a whole-of-nation approach to national defense mobilization. [7] The juxtaposition of low-tech concepts and options with high-tech ambitions can be strikingly incongruous. For example, the much-derided discussion of the PLA’s reintroduction of bugles in the 2019 NDWP can also be characterized as a measure with practical relevance, including to resolving the challenges of command and communications in a highly denied environment (China Military Online, September 12, 2018). China’s armed forces continue to attempt to reconcile such apparent contradictions.

The 2019 NDWP introduces certain updates regarding force structure that are worth highlighting. The PLA has apparently succeeded in overcoming considerable bureaucratic impediments to adjust its force structure—away from the prior dominance of the Army to expand the Navy and Rocket Force—while increasing investments in “new types of combat forces.” This adjustment and rebalancing of China’s armed forces has shifted resources to new priorities: there is a new focus on special operations, “all-dimensional offense and defense,” amphibious operations, far seas protection and “strategic projection,” with the objective to “make the force composition complete, combined, multi-functional and flexible.”

As a significant innovation in force structure, the PLA Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) is a unique outcome of the reforms. The PLASSF has consolidated capabilities for space, cyber, and electronic warfare, contributing to Chinese capabilities to “fight and win wars in the information age.” At the same time, its supporting function is officially described as including battlefield environmental protection, information and communication assurance, and information security protection, as well as new technology testing. The PLASSF is called upon to “accelerate the integrated development of new-type combat forces,” which may allude to recognition of potential synergies in capabilities across these domains. In a notable indicator of progress, the PLASSF is “actively integrated into the joint operations system, and solidly carrying out new-type domains confrontation drills and emergency response training.” For instance, the PLASSF has engaged in exercises in which it acted as a “blue force” through engaging in electronic countermeasures.

China Brief.” data-reactid=”46″>This article appeared originally at The Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief.

https://ndupress.ndu.edu/Publications/Books/Chairman-Xi-Remakes-the-PLA/.” data-reactid=”49″>[1] See this volume that provides significant assessments of major elements of the reforms: Phillip Saunders et al. (ed.), Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA: Assessing Chinese Military Reforms(National Defense University Press, 2019). https://ndupress.ndu.edu/Publications/Books/Chairman-Xi-Remakes-the-PLA/.

https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf” data-reactid=”52″>[4] Department of Defense, “Summary of the National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Advantage,” https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf

https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/June-7-Hearing_Panel-1…” data-reactid=”54″>[6] For more context on the Chinese military’s approach to intelligentization, see: Elsa B. Kania, “Chinese Military Innovation in Artificial Intelligence,” Testimony  to U.S.-China Economic and Security  June 7, 2019, https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/June-7-Hearing_Panel-1…

https://www.inspire2serve.gov/_api/files/200.” data-reactid=”55″>[7] For a more detailed assessment of China’s approach to national defense mobilization, see: Elsa B. Kania, “Testimony before the National Commission on Service’s Hearing on “Future Mobilization Needs of the Nation,”” April 24, 2019, https://www.inspire2serve.gov/_api/files/200.

http://news.dwnews.com/china/news/2019-05-15/60133898.html. For the original video of footage from the May 2019 conference, see: “Xi Jinping at the All-Nation Public Security Work Conference Emphasized” [习近平在全国公安工作会议上强调], CCTV, May 8, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQ7ytxpinT4&feature=youtu.be&t=507.” data-reactid=”57″>[9] As a potential indicator of inter-service rivalry or dynamics, it may be notable that the PLASSF’s new commander, Lt. Gen. Li Fengbiao (李凤彪) is a career PLAAF officer who formerly commanded the PLAAF Airborne Corps. Potentially, his selection is an indication that the PLASSF is becoming more joint as an organization. For context and confirmation of this change, see: “CCTV screen leakage of personnel adjustment” [央视画面泄密人事调整], Duowei, May 15, 2019, http://news.dwnews.com/china/news/2019-05-15/60133898.html. For the original video of footage from the May 2019 conference, see: “Xi Jinping at the All-Nation Public Security Work Conference Emphasized” [习近平在全国公安工作会议上强调], CCTV, May 8, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQ7ytxpinT4&feature=youtu.be&t=507.

Read the original article. ” data-reactid=”60″>Read the original article.