Sunday, 5 April, 2009

China has been engaged in a sustained drive

Over the past decade, China has been engaged in a sustained drive
to create a modern and professional military. How much military power does
China ultimately desire? Although the answer is unclear, the ambiguity that
surrounds Chinas motivations for the modernization of the Peoples Liberation
Army (PLA) generates concern and even anxiety about the future of
peace and stability in East Asia. A recent Pentagon report notes, for example,
that much uncertainty surrounds Chinas future course, in particular in the
area of its expanding military power and how that power might be used&.
Chinas leaders have yet to explain in detail the purposes and objectives of the
PLAs modernizing military capabilities.
Looking toward the future, several approaches might be used to determine
how much military power China seeks to acquire. One option is simply to focus
on the worst case and assume that all states, including China, want to develop
as much military power as domestic resources and external constraints
permit. The study of threat perceptions offers another approach, tracking
changes in Chinas security environment to identify core drivers of military
modernization and possible force structures.
This article explores a third method, one grounded in Chinese texts on
military doctrine. Analysts have always faced limitations on access to data
with which to study Chinas armed forces. Over the past decade, however, the
availability of sources on Chinas military doctrine, including textbooks on
strategy and operations used to train PLA officers, has grown.
The Washington 126 Quarterly Summer 2008
Assessment of Chinas national strategic goals as well as the capabilities
and force structure required to achieve them.
Such an approach naturally risks taking Chinas declaratory objectives at
face value. Nevertheless, it offers several advantages for assessing the implications
of Chinas ongoing military modernization effort. This approach allows
analysts to assess the congruence of strategic goals reflected in PLA writings
and the military means necessary for achieving them. In this way, progress
toward modernization can be tracked and charted. It also provides a baseline
with which to identify potential changes in the trajectory of China s military
reforms, either through a shift in goals or a change in the capabilities and
forces being developed and deployed.
Examination of these writings suggests that Chinas objectives for the use
of military power are more certain than many policy analysts maintain. These
sources indicate that Chinas strategic goals are keyed to the defense of a
continental power with growing maritime interests as well as to Taiwans unification
and are largely conservative, not expansionist. China is developing
internal control, peripheral denial, and limited force-projection capabilities
consistent with these objectives. Yet, as China shifts its force structure, especially
its navy, to acquire these capabilities, it may nevertheless spark a new
security dilemma in East Asia, increasing regional instability and undermining
Chinas current diplomacy of reassurance.
Chinas Strategic Goals
Why is China modernizing its military capabilities? China adopted its current
military strategy in 1993. Following the normalization of relations with the
Soviet Union and then the demonstration of precision-strike munitions in
the Persian Gulf War, China s leaders instructed the PLA to prepare to fight
local wars under modern high technology conditions. The adoption of this
military strategy stemmed from paramount leader Deng Xiaopings judgment
that small- and medium-sized local conflicts, not general or total wars, were
the most likely threats that China would encounter in a world no longer characterized
by intense competition between two superpowers. Chinese military
writings portray these local conflicts as sudden, intense, and destructive, thus
requiring China to develop new operational capabilities stressing joint operations,
rapid response, and offensive strikes to deter such local wars from arising
or to win them if they do erupt.
Military analyst David Finkelstein has eloquently argued that China lacks
a public document similar to the U.S. National Military Strategy that outlines
its national military strategy.6 Nevertheless, Chinese leaders speeches, official
documents, and PLA texts on military doctrine identify five strategic goals for
The Washington Quarterly Summer 2008
China s Search for Military Power which China seeks to develop military power as a tool of statecraft: regime security, territorial integrity, national unification, maritime security, and regional stability.Chinas multiple goals for the use of military power reflect the diversity of China security challenges. Perhaps too crudely, China seeks to ensure the
defense of a continental state, governed by an authoritarian political system,
with growing maritime interests and several unresolved territorial disputes, especially
over Taiwan. Yet, these goals defy simple categorization as status quo or revisionist, defensive or offensive. Chinas desire to secure its homeland territory from attack is a defensive goal pursued by all states, while its desire to alter the status quo across the strait through unification is clearly revisionist from the regions perspective,
but not from Chinas.
Regime Security
Chinas first goal, maintaining the Chinese Communist Partys (CCP) monopoly
on political power, distinguishes its armed forces from most other modern
militaries in the world. Since becoming general secretary, Hu Jintao has
stressed that the military falls under the absolute leadership of the party. 8
This phrase highlights that internal security and defense of the CCP remains
a top priority, as political unrest poses a stark challenge to the continued economic
growth that underpins the partys legitimacy. Political Commissar of the
Nanjing Army Command College Tian Bingren echoes Hus view in a recent
article, noting that the armed forces should provide important and powerful
guarantees for the consolidation of the partys ruling position. Key sources
of instability include ethnic violence, unemployment, income inequality, and
cross-border criminal activity. The March 2008 demonstrations and riots in
Tibetan areas only reinforce the view of one military scholar that threats to
regime security such as ethnic unrest are a strategic issue that influences
national unification, social stability & [and] economic development.Terr itorial Integrity
The second goal is securing Chinas territory from external threats, a basic mission
for any country s armed forces. A study on army building from the PLAs
National Defense University (NDU) states that the safeguarding of a nation s
territorial integrity must have a large and powerful armed force. Defending
the homelands territory, territorial waters and airspace & is our army s duty-
Chinese military writings identify five strategic goals for its military power.
The end of the Cold War bolstered Chinas external security, as the collapse of the Soviet Union eliminated the largest land-based threat to China since 1949. In the 1990s, China further strengthened its border security through demilitarization and boundary agreements with its neighbors that reduced troop levels and resolved outstanding territorial disputes. Although Chinas territory is more secure than at any time since 1949, PLA sources still stress the importance of preparing for potential
conflict along Chinas continental periphery that might threaten the countrys territorial integrity.These concerns stem from the operational challenges of defending one of the longest land borders in the world, a task that is complicated by harsh environmental conditions and potential ethnic unrest in frontier areas. China also remains involved in one major territorial dispute on its land border with India. Although efforts to settle the dispute have progressed in recent years, resulting in a 2005 agreement on guiding principles, concerns remain that conflict could still erupt in the future, especially as a
chain reaction of conflict along Chinas borders during a crisis in the Taiwan
Strait. Accordingly, the PLAs training guidelines for 2008 stress tasks
consistent with maintaining territorial integrity, especially air defense, border
defense, and border control.
National Unification
The goal pursued by China that attracts the most concern is the potential use of
force over Taiwan, which Chinese writings identify as a goal distinct from maintaining
territorial integrity. Today, Chinas leaders emphasize preventing the islands
de jure, or formal, independence and, through economic interdependence,
creating conditions for peaceful unification. According to a recent study on
military strategy by NDU scholars, China must contain Taiwan separatist
activities and safeguard national unity. Indeed, the Taiwan issue is the most
real and prominent threat to our territorial sovereignty. Although it may just
make a virtue out of necessity, the 2005 National Anti-Secession Law reflects an
emphasis on deterring independence over compelling unification.
Maritime Security
A fourth goal that also attracts increasing attention is Chinas emphasis on
defending its maritime rights and interests (haiyang quanyi). Today, China
Chinese military growth, especiallyits navy, may sparka new regional
security dilemma.It involved in maritime sovereignty disputes with many of its neighbors.Although it controls the Paracel islands claimed by Vietnam, it occupies only
a minority of the features in the Spratlys in the South China Sea and none
of the Senkakus disputed with Japan. With one exception, China has yet to
reach maritime delimitation agreements with its neighbors and thus agree on
the control of undersea resources, especially petroleum.
Chinese sources also reflect an increased sensitivity to military threats from
the sea to Chinas wealthy coastal provinces, the need to exploit maritime
resources for economic development, and, as a trading nation, the economys
dependence on sea lines of communication that could be disrupted in a conflict,
especially one near Chinas coast. The NDUs study of military strategy,
for example, notes the growing importance of the rights and interests of
our continental shelf and maritime exclusive economic zones, especially the
threats facing strategic resource development and strategic passageways.
Regional Stability
A fifth goal is the need to maintain a stable external environment within
which to continue economic development. One NDU study describes this
goal as providing the necessary peaceful environment for national development.
According to a book from the PLA s Academy of Military Science,
because Chinas economy relies heavily on trade, regional stability carries important
significance for our economic development as well as resisting Americas
posture against us. In practice, this goal is linked with avoiding or
deterring armed conflicts on China s periphery, lest they disrupt or potentially
derail Chinas economic reforms. Another NDU study noted that if turmoil
or local war occurs in hot spots on Chinas periphery, the flames of war will
bring disaster to China, compelling China to be drawn into a local war or be
pounded by waves of refugees.
Chinas Military Capabilities and Emerging Force Structure
China prepares to achieve its strategic goals by strengthening or developing
three general military capabilities: internal control, area denial around its
periphery, and limited regional force projection. Reflecting the complexity of
China s security challenges and the varied goals that it pursues, these capabilities
also defy simple categorization. They support offensive and defensive
campaigns, low-intensity and high-intensity operations, and the employment
of force across the spectrum of the contemporary battle space on land, in the
air, and at sea. To simplify the analysis, the discussion below examines only
China s conventional military capabilities.
The evolution in the force structure of China s armed forces is roughly
consistent with the capabilities required to achieve its strategic goals. As the
PLA remains dominated by its ground forces, China already possesses strong
internal control and denial capabilities on the Asian continent. By contrast,
China has only begun to acquire forces for maritime denial and regional forceprojection
capabilities. Nevertheless, progress in these latter areas is likely
to intensify the security dilemma in the region because they enable China to
project power at greater distances than ever before since 1949.
Internal Control
Internal control is the first capability required for China to achieve its strategic
goals. It is key to ensuring regime security and contributes to maintaining
territorial integrity by limiting domestic vulnerability to external pressure. Internal
control enables the CCP to prevent the emergence of any political force
that might challenge its rule and to limit any social unrest that might result
in regime instability or even collapse by derailing the economic growth key to
the CCP s continued legitimacy to govern China. Moreover, as highlighted by
the demonstrations and riots in Lhasa and other Tibetan areas in March 2008,
the potential for political unrest is likely to persist if not increase as China s
authoritarian party-state seeks to cope with the social and institutional challenges
of rapid growth in a multiethnic society.
With the largest army in the world, China has already achieved an internal
control capability. Nevertheless, as a form of policing and, at times, lowintensity
conflict, maintenance of this capability involves a significant number
of personnel with the related financial, organizational, and logistical burdens
of manpower-intensive military operations. Within China s armed forces, the
People s Armed Police (PAP), a paramilitary organization, carries primary responsibility
for internal control.
Within the PAP, internal security units, composed mostly of demobilized
PLA infantry divisions, are trained to contain events that might upset political
stability, including antigovernment demonstrations, riots, and potential rebellions.
The PAP s internal security force consists of 660,000 troops deployed
throughout the country and comes under the joint control of the State Council
and the Central Military Commission. Other PAP units are assigned to
secure border areas and checkpoints as well as critical infrastructure such as
mines, dams, and forests. The leading role of PAP units in suppressing Tibetan
unrest in March 2008 reflects the continued importance for the government
of maintaining a robust internal control capability.
Although the PAP s establishment in 1982 reflected an effort to separate
internal and external security missions for China s armed forces, internal seThe
Washington Quarterly Summer 2008
China s Search for Military Power l
curity remains an important although secondary task for the PLA. In the early
1990s, for example, the original impetus for creating rapid-reaction units of
high-quality troops came from a desire to suppress unrest quickly anywhere in
the country.20 As depicted in figure 1, many of the PLA s main force combat
units, including mobile infantry and armored forces, are deployed in or near
China s major cities, both to defend key population
centers in case of an invasion, however
unlikely at the moment, and to serve as a reserve
force in case of sustained or severe social
unrest that threatens regime security, as the
events in Tiananmen Square demonstrated in
1989. Today, for example, the PLA bases four
independent divisions in Xinjiang, not coincidentally
located in areas, such as Tacheng,
that experienced violent ethnic unrest in the
1990s. Similarly, the 27th, 38th, and 65th Group Armies, each with several
maneuver divisions and brigades, are sited in and around Beijing to defend the
capital from attack and to maintain domestic political stability.21
Area Denial around the Periphery
The second capability that China seeks to help achieve its military goals is
area denial around its periphery. According to the U.S. Department of Defense,
area denial is the ability to hinder an adversary s use of space or facilities.
22 It is distinguished from area control or the domination of a defined
area by one military. Through the development of an area denial capability,
China hopes to create a buffer around its continental and maritime periphery
that will increase the cost for other states to conduct military operations
against targets on the mainland.
Area denial supports the achievement of several strategic goals. On land,
efforts to secure territorial integrity from attack are best achieved when a
potential adversary must think twice about conducting military operations
near China s borders under any set of circumstances. At sea, China s military
preparations for potential conflict over Taiwan have focused on delaying or
slowing the deployment of U.S. forces to the theater and potentially frustrating
U.S. military operations around the island if a conflict erupts. Maritime
denial also enhances the security of China s wealthiest provinces and cities
such as Guangdong and Shanghai, which could become military targets in a
conflict over Taiwan. Finally, it strengthens China s ability to counter efforts
to blockade its ports or adjacent sea lanes that link China with its trading
The goal that attracts
the most concern is
the potential use of
force over Taiwan.
l M. Taylor Fravel
The Washington 132 Quarterly Summer 2008
China has achieved considerable progress in creating an area denial capability
on the Asian continent around its land borders. China arguably first
demonstrated such a capability in the mid-1960s, when concerns about potential
Chinese involvement in the Vietnam War limited U.S. ground operations
to areas below the 17th parallel. A key factor in China s continental denial
capability is the strategic depth that large but sparsely populated frontiers
within China create. This geography allows China to secure its population and
economic centers from land-based threats by leveraging defense-in-depth
against any attack, depth that raises significantly the costs for any potential
adversary to coerce China through attacks on its homeland territory. The
PLA s large ground force of more than 1.6 million troops complements this
favorable geography, especially as it continues to modernize its weaponry and
increase its mobility within the country. Taken together, the cost for any regional
power to attack China on land would be high even if it were able to
breach the border.
The number of troops within China s armed forces devoted to this mission
reflects the continued importance of continental denial for China s military
planners. Approximately 224,500 PLA and PAP troops are tasked with guard-
Figure 1. PLA Ground Forces Order of Battle (2005)
The Washington Quarterly Summer 2008
China s Search for Military Power l
ing China s land borders and maintaining internal security around ports of
entry and adjacent areas. In wartime, these units also form the first line of
defense in any attack against China s borders. In addition, almost one-half of
the PLA s main force infantry and armored units are based in provinces with
an international boundary and are responsible in part for repelling any assault
against Chinese territory or deterring an adversary from deploying large forces
near its borders. This force structure, composed of light infantry units on the
border and maneuver units in the interior, sustains a strong area-denial capability
on its continental periphery.23
The strength of China s continental denial capability weakens, however, as
the distance from its borders grows. At the same time, Chinese territory has
become increasingly vulnerable to long-range precision strikes. As a result,
China strives to extend the range of its continental denial capability beyond
its borders. Two key platforms are advanced tactical multirole fighters, such
as the Russian Su-27 or China s J-10 that entered into serial production in
2006, as well as short-range ballistic missiles and land-attack cruise missiles,
all of which can be used to destroy targets beyond China s borders. Similarly,
to defend against long-range strikes, China has been enhancing its air defense
network through the acquisition of advanced surface-to-air missile systems
such as the Russian S-300PMU.24
By contrast, China began to pursue a maritime denial capability in the
mid-1980s and has only recently acquired limited forces consistent with this
capability. At sea, China lacks the strategic depth that it enjoys on the Asian
continent, increasing the vulnerability of its wealthy coastal provinces to attack
from the sea. As the 2006 white paper on national defense notes, China
seeks to gradually extend the strategic depth for coastal defense [jinhai
fangyu]. 25 In the short to medium term, this effort will continue to focus on
area denial in the waters around Taiwan for a blockade or attacks in any coercive
campaign against the island in addition to coastal defense.26
China s evolving force structure for maritime denial builds on several components.
The first is the steady modernization of the PLA Navy s submarine
force, perhaps the classic maritime denial platform. Since 1995, China has
commissioned 28 new submarines, including 12 advanced Kilo-class Russian
vessels as well as several classes of domestically developed diesel and nuclearpowered
attack boats.27 The second component is advanced surface combatants,
especially domestically produced air-defense guided missile destroyers,
including the Luyang-II and Luzhou-class vessels. These ships carry limited area-
wide air-defense systems that can provide protection for a small task force
or flotilla. The third component is a variety of anti-ship missiles, which can be
launched from submarines, surface ships, and airplanes, such as the Sunburn
and Sizzler systems recently purchased from Russia.28 China has also embarked
l M. Taylor Fravel
The Washington 134 Quarterly Summer 2008
on a program to use medium-range ballistic missiles to target surface ships at
standoff distances, especially aircraft carriers.29 A final component is antisatellite
systems such as the SC-19 missile that was successfully tested in January
2007 that could be employed to deny the United States unfettered use of its
space-based assets during conflict.
Limited Regional Force Projection
Limited regional force projection is the third capability that China pursues.
Force projection is the ability to deploy and sustain military forces beyond a
country s borders, especially to conduct offensive operations. The capability
that China pursues, however, is limited in the sense of projecting force in a
well-defined area for a specific duration of time as opposed to all along China s
coast and over all disputed areas.30
Regional force projection facilitates China s
achievement of several of its strategic goals. It is
required to achieve national unification, as any
coercive campaign against Taiwan to deter or
prevent its formal independence would almost
certainly require offensive operations against the
island. It also plays a key role in maintaining regional
stability, enabling China to deploy troops
abroad to deter the spread of armed conflict or
prevent a conflict from arising. Force projection
also allows China to maintain regional stability by playing a greater role in humanitarian
relief, peacekeeping, and stability operations in East Asia.
China has achieved even less progress toward acquiring capabilities to deploy
and sustain forces far from its borders. Indeed, China s small role in regional
disaster relief in the past several years demonstrates the limits of its
ability to project military power. Following the December 2004 tsunami in
Southeast Asia, for example, China lacked the ability to deliver aid rapidly to
the region, a task completed by the aircraft carrier and expeditionary strike
groups deployed to Indonesia by the U.S. Navy.
China has acquired some platforms consistent with a limited force projection
capability. Although the PLA possesses several expeditionary units,
including a few airborne and amphibious assault divisions as well as marine
brigades, it lacks the means to deploy these troops rapidly or at great distances.
China ordered 34 heavy-duty Il-76 transport aircraft from Russia in 2005,
but production of the line has yet to begin, and the contract may be cancelled.
Even if these aircraft are eventually delivered, bringing China s total number
of heavy transports to almost 50, China will still have just a small fraction
China has only
begun to acquire
forces for maritime
denial and regional
force projection.
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China s Search for Military Power l
of the strategic airlift capacity of other major militaries and be able to airlift
quickly only one fully equipped light mechanized infantry brigade. China will
possess only 14 percent and 6 percent of the heavy strategic airlift capacity
that Russia and the United States possess, respectively.31
Similarly, although China possesses more than 12 large landing ships that
would be used in an amphibious assault across the Taiwan Strait, its strategic
sealift capability beyond the Taiwan Strait is likewise limited. China
recently commissioned two landing platform dock (LPD) ships, each capable
of transporting one battalion of marines and their vehicles. Although several
more LPDs may be built in the coming years, the total number of troops and
equipment that China would be able to transport for force projection remains
China s force structure for long-distance air and naval operations is also
consistent with a limited regional force projection capability. The modernization
of China s air force over the past decade has focused on short-range fighters,
not long-range bombers. Although China has developed aerial refueling
technology for some of its domestically produced fighters, it has yet to invest
in a large tanker fleet that would allow the PLA Air Force to conduct longdistance
strikes or sustained combat patrols beyond China s borders. China s
most advanced multirole fighter, the Russian Su-30MMK, has an aerial refueling
capability, but it cannot mate with the tankers that China has converted
from its old H-6 bombers. Even if China ever takes delivery of four IL-78/MIDAS
tankers ordered from Russia, they would be able to support at most only
a squadron of Su-30s in combat operations. Likewise, China possesses only a
modest ability to replenish ships required for long-distance patrols. Although
China has several oilers to refuel ships, it has recently commissioned two
large, multiproduct replenishment ships that carry fuel, water, ammunition,
and other supplies. Without overseas naval bases, however, the number of
long-range naval patrols will be constrained by the number of large replenishment
ships that China commissions in the future.
A New Security Dilemma?
When viewed through the lens of the security dilemma, China s military modernization
in pursuit of conservative and nonexpansionist goals may nevertheless
increase instability in East Asia. According to this theory, the dilemma
exists because one state s efforts to increase its own security usually decrease
the security of other states.32 Given the uncertainty created by anarchy in the
international system, even if one state enhances its military power for what
it sees as defensive reasons, other states are likely to see the same actions as
offensive and threatening, resulting in security competition characterized by
l M. Taylor Fravel
The Washington 136 Quarterly Summer 2008
mistrust, suspicion, and spirals of tension. Such spirals are especially likely
when a state increases its defense spending significantly and acquires force
projection capabilities, two features of China s current military modernization
Signs of mistrust and suspicion consistent with the presence of a security
dilemma are not difficult to find within the U.S. and Chinese militaries. The
2006 U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review, for example, concluded that China s
growing military capabilities, the size of the East Asian theater, and China s
continental depth (normally viewed as a defensive advantage) place a premium
on forces capable of sustained operations at great distances into denied
areas on offensive capabilities to offset China s modernization. More recently,
during a March 2008 press conference, one Pentagon official concisely
reflected the logic of the security dilemma: [W]e don t have that kind of strategic
understanding of these Chinese intentions, and that leads to uncertainty,
that leads to a readiness to hedge against the possibility that China s development
will go in ways that the Chinese right now say it won t. 34
By contrast, China sees its own military posture as defensive and nonthreatening.
According to a key book on strategy from the PLA s Academy of Military
Science, the nature of our military strategy is defensive. 35 At the same
time, many military scholars are suspicious of U.S. intentions toward China.
One Chinese source, for example, notes that the United States resolutely
believes that China may become its global strategic opponent around 2015. 36
Similarly, reflecting these suspicions, Chinese texts on military operations
stress ways of defeating stronger opponents, highlighting concerns about dominant
U.S. military power.37
Security dilemma dynamics could become most acute in maritime East
Asia, where China s naval modernization enables it to project power at the
greatest distance from its coastline since 1949. It also gives China the ability
to project power into waters in which other navies already operate. For the
United States, China s evolving maritime denial capability could be seen as
challenging its command of the seas. Although China has only conducted a
few submarine patrols in recent years, mostly in its coastal waters, the number
increased to seven in 2007.38 Chinese submarines have also become more visible,
transiting unannounced through Japanese territorial waters in November
2004 and surfacing unexpectedly near a U.S. aircraft carrier in October 2006.39
When combined with the deployment of advanced anti-ship missiles, the trajectory
of China s naval modernization might create incentives for the United
States to deploy more forces in the region, thus fueling a potential spiral.
China s naval modernization is also likely to appear threatening to other
states in the region, especially those involved in disputes with China over
maritime sovereignty. As China continues to commission advanced surface
The Washington Quarterly Summer 2008
China s Search for Military Power l
combatants and submarines, the frequency of naval patrols will increase in
coastal areas, as well as in the South China Sea, the same waters in which
the sovereignty of islands and maritime rights are contested. Even if China
does not vigorously press its claims through diplomatic channels, an increased
military presence will almost surely be viewed as assertive and provocative.
As a result, Japan may invest more heavily in its own naval capabilities and
increase its own presence in disputed waters, whereas other states may seek
improved security ties with the United States,
again further feeding the potential for increased
security competition in the region.
Should these security dilemma dynamics intensify,
they could have profound consequences
for regional stability. After the end of the Cold
War, the U.S. forward military presence enhanced
stability by dampening the potential for
spirals of hostility between states in the region,
especially China and Japan. In the future, however,
U.S. efforts to maintain its naval power could paradoxically undermine
stability if it increases security competition with China. Moreover, it will be
more difficult for the United States to act as an outside arbiter in other regional
conflicts involving China. Increased security competition could also
subvert China s grand strategy of reassurance. Many states in the region may
come to see China s continued double-digit growth in defense spending and
deployment of power projection platforms as increasingly at odds with the
stated Chinese objective of peaceful development, raising, not reducing,
suspicions about China s long-term intentions.
Such spirals of tension, however, are far from inevitable. Although China s
absolute levels of defense spending have increased over the past decade, several
points bear noting. First, China s defense spending as a proportion of overall
government spending has remained relatively constant at roughly 8 percent
over the past 15 years.40 China is not favoring defense spending over other
government priorities such as education and welfare. Second, China faces real
limits on what it can spend for maritime denial and regional force projection
capabilities that would most likely intensify the security dilemma. Even when
using the highest estimate from the Pentagon, China s total defense spending
in 2007 ($139 billion) was slightly less than just the budget for the U.S.
Navy ($147 billion).41 Third, the U.S. presence in maritime East Asia remains
strong. The United States now bases 29 nuclear-powered attack submarines
(SSNs) around the Pacific, just more than one-half of all SSNs in the fleet and
six times more than those in the PLA Navy.42 As a reflection of U.S. strength,
the USS Kitty Hawk carrier strike group transited through the Taiwan Strait in
China sees its own
military posture as
defensive and
l M. Taylor Fravel
The Washington 138 Quarterly Summer 2008
November 2007 after a dispute with China arose over a cancelled port call in
Hong Kong.43
To mitigate the potential for severe spirals, both sides can take concrete
action. China should continue its efforts to increase its military transparency,
especially in the areas of defense spending and military doctrine, which
started with the publication of white papers on national defense in 1998. In
the past, China was reluctant to increase transparency lest it reveal any weaknesses
to the outside. Today, however, with growing concerns about its military
modernization, a lack of further transparency
will only confirm worst-case assumptions
about China s ambitions. Importantly, China
recognizes the salutary effects of such efforts.
Senior Colonel Chen Zhou noted in a recent
interview that more openness leads to greater
trust. 44 The United States and China should
continue efforts to deepen military-to-military
ties, especially exchanges among senior officers,
including not just the chiefs of staff but
all relevant commanders in the Pacific theater. The Pentagon might follow the
Departments of State and the Treasury to establish a formal senior dialogue
for the military aspect of the U.S.-Chinese relationship. Increased joint exercises
in areas where interests overlap would be another way to reduce mistrust,
perhaps following the model of the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum in which
member countries, including China and the United States, have engaged in
substantial joint operations.45
The Future of Stability in East Asia
The strategic goals guiding China s military modernization are more certain
than they might appear. Overall, the changes in China s force structure over
the past decade are consistent with capabilities required for regime security,
territorial integrity, national unification, maritime security, and regional stability.
China is not pursuing broadly expansionist goals, nor is it investing heavily
in forces that are inconsistent with its strategic goals.
Over time, of course, China s goals could change in ways that require new
capabilities other than those outlined in this article. One possibility is that Chinese
leaders could stress the need to protect China s economic interests not just
in the region but around the world. Whether China will seek to move toward
long-range force projection remains unknown. Nevertheless, changes in force
structure and a substantial increase in the share of government spending on
defense would provide a range of useful indicators to chart this type of shift. Po-
A lack of further
transparency will only
confirm worst-case
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China s Search for Military Power l
tential indicators of such a shift include a significant expansion in the numbers
of China s attack submarines for sustained patrols in distant waters; an increase
in the number of large, multiproduct replenishment ships to support long-range
patrols; the development of a robust, space-based ocean surveillance system;
investments in large fleets of tanker and transport aircraft; and the development
of a new type of bomber to replace China s aging H-6 fleet. The acquisition of
multiple aircraft carriers would be another indicator of a move toward longrange
force projection, but building just one such ship is likely to be pursued for
the status that it conveys rather than the capability it generates.
Whether China can or even wants to pursue a long-range force projection
capability remains an open question. For now, China s strategic goals,
military capabilities, and force structure are relatively conservative. Yet, given
concerns about its military ambitions and the nature of the security dilemma,
China s search for military power could nevertheless create increased tension
and instability without efforts to increase transparency, build trust, and reduce

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