Chinese Military Dynamics and Evolving Strategy: Graphic Net Assessment

The Emeritus Chair at CSIS is releasing an e-book length Graphic Net Assessment on key developments in Chinese capabilities to compete with the United States and other powers in 2021.

This assessment provides an updated overview of the key developments in China’s growing civil and military capabilities to compete with the United States and other powers. It shows that the challenges posed by China are complex and involve a growing fusion of civil and military capabilities. It shows that the Chinese approach to competition is also global, rather than centered in one area like Taiwan or the South China Sea, and it is often a competition where China’s increasing ability to influence and deter may well be a more important goal than its ability to fight. As a result, competition with the United States takes many different dimensions and is rapidly changing in many key areas of military force, economics, and politics.

The assessment provides a wide range of graphs, maps, and tables that provides a diverse view of the summary data on a wide range of China’s strategic and military capabilities where these can be summarized in quantitative form or by using maps and selected quotes. It also provides summary comparisons of the civil, economic, and technological trends in China and the U.S., recognizing that the estimates are often different and controversial.

It relies heavily on the U.S. Department of Defense’s annual report on Chinese Military Power, which seems to be the most reliable and balanced official unclassified source available. However, it also includes reporting by the Congressional Research Service; U.S. combatant commands; and Japanese, Taiwanese, and South Korean official reporting, and it draws on a wide range of other think tanks, media, and expert sources in an effort to illustrate the wide range of different official and expert estimates as well as the major uncertainties in any assessment of China and how it compare with the U.S. and other nations.

It should be stressed that the data from given sources often differ even when they come from the same country and source, and the original source must be carefully consulted to fully understand the definition and source of the data presented or – as is all too common – the lack of any clear explanation of the data.

The reader should also be aware that many of the summary graphics and data drawn from official sources, and the work of other experts and think tanks can only highlight given aspects of competition. These summaries have to be presented out of context, although some sources do carefully present the uncertainties in the data in the full text from which they are taken. This is why sources are shown in detail and sometimes in conflicting form. This is critical in illustrating the complexity of the competition and the need to examine its full spectrum – and the extent to which open source data often are not reliable pictures of current trends.

This report entitled, Chinese Military Dynamics and Evolving Strategy: Graphic Net Assessment, is available for download at

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Emeritus Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He has served as a consultant on Afghanistan to the United States Department of Defense and the United States Department of State.