TWQ: China's Search for Military Power - Summer 2008
January 1, 2008
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 China's motivations for the modernization of the People's 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 China's future course, in particular in the area of its expanding military power and how that power might be used....China's leaders have yet to explain in detail the purposes and objectives of the PLA's 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 China's 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 China's armed forces. Over the past decade, however, the availability of sources on China's military doctrine, including textbooks on strategy and operations used to train PLA officers, has grown. These sources, which are part of the PLA's "revolution in doctrinal affairs," permit a preliminary assessment of China's national strategic goals as well as the capabilities and force structure required to achieve them.