In early September 2020, the Pentagon issued a report on the development of China’s military and security services. The report is destined for US Congress, where the US Defense Department has been sending such reports for the last 20 years.
The beginning of the report states that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is aiming to become a “world-class” military by the end of 2049, which was first announced by General Secretary Xi Jinping in 2017. And, over the past two decades, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has marshalled the resources, technology and political will to strengthen and modernise the PLA in almost every way. According to the US military, China is already ahead of America in certain areas such as:
> Shipbuilding – the PRC has the largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of around 350 ships and submarines, including more than 130 major surface combatants. In comparison, the US Navy’s battle force is around 293 ships as of the start of 2020.
> Land-based conventional ballistic and cruise missiles – the PRC has more than 1,250 ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometres. At present, the US only uses ground-based ballistic missiles with a range of between 70 and 300 kilometres.
> Integrated air defence systems – the PRC has one of the world’s largest forces of advanced long-range surface-to-air systems, including Russian-built S-300s and S-400s and domestically produced systems, which make up part of its robust and redundant integrated air defence system architecture.
More impressive still are China’s recent efforts, including completely restructuring the PLA into a force capable of carrying out joint operations, improving the PLA’s overall combat readiness, encouraging the PLA to accept new operational concepts, and expanding China’s military presence overseas.
The report points out that, in 2019, China decided that its armed forces should take a more active role in advancing the country’s foreign policy.
It also notes that China is pursuing a mixed military and civilian development strategy. This includes: 1) fusing China’s defence industrial base with its civilian technologies and industry; 2) integrating and using scientific achievements and technology innovations in military and civilian sectors; 3) cultivating talent and blending military and civilian expertise and knowledge; 4) including military requirements in civilian infrastructure and using civilian construction for military purposes; 5) using civilian service and logistics capabilities for military purposes; and 6) expanding and deepening China’s national defence mobilisation system to include all relevant aspects of its society and economy for use in competition and war.
Meanwhile, the US has long been using this approach, which is reflected in the strategies, field manuals and documents of the respective organisations. America’s defence industry also manufactures civilian products (Boeing is a prime example). Although the US political system does not allow all of society’s resources to be mobilised in peacetime in the interests of power, history shows that the situation can be very different in wartime.
The report’s authors believe that China will at least double its nuclear arsenal. At present, the PRC has just over 200 nuclear warheads at its disposal. For its nuclear deterrence, China is using the classic triad – submarines, strategic bombers and ground-based missiles. However, other capabilities are also being developed – the use of air-launched ballistic missiles and the development of sea-based platforms.
The PRC’s overseas activity is of particular concern to the US. As well as its military base in Djibouti, China is planning to develop additional logistics facilities to support its armed forces. It is likely that these will be in Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, the Seychelles, Tanzania, Angola, and Tajikistan. The majority of these countries are also partners of the US. A change in priorities will clearly not be to Washington’s benefit.
It also goes without saying that the ability to carry out a wide variety of operations presents a real threat to the US. While the main trend in recent years has been to accuse China of hacker attacks, the report almost mentions practices that target media organisations, businesses, academic circles, cultural organisations, and various communities both within the US and through international organisations.
A section of the report deals with Sino-Russian relations. Joint military exercises, oil supplies, interest in the Northern Sea Route, and participation in various organisations and forums such as BRICS are also covered in the report.
The text contains satellite images of military bases, as well as maps and diagrams that clearly show China’s military architecture.
In an appendix, China’s military balance is also compared to that of Taiwan, a subtle hint at the need to follow partnership agreements and strengthen its own military presence in the region.
The report’s publication was preceded by the release, in June 2020, of a research report by the RAND Corporation entitled “China’s Grand Strategy. Trends, Trajectories, and Long-Term Competition”, which was prepared by a team of authors.
This equally important document is necessary for an understanding of how the US establishment perceives China and its activities in the external arena. But, unlike the Pentagon’s fairly cold analysis, here the threat posed by China is emphasised with some emotion.
Since the grand strategy itself is a long-term process, the research report presents a retrospective overview of the confrontation between the US and China, along with China’s perception of the threats posed by the US and the methods used by the PRC to combat them.
China’s “soft power” is also considered in detail, including the activities of Confucius Institutes around the world.
At the end of the report, there are possible scenarios for how the situation will develop and certain conclusions that should be taken into account by the US military.
In addition to the state assessment of China’s growing might being developed in the corridors of US power, many US media outlets have recently started scaring their readers by hinting at a Chinese threat to humanity.
The US magazine Tablet, for example, writes: “The Chinese communists’ plans to discredit and dismantle the liberal values baked into the existing global architecture are incredibly ambitious. They imagine a future reality where even the notion that China could be more successful, wealthy, or powerful if it were free would sound too ridiculous to take seriously. Xi Jinping has given a name to this future world. He calls this vision ‘a community of common destiny for mankind.’ This future community of nations would give Chinese communism the moral recognition it is now denied. The party-state would be lauded, in Xi’s words, as a new ‘contribution to political civilization’ and a new chapter in ‘the history of the development of human society.’ Power blocs and existing military alliances would soon melt away as the various nations of the Earth are drawn into China’s economic orbit.”
According to the author, no country will be able to compete with China, which will demonstrate to the world the superiority of its socialist system.
It is telling that this publication broadly covers Jewish culture, but, for some reason, decided to give its two cents on China.
The US clearly regards China as a difficult partner and dangerous competitor. The confrontation between the two countries (which is also a significant factor in US political decision-making) is not even the issue. It is the fact that China is perceived as a force that is encroaching on America’s global interests and its traditional spheres of influence. This risks involving other actors and transforming tensions into a complex, multi-level conflict on a global scale.