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Stuck @ home wondering where China & world are headed? Read #TheChinaQuestions—36 @Harvard @FairbankCenter chs. ed. by Profs. @MichaelSzonyi & Rudolf!




See great chapters by Profs. Elizabeth Perry, Joe Fewsmith, Rod MacFarquhar, Mark Elliott, Ya-Wen Lei, Arunabh Ghosh, Yuhua Wang, Arne Westad, Robert Ross, Ian Johnston, Steve Goldstein, Ezra Vogel, Richard Cooper, Dwight Perkins, Meg Rithmire, Mark Wu, Tony Saich, Nara Dillon...
..Michael McElroy, Karen Thornber, Susan Greenhalgh, James Robson, Leonard W. J. van der Kuijp, Bill Alford, Bill Kirby, Michael Puett, Rowan Flad, Peter Bol, Wai-Yee Li, David Der-wei Wang, Jie Li, Stephen Owen & Paul Cohen!

Honored to join them in this @FairbankCenter project!
In #TheChinaQuestions, I'm honored to contribute a chapter on one of the most critical questions of our era—"How Strong are #China's #Armed #Forces"!…

It's now available in English, #中文 & #한국어!

You can read all about it here:…
Haven't read the key points? Look no further, here they are:

Today, China has the world’s: 2nd-largest economy & defense budget; largest conventional missile force & #CoastGuard & virtually only #MaritimeMilitia charged with advancing sovereignty claims.…
If not already the world’s second most powerful country, with the second-largest blue-water #navy, #China is on the verge of achieving those ranks; this is thanks in part to the largest, fastest #shipbuilding expansion in modern history.

Read more here:…
Hence, it is only natural for observers to ask: How strong, exactly, are #China’s armed forces? And how would they compare with those of other nations, particularly those of the United States—undisputably the world’s strongest—...……
...including in conflict scenarios that one hopes will never materialize but, w/ respect to which, peacetime perceptions can nevertheless influence geopolitical calculations & thereby, the regional & global order?……

A comprehensive net-assessment requires all elements of complex, multivariate campaign equations, including info unavailable via #OpenSource means.

Outright comparison of Chinese armed forces w/ American (or any other) counterparts can be misleading...…
...b/c their respective force structures differ significantly, & the 2 sides have very different goals & missions.

Bi-directional analysis is also essential. China is clearly expanding its inventory of weapons systems capable of targeting US & allied regional bases and vessels.
But this says nothing of the countermeasures that the targeted forces might employ, nor of the ways in which they might successfully target their Chinese counterparts.

For in-depth discussion & debate on this complex military ops. issue @Journal_IS, see:…
This chapter therefore considers both the most critical dynamics affecting the relevant equations, particularly vis-à-vis #China itself, & the authoritative judgments offered by the latest #UNCLAS #USGovernment reports.…
Understanding China’s #NatSec policies & power requires consideration of ALL 3 major components of China’s #ArmedForces:

(1) People’s Liberation #Army (#PLA),
(2) paramilitary People’s Armed #Police (#PAP), &
(3) #Militia.

See great work by @rdmartinson88 & @KennedyMaritime!
The US is exceptional in its enviable combination of resources, innovation, decentralized governance, peaceful neighbors, oceanic access, & lack of sovereignty disputes.

These factors enable expansive external security policies & operations by clearly defined #military #forces.
#PRC #NatSec is far more geographically confined, continuous, complex & contested.

The PLA = the primary tool for combat ops far from #China.

But elite #maritime units w/in China’s #Militia participate in sovereignty promotion operations vis-à-vis regional features & waters...
...claimed by Beijing, & the PAP underpins domestic & border security.

#China’s #ArmedForces, & the policies that inform their construction & use, have been shaped by Beijing’s evolving hierarchy of #NatSec interests.

...As I've tried to depict in this "water droplet" #graphic!
Having consolidated political, domestic, & (the vast majority of) border security, #CCP is operationalizing its security priorities externally in historical pattern of progressively diminishing “ripples of capability” beyond mainland #China.

Graphic depicts China/PRC priorities!
Now & likely for years, PRC targets most intense military development re Near Seas (Yellow, E.China, S.China Seas), home to all China’s outstanding island/maritime sovereignty claims.

Further ripples already extend globally & throughout water column, sea bed, EM spectrum, space!
To this end, Beijing is developing its #ArmedForces with a view to targeting vulnerabilities in the forces of the #US & its regional #allies & #security partners to radically raise the risk they would face in intervening in PRC #sovereignty disputes.…
#China is doing so in part by emphasizing #missiles & other land-based #CounterIntervention systems that are considerably cheaper & easier to build & employ than to defend against, bringing new relevance to the traditional #PLA concept of “using the #land to control the #sea.”
Beijing’s goal its to “win without fighting” and achieve deference to its “core” security interests, perhaps in part by becoming the preponderant East Asian power.

For background, see these #USGovernment reports:…

It pursues this end in 2-fold manner: (1) at high end, deterring foreign military intervention in 1st place through a combo of demonstrating capabilities (ideally not using them lethally) in a way that intimidates the US & its allies w/ the prospect of paying unacceptable costs;
(2) at low end, achieving incremental progress below threshold of war through #GrayZone coercion of rival claimants using primarily its #CoastGuard & #MaritimeMilitia.

See work w/ @KennedyMaritime, @rdmartinson88 & @peter_dutton @NavalWarCollege @ChinaMaritime Studies Institute!
To enhance #China’s prospects for realizing these objectives, President #XiJinping, who is also Chairman of the Central #Military Commission, has charged the PLA with ambitious reforms to strengthen its ability to wage modern wars, while bolstering China’s other two armed forces.
#USGov't publications draw on comprehensive, robust, carefully vetted #data/analysis largely unavailable to outside observers until long after their release.

They have demonstrated their merit over time by the great degree to which their findings correspond to verifiable #facts.
Reports by #USG-affiliated think tanks/analysts are less demonstrably authoritative but offer greater diversity & specificity of insights.

PRC government & #OpenSource documents rarely provide detailed #NetAssessment but can offer useful context (**when considered critically**).
These sources conclude collectively that, in recent years, the PLA has greatly increased its ability to conduct operations in support of #China’s objectives vis-à-vis the #NearSeas, but that these capabilities diminish sharply beyond that margin.…
Given #China’s priorities & capabilities, the two leading #NearSeas contingencies commonly analyzed by #USGovernment & related #OpenSource publications concern #Taiwan & contested #PRC claims in the #SouthChinaSea’s #Spratly Islands.…
Assessments generally conclude: Over next ~15 yrs., US forces will retain their ability to prevail over the PLA in a protracted war, but PLA might temporarily achieve superiority in specific sea- & air-spaces, & US victory would be far costlier than it would have been years ago.
#TaiwanScenario remains PLA’s leading high-end planning factor.

PLA widely regarded as able to engage in militarily significant ops, e.g. seizing a Taiwan-held offshore island or launching missile strikes on Taiwan proper. But such actions surely counterproductive politically..
Blockade would likely fail if opposed forcefully by US, making US intervention a decisive factor. An outright amphibious invasion of Taiwan’s main island remains unrealistic, given both PLA force structure limitations & Taiwan’s ability to exploit its formidable natural defenses.
#SouthChinaSea = far more permissive environment for PRC armed forces. At stake is not a sophisticated society of 23.5 million that Beijing claims as Chinese compatriots but rather, isolated islands/reefs that are sparsely inhabited at most & sustain few—if any—indigenous people.
Given relative weakness of neighbors w/ whom PRC has disputed claims, #CoastGuard & #MaritimeMilitia can engage in multifarious #GrayZone ops, to significant effect.

Regarding potential major combat ops, the PLA could likely prevail over rival militaries absent US involvement.
Example: Were US forces to intervene to support Philippine ally in a crisis or conflict w/ China, both sides could face significant operational challenges.

The PLA would have difficulty deploying adequate forces to the highly vulnerable #Spratly Islands & resupplying them there.
Further afield, spurred largely by growing overseas interests, per #Xi’s #OneBeltOneRoad initiative (which proposes to extend China’s influence along the former #SilkRoad to #EU, etc.), China is weaving an outer layer of substantive & influential but less intensive capabilities.
These are enabling selective forays to protect PRC citizens/assets, including through evacuations from Libya and Yemen & #AntiPiracy escorts in the #GulfOfAden. The last, together with growing #UN peacekeeping participation, offer examples of growing int'l security contributions.
#PRC efforts enabling more formidable #Seapower projection—including #AircraftCarrier ops & enhancing access to overseas facilities, in part by developing further naval support-points beyond initial PRC overseas #base in #Djibouti—are progressing more gradually. Worth watching...
All these dynamics are poised to shape the capability of #China’s armed forces for foreseeable future. #Geography will remain foremost among them, making it imperative to view #PRC #NatSec prospects “through the lens of distance.”……
#China has already arrived as a great power w/ formidable #ArmedForces. Close to home, to extent CCP retains favorable conditions domestically, it will retain/likely build on powerful advantages vis-à-vis sovereignty claims it prioritizes along its contested #maritime periphery.
Even as #China’s #ArmedForces advance substantially overall, however, the Party-state that guides & supports them may face an economy w/ significant downside risks, an overall slowing in the growth rate of all elements of national power, & perhaps mounting challenges from within.
Result is almost certain to be more complex #NatSec tradeoffs/policy choices than PRC faced since late '70s, w/ possible exception of 1989 #TiananmenMassacre.

Given the likelihood that national narratives & prioritization concerning unresolved sovereignty claims will persist...
...external security debates & policy adjustments will probably moderate plans regarding some most demanding high-end combat capabilities specific to long-range power projection.

How that might play out along geographic continuum:……
Farther afield, PLA progress—beyond emerging basic capabilities of presence/non-traditional security ops—toward growing ability to contest other capable militaries will come with a steep price. Increasing convergence will bring China the same rising costs & diminishing returns...
...that notoriously plague established Western militaries as they struggle to maintain relative standing amid national priorities & competitors. PLA faces escalating personnel-related costs. Structural/org reform will require intensified investment & associated demobilization $$
Rising salaries/benefits to attract, educate, train & retain capable professionals will consume increasing portion of PLA #budget.

Growing entitlements will also impose mounting burden, particularly as more retirees draw benefits that are already quite generous in some respects.
China’s most sophisticated armed force, PLA will additionally face particularly significant technological requirements/attendant challenges. The closer it approaches leading-edge capabilities, the more expensive/difficult it will be to advance further, or even to retain position.
Cutting-edge innovation = difficult/expensive—a burden long plaguing US.

Weapons systems/infrastructure become progressively costlier to build/operate/maintain than simpler predecessors.

China’s cost advantages decrease as military equipment centers less on labor & more on...
...advanced materials & #technology.

The more sophisticated & #tech-intensive PLA systems become, the less relative benefit #China derives from acquiring & indigenizing foreign tech, & the less cost advantage it will have in producing & maintaining them.…
Additionally, #propulsion, #electronics, & other complex #SystemsOfSystems hinging on the precise interaction of demanding apex technologies remain a key Chinese weakness—in part because they defy #China’s preferred approach of combining domestic & foreign technologies piecemeal.
Nevertheless, #China already enjoys formidable means to promote its #NearSeas objectives without approaching American technological sophistication; such leading-edge accomplishment = far more essential to long-distance #warfare.

Again, #GeographyMatters.…
Such are the unrelenting undercurrents of #China’s meteoric #MilSec development, which faces meaningful constraints from the prospect of US opposition as well as #LongRange #Challenges, just as surely as it enjoys #ShortRange #Opportunities & is striving to exploit them.

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