The PLA carrying out infantry tactical manoeuvres (Photo: courtesy China Military website
[Part 1 of a two-part article: US regards Chinese military as “pacing challenge”]
By Vikas Gupta
Defence News of India, 23rd Oct 23
US financial legislation, the National Defense Authorization Act for 2000, requires the US Secretary of Defense to submit an annual report “on military and security developments involving the People’s Republic of China (PRC).”
“The report shall address the current and probable future course of military-technological development of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the tenets and probable development of Chinese security strategy and military strategy…”, states the legislation.
On Thursday, the US Department of Defense (DoD) submitted a report to Congress entitled “Military and security developments involving the People’s Republic of China.”
Identifying the PRC as the “pacing challenge” for the US, the 2022 National Defense Strategy identifies the PRC as the only competitor to the US with the intent and capacity to reshape the international order.
As the PRC seeks to achieve “national rejuvenation” by its centenary in 2049, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders view a “world class” military as essential in an increasingly turbulent international environment.
Throughout 2022, the PRC turned to the PLA as an increasingly capable instrument of statecraft, strengthening its ability to “fight and win wars” against a “strong enemy,” counter an intervention by a third party in a conflict along the PRC’s periphery, and project power globally.
China’s national strategy
In the PRC’s view, the US is deploying a “whole-of-government effort meant to contain the PRC’s rise, which presents obstacles to its national strategy.”
PRC leaders believe that structural changes in the international system and a confrontational US have intensified strategic competition between the PRC and America.
In March 2023, Xi Jinping told delegates to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference that “Western countries led by the US have implemented comprehensive containment, encirclement and suppression against us, bringing unprecedented severe challenges to our country’s development.”
China’s foreign policy
The Pentagon report says that, beginning late 2022, Beijing launched a diplomatic charm offensive aimed at improving Beijing’s image, damaged by years of ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy and Covid-19 isolation.
In April 2022, Xi Jinping announced the Global Security Initiative (GSI). Like with the previous year’s rollout of the Global Development Initiative (GDI), China has promoted GSI extensively and inserted GSI language into multilateral forums and documents.
A major challenge for China has been Russia’s war on Ukraine – the largest military conflict in Europe since World War II. Beijing will seek to balance its strategic partnership with Moscow while avoiding reputational or economic costs that could result from its assistance.
China’s economic policy
At the end of 2022, China abruptly reversed its zero-Covid policy. The surprise decision is believed to have been triggered by country-wide protests against the zero-Covid policies, economic pressures, and fiscal difficulties for local governments.
The 20th Party Congress emphasized “quality growth” rather than “speed of growth”. Xi also highlighted “common prosperity,” more equitable access to basic public services, a better multi-tiered social security system, and cultural and green developments as a few of the PRC’s economic initiatives.
Military-civil fusion (MCF) development strategy
The PRC’s military-civil fusion (MCF) development strategy seeks to fuse its security and development strategies into its “integrated national strategic system and capabilities” (INSSC) in support of China’s national rejuvenation goals.
The MCF strategy seeks to develop and acquire advanced dual-use military technology for deepening reform of the national science and technology industries; while serving a broader purpose to strengthen all of the PRC’s instruments of national power.
The Pentagon report notes that, since early 2022, Beijing has been deemphasizing the term MCF, replacing it by INSCC.
Defence policy and military strategy
The Pentagon report notes that, in 2022, the PRC’s stated defence policy remained oriented toward safeguarding its sovereignty, security, and development interests, while emphasizing a greater global role for itself.
The PRC’s military strategy continues to be based on “active defense.”
PRC leaders stress the imperative of strengthening the PLA into a “world-class” military by the end of 2049 as an essential element of its strategy to rejuvenate the PRC into a “great modern socialist country.”
In October 2022, Xi secured his third term as the general secretary of CCP at the Party Congress. The likely appointment of loyalists to the CMC will probably enable Xi to expand upon military modernization and operational goals during his next 5-year term.
Speaking to the 20th Party Congress in October 2022, Xi reaffirmed to the 2027 milestone for accelerating the integrated development of mechanization, “informatization”, and “intelligentization” of the PRC’s armed forces.
This will transform the PLA into a more powerful military tool for the reunification of Taiwan.
In 2022, the PLA continued discussing a new operational concept called “multi-domain precision warfare (MDPW). This is intended to leverage a command, control, computers, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) network that incorporates advances in big data and artificial intelligence to rapidly identify vulnerabilities in the US operational system. Then, joint forces would combine across domains to launch precision strikes against those vulnerabilities.
[This is the first of a two-part series. Next, Part 2: Chinese forces, capabilities and power projection]