China today seems pretty close to achieving its objective of global military domination, housing the largest ground force, navy, air force in the Indo-Pacific region and conventional missile force in the world. With at least 50 more warships than the United States, China has achieved parity, and in some fields, even exceeded it, says Pentagon’s annual ‘China Military Power Report’.
The 200-page document is by far the largest and most comprehensive report presented to the US Congress. The study makes extensive efforts at understanding China’s national, foreign, defence and economic policies. India Today analyses the report, keeping in mind the Chinese adage, “Know your enemy as thyself if you want to win every battle”.
What is China planning?
According to the report, China’s national strategy seeks to achieve “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049. In clear terms, it means bringing Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao under the Chinese Communist Party’s control in the next 20 years.
The CCP framed this strategy to realise its own long-held dream of taking China to a position of strength, prosperity and leadership at the world stage. China’s foreign policy seeks to build a global community in support of this strategy.
The military diplomacy of the People’s Liberation Army contributes to the foreign policy goals to develop strategic partnerships and revise aspects of the international world order. China’s defence policy aims to safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests. Its military strategy remains based on the concept of “active defence”.
The CCP stresses 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 China into a “great modern socialist country”.
China’s political, economic, social and security efforts are mutually reinforcing and support the national rejuvenation policy. Its military modernisation objectives are commensurate with and part of China’s broader national development aspirations.
China’s military modernisation
Two decades after the first ‘China Military Power Report’ in 2000 assessed PLA
to be a sizeable but mostly archaic force unsuited for CCP’s long-term goals, today the Chinese military is ahead of the US in several fields such as shipbuilding, land-based conventional ballistic and cruise missiles and integrated air defence.
The report says China aims to complete military modernisation by 2035 through a comprehensive programme and transform the PLA into a “world-class” military by the end of 2049 as announced by Xi Jinping in 2017.
Its Army continues a transition into a modern mobile and lethal ground force by deploying upgraded combat and communication systems, thus enhancing the ability to conduct combined arms and joint operations.
The Chinese Navy has achieved the distinction of being the largest navy in the world with an increasingly modern and flexible force. Its Air Force, along with Navy aviation, is the largest force in the region and third largest in the world with about 2,000 combat aircraft.
The PLA Rocket Force aims to enhance strategic deterrence with an ever-expanding inventory of new systems added almost every year, including silo, surface, underwater and air launch capabilities and supporting radar and satellite systems for tracking and directing.
The report also has a separate page this time on PLA’s underground facilities (UGF), suggesting it continues to maintain a robust and technologically advanced UGF programme to protect all aspects of its military forces, including command and control, logistics, missile systems and naval forces.
The PLA Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) controls space, cyber, electronic
and psychological warfare missions and capabilities. China’s anti-access and area-denial capabilities are considered to be the most robust up to first island chain and expanding its reach to the Pacific Ocean.
PLA’s complex training and scale of its exercises indicates that it continues to focus on building readiness through increasingly larger-scale and complex joint exercises, service-level exercises, numerous mission-oriented force-on-force exercises, live-fire exercises and skills-based competition exercises.
Western Theater Command
After India’s decision to abrogate Article 370, China proposed an “early harvest”, which was not liked by India. The December 2019 meeting between the special representatives of both countries reinforced shared intent to manage border tensions.
This theater command has two group armies (GA), with Xinjiang and Tibet military districts also having the status of GA. The two group armies are 76 GA and 77 GA with headquarters at Lanzhou and Chengdu. The full report can be read here (https://media.defense.gov/2020/Sep/01/2002488689/-1/-1/1/2020-DOD-CHINA-MILITARY-POWER-REPORT-FINAL.PDF).
Resources and technology for modernisation
China has mobilised vast resources for defence modernization, including military-civil fusion (MCF) advancement strategy and espionage to acquire latest, most sensitive, dual use and military grade technology and equipment.
The country invested significant resources to fund research and subsidise companies involved in strategic science and technology fields, while forcing private firms, universities and provincial governments to cooperate with the military in developing advanced technologies.
The CCP leverages foreign investments, mergers, acquisitions and other vectors to gain foreign technologies such as artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, advance computing and quantum information.
China’s global military activities
The Dragon’s overseas interests having grown over the years, the CCP leadership has pushed PLA to operate beyond China’s borders and its immediate periphery to advance and defend its foreign policy goals. China, which till 2010, claimed never to establish an overseas base, has now a base in Djibouti in Africa, and plans for many more logistic facilities all around the world.
The PLA conducts influence operations to achieve desired strategic goals seeking to condition domestic, foreign and multilateral political establishments and public opinion to accept Beijing’s narrative.
India Today noticed a few minor mistakes in the report. For example, China’s second overseas base in Tajikistan is already functional since at least two years, but the study indicates it as a proposed base.
The new ‘China Military Power Report’ enunciates the aims of PLA at the regional and global levels. The advancements made by the PLA in various fields have been highlighted coherently, including the ones in which she exceeds US capabilities.
[Col Vinayak Bhat (Retd) is a consultant for India Today. A satellite imagery analyst, he served in the Indian Army for over 33 years.]