US Department of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, 2015
This is the Department of Defense’s annual report to Congress.
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The People’s Republic of China (PRC)continues to pursue a long-term, comprehensive military modernization program designed to improve its armed forces’ capacity to fight short-duration, high-intensity regional conflicts. Preparing for potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait remains the focus and primary driver of China’s military investment; however, the PRC is increasing its emphasis on preparations for contingencies other than Taiwan, such as contingencies in the East China Sea and South China Sea. Additionally, as China’s global footprint and international interests grow, its military modernization program has become progressively more focused on investments for a range of missions beyond China’s periphery, including power projection, sea lane security, counter-piracy, peacekeeping, and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR).
China views modernization of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as essential to achieving great power status and what Chinese President Xi Jinping calls the “China Dream” of national rejuvenation. Chinese leaders see a strong military as critical to prevent other countries from taking steps that would damage China’s interests and to ensure China can defend itself, should deterrence fail. China seeks to ensure basic stability along its periphery and avoid direct confrontation with the United States in order to focus on domestic development and smooth China’s rise. Despite this, Chinese leaders in 2014 demonstrated a willingness to tolerate a higher level of regional tension as China sought to advance its interests, such as in competing territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea.
China’s military modernization has the potential to reduce core U.S. military technological advantages. China’s officially-disclosed military budget grew at an average of 9.5 percent per year in inflation-adjusted terms from 2005 through 2014, and China will probably sustain defense spending growth at comparable levels for the foreseeable future. Moreover, China is investing in capabilities designed to defeat adversary power projection and counter third-party — including U.S. — intervention during a crisis or conflict.
During 2014, the PLA continued to improve its capabilities for theater contingencies, including: cruise missiles; short- and medium-range ballistic missiles; high performance aircraft; integrated air defense; information operations; and amphibious and airborne assault. The PLA is developing and testing new intermediate- and medium-range conventional ballistic missiles, as well as long-range, land-attack, and anti-ship cruise missiles that extend China’s operational reach, attempting to push adversary forces — including the United States — farther from potential regional conflicts. China is also focusing on counter-space, offensive cyber operations, and electronic warfare capabilities meant to deny adversaries the advantages of modern, informationized warfare. In 2014, China also started reclaiming land and building infrastructure at its outposts in the Spratly Islands. China will be able to use them as persistent civil-military bases of operation to enhance its presence significantly in
PLA global operations in 2014 included counter-piracy patrols, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, exercises and sea lane security. Highlights include the deployments of the 17th and 18th Naval Escort Task Forces to the Gulf of Aden, PLA Navy frigates escorting cargo ships carrying chemical weapons materials out of Syria, search and rescue support for Malaysia Airlines MH370, participation in UN peacekeeping missions, circumnavigation of the African continent, and the first-ever deployment of a SHANG-class nuclear powered submarine (SSN) and SONG-class diesel electric submarine (SS) to the Indian Ocean.
The Department of Defense (DoD) approach to China is part of a broader U.S. strategy for the Asia-Pacific region that is focused on building a stable and diversified security order, an open and transparent economic order, and a liberal political order. U.S. policy toward China is based on the premise that it is in both countries’ interests to expand practical cooperation in areas where both countries’ interests overlap, and to constructively manage differences.
Sustaining the positive momentum in the military-to-military relationship supports U.S. policy objectives to encourage China to uphold international rules and norms to contribute to regional and global problem-solving. DoD seeks to continue building a military-to-military relationship with China that is sustained and substantive, while encouraging China to contribute constructively to efforts to maintain peace and stability with the United States, our allies and partners, and the greater international community.
As the United States builds a stronger foundation for a military-to-military relationship with China, it must also continue to monitor China’s evolving military strategy, doctrine, and force development, and encourage China to be more transparent about its military modernization program. In concert with its allies and partners, the United States will continue adapting its forces, posture, and operational concepts to maintain a stable and secure Asia-Pacific security environment.
Please join the U.S.-China Institute and PEN America for the West Coast launch of the PEN America report on social media in China, Forbidden Feeds. We will discuss the report and Chinese social media more generally.