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U.S. Department of Defense, Military and Security Developments involving the People’s Republic of China, 2018

This is the 2018 Department of Defense's report to Congress on China's capabilities.
May 16, 2018

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Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018
A Report to Congress Pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000
Section 1261, “Annual Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, Public Law 115-91, which amends the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000, Section 1202, Public Law 106-65, provides that the Secretary of Defense shall submit a report “in both classified and unclassified form, on military and security developments involving the People’s Republic of China. The report shall address the current and probable future course of military-technological development of the People’s Liberation Army and the tenets and probable development of Chinese security strategy and military strategy, and of the military organizations and operational concepts supporting such development over the next 20 years. The report shall also address United States-China engagement and cooperation on security matters during the period covered by the report, including through United States-China military-to-military contacts, and the United States strategy for such engagement and cooperation in the future.”
Executive Summary
Since 2002, Chinese leaders – including President Xi Jinping – have characterized the 21st century’s initial two decades as a “period of strategic opportunity.” They assess that international conditions during this time will facilitate domestic development and the expansion of China’s “comprehensive national power.” The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has distilled these objectives into President Xi’s “China Dream of national rejuvenation” to establish a powerful and prosperous China.
China’s leaders increasingly seek to leverage China’s growing economic, diplomatic, and military clout to establish regional preeminence and expand the country’s international influence. “One Belt, One Road,” now renamed the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), is intended to develop strong economic ties with other countries, shape their interests to align with China’s, and deter confrontation or criticism of China’s approach to sensitive issues. Countries participating in BRI could develop economic dependence on Chinese capital, which China could leverage to achieve its interests. For example, in July 2017, Sri Lanka and a Chinese state-owned enterprise (SOE) signed a 99-year lease for Hambantota Port, following similar deals in Piraeus, Greece, and Darwin, Australia.
China seeks to secure its objectives without jeopardizing the regional stability that remains critical to the economic development that has helped the CCP maintain its monopoly on power. However, China is also willing to employ coercive measures – both military and non-military – to advance its interests and mitigate opposition from other countries. For example, in 2017, China used economic and diplomatic pressure, unsuccessfully, in an attempt to urge South Korea to reconsider the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude
Area Defense (THAAD) system.
In its regional territorial and maritime disputes, China continued construction of outposts in the Spratly Islands, but also continued outreach to South China Sea claimants to further its goal of effectively controlling disputed areas. China also maintained a consistent coast guard presence in the Senkakus. In June 2017, India halted China’s efforts to extend a road in territory disputed with Bhutan near the India border, resulting in a protracted standoff lasting more than 70 days. In August, India and China agreed to withdraw their military forces from the vicinity of the standoff; however, both countries maintain a heightened military presence in the surrounding region.
In support of the goal to establish a powerful and prosperous China, the “China Dream” includes a commitment to developing military power commensurate with that of a great power. Chinese military strategy documents highlight the requirement for a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) able to secure Chinese national interests overseas, including a growing emphasis on the importance of the maritime and information domains, offensive air operations, long-distance mobility operations, and space and cyber operations.
The PLA is undergoing the most comprehensive restructure in its history to become a force capable of conducting complex joint operations. The PLA strives to be capable of fighting and winning “informatized local wars” – regional conflicts defined by real-time, data-networked command and control, and precision strike. Reforms seek to streamline command and control structures and improve jointness at all levels. Personnel cuts likely targeted non-combat personnel and rebalanced the preponderance of forces away from the PLA Army (PLAA).
Training continued to focus on executing large-scale, complex joint operations. This included increasing exercise realism by evaluating unit performance during force-onforce confrontations against dedicated opposing-force units, strengthening strategic campaign training, and executing long-distance maneuvers and mobility operations. The CCP also continued vigorous efforts to root out corruption in the armed forces.
China’s leaders continued to advance an ambitious military modernization and organizational reform agenda to achieve those requirements. China’s military modernization targets capabilities with the potential to degrade core U.S. operational and technological advantages. To support this modernization, China uses a variety of methods to acquire foreign military and dualuse technologies, including targeted foreign direct investment, cyber theft, and exploitation of private Chinese nationals’ access to these technologies. Several recent cases and indictments illustrate China’s use of intelligence services, computer intrusions, and other illicit approaches to obtain national security and export-restricted technologies, controlled equipment, and other materials.
China’s overall strategy continues to incorporate elements of both persuasion and coercion to hinder the development of political attitudes in Taiwan favoring independence. Taiwan lost an additional diplomatic partner in 2017, and international fora denied participation or observership to representatives from Taiwan. While China advocates for peaceful reunification with Taiwan, China has never repudiated the use of military force, and continues to develop and deploy advanced military capabilities needed for a potential military campaign. Taiwan’s 2017 National Defense Report cited concerns that increased PLA military activity near Taiwan pose an “enormous threat to security in the Taiwan
Additionally, as China’s global footprint and international interests have grown, its military modernization program has become more focused on investments and infrastructure to support a range of missions beyond China’s periphery, including power projection, sea lane security, counterpiracy, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR), and noncombatant evacuation operations. In August 2017, China officially opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti, deploying a company of marines and equipment to the base. China likely will seek to establish additional military logistics facilities in countries with which it has longstanding, friendly relationships.
The 2017 National Security Strategy, the 2018 National Defense Strategy, and the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review recognize the growing trend of military competition in a dynamic security environment. The United States will continue to seek areas of cooperation with competitors, while preserving the ability to compete successfully from a position of strength. The United States seeks a constructive and resultsoriented relationship with China. U.S. defense contacts and exchanges conducted in 2017 were designed to support overall U.S. policy and strategy toward China. They are carefully tailored to clarify and develop areas of cooperation where it is in our mutual interest and to manage and reduce risk; contacts are also conducted in accordance with the statutory limitations of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000. While the Department of Defense engages substantively with the People’s Liberation Army, DoD will also continue to monitor and adapt to China’s evolving military strategy, doctrine, and force development, and encourage China to be more transparent about its military modernization. The United States will adapt its forces, posture, investments, and operational concepts to ensure it retains the ability to defend the homeland, deter aggression, protect our allies and partners, and preserve regional peace, prosperity, and freedom.
For the full report, download the PDF below.