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China’s rise as a major international actor is likely to stand out as a defining feature of the strategic landscape of the early 21st century. Sustained economic development has raised the standard of living for China’s citizens and elevated China’s international profile. This development, coupled with an expanding science and technology base, has also facilitated a comprehensive and ongoing military modernization program. The United States welcomes a strong, prosperous, and successful China that reinforces international rules and norms and enhances security and peace both regionally and globally.
China is steadily assuming new roles and responsibilities in the international community. In 2004, Chinese President Hu Jintao articulated new guidance for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), including missions extending beyond China’s immediate territorial interests. This catalyzed China’s growing involvement in international peacekeeping efforts, counter-piracy operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and the evacuation of Chinese citizens from overseas trouble spots. China’s 2010 Defense White Paper asserts that China’s "future and destiny have never been more closely connected with those of the international community." Nonetheless, China’s modernized military could be put to use in ways that increase China’s ability to gain diplomatic advantage or resolve disputes in its favor.
Although the PLA is contending with a growing array of missions, Taiwan remains its "main strategic direction." China continued modernizing its military in 2010, with a focus on Taiwan contingencies, even as cross-Strait relations improved. The PLA seeks the capability to deter Taiwan independence and influence Taiwan to settle the dispute on Beijing’s terms. In pursuit of this objective, Beijing is developing capabilities intended to deter, delay, or deny possible U.S. support for the island in the event of conflict. The balance of cross-Strait military forces and capabilities continues to shift in the mainland’s favor.
Over the past decade, China’s military has benefitted from robust investment in modern hardware and technology. Many modern systems have reached maturity and others will become operational in the next few years. Following this period of ambitious acquisition, the decade from 2011 through 2020 will prove critical to the PLA as it attempts to integrate many new and complex platforms, and to adopt modern operational concepts, including joint operations and network-centric warfare.
China has made modest, but incremental, improvements in the transparency of its military and security affairs. However, there remains uncertainty about how China will use its growing capabilities.
The United States recognizes and welcomes PRC contributions that support a safe and secure global environment. China’s steady integration into the global economy creates new incentives for partnership and cooperation, particularly in the maritime domain. Although China’s expanding military capabilities can facilitate cooperation in pursuit of shared objectives, they can also increase the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation. Strengthening our military-to-military relationship is a critical part of our strategy to shape China’s choices as we seek to capitalize on opportunities for cooperation while mitigating risks. To support this strategy, the United States must continue monitoring PRC force development and strategy. In concert with our friends and Allies, the United States will also continue adapting our forces, posture, and operational concepts to maintain a stable and secure East Asian environment.
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