A commission of experts has warned Congress that China’s military is rapidly expanding its capabilities and could be ready to wage extensive foreign wars within the next 15 years.
After one year of deteriorating US-Chinese relations in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, human rights disputes, trade conflicts and a vicious presidential campaign that portrayed the Chinese Communist Party as a major threat to national security, the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission sent its latest annual report to Congress this week.
The Commission stated that China is “in a global competition for power and influence with the United States,” adding that the CCP “considers the liberal democratic values championed by the United States to be a fundamental obstacle to its foreign policy ambitions and an existential threat to its domestic political rule.
A key element of Chinese power projection is the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, which, thanks to enormous investment in recent decades, is transforming from a huge but straightforward Cold War force concentrated on the ground to a more advanced, targeted military capable of projecting naval and air forces and conducting operations abroad.
China now has the second largest official military budget in the world at $178 billion. This amount is still dwarfed by that of the Americas of around $721.5 billion; it is greater than that of the next 10 nations combined. But Chinese spending is worrying American officials and analysts who fear that Beijing will soon be able to challenge American military hegemony in Asia and elsewhere.
“Recent advances in equipment, organization and logistics have greatly improved the PLA’s ability to project power and station expeditionary forces far from China’s shores,” the commission’s report said.
“Simultaneous development of military strategy requires that the force be able to operate anywhere in the world and defy the U.S. military when called upon to do so. Chinese leaders have vigorously urged the PLA over the past 20 years to develop power projection and expeditionary capabilities”.
“China’s power-projection capabilities are developing at a rapid and steady pace, reflecting the civilian leadership’s determination to transform the PLA into a global expeditionary force within a few decades,” the report added.
“In the short term (the next five years), the PLA will focus on consolidating the capabilities that would enable it to conduct large-scale military operations on its maritime periphery,” the report added. In the medium term (the next 10-15 years), the PLA wants to be able to conduct a limited war abroad to protect its interests in the countries participating in the [Belt and Road Initiative]. By the middle of the century, the PLA wants to be able to quickly deploy forces anywhere in the world.
In Washington, D.C., it is now recognized by both sides that the China issue must be addressed. In the recent presidential elections, both President Donald Trump and the winner Joe Biden vowed to take a tougher stance against Beijing.
Critics say the past decades of laissez-faire capitalism have failed because they failed to promote a more liberal Chinese state that is a responsible actor in the U.S.-dominated international order. The Western nations were happy to reap the economic benefits of strengthened relations with China, but they failed-or chose not to consider that Beijing could use its influence and wealth to consolidate and export its authoritarianism.
Biden will take office next month, inheriting the worst US-Chinese relationship in decades. The president-elect has stated that the Democrats do not see China’s challenge as “primarily a military challenge,” although the party will “deter and respond to aggression. These include the embattled South China Sea and the area around Taiwan, two important hot spots where the paths of American and Chinese military forces regularly cross.
The China challenge will dominate Bidens’ foreign policy and most likely be the most important strategic challenge for successive presidents for decades to come. As the Commission’s annual report stated: “The Chinese leadership’s assessment that the United States is a dangerous and determined adversary has influenced almost every facet of China’s diplomatic strategy, economic policy and military planning in the post-Cold War period.
This has intensified since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012, the commission said. Xi has centralized power and abolished term limits, effectively making him a lifetime president and the most powerful leader since CCP co-founder Mao Zedong.
“Continued success by the Chinese government in achieving its economic, diplomatic and military goals could set back decades of U.S. economic and technological progress at the expense of good jobs and shared prosperity, encourage autocrats and dictators around the world, and impede U.S. military support for U.S. allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region in the event of future conflict,” the report warned.