China’s Military and Security Developments


According to the Pentagon’s latest annual report on the Chinese Military and Security Developmentssince 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.”

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. The “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.

Moreover, 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. 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 Pentagon’s report further addresses the current and probable future course of military-technological development of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the tenets and probable development of Chinese security strategy and military strategy, military organizations and operational concepts supporting such development over the next 20 years.

Below are some of the key highlights from the report include the following regarding China’s strategy:

  • China assesses that controlling the information spectrum in the modern battle space is a critical enabler, if not a fundamental prerequisite, of its ability to counter third-party intervention in a conflict.  PLA authors often cite this capability – sometimes termed “information blockade” or “information dominance” – as necessary to seize the initiative and set the conditions to gain air and sea superiority. This “information blockade” concept likely envisions combining military capabilities across space and cyber domains with non-military instruments of state power. China’s investment in advanced Electronic Warfare (EW) systems, counterspace weapons, and cyber operations – combined with more traditional forms of information control such as propaganda and denial through opacity – reflect the priority the PLA places on information advantage.


  • China uses a variety of methods to acquire foreign military and dual-use technologies, including cyber activity and exploitation of the access of Chinese nationals – such as students or researchers –acting as procurement agents or intermediaries.


  • China continues to supplement indigenous military modernization efforts through the acquisition of foreign technologies and know- how. China is actively pursuing an intensive campaign to obtain foreign technology through imports, foreign direct investment, industrial and cyberespionage, and establishment of foreign R&D centers. China is investing in the critical technologies that will be foundational for future innovations in commercial and military applications such as artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous vehicles, augmented and virtual reality, financial technology, and gene editing. The line demarcating products designed for commercial versus military purposes is blurring with these new technologies.


  • China’s push for leadership in global S&T development comes at a time in which dual-use technology advances, applicable for both commercial and military purposes, increasingly occur in the commercial sector. This means that efforts by China to cultivate a broad base of S&T talent, particularly given its stated focus on dual-use sectors, will be relevant to China’s military power in coming decades.


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.

Furthermore, as Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon noted, “the annual report to Congress also reveals that China’s People’s Liberation Army increased long-range bomber flights further from Chinese coasts and conducted training for airstrikes against U.S. bases in Asia.”

The PLA has long been developing air strike capabilities to engage targets as far away from China as possible. Over the last three years, according to the Pentagon report, the PLA has rapidly expanded its overwater bomber operating areas, gaining experience in critical maritime regions and likely training for strikes against U.S. and allied targets.

“One of the more striking disclosures in the report”, writes Gertz, “is the buildup of Chinese bombers. Over the past year, the number of Chinese bombers and strike aircraft increased by 130, from 400 bombers in 2016 year to 530 bombers last year.” The PLA may continue to extend its operations beyond the first island chain, demonstrating the capability to strike U.S. and allied forces and military bases in the western Pacific Ocean, including Guam.

This should serve as a wake up call regarding China’s strategy. You can read the entire 145 page report by clicking here.