How Powerful Is Chinese Army

Chinese Military Capabilities

The People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China (PLA) is the world’s largest standing military force, with a reported personnel strength of 2.3 million active personnel. The army’s increasing capabilities and modernisation have made it a formidable force in the Asia-Pacific region and a major concern for its neighbours, particularly in the South China Sea. In terms of military power, China ranks #3 in the world according to the Global Firepower Index, right behind the US and Russia in terms of active military personnel, tanks, artillery, aircraft and submarines. The PLA has been described as a “multi-dimensional military force” with the capability of fighting in the air, land, and sea in regards to long-term warfare.

Modernisation of the PLA

Since its inception in 1927, the PLA has gone through tremendous modernisation and development. Recent years have seen the PLA develop new armaments and broaden its capabilities in information warfare, cyber-warfare, and space warfare. The PLA is known for its invention of the world’s first aircraft carrier in 2011, and the unveiling of the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the Type-093B Shang-II, in 2016. The Chinese army has also been credited with developing the world’s first stealth aircraft and the world’s fastest supercomputer. In addition, rapid expansion has seen the PLA become the world’s third largest spender on defence, behind the US and Russia, with an estimated expenditure of $125 billion in 2019.

Focus on Technology and Innovations

The PLA’s focus on technology and innovation has been one of its most defining features, and the army has made great strides in modernising its capabilities. China has invested heavily in cyber-warfare capabilities, developing artificial intelligence and facial recognition technology as well as high-tech weapons systems. The PLA has also been said to have implemented a combined arms approach which incorporates the use of electronic warfare, cyberwarfare, and information systems for the purpose of modernizing their capabilities. China’s military has also been credited with utilizing new forms of mass-surveillance, such as the use of secretive “tiger drones” which are used to monitor citizens.

Chinese Strategic Objectives in the South China Sea

The South China Sea has been an area of international concern due to the various claimants of maritime and territorial rights. China’s military strategy in the region has been described as “salami slicing”, referring to the method by which it seeks to gain de facto control of marine resources and territory over time. The PLA has deployed various tactics in the region, such as construction of artificial islands, militarization of maritime features and refueling of military aircraft. Some analysts have described the Chinese strategy in the region as one of “defensive expansionism”, whereby it seeks to secure resources for its own use without initiating outright conflict.

US and Chinese Military Contrast

The US and Chinese military capabilities differ in terms of size, areas of focus, and actual capabilities. While the US military is smaller in size and has a more global reach, the Chinese army is larger and focuses on the Asia-Pacific region. In terms of technology, the US focuses on innovation and breakthroughs in technology, while China is mostly focused on applying existing technologies and making slight improvements. In addition, the US military has a larger defense budget than the Chinese military and is able to spend more; however, China is seen as making more efficient use of its defense budget.

The implications of a Powering Chinese Military

The increasing capabilities of the Chinese military have implications for US hegemony, as well as the wider Asia-Pacific region. There is a concern that a more powerful Chinese military could assert a stronger presence in the region, potentially leading to greater levels of tension between China and its neighbors. In addition, there is a concern that a more powerful Chinese military could challenge the existing US-led international order in the region. For example, scholars have argued that a more powerful PLA could act as a deterrent to US intervention in the region, particularly when it comes to issues concerning Taiwan.

Chinese Military Relationships with other Countries

In recent years, the Chinese military has sought to cultivate relationships with other countries. For example, the PLA has established diplomatic ties with countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, and India. In addition, the Chinese military has sought to cooperate with other militaries in the region through joint exercises and mutual visits. For example, the PLA Navy has conducted joint exercises with its neighboring states as a way of demonstrating its commitment to regional security. Additionally, the Chinese military has sought to cultivate relationships with militaries on a global level, such as by taking part in United Nations peacekeeping missions.

Chinese Export of Weapons

The Chinese military has also sought to increase its influence abroad through the export of weapons. China has become one of the world’s leading exporters of armaments, and its exports have helped to arm militaries across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Weapons exports from China have included air-defense systems, small arms, and even ballistic missile technology, indicating that China is actively seeking to strengthen and aid other nations’ military forces. This has raised concerns about China’s willingness to use the arms trade to increase its global influence.

Competing with the US for Global Military Dominance

The growing capabilities of the Chinese military have seen it become increasingly competitive with the US, particularly when it comes to global military dominance. There has been a growing recognition within US policy circles that the two countries are increasingly engaged in a battle for military dominance and influence across the world, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. In response, the US has sought to increase its military capabilities and presence within the region and to push back against Chinese expansionism. As such, the US and Chinese militaries are increasingly competing for access and primacy in the region, raising concerns about the future of global security.

Increasing Tensions between the US and Chinese Military

The increasingly competitive nature of the US and Chinese militaries has heightened tensions between them. The US has taken an increasingly hardline stance towards China and its activities within the Asia-Pacific region. US criticism of China has focused on topics such as economic aggression, cyber warfare, militarization of maritime features and the systematic repression of religious and ethnic minorities. In response, China has accused the US of engaging in what it considers to be “provocative” acts such as “freedom of navigation” operations in disputed waters. These escalating tensions have caused anxiety amongst many Asian states, who fear that they could become caught in the middle of a US-Chinese conflict should it arise.

The Growing Debate Over the Chinese Military

The increasing capabilities of the Chinese military have stirred up a significant debate in the West, particularly in terms of the implications for US hegemony in the region. Critics of China argue that the growing power of the PLA serves to undermine US interests in the region and destabilize the existing status quo. Supporters of China point to its increasing role as a responsible international actor and argue that a balance of power is necessary for global stability. Ultimately, this debate is set to continue as the Chinese military continues to modernize and assert its presence in the region.

Letha Wimmer is a military expert with more than a decade of direct experience in the U.S. Army and National Guard. She specializes in researching and writing about the world's armies and their capabilities, equipment, capabilities, strategies, organizations, and operations. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation from Middle Tennessee State University as well as an Aerial Firefighting Certificate and numerous other advanced aviation certifications. She also enjoys traveling to distant lands to gain firsthand knowledge about their military forces and has written extensively for various websites on the subject.

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