WASHINGTON — China has positioned itself to pursue a goal of “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and plans to robustly move forward to take advantage of this “period of strategy opportunity,” senior defense intelligence officials said Tuesday.
And while Beijing calculates that a world war is unlikely, it is following a course that prepares it for the possibility of local war, the officials said.
“As we look at China, we see a country whose leaders described it as ‘moving closer to center stage in the world’ while they strive to achieve what they call ‘the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’,” one senior defense official told Pentagon reporters. “This ambition permeates China national security strategy and guides the development of the People’s Liberation Army, the PLA, which actually is not a national institution, but rather the military arm of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Among the most troubling conclusions, according to the official: China will be able to both be robust globally for day-to-day activities and also potentially limit options by U.S. forces at a time of conflict much further away from China, with much greater precision than ever before.
“It’s very concerning to see all the different areas they’re making progress,” the official told reporters. “From our perspective, these are all very threatening and capable systems that have to be taken into account by the planners.
“We now have to be able to look for a — a China, a Chinese military that is active everywhere,” the official said. “As they become more proficient with these capabilities, our concern is we’ll reach a point where internally, within their decision-making, they will decide that using military force for a regional conflict is something that is more imminent.”
The remarks were made in advance of the release of the China Military Power report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, a branch of the Pentagon. The report said China characterizes its military strategy as one of “active defense,” a concept it describes “as strategically defensive but operationally offensive.
“The strategy is rooted in the concept that once Beijing has determined that an adversary has damaged or intends to damage China’s interests at the strategic level, Beijing will be justified in responding ‘defensively’ at the operational or tactical level, even if the adversary has not yet conducted offensive military operations,” the report said.
The defense intelligence official said China’s leaders have “focused on building what they call comprehensive national power. A key component of this, of course, is military power,” the official said.
“Indeed, China is rapidly building a robust lethal force with capabilities spanning the ground, air, maritime, space and information domains, designed to enable China to impose its will in the region and beyond,” the official said.
The defense officials said China is garnering significant advances in areas including: nuclear deterrence, power projection, cyberspace, space and electromagnetic spectrum operations” while boosting so-called non-war missions such as humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, counter-piracy, and peacekeeping.
“In the coming years, the PLA (the Chinese army) is likely to grow even more technologically advanced and proficient with equipment comparable to that of other modern militaries,” the official said. “The PLA will acquire advanced fighter aircraft, modern naval vessels, missile systems, and space and cyberspace assets as it reorganizes and trains to address 21st-century threats further from China’s shores.”
The official underscored previously discussed areas when China either leads or is among the leaders in developing technologies, such as hypersonics and hypersonic glide vehicles as well as medium- and intermediate-range precision strike systems.
The report said China has benefited from “latecomer advantage” in not having to invest in costly R&D of new technologies to the same degree as the United States — in large part by plundering the intellectual property.
China’s army is the largest standing ground force in the world with 915,000 active-duty troops, according to the report. It has Asia’s largest navy, “with an inventory of more than 300 surface combatants, submarines, amphibious ships, patrol craft, and specialized units.” Its air force is the largest in the region and third-largest in the world, the report said, “with more than 2,500 total aircraft (not including unmanned aerial vehicle or trainers) and 1,700 combat aircraft.”
China’s air force “is closing the gap with Western air forces across a broad spectrum of capabilities, such as aircraft performance, C2 [command and control], and electronic warfare,” the report said. The report said the world should expect China to use its military “as an instrument of national power in the execution of historic missions in the new century.”