On 29 November, the US Department of Defense delivered its annual report on Chinese military power to the US Congress. The report comes in at 174 pages and is the first to be released after the consequential 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS) and National Security Strategy (NSS) – both of which made headlines by clearly identifying China as America’s primary strategic competitor.
The report portrays an increasingly capable China and expects an increase in the rate of Chinese military modernization in the 2022-2027 period in accordance with decisions made at the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. Major progress is expected across all military domains with the report drawing specific attention to China’s modernization of its strategic arsenal and related space capabilities in order to build up more credible deterrence against the United States. Long-term goals for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) align with the wider goal of “the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation” by 2049 by which time the PLA is meant to become a “world-class” military which can underpin a “great modern socialist country”.
The document finds that while some wider power projection capabilities are being developed, China’s military remains primarily focused on regional operations and, most concerningly, is becoming increasingly capable of threatening Taiwan. Tied to this, China is developing a number of capabilities meant to prevent US penetration beyond the first island chain: hypersonic weapons, integrated air defense and long-range precision strike. The PLA’s growing capabilities are also tied to increasing belligerence by China; the country is increasingly using its military as a tool of foreign policy and coercion.
The US Department of Defense stresses that China views its relations with the US as a competition in which the US is taking a whole-of-government approach against the People’s Republic and that Chinese armed forces are being utilized as part of a larger grand strategy which also includes economic, political and other dimensions. These are not independent of one another. A more powerful military will remain integral to safeguarding Chinese investments through the Belt and Road Initiative and underpin Chinese efforts to create alternatives to the American-led world order. Chinese strategy also aims to fuse military and civilian development.
The full report is available here.