China’s People Liberation Army (PLA) has expanded significantly under Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who demands for the Chinese military to be “accelerating toward informatization.” The annual Department of Defense report (pdf) regarding China detailed the PLA’s recent developments.
Xi says that now is a “period of strategic opportunity,” while military officials set the objective of winning “informatized local wars.” The word “informatize” is similar to the word “industrialize,” means that all aspects of warfare must be computerized.
The large digital demand leads to theft for the sake of militaristic expansion, while the PLA covertly expands its power through foreign trade.
The PLA is undergoing the largest structural reform in its history and attempting to create a joint operation force. A joint operation force is one that bridges divisions between the army, navy, and air forces so that they can better work in unison.
The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) defense spending, which is likely higher than publicly stated, has increased over the years while GDP growth has slowed.
Both the PLA Navy and Rocket Force are steadily expanding beyond the range of the mainland. The Navy is expanding for overseas operations, and is currently building two new aircraft carriers to add to its existing Soviet-built carrier that it purchased from the Ukraine.
Advances in Chinese rocketry has given them intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach much of the United States. “Many of China’s missile programs are comparable to other top-tier producers,” the report says. However, armaments and aviation technology still lag behind.
“The PLA continues to strengthen its military space capabilities despite its public stance against the militarization of space,” the report says. This includes a space station that may begin assembly in 2019, and potentially militarizing the moon.
“China believes its cyber capabilities and personnel lag behind the United States and is working to improve training and bolster domestic innovation to overcome these perceived deficiencies and advance cyberspace operations,” says the report. “PLA writings, which identify [information operations] – comprising cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare – as integral to achieving information superiority and as an effective means for countering a stronger foe.”
Theft as Development
The Chinese regime has consistently lied about its behavior. In a 2015 agreement, the CCP said it would stop cyber espionage against the United States. However, “computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. Government, continued to be targeted by China-based intrusions through 2017. These and past intrusions focused on accessing networks and extracting information,” the report said.
A primary way the Party advances military development is through reverse engineering and theft. “China uses a variety of methods to acquire foreign military and dual-use technologies, including targeted foreign direct investment, cyber theft, and exploitation of private Chinese nationals’ access to these technologies,” the report says. “China is also willing to employ coercive measures – both military and non-military – to advance its interests and mitigate opposition from other countries.”
For example, in December 2016, a Chinese national and lawful U.S. permanent resident pleaded guilty to federal charges “related to theft of numerous sensitive military program documents.” The documents were about the engines used in the American F-22 and F-35 fighter jets.
Not only theft is used, but forms of coercion are employed as well. “China uses various incentive strategies to attract foreign personnel to work on and manage strategic programs and to fill technical knowledge gaps,” the report says. The Thousand Talents program, started in 2008, is the main example of this acquisition. “China continues to supplement indigenous military modernization efforts through targeted foreign technologies and intellectual property acquisition.”
Belt and Road, Insidious Expansion
A 2015 white paper report, titled Chinese Military Strategy, outlined the PLA’s ambitions. The CCP’s main method of expansion is not through militaristic conquest, but through economic initiatives. It generally uses grand economic offers in exchange for land, what is being show in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
“Some countries participating in BRI could develop economic dependencies on China, often from over-relying on Chinese capital,” the report says. “China intends to use BRI 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.”
The Chinese regime has been establishing manipulative connections with foreign countries; its first foreign military base was established in Djibouti. China has signed a 99-year deal with Sri Lanka for use of a deep-water naval port. A new port is planned in Pakistan, and may lease a naval port in Israel.
Military hardware exports boost the regime’s revenue and create dependence for other nations. “Arms exports, which support China’s broader foreign policy goals, remain strong, particularly arms sales to Pakistan and demand for Chinese armed UAVs,” the report says. Other purchasers include Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt. Since most countries are restricted from exporting this technology, China faces no economic competition.
However, China has shown willingness to use its military at some points.
China has remained ambiguous about its claims in the South China Sea. Though China has “ceased substantial” island building and land reclamation, sometimes called “The Great Wall of Sand,” it has continued infrastructure development on three islands in the region. Many of these outposts are built on reefs within Philippines’s territorial claims. It has been suggested that the large Chinese fishing fleet in the region is actually a militia.
Chinese Navy patrols around the Senkaku Islands continue, which is administered by Japan, “entering within 12 [nautical miles] of the islands once every ten days, on average.” China also had a stand-off with India in the two nations’ bordering countries, Bhutan. Heightened military tension has remained.
“During periods of tension, official statements and state media seek to portray China as reactive,” the report says. While Beijing advances, it claims other nations are encroaching on its land. “China uses an opportunistically timed progression of incremental but intensifying steps to attempt to increase effective control over disputed areas and avoid escalation to military conflict.”
First Objective: Taiwan
China’s first target will be Taiwan, which it regards as a renegade province. “Taiwan’s 2017 National Defense Report cited concerns that increased PLA military activity near Taiwan pose an ‘enormous threat to security in the Taiwan Strait,'” the report said.
China continued to pressure Taiwan directly and indirectly. After Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen, who supports independence for Taiwan, came to power in 2016, five countries have cut ties with the island. Several, including Panama, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic now have diplomatic relations with China instead.
China has also ramped up its combat drills in waters near Taiwan in recent years, in moves intended to threaten the self-ruled island to back away from independence.