One of China’s priorities in defense modernization is to develop a military strategy based on fighting and winning informationized local wars, in particular its ability to deter and defeat Taiwan independence and US military intervention in any possible Taiwan Strait scenarios. Informed by its long-held tradition of active defense, this strategy places great emphasis on engaging a superior enemy through asymmetrical warfare, and highlights the critical importance of Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) that place an opponent’s fixed – and increasingly mobile – assets in the Western Pacific theater at risk. The chapter will review and discuss these developments, the US AirSea Battle Concept (ASBC) and alternative responses to the A2/AD challenges and explains the potential risks of miscalculation and escalation. It argues for greater US–China military dialogue and the introduction of crisis management mechanisms in order to prevent major escalation and open confrontation between the region’s two great powers.
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Richard Weixing Hu
The Obama administration’s ‘pivot to Asia’ intends to rebalance resources and strategic attention to focus more on US interests in the Asia-Pacific after a decade-long ‘war on terror’. But in the eyes of the Chinese and the rest of the world, it is also an effort to contain or balance against the rise of China in the region. The ‘pivot to Asia’ coincided with President Xi Jinping taking over the supreme leadership role in China. His response to the US rebalancing strategy is non-confrontational but also non-compromising in defending China’s national interests in the Asia-Pacific region. President Xi Jinping proposed to build a ‘new model of major power relations’ with the United States in order to ‘reset’ the strained Sino–US relationship. Washington was initially positive to the proposal but turned lukewarm later due to profound strategic distrust. Unless Beijing and Washington can find ways to reduce mutual distrust and manage competition, it is unlikely they will build an enduring stable and cooperative relationship.
As the world frets over a potential US–China conflict, how do China and the United States assess each other’s power capabilities? What are the conceptual frameworks, methodological tools, key actors and institutions involved in assessing the Sino–US power balance? Drawing on open source material, this chapter seeks to identify differences and similarities in how both parties attempt to gauge the existing power balance. It suggests, amongst other conclusions, that Cold War concepts of net assessment and AirLand Battle continue to exert an influence on the way the United States considers China’s military power capabilities. The Chinese side stresses the notion of ‘comprehensive power’, which also highlights the importance of ‘soft power’ far more than the US side does.
Andrew T. H. Tan
The rise of China and the challenge it poses to US dominance is regarded as one of the most important issues in international relations today due to its implications not just on the dominant position of the United States but also the stability of the evolving post–Cold War international system. The relationship between the world’s two largest economies is crucial. Should they succeed in coming to an understanding, war will be avoided and a new regional and global equilibrium will be the result. While Henry Kissinger concluded that ‘the appropriate label for the Sino–American relationship is less partnership than co-evolution’ the process of working out the entente cordiale that would underpin such a co-evolution is complicated by a number of serious challenges, such as economic disputes, human rights issues, China’s emerging military power, the rise of Chinese nationalism, the apprehensions in Washington over China’s rise and growing Chinese assertiveness in Asia. It remains to be seen if an entente cordiale could be achieved before growing mutual mistrust and misperception lead to open conflict.
One of the salient dimensions of China’s rise in the post–Cold War has been the high-pace modernization of the PLA. According to figures collected by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China’s military expenditures have been multiplied by more than eight – in real terms – over the last two decades. This enormous increase of resources has allowed China to considerably improve the quality of its armed forces, turning an obsolescent PLA into a force increasingly capable of fighting and prevailing in a local war under high-tech/informationized conditions. This chapter examines the progress made by the PLA in the context of a potential clash between Beijing and Washington, which, in all likelihood, would mainly – if not exclusively – be fought over the ‘commons’ – the sea, the air, space and cyberspace. China has substantially enhanced capacity to deny control of the commons, while it has been, at the same time, striving to build a limited capacity to control the commons for its own purposes.
Andrew T. H. Tan
China’s dramatic economic rise, its emerging global economic power, and its expanding military capabilities have led to predictions that it will soon supplant the United States as the dominant global power. However, it is not in fact on a trajectory to do so. China does not have the desire or capacity for global leadership, its armed forces are not organized for deployment and intervention in the far corners of the globe, and it suffers from a significant deficit in soft power that would make it appeal to others and confer it with global influence. On the other hand, the United States continues to have the will and capacity, backed by its global military capabilities and dominant position established following the end of World War II, to play a global role. Thus, while China’s global influence will increase as it becomes a global economic actor, it will in fact not replace the United States as the dominant global power any time soon. For the foreseeable future, the United States will remain the ‘indispensable nation’.
Conspiracy theories are prevalent in present-day China regarding the United States. Many people are highly vigilant about US intentions and behaviours, and perceive that the United States is shrewdly and intentionally making every effort to discredit, weaken and contain China, so that its own primacy and dominance are maintained. This chapter discusses psychological, socio-political and international factors in explaining the phenomenon. First, people tend to employ simple explanations rather than sophisticated, institutional analysis when they encounter sudden, mysterious, complicated events. Second, there is the domestic socio-political context including decreasing level of social trust, elite/interest group manipulations, rising nationalism, and the changing political atmosphere. Third, the state of bilateral US–China relations is also identified as a factor accounting for the popularity of conspiracy theories. The exaggeration of the influence and effects of conspiracy theories may lead to serious negative consequences in China and in its relations with the United States. It reinforces the enemy image, alienates the American and Chinese people, and shapes a detrimental atmosphere for governmental relations.
Allegations and counter-allegations have been persistent themes in dialogues and discourses in the US–China relationships involving cybercrime and cybersecurity. There are some signs that the United States has entered into direct confrontation regarding China-originated cyberattacks. China is also responding to the Western allegations by striking back with a strong denial and counter-allegation that US government agencies lack interest in fighting cybercrimes and do not cooperate with their Chinese counterparts. This chapter sheds light into this cyber cold war by examining Western and Chinese allegations and counter-allegations related to cyberattacks and cyberwarfare.
Preparing for the possibility of a military conflict with China has become of increasing concern for US strategic policy-makers and defence officials. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has emerged as a significant challenge for US military preponderance in the Western Pacific. In response, as part of the Obama administration’s ‘strategic rebalance’ to Asia, its military has shifted more assets into the region. However, the task confronting US strategic decision-makers and military planners of how to develop a credible military response to China’s evolving military challenge remains largely unresolved. The key question is how the US military could effectively fight and ‘win’ a military conflict with the PLA at acceptable political costs. Against this background, this chapter analyses the scholarly debate about the ‘best’ US military strategy with regard to China. It also explores the evolution of official US military strategy and doctrine. It finds that while the academic debate about US military options against the China challenge is far from conclusive, the Pentagon proceeds with a strategy that seeks to retain full spectrum dominance against the PLA, including through deep strikes against conventional targets on the Mainland. As a consequence, the United States is likely to retain its forward presence in the Asia-Pacific in order to push back against the possibility of a more assertive Chinese strategic posture in the Western Pacific.
The military modernization of China is generating growing strategic uncertainty and risk in Asia, particularly in relation to regional maritime disputes in the South China Sea, East China Sea and the future status of Taiwan. There is also growing competition between China and the United States as China challenges the existing US strategic primacy in Asia. Over the longer term, China will develop military capabilities to project power beyond the ‘near and middle seas’ within the ‘first and second island chains’ into the ‘far seas’, notably the Indian Ocean. China’s growing strategic interests in this region, particularly those aligned along the ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ provide a key rationale for building new capabilities for the PLA, including expeditionary or ‘power projection’ capabilities in coming years. China’s investment in military modernization is focused on protecting its interests in these regions; reasserting itself as a regional great power; and countering US military capability. Of key importance is its ability to fight and win informationized local wars by building not only sophisticated ‘C4ISR’ capabilities for the PLA, but also the ability to fight and win information warfare through offensive military operations in space, and across the electromagnetic spectrum, including in cyberspace, an essential enabler for effective counter-intervention operations – known as ‘A2AD’ – to be employed to deter or delay US military intervention. Such capabilities are also highly relevant to the PLA should it seek to employ military force in far seas, notably along the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road in the Indian Ocean. This chapter examines where conflicts might occur, the basic aspects of China’s military strategy, and how it is influencing PLA modernization, with particular focus on naval, air and missile forces, as well as Chinese information warfare capabilities. It examines the US military response to Chinese capabilities through new and emerging operational concepts such as Joint Access Maritime in the Global Commons (formerly ‘AirSea Battle’). It argues that Chinese strategic interests will ultimately demand that China pursue a greater capability for power projection operations into the Indian Ocean, and that the current focus of the PLA on East Asia will be overtaken by a growing operational focus on Chinese interests and activities in the Indian Ocean, that will see new developments for Chinese military strategy and modernization.