This morning, the Department of Defense released its annual report on the “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” commonly known as the China Military Power Report (CMPR).. This Congressionally-mandated report serves as an authoritative assessment of the Defense Department’s pacing challenge and charts the current course of the PRC’s military and security strategy.
This year’s report follows the Defense Department’s release of its unclassified National Defense Strategy in October, which identified the PRC as the most consequential and systemic challenge to U.S. national security and a free and open international system. The report covers the contours of the People’s Liberation Army’s way of war, surveys the PLA’s current activities and capabilities, and assesses the PLA’s future military modernization goals.
The Chinese government is also looking to integrate its civilian population in its overhaul under a “Military-Civil Fusion” plan that the report warned will integrate China’s defenses with its civilian technology and industrial sectors.
Beijing intends to merge its civilian and military sectors through a concerted effort that will combine scientific and technological advancements, combine military and civilian expertise, integrate the requirements of both civilian and military infrastructure, and make use of civilian services for military purposes.
The People’s Republic of China also has ambitions to extend China’s “national defense mobilization system” so that it incorporates all key parts of China’s society and economy for use in combat and competitiveness.
A senior defense official speaking on background described the plans as “ambitious” and said “it remains to be seen” whether China would actually be able to achieve these goals in the time frame it has laid out.
Some highlights of the 196-page report are:
China’s National Strategy
- The PRC’s national strategy aims to achieve “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese
nation” by 2049. The strategy is a determined pursuit of political, social, and military modernity to expand the PRC’s national power, perfect its governance, and revise the international order in support of Beijing’s system of governance and national interests. The PRC increasingly views the United States as deploying a whole-of-government
effort meant to contain the PRC’s rise, which presents obstacles to its national strategy
- The PRC’s strategy entails deliberate and determined efforts to amass, improve, and
harness the internal and external elements of national power that will place the PRC
in a “leading position” in an enduring competition between systems.
- The PRC’s 20th National Congress of the CCP holds important military and security
implications for the PLA’s 2027 centenary objectives. The 20th Party Congress report
focused on intensifying and accelerating the PLA’s modernization goals over the next
five years, including strengthening its “system of strategic deterrence.” Xi Jinping
retained his chairmanship of the seven-person Central Military Commission (CMC)
and selected members that offer political continuity, technical expertise on military
modernization and space issues, and Taiwan-focused operational experience.
- The PRC’s foreign policy seeks to build a “community of common destiny” that
supports its strategy to realize “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Beijing’s revisionist ambition for the international order derives from the objectives of its
national strategy and the CCP’s political and governing systems.
- In 2021, the PRC employed multiple diplomatic tools in an attempt to erode U.S. and partner influence, such as highlighting the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and
criticizing U.S.-backed security partnerships including the Quad (Australia, India,
Japan, and the United States) and Australia-United Kingdom-United States
- The COVID-19 pandemic also continued to be a driving force behind the PRC’s
foreign policy efforts in 2021, as Beijing sought to deflect blame for its initial response to the pandemic and continued its use of foreign medical assistance, including vaccine donations, to bolster its bilateral ties and advance its responsible great power narrative.
Defense Policy and Military Strategy
- In 2021, the PRC’s stated defense policy aims remained oriented toward safeguarding
its sovereignty, security, and development interests, while emphasizing a greater
global role for itself. The PRC’s military strategy remains based on the concept of
- PRC leaders stress the imperative of strengthening the PLA into a “world-class”
military by the end of 2049 as an essential element of its strategy to rejuvenate the
PRC into a “great modern socialist country.”
- In 2020, the PLA added a new milestone for modernization in 2027, to accelerate the
integrated development of mechanization, informatization, and intelligentization of
the PRC’s armed forces, which if realized could give the PLA capabilities to be a more
credible military tool for the CCP to wield as it pursues ‘Taiwan unification’.
Developments in the Security Situation in the Taiwan Strait
- Throughout 2021, the PLA increased provocative and destabilizing actions in and
around the Taiwan Strait, to include increased flights into Taiwan’s self-declared Air
Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and conducting island seizure exercises.
- Although the PRC publicly advocates for peaceful unification with Taiwan, the PRC
has never renounced the use of military force. The circumstances under which the PRC has historically indicated it would consider using force remain ambiguous and have
evolved over time.
- The PRC could conduct a range of options for military campaigns against Taiwan,
with varying degrees of feasibility and associated risks. These options may range from an air and/or maritime blockade to a full-scale amphibious invasion to seize and
occupy some of its offshore islands or all of Taiwan
- Over the next decade, the PRC aims to modernize, diversify, and expand its nuclear
forces. Compared to the PLA’s nuclear modernization efforts a decade ago, current
efforts exceed previous modernization attempts in both scale and complexity.
- The PRC is investing in and expanding the number of its land-, sea-, and air-based
nuclear delivery platforms and constructing the infrastructure necessary to support this
major expansion of its nuclear forces. The PRC is also supporting this expansion by
increasing its capacity to produce and separate plutonium by constructing fast breeder
reactors and reprocessing facilities.
- In 2021, Beijing probably accelerated its nuclear expansion. The Department of
Defense estimates that the PRC’s operational nuclear warheads stockpile has
- The PLA plans to “basically complete modernization” of its national defense and
armed forces by 2035. If China continues the pace of its nuclear expansion, it will
likely field a stockpile of about 1500 warheads by its 2035 timeline, most of which will be fielded on systems capable of ranging the continental United States (CONUS).
Taiwan continues to increase its defense budget in order to support defense acquisitions and bolster its forces against PRC pressure. In 2020, the Tsai administration announced defense spending to be the highest level since 1990. Taiwan announced a further 10 percent increase from the previous year, bringing the 2021 defense budget to NT$453 billion ($15.4 billion), and representing more than 2% of Taiwan’s GDP. Meanwhile, China’s official defense budget continues to grow and is about 17 times larger than Taiwan’s defense budget, with much of it focused on developing the capability to unify Taiwan with the PRC by force.
Recognizing the growing disparity between their respective defense expenditures, Taiwan has stated that it is working to develop new cost-effective concepts and capabilities for asymmetric warfare.
Some specific areas of emphasis include offensive and defensive information and electronic warfare, high-speed stealth vessels, shore-based mobile missiles, rapid mining and minesweeping, unmanned aerial systems, and critical infrastructure protection. Taiwan has also dedicated significant defense spending toward its domestic submarine program,
upgrading its existing F-16 fighters, as well as producing four transport docks and four minelaying ships to supplement its navy.
Consistent with the TRA, the United States contributes to peace, security, and stability in the Taiwan Strait by providing defense articles and services to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability. From fiscal year 2019 to 2021, the United States has notified approximately $17 billion in potential arms sales to Taiwan, including 66 F-16 Block 70 fighter jets, 108 M1A2T Abrams tanks, four MQ-9 Reaper surveillance drones, Patriot missile system components, 250 Stinger missiles, 18 Mk-48 Mod 6 heavyweight torpedoes, artillery rocket systems, Paladin howitzers, 100 Harpoon coastal defense cruise missile systems, and AGM-84 SLAM-ER missiles.
You can read the entire 196-page report here.