Report to Congress on China’s People’s Liberation Army

June 9, 2021 6:20 PM

The following is the June 4, 2021 Congressional Research Service report, China’s Military: The People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

From the report

China’s military modernization is a major factor driving some observers’ concerns about China’s rise, China’s intentions toward the United States and its allies and partners, and the role China aspires to play in the world. China’s military progress also informs the widely-held view that the United States and China are engaged in a “great power competition.” Congressional actions on these issues could shape, and be shaped by, U.S. defense strategy, budgets, plans, and programs; U.S. policy toward China, U.S. partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific, and the region more generally; and U.S. defense industrial policies, among other things.

The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s or China’s) ruling party, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is modernizing, reforming, and reorganizing its military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), to defend the Party’s interests and meet defense requirements set by China’s leaders. These interests and defense requirements have expanded in recent decades as China’s economic and geopolitical power and ambitions have grown.

The CCP’s national defense priorities include defending the Party; protecting what it views as China’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and unity; protecting China’s growing overseas interests; deterring nuclear attacks and maintaining a nuclear counterattack capability; and deterring and countering acts it views as terrorism. Some of the Party’s national defense objectives, such as safeguarding the CCP’s control over the country and deterring nuclear attacks, have been in place for several decades. Others are more recent, such as safeguarding China’s overseas interests and its interests in space and cyberspace.

China presents its military posture as purely defensive, serving only to protect China’s legitimate sovereign interests. It calls its national military strategy “active defense,” a concept that prescribes the ways in which China can defend its interests and prevail over a militarily superior adversary. This strategy allows for the use of offensive operational and tactical approaches, and the PLA has and continues to develop capabilities to wage offensive operations across a range of domains.

China’s current military modernization push began in 1978 and accelerated in the 1990s. Xi Jinping, the General Secretary and “core leader” of the CCP, Chairman of the CCP’s Central Military Commission, and State President, has continued to make military modernization a priority and has linked military modernization to his signature issue: the “China Dream” of a modern, strong, and prosperous country. In 2017, Xi formalized three broad goals for the PLA: (1) to achieve mechanization of the armed forces and to make significant progress toward what the United States would call a “networked” force by 2020; (2) to “basically complete” China’s military modernization process by 2035; and (3) to have a “world-class” military by 2049, the centenary of the establishment of the PRC. Xi has initiated the most ambitious reform and reorganization of the PLA since the 1950s, in an effort to transform the military into a capable joint force as well as to further consolidate control of the PLA in the hands of Xi and the CCP.

After decades of modernization supported by steady defense budget increases and other policies that promote military-technological advances, the PLA has become a formidable regional military with growing power projection capabilities. China’s armed forces are improving capabilities in every domain of warfare, have superior capabilities to other regional militaries in many areas, and are eroding U.S. military advantages in certain areas. China’s missile force, in particular, can put at risk a large range of targets in the region, including U.S. and allied bases. The PLA faces significant challenges and limitations, however, including a lack of combat experience, insufficient training in realistic combat scenarios, a limited ability to conduct joint operations, limited expeditionary capabilities, a new and largely untested organizational structure, and a dependence on foreign suppliers for certain military equipment and materials.

Download the document here.

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