For the past 20 years or so, China has been engaged in an ambitious effort to modernise and upgrade its armed forces. These modernisation activities have several objectives. For one thing, as China strives to become a global power, it is increasingly seeking “hard” power, i.e., military strength, commensurate with its growing economic, diplomatic, and cultural “soft” power.
Additionally, Beijing is more and more prone to use military force (or the threat of military force) to defend and promote its regional interests, such as its territorial claims in the South China Sea or protecting local sea lanes of communication (SLOCs) vital to its energy supplies and trade; consequently, building up that military wherewithal is instrumental to this strategy.
Moreover, China’s growing global footprint is, if anything, largely the result of its expanding international economic and commercial interests. This is evident in Beijing’s push for such China-centric initiatives as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, which depends heavily on a network of ports and other coastal infrastructure projects, and on Chinese access to the “strategic pathways of the Indian Ocean.”
Finally, China overall seeks military power to mitigate the rising American military presence in the Indo-Pacific, and to establish itself as a credible rival to the US in this region.
For whatever reason, these modernisation efforts have paid remarkable dividends, and since the late 1990s, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has made amazing progress in transforming itself into a modern fighting force. In many instances, it is practically unrecognisable compared to the PLA that existed 20 years ago.
The impact of this transformation has been particularly noticeable in the past few years in the form of a much more assertive — even aggressive — China, increasingly willing to use its military to protect and advance its national interests.
What the end result of this military modernisation process will be, or how China may further use its growing military power, is still an open question. (end of excerpt)
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