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A Paper Tiger No More? The U.S. Debate over China's Military Modernization

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There appears to be a consensus among U.S. Chinawatchers that Beijing is engaged in a determined effort to modernize the People s Liberation Army PLA to fight and win limited wars under high-tech conditions. Most U.S. assessments of the PLA accept the view that China s official defense budget greatly under-represents actual military expenditures by a factor of two to three. These estimates are only informed guesses, and it is nearly impossible to determine how Chinese military expenditures are directly affecting various aspects of PLA modernization. There is general agreement that the PLA has been engaged since the early 1990s in a concerted effort to replace and upgrade its military hardware, including the increased acquisition of foreign weapons systems, primarily from Russia. China is devoting increasing attention to the acquisition of weapons for asymmetric warfare. There are still major differences of opinion when it comes to interpreting the significance of China s force modernization efforts. Some analysts argue that the PLA is still at least two decades behind the United States in terms of defense capabilities and technology. Others, however, view China s recent military acquisitions and current research and development RD efforts as marking a definite improvement of its warfighting capabilities. U.S. assessments of Chinese military modernization also tend to differ with regard to China s ability to develop or obtain advanced technologies and to effectively incorporate these in next-generation weapons systems and military equipment. The U.S. debate over China s military modernization efforts and its implications for U.S. security remains far from settled. There is still little concern that the PRC will soon constitute a global military challenge or a direct threat to the U.S. homeland.

Subject Categories:

  • Economics and Cost Analysis
  • Government and Political Science
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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