The Military Challenge of the People’s Republic of China

The Military Challenge of the People’s Republic of China

A chapter in Defense Budgeting for a Safer World: The Experts Speak, edited by Michael J. Boskin, John Rader, and Kiran Sridhar.

Cover of the book "Defense Budgeting for a Safer World," showing a helicopter highlighted against the setting sun.

The authors of Defense Budgeting for a Safer World review the significant areas of debate in the U.S. defense budget and provide their expert suggestions for aligning it with new global realities.

One of those new realities is a modernized Chinese military with dramatically increased funding. It raises questions with U.S. allies about their own security and the U.S. ability to counter threats from the People’s Liberation Army, including the possibility of forced reunification with Taiwan.

In chapter 2 of the book, “The Military Challenge of the People’s Republic of China,” Oriana Skylar Mastro focuses on this threat. She first reviews the last quarter-century of developments in China’s strategy for reunification with Taiwan. This plan has evolved from strengthening ties to belligerent air and sea incursions and increasingly sophisticated military exercises. At the same time, Xi Jinping has stepped up rhetoric about the inevitability of reunification and the unacceptability of an independent Taiwan.  

The United States has significant weaknesses in the face of a Chinese anti-access/area denial strategy, primarily due to the United States not being a resident power in the Asia-Pacific but also the vulnerability of U.S. aircraft carriers to Chinese ballistic systems. Because it will likely have to operate outside the first island chain, the U.S. military depends on “enablers” to accomplish its missions, like aerial refueling and satellites for cyber capabilities. These assets are vulnerable to Chinese disruption/attack.

Mastro’s recommendations to mitigate current U.S. weaknesses to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan include expanding the number of agreements to base in countries around the Asia-Pacific, increasing stockpiles of munitions effective against naval vessels, and strengthening partnerships and allies in the region.

While Chinese military power has not surpassed that of the United States, Mastro warns that if U.S. deterrence is not maintained and improved, Chinese leadership may become confident enough to move against Taiwan, resulting in a war with the United States.