Chinese People's Liberation Army: 'Short Arms and Slow Legs'   [open pdf - 374KB]

China's rise in power has focused considerable scrutiny on the capabilities and intentions of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). For some observers, Beijing's combination of consistently rising budgets, military modernization, and a more offensive operational doctrine has signaled its intention to assume the status of a world power. While every major power's defense budget and military personnel levels have declined substantially since the Berlin Wall came down, the Chinese budget has increased on average approximately 11% per year. In addition, China's new military doctrine "Limited war under high technological conditions" is more assertive, stressing offensive, even preemptive, uses of military power. This paper examines the PLA's intentions and its ability to threaten its neighbors by considering two variables: China's defense budget and its military doctrine. Defense budgets are only marginal indicators of intentions, but they offer insights into what kinds of capabilities a military is purchasing and developing. Military doctrine is an excellent source of intent because it provides a state's war preparations guidance, which defines the nature and origin of how it perceives future wars and how the military should prepare to fight those wars. Conceptually, the PLA's new doctrine is suited to achieving Beijing's objectives. However, the PLA does not how have, nor has it ever had, the wherewithal to carry out the doctrine's intent. China's deficiencies in systems integration, manufacturing propulsion systems, and advanced computer technologies will be the most limiting factors in the PLA's ability to field the weapons and equipment necessary to satisfy strategic requirements.

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INSS Occasional Paper 28
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