Looking Forward: China’s Development and Strategy Goals Over the Next Twenty Years

A recent US Department of Defense report to Congress covered recent military and security developments initiated by the People’s Republic of China. This unclassified edition of the report, titled “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018,” addresses China’s strategy regarding military and technological development and how such growth may take shape in the future.

The report projects the evolution of China’s People’s Liberation Army and its military strategy over the next 20 years. For this same time period, it also addresses the nuances of engagement and cooperation between the United States and China on security and military issues over the same time period. Most notably, the report highlighted that issues in the South China Sea may heat up. While China claims that improvements to its military and civilian infrastructure in the South China Sea are for improving the quality of life for individuals stationed there, the report notes:

“China could be attempting to bolster its de facto control by improving military and civilian infrastructure in the South China Sea. […] This would improve China’s ability to detect and challenge activities by rival claimants or third parties, widen the range of capabilities available to China, and reduce the time required to deploy them. China’s plans to power these islands may add a nuclear element to the territorial dispute.”

Additionally, the report covers the fine balance between China’s pursuit of military and security goals and the maintenance of fragile regional stability that is critical to China’s economic development and the Chinese Communist Party’s monopoly on power in the country. The report points out that “China is also willing to employ coercive measures – both military and non-military – to advance its interests and mitigate opposition from other countries.” Over the next two decades, such details and trends will be increasingly important in interactions between the US and China, as highlighted by the DOD’s report.

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