“Western countries led by the United States have implemented comprehensive containment, encirclement and suppression against us, bringing unprecedented severe challenges to our country’s development.” Xi Jinping told the delegates to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in March, 2023. Xi holds the view that the United States and China are currently involved in a conflict, and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is actively preparing for an impending showdown, which could potentially revolve around the issue of Taiwan.

In October, The United States Department of Defense released its report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The report emphasizes that PRC stands as the sole competitor to the United States, which possesses both the intention and a growing capability to influence and reshape the global order. Consequently, the PRC remains the primary challenge for the Department of Defense.

Beijing has progressively come to rely on the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as an increasingly capable tool for its foreign policy. Throughout the year, the PLA has displayed greater assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. Concurrently, it has redoubled its efforts to develop capabilities and strategic approaches that aim to bolster China's ability to "fight and win wars" against a formidable adversary, deter third-party intervention in conflicts along its periphery, and extend its global power projection.
China’s overarching national strategy is to realize “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049. This entails political, social, and military modernization, elevating the PLA to a “world-class” military by 2049. It also means bolstering China's national power and reshaping the international order to align with China's system of governance and its national interests.

To achieve these goals it is increasingly relying on the PLA to carry out policy objectives. It is employing diplomatic power, attempting to build a “community of common destiny”. The wolf warrior diplomacy of previous year combined with backlash as a result of the covid epidemic left China somewhat isolated prompting Beijing to adopt a charm offensive beginning in the second half of 2022. In April 2022, Xi Jinping announced the Global Security Initiative (GSI) which hee has tried to insert into other multinational forums. 

Beijing is actively pursuing its Military-Civil Fusion (MCF) Development Strategy, which aims to integrate its security and development strategies within the framework of the Integrated National Strategic System and Capabilities. Recently, Beijing has changed its focus from "MCF" to calling it “integrated national strategic systems and capabilities.”

China's defense policy continues to prioritize safeguarding its sovereignty and security, with a particular emphasis on the issue of Taiwan. During the opening ceremony of the 20th Party Congress, Xi Jinping reaffirmed his commitment to the PLA's 2027 modernization, aiming to accelerate the integrated development of mechanization, informatization, and intelligentization within the PLA. A new strategic concept, labeled "Multi-Domain Precision Warfare (MDPW)," seeks to harness a Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) network. This network incorporates advancements in big data and artificial intelligence to swiftly pinpoint critical vulnerabilities within the U.S. operational system. The objective is to combine joint forces across various domains and execute precise strikes against these identified weaknesses.

The PLA has been modernizing its capabilities and enhancing its proficiencies across all warfare domains land, air, sea, as well as nuclear, space, counterspace, electronic warfare (EW), and cyberspace.

The PLA-Navy (PLAN) boasts the world's largest naval force, exceeding 370 ships and submarines. This includes 140 surface combat vessels, three of which are aircraft carriers. In the near future, the PLAN will be capable of launching long-range precision strikes on land targets using land-attack cruise missiles from its submarines and surface ships. This will greatly enhance China's ability to project power.

The combination of the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and the PLAN aviation forms the most extensive aviation force within the Indo-Pacific region. The PLAAF is making significant strides in closing the gap with Western air forces. Its modernization efforts are marked by the introduction of domestically produced aircraft and a diverse array of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs). In October 2019, the PLAAF publicly revealed the H-6N, its inaugural nuclear-capable air-to-air refuellable bomber.
The PLA Rocket Force (PLARF) is bolstering its “strategic deterrence” capabilities. As part of these efforts, PRC is developing new Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs).
Space dominance is of great importance to the PLA, emphasizing control of the information sphere while preventing adversaries from using their space-based information tools. The PLA is investing in improving its space capabilities, including intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, communication, navigation, and weather forecasting, alongside human spaceflight and robotic exploration. They are also developing counter space technologies, such as kinetic-kill missiles, ground-based lasers, orbiting space robots, and expanding space surveillance to monitor and respond to space objects.
In terms of nuclear, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) estimates that the PRC had over 500 active nuclear warheads as of May 2023. DoD forecasts that the PRC is likely to possess more than 1,000 operational nuclear warheads by the year 2030.

The PRC has intensified its diplomatic, political, and military pressures on Taiwan. The PLA has engaged in increasingly provocative and destabilizing actions in the vicinity of the Taiwan Strait, including joint military drills, firing ballistic missiles over Taiwan's main island, overflights, naval patrols, and hundreds of flights within Taiwan's claimed Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). 

At the 20th Party Congress in 2022, President Xi Jinping reiterated the PRC's stance of not ruling out the use of force as an option for Taiwan's reunification. The PLA rehearsed aspects of its various military strategies against Taiwan during extensive military exercises in August 2022, aimed at pressuring Taiwan, and once more in April 2023 in response to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s visit to the United States. Concurrently, the PRC has largely refrained from or canceled numerous recurring bilateral defense engagements and discussions with the United States. These cancellations often come immediately after high-ranking visits or diplomatic contact between the United States and Taiwan. 

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TNL Editor: Kim Chan (@thenewslensintl)

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