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China Intentions

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Osama bin Laden has done Communist China a favor. Because the minds of President Bush and congressional leaders are so concentrated on the war on terrorism, they have all but ignored Beijing's aggressive military buildup. A strong possibility exists that by focusing so closely on Iraq, a focus that is understandable considering how unsettled the situation is, the United States could miss developments that could affect its standing in the rest of the world.

Among the many uncertainties of the Asian security environment, none is more compelling than that surrounding the modernization program of the Chinese People's Liberation Army. For some observers, the combination of economic growth and force improvement signals Beijing's intention to establish regional supremacy. Others acknowledge that the PLA can spoil the United States' interests; however, Beijing's interest in regional stability, and the growing conventional capabilities of other regional powers, they tend to discount a PLA military threat. Chinese secrecy compounds the difficulty.

China's armed forces may not be a direct threat to the United States, but are good enough to cause plenty of trouble in their region and will be better in the future. China is one of the few nations to increase its defense spending in the post cold-war world, and is engaged in a major effort to upgrade its weapons capability for a possible quick strike on Taiwan. Taiwan would face an enormous challenge in repelling a determined Chinese attack. The island is too close to the mainland and too inferior in forces to hold out indefinitely. Its technological advantages would enable it to prolong the struggle, but not defeat China. If the United States were to get involved, it would face a nuclear-armed adversary capable of striking its American shores. That is not likely to happen, but it has to be kept in mind.

China has greater military power today than it did a decade ago. If Beijing were willing to pay the price, the PLA could wreak great damage. In assessing China's future threat potential, it is essential to consider the economic, political, and strategic constraints on PLA modernization. Such considerations suggest that the PLA is years away from achieving the capability to project military force in a sustained manner.

China's likely future strategic intentions can be difficult to predict and there are many theories put forth by many different experts. Defense budgets can be a useful, even a critical, indicator of national defense priorities, policies, strategies, and capabilities. The size of a country's defense budget, the rate of growth or decline in its military expenditures, and what it spends its defense dollars on can reveal much about a country's strategic intentions and future military plans. Defense budgets can also be a good indicator of a country's military modernization priorities and therefore its possible future military capabilities. Finally, military expenditures can serve as a gauge of a nation's defense commitment and resolve or its potential to threaten others.

The PLA is developing six distinct types of fighters, more than any nation, and a new mobile strategic missile that Air Force Intelligence calls a "significant threat" to US forces in the Pacific and portions of the continental United States. China's recent weapons purchases from Russia comprise advanced



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