China: Military Transformation and Regional Impact


China’s military, also known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), has registered a significant growth in its power and might in the recent years. The enhancement of the country’s military has coincided sharply with the economic growth that has been witnessed in China in the last decade. This emphasizes the importance with which the country’s administrators consider the global politics. The country has set its objectives high, both at the regional and global fronts. China considers military might as a critical factor that will help in actualizing this dream. With the USA currently being the only superpower in the world and has established military presence in virtually all parts of the globe, it is worth noting that China’s efforts could be geared toward changing this equation. This paper seeks to highlight the reasons behind the concerted efforts by China to strengthen its military. The paper also enumerates some of the regional repercussions that may result from this transformation.

Theoretical Framework

Domestic Reforms

China has undergone a series of domestic reforms that have been critical in transforming its military as a result of improved economic performance. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, there were daunting internal obstacles that denied China the opportunity to achieve orderly economic growth, as well as social stability (Lewis, & Litai, 2003, p. 926). However, the country’s government and authorities managed to address these challenges, enabling China to attain more than 7% growth in economy annually. A majority of the changes that were done in China’s economic policy promoted an export-driven economy. This brought in a lot of foreign reserves and immense investment into the country by foreign firms (Lewis, & Litai, 2003, p. 926).

The economic reforms were attained as a result of shifting to private enterprises from the previous state ownership practice. With these economic reforms, China has found it important to protect both foreign and domestic interests (Lewis, & Litai, 2003, p. 927). There has also been witnessed an ever increasing sense of insecurity because economic growth has witnessed an increase in the country’s external business interest. This has prompted the country to transform and strengthen its military for purposes of reassuring its overall security (Lewis, & Litai, 2003, p. 930).

As Tellis (2012, para 50) notes, China’s successful economic reforms ensured the country posted double-digit growth rates continuously for close to thirty years. Eventually, the country’s economy was ranked the second largest in the world, prompting it to involve itself directly in dynamic global trade, attract multinational manufacturing firms from all over the world, and enhance its credit market to quite a significant degree (Tellis, 2012, para 50). The US, which for long has had an interest in the Asian Pacific region, has greatly been affected by the emergence of China in its effort to check global peace following the demise of the Soviet Union. The expanding military might, sustained by the vibrant economy, is making China the center of attraction within the Asia-Pacific region. As the global superpower, the US is facing a weakening influence within the region and in other regions of the world where China has moved in with agility and gusto (Tellis, 2012, para 53).

Modernization of the China Defense Forces

The USA boasts of the most modern and powerful military force at present. This has seen the country afford to influence its foreign policy in order to achieve positive results for its economy and growth. The USA has asserted itself as a critical global player and power, virtually determining what all other countries in the world can do or decide on. Following the demise of the Soviet Union and Japan as powerful military forces within the Asia Pacific region, the USA has been taking advantage of the vacuum to extend its power and influence in the region.

The growing influence of the US military, specifically in the Asia Pacific region, has played a major role in influencing the modernization of the Chinese military. China continuously views the US as an obstacle to its regional and global progression plans. It is worth noting that China has had a long-standing dispute with her neighbors concerning the ownership of maritime territories lying to the East of the country (Donaldson & Williams, 2005, p. 135). Japan and China have had thawing relations over their maritime frontier, while Taiwan has been embroiled in a dispute with China over the ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands (Donaldson & Williams, 2005, p. 135).

In the South China Sea, territorial conflicts have also ensued between China and her neighbors, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, as well as the Philippines (Majid, 2012, p. 25). At the center of the conflict is the question of ownership of close to 200 atolls and islands that lie in the area. In all these conflicts, the influence of the US has been felt, mainly owing to its great national interests in the entire region (Majid, 2012, p. 32). The US’ declaration of offering to mediate in the conflict was heavily opposed by China, which senses underhand reasons by its main global competitor. These factors have all together contributed to pushing China into modernizing its military as a way of achieving significant transformation. It sees America’s meddling in the Asia Pacific region’s matters as a way of trying to curtail it from achieving its objectives within the region and, by extension, across the globe (Majid, 2012, p. 25).

The modernization of the Chinese military is meant to create the same effect that the US military arouses, particularly when it establishes its presence in a particular region (Wishnick, 2002, p. 3). The US declarations and policy on Asia are, to a greater extent, strengthened further by the mere fact that the country has its military located in Central Asia. In a counteractive move, China has been modernizing its military in preparation for expansion into Central Asia as well (Wishnick, 2002, p. 9). Part of the modernization efforts involve the ordering of destroyers from Russia in readiness for action just in case the US launched an attack against its bases.

China has closely partnered with Russia in expressing dismay at the latest actions by the US military, particularly in Central Asia. It is worth noting that the US military bases in Asia have all been established in countries embroiled in territorial disputes with China, including Japan and Philippines (Wishnick, 2002, p. 10). In the same breath, the US has courted other countries in the region, including Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and continues to participate directly in the China-Taiwan conflict by vehemently opposing any plans by Beijing against Taipei (Wishnick, 2002, p. 10).

China’s enhancement of the military might and power does not necessarily target to engage in war with any of its neighbors. Although the country is embroiled in a series of border troubles with her neighbors, the strengthening of the military ability does not intend to lead into any wars. Instead, China is seeking to transform itself into a powerful regional player in order to influence the entire region. As Chen, and Feffer (2009, p. 47) note, China is also engaging vigorously in multilateral institutions.

It has engaged itself fully in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), while also participating in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and ASEAN+3 as a member (Chen, & Feffer, 2009, p. 47). This also includes South Korea and Japan as the other members. The country is obviously interested in building bilateral relations in order to advance its foreign policy and influence, thus it does not necessarily target military enhancement for purposes of waging wars. However, military might is a critical combination that plays an important role in enhancing foreign international influence (Chen, & Feffer, 2009, p. 47).

China is most likely to use its hard military power in the US because it currently is the only country appearing to be a threat to the US development agenda. The US attained its military might long ago before the rise of China and used it to secure important international interests across the globe (Weissmann, 2010, p. 35). However, the emergence of China poses a challenge to this position as Beijing is aggressively seeking to pursue economic growth in all aspects (Karpova, 2013, para 3). This clash of interest between the two countries could result in war in an attempt by both countries to display military prowess and power. With the eventual decline of former regional and global military powerhouses Japan and the USSR respectively, China does not face any immediate challenges that could force it to apply hard power on her two regional borders (Karpova, 2013, para 7).

Alterations in the Asia-Pacific balance of power

The meteoric rise of the Chinese military power and might have resulted in regional military realignments within the entire Asia-Pacific region (Lee, 2002, p. 549). Notably, China has been working closely with Russia in a combined effort that seeks to water down the US’s long established influence in the region (Bolton, 2009, p. 154). Equally, there has been witnessed a continued decline of rivalry and clash of interest between China and Russia in recent times. Russia, formerly a powerful military force under the USSR, has witnessed its influence whittled down immensely in the last two decades following the fall of the Soviet Union. Given the frosty relations that existed between the former USSR and the USA, which played out heavily during the World War and the Cold War, Russia’s decision to embrace and realign with China is seen as a move that is meant to bolster the former’s influence and say in global geopolitics (Bolton, 2009, p. 154).

Thus, in Russia, China has found a willing partner who also happens to be US’s common enemy. This realignment has seen the two countries voice their objections to the continued presence and enforcement of the US military in Central Asia (Bolton, 2009, p. 154). In a move that underscores the pact, Beijing has recently acquired powerful ammunition from Moscow that is meant to protect its bases against any eventual strikes by the US (Wishnick, 2002, p. 14). Although Russia is not located in Asia, its proximity to China and the entire Asia Pacific region has seen it delve deeper into political matters concerning the region, often voicing its support for China.

The realignment of China and Russia has also seen both countries extend their rivalries against the US to the international scene, further highlighting the strong bond between them. With America planning to strike Syria and force the ouster of embattled President Basher al-Assad, both China and Russia have expressed dismay and opposed such plans in a move that is aimed at reminding the US about the existence of another credible force (van Meerhaeghe, 2012, p. 239).

On the other hand, the US has fostered relations with other significant countries in the region in a bid to affirm its power and might. Japan and South Korea have closely worked with the US and are seen as important allies of America in the region (Goo & Kim, 2009, p. 597). The US has for an extended period used Japan as its naval base, thereby taking advantage of the strategic location of the Island to police its interests in the region. Taiwan, an Island embroiled in territorial dispute with China, has also established itself as a key ally of the USA in the region. The US has frequently declared its support for the Island and opposed any military plans by China aimed at forcefully invading it. Additionally, the US has been seeking to consolidate its influence in the region by courting other countries in the region, including the Philippines (Goo & Kim, 2009, p. 597).


Like all other developed economies in the world, China has an objective of strengthening its military in order to enhance its foreign policy. Growth in the country’s economy, which has been witnessed in the last three decades, has provided an avenue for the country to develop and pursue many foreign interests. With these increasing interests, however, there is also a growing sense of insecurity both regionally and at the global fronts. An enhanced military power is seeking to reassure the security of these foreign economic and political interests, as well as underscore the country’s importance as far as global issues are concerned. The USA, which is currently the only superpower in the world, has a powerful military that is positioned at virtually every location in the world. The US uses this might to protect its global interests, as well as influence its policy on foreign matters.

In the same breath, China is strengthening its military prowess in a bid to protect its foreign investments and interests, as well as influence the foreign policy in its favor. In the Asia Pacific region, China seeks to influence more support from member countries that have long been considered to be close US allies. The country also wishes to stamp its authority by ending all the territorial conflicts that exist between it and other countries. Taiwan, formerly recognized as a Chinese territory, is pushing to establish itself as an independent and a self-controlled territory in a move that China objects. As China hopes to end this conflict peacefully, it is faced by the heavy influence of the US. The US is in support of an independent Taiwan.

List of References

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Wishnick, E 2002, Growing U.S. security interests in Central Asia, Web.