March 10, 2011

The Uncertain Rise of China's Military

By Abraham M. Denmark

China’s growing defense budget – in addition to its claim of sovereignty in the South China Sea, anti-satellite weapons testing, and interest in cyber military capabilities – has raised questions about the implications of its rising military power, noted Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Fellow Abraham Denmark in congressional testimony to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on March 10, 2011. “The question of how China will use its newfound power, especially its military power, will determine the course of the 21st century,” said Denmark. 

“China is adopting diplomatic positions and developing a robust military capability that combined could undermine American power projection capabilities," said Denmark. "This may, at a more fundamental level, undermine the same liberal international order that has to date enabled China’s rise. Yet China’s future path is not determined, and the development of a robust Chinese military capability does not inherently threaten the United States or the liberal international order."

Denmark argued that the key for American strategists and policymakers is to understand the present ambiguity surrounding China's military, and build a strategy that encourages a more responsible and productive future for Chinese power while defending American interests against the potential for Chinese aggression. In his testimony, Denmark recommends that the United States:

  • Encourage China’s positive contribution to global public goods and find opportunities for cooperation between the U.S. military and the People's Liberation Army.
  • Work with ASEAN regarding the South China Sea to develop a common, clear message to send to Beijing about what is, and what is not, acceptable behavior.
  • React strongly and decisively when China’s actions violate American interests, undermine global public goods, or threaten regional stability.
  • Continue to adjust its military capabilities to counter China’s anti-access area denial capabilities.
  • Build the military capacities of its allies and partners throughout the Asia-Pacific and identify new partners in the region.

Download China's Arrival: A Strategic Framework for a Global Relationship, a CNAS report co-authored by Denmark, here.

Find out more about the CNAS Asia-Pacific Security Program.