- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

China's Military Modernization: Making Steady and Surprising Progress

David Shambaugh


This chapter analyzes the direct and contextual factors driving Chinese military modernization efforts, evaluates the current capabilities and development trajectories of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and assesses the likely impact that an increasingly modern Chinese military will have on Asian regional security.

Main Argument

Although Chinese modernization has accelerated and improved in pace and scope at a surprising rate, this should not be misconstrued to mean that the PLA can transform itself into a first-class military with global reach over the next decade. The PLA’s regional reach will, however, steadily improve—and consequently will alter the balance of power in Asia.

Policy Implications

  • China’s military modernization is shaped not only by the military dimensions of the Taiwan issue, but also by a number of other contextual drivers (i.e., China’s desire to become a global power, the regional security environment, the U.S. military footprint around Asia, and growing energy needs) and direct drivers (i.e., China’s military budget, domestic politics, military doctrine and defense policy, and effects of the military-industrial complex).
  • China’s aspirations and plans for its military modernization program are on par for a nation of China’s location, size, wealth, national interests, and global role.