State of the Field: Research on the Chinese Military
From AccessAsia Review Vol. 1, No. 1 (Out of Print)

State of the Field
Research on the Chinese Military

by June Teufel Dreyer
July 1, 1997

In this essay, Professor June Teufel Dreyer reviews the recent literature on the People’s Liberation Army’s international capabilities, doctrine, and policy role in China.

Scholars agree that China’s military budget has increased significantly over the past decade, but the extent of this increase and its ramifications are sharply debated. In 1985 the PLA began to concentrate on scenarios involving local, limited wars on China’s periphery. This was in marked contrast to the previous strategy which prepared for an “early, major, and nuclear” war with the Soviet Union. However, Dreyer points out that the content, methods, and evaluation of training have yet to be standardized. And while China’s military capability is also weakened by older and less powerful warships and aircraft, the one area the experts agree the PLA is making progress in is the development of missiles and nuclear weapons. Research on the military’s new commercial activities suggests that growing corruption is having a deleterious effect on morale and combat capabilities. In addition, PLA specialists agree that economic reforms have opened the possibility that military interests could combine with local economic interests and operate at least partially independently of central government control. At the same time, the literature suggests that the PLA may be playing an increasingly active role in the formation of national security policy. Current research indicates that while the PLA has made good, if uneven, progress in modernizing over the past decade, its force projection capabilities remain limited and are unlikely to allow China to claim the status of regional military power within the next decade.