Top 3 Takeaways from the Pentagon's China Report
Image Credit: U.S. Department of Defense

Top 3 Takeaways from the Pentagon's China Report


Bearing in mind the old adage that a camel is a horse designed by a committee, the Pentagon's latest report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China is a worthwhile read. There's nothing especially new or scintillating in the report's review of PLA hardware or doctrine, but there are a few nuggets in its commentary on Chinese strategy. Herewith, my list of the Top 3 Takeaways from the Pentagon's China Report:

3. Windows can slam shut. The report's authors note that Chinese leaders see the early 21st century as a "strategic window of opportunity," and that they're in the habit of publicly promising to reach certain milestones by certain dates. They "routinely emphasize the goal of reaching critical and economic and military benchmarks by 2020" in particular. Now, any negotiations specialist worth his salt will caution political leaders not to commit themselves to definite achievements or timelines. Doing so raises popular expectations. It makes leaders look bad in their constituents' eyes when those constituents compare performance with promise and performance comes up short — as it often does. Popular sentiment could goad Beijing into unwise actions in stressful times, as the leadership tries to uphold its pledges — and maintain its credibility as the keeper of China's interests and aspirations. What will it do should the window appear to be closing?

June 4, 2013 at 08:01

reply to Liang1a

"The most important thing about China is its rapid economic development and its even more rapid military upgrading"

A lot of western companys are moving out of the chinese economic areas because it has become far cheaper to produce goods back home. this so called rapid expansion of china, wont be as rapid as you might think.

Two other points il throw at you for thought

1. Intellectial property theft will not go unpunised

2. The PLA lacks war fighting experience

I firmly believe that China will never ever become a respectable world superpower…It takes TRUST and a whole lot more. America is doing a fine job and it will stay that way.

Andrew K P Leung, SBS, FRSA
May 21, 2013 at 20:28

The main thrust of Holmes' article is the need to maintain American exceptionalism in the Asia Pacific. However, the tide is changing and it is doubtful whether this mindset remains realistic. Clearly the gravitas of the world is moving from the West to the East and from the advanced to the developing countries.

According to recent research by BBVA, the Emerging and Growth Leading Economies (EAGLEs) and NEST (countries) together are expected to contribute 68% to world growth between 2012-2022, led by China and India, both with a higher share than the U.S. The G7 economies will add a mere 16%. China's economy is set to top the United States probably in less than a decade.

The comprehensive report highlights that China has dramatically improved a wide-range of military capabilities including Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/D2), C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance), survivable long-range nuclear deterrence, nuclear submarines, guided missiles, steath fighters, complex-environment information-warfare (IW), cyber warfare, space warfare, and civil-military integration.

As the Report highlights, China's military remains primarily defensive. However, the country must maintain sufficient deterrence over Taiwan and its other terrritorial claims in the East and South China Sea. It must also guard its vital Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC). The latter means the expansion of a  blue water navy and its longer-range military projection, supported by the development of longer-range tranport planes.

The reference to transparency of China's military intentions is somewhat disingenuous. China has already openly declared its intentions in its 2013 White Paper on China's Armed Forces. If this declaration is not believed, what more is required? Naturally, China cannot reveal the entire blueprint of its most strategic arsenal. Which country is prepared to do this, including the United States?

At the end of the day, China is growing to be a 1,000 pounds giant panda. Depsite its good intentions, other nations fear its weight. It is also rebalancing the order of the jungle, where the ruling lion is becoming anxious.

Benn Steil describes how the world order changed and power shifted from the British Empire to a resurgent United States at the close of the Second World War (The Battle of Bretton Woods, A Council on Foreign Policy book, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2013). As sthe 21st century wears on, power is again beginning to shift, this time perhaps from a single superpower scenario to a shared gloabl leadership with China and a number of other emerging powers.

To pretend otherwise by upholding American exceptionalism to the exclusion of other rising powers is likely to pitch America into endless conflcit in the coming decades, which would not be conducive to regional and global peace and stability.

Best regards,


Mike China
May 16, 2013 at 10:39

The US is very fond of using the international community as a charade to demonize its enemies ie NK/Iran and to a certain extent ,China. The US pivot is nothing but a cover to contain China. So you can't blame the PLA for building the power to blunt US forces.

If the US really means what it s ays about notcontaining China,why the is it investing billions in drones  for attack thousands of km away?So as usual the PLA will build the forces with the capability to retaliate after being attacked.The US has an assured destruction capability with regard to China,but the PLA haven't reached that stage yet but by God they will keep on building the capability to unleash massive and unacceptable damage on US assets. This capability will grow with time unless the US opts to destroy  it suffering only 30% damagenow.For all you know the level of destruction could reach 50 to 70%.

By then as one noted American said ww4 willbe fought with stones and fists,not to mention legs aswee.


May 14, 2013 at 11:25

The most important thing about China is its rapid economic development and its even more rapid military upgrading.  As China's economic mode of development shifts toward domestic development aided by rapid expansion of its shadow banking system it will continue to grow sustainably unimpeded by collapses in foreign economies.  And with more funding China's military will be expanding rapidly.  An example of China's rapid military upgrading is the production of its fighters.  China's first aircraft carrier is being prepared to set sail on its first patrol.  On the carrier there will be at least 12 J-15.  But many more J-15s are being built.  In one video report, many J-15s are shown being made at a production line. [1]  Altogether, some 15 J-15s or more are being made per year in addition to some 30 or more J-15 already in active duty.  This means that China will probably have some 150 to 300 J-15s within 10 years and enough to equip 3 to 6 carriers.  There are also many reports that J-20, J-31 and J-18 are being accelerated and will go into volume production within 2 to 3 years by 2015.  And other reports show China is deploying squadrons of J-16 for the first time (J-16 is the upgraded version of Su-30).

In the end, the important thing for the US to take notice is that China's military upgrading is proceeding apace and will catch up with the American level within 10 years.  And that it will exceed the American level beyond 10 years.  Therefore, the question is not what the China will do but what the US is going to do?  For example, will the US continue its pointless pivot to Asia?  Even without China revealing more of its military capability and intentions, it should be enough to the US that it is heading into a hornets' nest in Asia.  So instead of asking for more data, the US should realize that it has no future in Asia if it tried to intimidate China.  America will only end by being banned from Asia if it continued to encircle and incite attacks against China.

[1] J-15 production line.

Leonard R.
May 12, 2013 at 10:24

Prof. Holmes: "When U.S. officials hector Beijing about transparency, I think they're really pleading with Chinese leaders…"

Correct. And it is time to stop pleading. Chinese leaders have been very transparent. They are launching cyber attacks against the Unted States government. They make no secret of the fact they want the United States to abandon US citizen populations, territories and US allies in the west central Pacific. And the PLA is arming itself with the intention of fighting a war with the United States. How much more transparent can hey get? 

Beijing can be accused of many things but a lack of transparency should not be one of them. Beijing's actions have been very clear. Only delusional fools would fail to see what it is up to. 

May 11, 2013 at 16:33

very true for the most part. as 2020 approaches the chinese government will be looking at its promises to its people and dressing up areas where its lacking and this may cause some problems. and while the PLA is far less transperent than the US military, the US government demands for tranparency is unachievable and US military itself fails to meet many of those demands(for instance, the black budgets), they should meet somewhere in the middle. and for the last part, i dont think china perticularly wants to change the world order, however simply due to its size and reach, things simply cannot stay the same, the world and specifically the US, can either make room, share power, at least in asia pacific or see a china forced to push and shove its way into top power status.

Oro Invictus
May 11, 2013 at 05:02

Ah, Dr. Holmes, I do like reading your articles, if only because you’re one of the few writers here who makes a concerted effort to inject a little humour into his writing; still, I really do wish you’d go more in depth on matters. Indeed, when you end articles with something along the lines of “One hopes the Defense Department will take a more textured view of China's rise than is on display here”, it begs the question: What do you believe such a view would constitute? Is it simply one which is more pragmatic and less assigned to base ideological leanings? Or is it something more complex? Even fleshing out some of your various points with specific examples (i.e. the PRC’s failing to meet its shale gas extraction infrastructure deadlines for the first point) or links to further reading would be appreciated.

Then again perhaps you view this blog as less a tool for information dissemination and more one for inspiring dialogue (though, the two are not exclusive); in this case, the brevity is understandable. Still (and this is more of a general suggestion for The Diplomat as a whole), to get a better idea of the author’s thoughts, it would be quite nice to have the articles’ authors participate in the comments sections more (as they used to do)

May 11, 2013 at 00:18

Nicely done; expecially the point made in the final (1) comment: a warning not to lose site of the forest for the treees. Homes' point about the report's perspective on PLA transparancy is on the mark as well. China anaysis is always a batch of complex factors and usually difficult to package in a succint, useful document. However, the DoD China report is useful and has grown better, with greater clarity and more focus, in recent years.   Thanks for this piece!

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