People's Liberation Army Trajectories

International Drivers

Published in: The Chinese People's Liberation Army in 2025 / Roy Kamphausen, David Lai, Eds. (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press, 2015), Chapter 4, p. 83-127

Posted on RAND.org on August 03, 2015

by Eric Heginbotham, Jacob L. Heim

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Special relevance in light of the profound changes occurring within the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA). China's desire to develop a military commensurate with its diverse interests is both legitimate and understandable. The challenge for U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) is to understand how China will employ this growing military capability in support of its interests. The analysis provides an insightful perspective into the factors shaping and propelling the PLA's modernization, its potential future orientation ranging from internally focused to globally focused, and how the PLA's choices may impact China's relations with its neighbors and the world. This chapter assesses the impact of external variables on four potential futures: (1) a People's Liberation Army (PLA) focused on its immediate periphery; (2) a regionally oriented PLA with some power projection capability; (3) a globally expeditionary PLA; and (4) a weakened PLA. The Chinese military, once focused overwhelmingly on its immediate periphery, is already set on a path to acquire capabilities relevant to wider regional and, to a very limited extent, global missions. The discussion of variables and their impact assesses movement off of the current trajectory. In other words, the question is not what could prompt the PLA to develop power projection capabilities, but rather what could cause the PLA to accelerate the acquisition of power projection capabilities or, alternatively, to refocus on forces optimized for conflict in its immediate periphery?

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