A leaked Chinese military document indicates that China is shifting from deterrence and protecting its territory to looking beyond its borders. China desperately wants a comprehensive protection of their security around the globe.
A challenger with a strong military might push the dominant power into unleashing a preventive war before the challenger gets any stronger unless the emerging power is so militarily strong that it can deter a conflict.
China’s leaders want to be able to
1. deter conflict
2. protect growing global interests (all of the Belt and Road projects)
3. Expand interests and influence around the world
4. Maintain party control over the military
5. China wants to be able to bully smaller powers
China believes the US is a slower vehicle on a curve which can be passed by China.
Solid Second Place
China is the second place global economy.
China knows that it does not want to truly challenge the US globally but being a solid second place military is needed to protect global interests.
The US is way out ahead of China militarily. In particular in regards to nuclear weapons.
China does not want to pay to become the world’s policeman or take on those responsibilities. China just wants to avoid being bullied by the world’s policeman.
China does not have a comfortable second place military position. China will need a larger Airforce, Marines and Navy to protect its growing global interests. Getting to the 50-70% level numerically while matching and keeping place with US technology would be a solid deter but not threaten level. Although in some areas like submarines China could get more equipment but have them not designed to overmatch in both numbers and technology.
I think China will want to maintain this strong second place balance for at least the next 20 years. It would be costly and not successful for China to attempt any threatening build up before 2040. Plus exceeding the US in conventional forces still leaves a nuclear conflict.
China will be number one in using technology to spy its own and other people and to maintain party and Xi control.
China wants a smaller but technologically competent force
China has about 600 modern aircraft.
The USA air force operates more than 5,369 military aircraft, 406 ICBMs and 170 military satellites. The US has over 2000 fighters and 150 bombers. About 1200 are F15 and F16. The US has a combined 300 stealth F22 and F35s. The F35s will build up and replace F16 and F18 fighters. The US Navy has about 900 F18s. The US Marines have 200 F18s and 38 F35Bs.
China could build up to half the US number of modern aircraft by 2030. China wants to solidly exceed Taiwan, India and Japan. After the 2030’s as India progresses then China would build more to stay ahead of India.
Shifting from army to Marines
China might station up to 10,000 marines, navy seamen and other personnel in its African base at Djibouti.
China is expanding their marine forces from 20,000 up to 100,000. The US has 186,000 marines and about 40,000 reserves. A few other Asian countries are in the range of 20,000 to 30,000 marines. China is mainly transferring army units to the marines.
Safely passing on a curve
Decades down the road if China’s economy exceeds the US by well over double and China is continuing to spend half the US level on the military on a GDP basis. China could consider if it worth the effort and risk to bump to matching the US on percentage level of military spending.
However, if China has deterred conflict and protected and expanded its interests then why would China press for military dominance?
As Sun Tzu said
The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.