THE ROLE OF THE PEOPLE'S LIBERATION ARMY
June Teufel Dreyer
April 25, 1996
The views expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
In April 1996, the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute held its Seventh Annual Strategy Conference. This year's theme was, "China into the 21st Century: Strategic Partner and . . . or Peer Competitor."
Dr. June Tuefel Dreyer, Professor of Political Science at the University of Miami, on a panel examining "China's Strategic View," argued that the armed forces of China, although large, simply are not capable today of militarily endorsing the kind of truculent actions recently undertaken in the Taiwan Straits. The qualitative advantage possessed by the sum total of Asian nations with interests at stake, not to mention those of the United States, exceeds that of the People's Liberation Army. Professor Dreyer provides a good overview of the current and projected strengths of the PLA's land, sea and air forces.
Pressure is growing throughout the Pacific and around the world for China to attenuate hard line positions of the past. Dr. Dreyer argues that the PRC's actions may be eliciting equal and opposite reactions from states that feel their interests are being threatened. On the other hand, domestic pressures may make it difficult for the Chinese leadership to back away from some of the positions they have taken.
The course China pursues into the 21st century will directly bear on
the strategic interests of the United States in a significant way--and
vice-versa. For this reason, the Strategic Studies Institute offers Dr.
Dreyer's views for your consideration.
RICHARD H. WITHERSPOON
Colonel, U.S. Army
Although the militant rhetoric of past decades has abated, the leadership of the People's Republic of China (PRC) is profoundly dissatisfied with the international status quo. The dissolution of the Soviet Union weakened China's ability to wrest concessions from the United States by threatening to move closer to the USSR, and from the USSR by threatening to support the United States. While some leverage can, and is, gained by negotiating with the major successor state to the Soviet Union, this leverage is more limited than in the past. The Russian Republic is significantly weaker than the USSR, and finds aid and investment from capitalist states such as the United States useful to its rebuilding efforts. It is unlikely to jeopardize this aid by becoming too closely associated with Chinese positions that these countries oppose.
Other indications are that the Chinese leadership's goal is to replace
the United States as the hegemonic power in the Asian region. It sees the
PRC as an ascendant power while America, which has withdrawn from bases
in the Philippines, downsized its military personnel, slashed its defense
procurement programs, and consigned its navy to a littoral role, is seen
as declining. Should China assume the role of hegemon, there are likely
to be territorial readjustments in the region. The PRC contests ownership
of several different islands and island chains with no less than six other
countries, and there are concerns within India that the close relationship
that has developed between China and the State Law and Order Restoration
Council (SLORC) in Burma may have a Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean
as one of its goals. Though Sino-Indian relations have been quite good
in recent years, there are unresolved issues between the two countries,
and China's victory over India in a 1962 border war is a painful memory
for many Indians.
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