Feb. 4, 2019

Toward a More Joint, Combat-Ready PLA?

One of the key drivers of Xi Jinping’s military reform agenda has been building a PLA more capable of conducting joint operations, such as blockades and amphibious landings. RAND analyst Mark Cozad shows in his chapter of the new NDU Press book, "Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA: Assessing Chinese Military Reforms," that this is not a new goal for the PLA. While reforms build on increasing realistic joint training exercises, Cozad argues that a risk-averse organizational culture could pose continuing challenges to fielding an effective joint force. In their chapter, NDU China specialists Joel Wuthnow and Phillip C. Saunders explore how recent changes in China’s military education, training, and personnel systems could strengthen PLA joint operations. Nevertheless, they argue that cultivating qualified joint commanders will be a “generational project” as more capable PLA officers rise through the ranks.

Feb. 4, 2019

The Flag Lags but Follows: The PLA and China's Great Leap Outward

How can the PLA protect China’s overseas interests while also preparing for regional wars? This question is becoming more acute as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) expands China’s international presence. In their chapter in the new NDU Press book, "Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA: Assessing Chinese Military Reforms," RAND analysts Andrew Scobell and Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga review options for how China can secure Chinese civilians and assets abroad, including by opening new military bases and enhancing the PLA’s power projection capabilities. The chapter dives deep into three cases—China’s inaugural base in Djibouti, reliance on Pakistani assistance since 2007, and evacuation of Chinese personnel from Yemen in 2015—showing that Beijing has a varied toolset for protecting overseas interests, with the PLA often playing only a supporting role.

Feb. 4, 2019

The Impacts of Xi-Era Reforms on the Chinese Navy

Will China’s navy be a key winner of Xi Jinping’s military reforms? In their chapter from the new NDU Press book "Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA: Assessing Chinese Military Reforms," Naval War College Professor of Strategy Andrew Erickson and National Defense University Contract Researcher Ian Burns McCaslin outline three main lines of PLA navy modernization over the past decade: as a blue water navy responsible for defending Chinese interests in far-flung regions, as an interagency maritime force responsible for defending Chinese sovereignty closer to home, and as the maritime component of a combat-oriented joint force. While the navy has steadily developed along each of these paths, the authors argue that the reforms could hamper navy chiefs as operational control transitions from the services to five theater commands. The navy will also have to contend with shrinking budgets and competition for missions with the other services.

Feb. 4, 2019

Choosing the "Least Bad Option": Organizational Interests and Change in the PLA Ground Forces

How has the PLA ground force defended its interests in a time of slowing budget growth, reorganization, and changing missions that put more emphasis on air and naval power? In his chapter from the new NDU Press book "Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA: Assessing Chinese Military Reforms," PLA expert John Chen shows that army leaders weighed various options for preserving their resources as top Chinese officials encouraged the growth of the other services. He shows that the army has tried to position itself as a key component of a joint force: this required sacrificing some autonomy but was ultimately the “least bad option” because it aligned with the long-range modernization goals of top Chinese Communist Party and military officials. Chen argues that the ground force could become more offensive-oriented as its missions change, putting less attention on its traditional deter and defend roles.

Feb. 4, 2019

Breaking the Paradigm: Drivers Behind the PLA's Current Period of Reform

What prompted Xi Jinping and his colleagues in the military to launch the most ambitious restructuring of the PLA in a generation? In this chapter from the new NDU Press book "Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA: Assessing Chinese Military Reforms," CNA Vice President David M. Finkelstein argues that three factors can help explain the reforms: the political need to reaffirm Chinese Communist Party authority within the military (which firmly remains a Leninist “party army”), an operational imperative to overcome institutional barriers to the army’s ability to wage modern joint operations, and an increasingly fragile national security environment requiring a stronger armed force. Finkelstein also suggests that Xi has been supported in his endeavor by a cast of professional PLA officers who have advocated for change from the inside, often drawing from U.S. and Russian examples.

Feb. 4, 2019

Appendix: Central Military Commission Reforms

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Feb. 4, 2019

Introduction: Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA

Integral to Xi Jinping’s vision of restoring China to greatness—what he defines as the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” [zhonghua minzu weida fuxing, 中华民族伟大复兴]—is building a more modern, capable, and disciplined military. China’s economic development, territorial integrity, and even the survival of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) itself cannot be guaranteed without an army that can fight and prevail in modern warfare. Articulating the need for a stronger military, Xi and his colleagues have reflected on periods of Chinese weakness, such as the era of imperial decline in the late 19th century and the Japanese occupation in the 1930s and 1940s. In Xi’s words, a “nation’s backwardness in military affairs has a profound influence on a nation’s security. I often peruse the annals of modern Chinese history and feel heartbroken at the tragic scenes of us being beaten because of our ineptitude.” Such humiliations, in his view, should never be repeated.

Feb. 4, 2019


Other than the introduction and conclusion, all the chapters in this book were originally presented as part of the PLA conference series co-sponsored by Taiwan’s Council of Advanced Policy Studies (CAPS), National Defense University (NDU), and the RAND Corporation. The editors thank the authors for their patience and hard work in revising and updating their papers for publication.

Jan. 30, 2019

A Strategic Overview of Latin America: Identifying New Convergence Centers, Forgotten Territories, and Vital Hubs for Transnational Organized Crime

This paper outlines a number of critical strategic challenges in Latin America for U.S. policymakers, which were directly identified in the December 2017 National Security Strategy. However, despite this recognition, these issues are seldom featured in policy discussions about the region.

Jan. 23, 2019

Joint Doctrine Update

Joint Doctrine Updates.