The PLA Beyond Borders: Chinese Military Operations in Regional and Global Context


No longer confined to China’s land territory or its near abroad, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is conducting increasingly complex operations farther and farther from China’s continental borders. Within Asia, the PLA now regularly operates into the far reaches of the South China Sea and deep into the Western Pacific, enforcing China’s territorial claims and preparing to counter U.S. intervention in a regional conflict. Beyond Asia, the PLA is present on the ground, at sea, or in military exercises with foreign partners across the Indian Ocean and into the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Foreign militaries now regularly encounter the PLA, whether in tense incidents or friendly contacts, on their home turf and in the global commons.

Drawn from a 2019 conference jointly organized by NDU, the RAND Corporation, and Taiwan’s Council on Advanced Policy Studies, The PLA Beyond Borders surveys the dimensions of Chinese operations within the Indo-Pacific region and globally. The international contributors look both at the underlying enablers of these activities, including expeditionary capabilities and logistics, command and control, and ISR systems, as well as new and evolving operational concepts and operational patterns. Employing different analytic lenses, they portray a reformed PLA accelerating the pace of its overseas operations and increasing its modernization not only in the traditional domains, but also in space and cyber.


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Introduction: The PLA Beyond Borders Joel Wuthnow
Part I: Enabling Operations: Capabilities, Infrastructure, and Organizations
1 The PLA’s Expeditionary Force: Current Capabilities and Future Trends  Kristen Gunness
2 Crossing the Strait: Recent Trends in PLA ‘Strategic Delivery’ Capabilities Chung Chieh and Andrew N.D. Yang
3 China’s Overseas Base, Places, and Far Seas Logistics  Isaac B. Kardon
4 PLA Command and Control of Overseas Operations  Phillip C. Saunders
5 China’s Air and Maritime ISR in Coastal Defense and Near Seas Operations Shinji Yamaguchi
6 The PLA Strategic Support Force: A “Joint” Force for Information Operations John Chen, Joe McReynolds,
  and Kieran Green
Part II: Into Action: PLA Operational Concepts and Practice  
7 Reassessing China’s Use of Military Force Andrew Scobell
8 Bomber Strike Packages with Chinese Characteristics Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga
9 PLA Operational Lessons from UN Peacekeeping Joel Wuthnow
10 China’s Security Assistance in Global Competition: The Case of Africa Jonah Victor
11 A New Type of Cross-Border Attack: The PLA’s Cyber Force Ying-Yu Lin
12 Space and Chinese National Security: China’s Continuing Great Leap Upward Dean Cheng


About the Contributors→