In 2017, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (“PLA”) announced plans to bring down its 2.3 million strong forces below 1 million with the Army’s share falling below 50 percent. Then last year the PLA slashed three-hundred-thousand ground troops from its rolls and announced that more than half of all noncombat positions had been eliminated. On top of that, it claims to have reduced its officer rolls by thirty percent.
China is not disarming. Instead, the PLA has pursued an ambitious program to be able to fight future, not past wars. The PLA no longer sees a need to maintain a large land army to fight World War II or Korean War-style conflicts. Instead, it has organized cyber and missile commands and is significantly modernizing and strengthening its Air Force and Navy.
Just as China has transformed its economy in a short period of time, the same has happened with its military. The Chinese navy has become the world’s largest, and there is no realistic chance that the United States will catch up under its present shipbuilding program. Compounding that, the United States has a global naval role and cannot concentrate all its naval forces near China’s coasts. The balance of naval power in the eastern Pacific has moved toward China.
Along its coastal shores on the China Seas, including the Taiwan Straits, China is the major maritime power—a point noted by Admiral Philip Davidson, the commander of Indo-Pacific Command, when he described China as a “peer competitor” and one “capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.” Considering that U.S. aircraft carriers can no longer operate within the first island chain, this understated assessment underscores that the era of American naval dominance, particularly in East Asia, is ending. China’s maritime power has been multiplied by shore-based, anti-ship missile systems.