China is still 10-20 years from matching US economy and 20-40 years from matching US military

The Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on China’s military and security developments has finally been published but it was several months later than usual.

China is transitioning from equipment that was decades out of date to small numbers of competitive military equipment.

As has been shown in the recent trade conflicts. China’s economy is still weaker than the USA. The US still has a larger economy other than on purchasing power parity. China’s economy is more dependent on trade and is dependent on vital computer and other technology from the USA.

China has greater foreign oil dependency than the USA.

It would likely take until 2030 until China has moved to reasonably modern military equipment for all of its equipment.

China is spending about one third as much as the USA on defence. China spends less on a percentage basis as well.

Even if China’s nominal GDP matches the US around 2030, China will still need longer to match the US military. It is not just one years military spending but the accumulated buildup of equipment and training of armed forces. China also spends less on a percentage basis, so China’s economy would need to be 1.5 to 2 times larger in order to match the US military budget. The collective EU economy matched or exceeded the USA for a while but the EU had far less combined military. China might be slightly more than the combined EU military some ten years after matching the US GDP.

China even targets full science and technology leader in 2050.

China is building up regional advantages where it could win conflicts over Taiwan or the South China Sea. This because of the manmade island bases and because of the ability to project power close to China. It is also because those two areas are where China has far more interest than the USA. The USA would not put up the all-out war that what would be needed to win.

China’s ICBM missiles are hidden in underground tunnel systems. China’s nuclear missiles are not prepped for launch. China recognizes how vulnerable their small number of land-based missiles are. The missiles are in underground facilities so that they can survive a first attack.

The overall number of Chinese ICBM launchers reported by DOD has remained stable since 2011: 50-75. One type (DF-4) has reload capability, so the number of available missiles is a little higher: 75-100 missiles. That number has also remained stable for the past three years. Indeed, other than the arrival of the DF-26 IRBM force, the total Chinese rocket forces estimate is identical to that of presented in the 2017 report.

China intends to use the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to develop strong economic ties with other countries, shape their interests to align with China’s, and deter confrontation or criticism of China’s approach to sensitive issues. Some countries participating in BRI could develop economic dependencies from over-relying on Chinese capital. Some BRI investments could advance potential military advantages for China.

The PLAN is the region’s largest navy, with more than 300 surface combatants, submarines, amphibious ships, patrol craft, and specialized types. It is also an increasingly modern and flexible force.

One of the most significant PLAN structural changes in 2017 was the expansion of the PLAN Marine Corps (PLANMC). The PLANMC previously consisted of 2 brigades, approximately 10,000 personnel, and was limited in geography and mission (amphibious assault and defense of South China Sea outposts). By 2020, the PLANMC will consist of 7 brigades, may have more than 30,000 personnel, and will expand its mission to include expeditionary operations on foreign soil, as PLANMC forces are already operating out of the PLA’s base in Djibouti.

Modernization of China’s submarine force remains a high priority for the PLAN. It currently operates 4 nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), 5 nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN), and 47 diesel-powered attack submarines. By 2020,
this force will likely grow to between 69 and 78 submarines.

The PLAAF is the largest air force in the region and the third largest in the world. It is working to become a “strategic” air force capable of long-range power projection.

The PLAAF is the largest air force in the region and the third largest in the world, with more than 2,700 total aircraft (not including UAVs) and 2,000 combat aircraft (including fighters, strategic bombers, tactical bombers, and multimission tactical and attack aircraft).

The PLAAF continues to field fourth-generation aircraft (now about 600) and probably will become a majority fourth generation force within the next several years. The PLAAF is still developing fifth-generation fighters, including the J-20 and FC-31, and in late 2016 began importing 24 Su-35 advanced fourth-generation fighters from Russia.

China announced a stealth bomber program in 2016, and the new platform could debut sometime around 2025.

The ultimate goal of Science and Technology modernization is to rejuvenate China by 2050 as an S&T powerhouse. For the next 30 years, China’s leaders have arranged its innovation-driven development strategy into the following four major milestones:

2020: Advance domestic competence for global innovation competition. The ability to rank side-by-side with other innovation-driven countries remains a top priority under Xi Jinping. These development goals center on upgrading the industrial economy (including modern agriculture, clean and efficient energy, and 5th generation mobile telecommunications networks), building science innovation parks, and attracting top-tier researchers. China intends these projects to further advance China’s global ranking and to strengthen defense technology development between the military and civilian sectors.

2025: Reduce reliance on foreign technology. In October 2015, China’s State Council published the Made in China 2025 plan, outlining development trajectories to establish and promote China-made components, create well-known Chinese brands, and increase the domestic and international market share in 10 strategic industries. The plan aims to develop internationally competitive leading enterprises; improve technical, equipment, and quality standards to international levels; and create a long-term industrial supply chain and perfect mass production. To achieve core technology breakthroughs, the plan incentivizes accumulating patents, increasing Chinese intellectual property, and establishing engineering platforms and collaborative innovation centers for S&T. The 10 strategic industries are:

1) New generation information technology;
2) High-grade machine tooling and robotics;
3) Aerospace equipment;
4) Marine engineering equipment;
5) Advanced rail transportation equipment;
6) New-energy automobiles;
7) Electric power equipment;
8) Agricultural equipment;
9) New materials; and,
10) Biomedicine.

2030: Make milestone contributions to the global scientific community. Striving to take the lead on breakthroughs in important S&T areas, China’s 13thFive-Year Program outlines major S&T Innovation Projects for 2030 to benefit both the Chinese economy and its military. Projects include AI 2.0, national cyberspace security, aircraft engines and combustion turbines, quantum computing and quantum communication, advanced manufacturing, clean and efficient energy production, green technologies and environmental solutions, agriculture advances, biology and health, resource management in both space and ocean, and deep-earth exploration.

> China’s AI 2.0 project moves beyond its focus with AI 1.0, which centered solely on
discovering AI, to focus on the networking and intelligentization of the entire industry chain.

In July 2017, China published a national AI blueprint that lays out its R&D trajectory to achieve major breakthroughs in the AI field and become the world’s primary AI innovation center by 2030.

2050: Lead and dominate as the S&T powerhouse. China’s long-term objective remains to become the global leader in innovative scientific development.

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