The Chinese Military
The People's Republic of China (PRC) should loom large as a factor in any government's strategic calculations toward East Asia. China enjoys one of the fastest growing economies on earth and is the world's most populous nation. It also possesses the world's largest military and third-largest nuclear arsenal. As the Western Pacific moves into the new millennium, many observers believe that the region's prosperity and security will be shaped increasingly by the economic and security trajectories of China.
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is dedicated to two paramount missions: guaranteeing the internal security of the PRC and defending it against external attack. Although these tasks are not mutually exclusive, it may facilitate analysis to examine each of these duties individually before discussing other basic policies relating to China's defense.
In 1998, Gen. Chi Haotian, then vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, state councilor, and defense minister, proclaimed that “the Chinese people's utmost important tasks are to develop China's economy, accelerate construction, transform China's poverty and backwardness, and upgrade their living standards materially and culturally. ” 1 This statement did not reflect a change in PRC policy. Officials in Beijing have long stressed that economic development must take precedence over military modernization—defense received the lowest priority in the so-called four modernizations when drafted during the late 1970s