THE FUTURE OF PLA MODERNIZATION:
BUMPS AND BOOSTERS
After more than 2 decades of continuous but uneven efforts, the Chinese leaders have transformed their armed forces from the huge backward contingents of Maoist days into a modernizing army. They have reformed all major areas of China's conventional military establishment and upgraded their nuclear capability.
Their achievements have been impressive. Most outstanding has been the achievement of a capacity to deter or defeat a large- scale conventional or nuclear attack on China. However, this objective was achieved more than a decade ago, after the Chinese had substantially improved their existing weapons and acquired a second-strike nuclear capability. And its achievement was due as much to China's natural assets as to its military development.
Since then, the Chinese have doubtless greatly strengthened this capacity. However, they are still a long way from achieving their most fundamental objectives outside China: to confidently deter, or defeat, American intervention in a war with Taiwan; to effectively challenge U.S. military presence in the Pacific; and, over the long haul, to acquire a military posture that will underpin recognition of China as a great power.
The desire to attain these objectives--strengthened by the political clout of the military and by China's projected economic progress-ensures that People's Liberation Army (PLA) modernization will continue in the coming decades. However, while this combination sets the direction for the Chinese armed forces, it alone does not determine the pace, scope, and content of military modernization. These will be shaped by concrete circumstances that will influence the modernization process as bumps or boosters.
While long-term aspirations may drive China's military modernization, its mode in a particular period has been determined