Strategic Trends in the People’s Republic of China
China is living out a Faustian bargain. Its growth-at-any-cost policy has provided three decades of robust economic growth and has increasingly urbanized its once largely peasant population. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is transforming from a huge defensive ground force with antiquated equipment into a modern military capable of limited power projection. In exchange for wealth and might, however, China has sacrificed its environment, its natural resources, and the well-being of its elderly and rural residents. Unhealthy air and undrinkable water are common. Cropland is turning into desert. Energy and water resources are being depleted. Many elderly citizens lack retirement incomes, and access to health care is increasingly scarce. All of these problems are worsening as environmental degradation is largely ignored and the population ages.
In the next 10–15 years, China will confront the complex and intertwined problems of dwindling energy resources, increasing energy needs, pollution, more-expensive and increasingly scarce raw materials, slowing economic growth, and the emerging unmet needs of its elderly population. These forces may collectively discourage Chinese military development and deter China from engaging the United States militarily.
The PRC has enjoyed nearly 30 years of stellar economic growth that has enabled it to undertake significant military modernization in a