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FROM MAO TOWARD MODERNITY: THE 
INCREASING WESTERNIZATION OE 
THE PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY 


A Monograph 
by 

MAJ Christopher J. Kelshaw 
United States Army 



Sehool of Advaneed Military Studies 
United States Army Command and General Staff College 
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 

2014-01 


Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited. 



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From Mao toward Modernity: The Increasing Westernization of 
the People’s Liberation Army 


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Major Christopher J. Kelshaw, U.S. Army 


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School of Advanced Military Studies 
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14. ABSTRACT 

While the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to grow as a great power within the Asian region, its 
military continues to seek and develop commensurate military capabilities. People’s Liberation Army (PLA) 
ambitions to modernize provoke a number of questions regarding underlying PLA rationale and motivation. 
Specifically, what has driven the PLA to choose to become less of a rural based guerilla force primarily focused on 
defense, and more of a modern, and Western-like standing military with a credible offensive capability? Further, 
what events, in particular, have shaped, and continue to shape PLA thinking in this regard? This monograph 
argues that three events in particular—the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese conflict, the 1991 United States (U.S.) Gulf War, 
and U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military action against the Federal Republic of 
Yugoslavia in 1999—have contributed to a consistent PLA movement toward greater Westernization in its 
approaches toward and preparations for war. The abysmal performance of the PLA during the 1979 Sino- 
Vietnamese conflict marked the nadir for the Maoist operating concept of people’s war, and served as a point of 
departure toward greater military Westernization. Additionally, both the 1991 Gulf War, and U.S. and NATO 
military action in Kosovo served to reinforce the trend in modern Chinese military development toward greater 
Westernization. 


15. SUBJECT TERMS 

People’s Liberation Army, PLA, Military Modernization, Chinese Communist Party, CCP, 
Military Westernization 


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Standard Form 298 (Rev. 8-98) 

Prescribed by ANSI Std. Z39.18 


































MONOGRAPH APPROVAL PAGE 


Name of Candidate: MAJ Christopher J. Kelshaw 

Monograph Title: From Mao toward Modernity: The Increasing Westernization of the 
People’s Liberation Army 


Approved hy: 


Michael D. Mihalka, Ph.D. 


, Monograph Director 


Uwe Jansohn, COL 


Seminar Leader 


Henry A. Arnold III, COL 


, Director, School of Advanced Military Studies 


Accepted this 22nd day of May 2014 hy: 


Robert F. Baumann, Ph.D. 


, Director, Graduate Degree Programs 


The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of the student author and do not 
necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College or any 
other governmental agency. (References to this study should include the foregoing statement.) 


11 



ABSTRACT 


FROM MAO TOWARD MODERNITY: THE INCREASDJG WESTERNIZATION OE THE 
PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY, by MAJ Christopher J. Kelshaw, 63 pages. 

While the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to grow as a great power within the Asian 
region, its military continues to seek and develop commensurate military capabilities. People’s 
Liberation Army (PLA) ambitions to modernize provoke a number of questions regarding 
underlying PLA rationale and motivation. Specifically, what has driven the PLA to choose to 
become less of a rural based guerilla force primarily focused on defense, and more of a modem, 
and Western-like standing military with a credible offensive capability? Eurther, what events, in 
particular, have shaped, and continue to shape PLA thinking in this regard? This monograph 
argues that three events in particular—the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese conflict, the 1991 United States 
(U.S.) Gulf War, and U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military action 
against the Eederal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999—^have contributed to a consistent PLA 
movement toward greater Westernization in its approaches toward and preparations for war. The 
abysmal performance of the PLA during the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese conflict marked the nadir for 
the Maoist operating concept of people’s war, and served as a point of departure toward greater 
military Westernization. Additionally, both the 1991 Gulf War, and U.S. and NATO military 
action in Kosovo served to reinforce the trend in modern Chinese military development toward 
greater Westernization. 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 


I would like to thank Dr. Michael Mihalka for his guidance throughout the process that 
led to this monograph. Most importantly, I would like to give special thanks to my wife, Iris, for 
her unending patience and support. 


IV 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 


ACRONYMS.vi 

TABLES.vii 

INTRODUCTION.1 

Definitions.4 

LITERATURE REVIEW.4 

METHODOLOGY AND ORGANIZATION.15 

CASE STUDIES.18 

The 1979 Sino-Vietnamese Conflict.19 

The 1990-1991 Gulf War.30 

U.S. and NATO Military Action against the Republic of Yugoslavia.37 

PLA Westernization and the Regional Balance of Power.47 

CONCLUSION.50 

BIBLIOGRAPHY.52 


V 
















ACRONYMS 


CCP 

Chinese Communist Part 

CMC 

Central Military Commission 

FRY 

Federal Republic of Yugoslavia 

GDP 

Gross Domestic Product 

NATO 

North Atlantic Treaty Organization 

PLA 

People’s Liberation Army 

PRC 

People’s Republic of China 


VI 



TABLES 


Page 

Table 1. Western Characteristics of Warfare across Three Case Studies.18 

Table 2. Manifestation of Western Characteristics of Warfare Post-Sino-Vietnamese 

Conflict.29 

Table 3. Manifestation of Western Characteristics of Warfare Post-U.S.-led 1990-1991 

Gulf War against Iraq.37 

Table 4. Manifestation of Western Characteristics of Warfare and Post-U.S./NATO 

Operations against FRY.47 

Table 5. Western Characteristics of Warfare across Three Case Studies.51 


vii 








INTRODUCTION 


While the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to grow as a great power within 
the Asian region, its military continues to seek and develop commensurate military capabilities. * 
As a result, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which began in 1927 as the Chinese 
Red Army of Workers, has moved well past its rural based revolutionary guerilla force roots, and 
more toward what is a comparatively more modem military force. 

Today, the PLA, which now includes both a People’s Liberation Army Air Force and a 
People’s Liberation Army Navy, continues to face increasing pressure to modernize its force 
capabilities.^ This involves not only focusing on the simple defense of the Chinese mainland, but 
also on protecting the ever-expanding sovereign interests of the PRC.^ 

While the pace of this military modernization has certainly fluctuated over the past 30 
years due to internal and external factors, it appears that the PLA has been relatively consistent in 
its efforts to gain and integrate means and methods similar to Western militaries into its 
approaches to war fighting."* 


'Great power, as used here, describes a state with a level of diplomatic, economic, social, 
and military power that affords it significant influence over other states who must consider it 
when undertaking any action or policy within a given region. See Paul Gordon Lauren, Gordon 
Alexander Craig, and Alexander L. George, Force and Statecraft: Diplomatic Challenges of Our 
Time, 4th ed. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007), 8, 19-21, 34, 40, 181. 

^Roy Kamphausen, David Lai, and Andrew Scobell, The PLA at Home and Abroad: 
Assessing the Operational Capabilities of China's Military, eds. Roy Kamphausen, David Lai, 
and Andrew Scobell (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2010), 9, 
12 . 


^For example, the PRC has been a major participant in both United Nations humanitarian 
relief efforts (e.g., Haiti in 2010), and continues to participate in multilateral anti-piracy missions 
off the coast of eastern Africa. 

"'Mao Zedong’s economic Great Leap Forward (1958-1960) and the subsequent Cultural 
Revolution (1966-1976) inspired by him served to stymie many real efforts to modernize during 
these particularly tumultuous periods within China. Additionally, the Chinese Communist Party’s 
policy choice to subordinate military modernization in favor of first modernizing PRC 


1 



If so, then it is this ambition to modernize, and perhaps move away from its more 
foundational operating concepts, that provokes a number of questions regarding underlying PL A 
rationale and motivation. Specifically, what has driven the PLA to choose to become less a rural 
based guerilla force primarily focused on defense, and more of a modern, and Western-like 
standing military with a credible offensive capability? Further, what events, in particular, have 
shaped, and continue to shape PLA thinking in this regard? 

This monograph offers answers to these particular questions. Specifically, it argues that 
three events in particular—the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese conflict, the 1991 United States (U.S.) Gulf 
War, and U.S. and NATO military actions against the Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999—have 
significantly shaped PLA thinking, and have been the primary and most proximate impetus 
behind PLA movement toward greater Westernization. 

The abysmal performance of the PLA during the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese conflict marked 
the nadir for the Maoist operating concept of people’s war, and served as a point of departure 
toward greater military Westernization. Additionally, the 1991 Gulf War, and the 1999 U.S.-led 
NATO military intervention to prevent Serbian aggression against Muslims and Albanian 
Kosovars both served to reinforce this trend. Furthermore, these cases relate to Chinese 
Communist Party (CCP) concerns over its ability to defend and protect PRC sovereignty, given 
China’s history with direct Western impositions against that sovereignty in the past. 

During the 19th century both Britain and France, along with other Western states, were 
able to impose mercantilist designs upon a reluctant pre-modern Chinese Qing state primarily due 
to the latter’s military weakness.^ When considering China’s military development, this is a 

agricultural, industrial, and technological developments beginning in the early 1980s also served 
to limit modernization efforts during this period. 

^Rhoads Murphey, East Asia: A New History, 5th ed. (Boston, MA: Longman, 2010), 
285-304. 


2 



particularly important historical point that provides much-needed context for understanding PRC 
modernization in general, and PLA military modernization in particular. 

As a result, China’s political leaders remain well aware that the PRC must continue 
efforts to develop the sufficient military means to protect its sovereign interests in order to rectify 
what many consider to he China’s century of humiliation.® For many Chinese, a PRC without a 
modern military capability is essentially an incomplete great power that risks having its 
sovereignty imposed upon as before. Issues like those regarding Taiwanese independence, or 
contested areas within the South China Sea are just two highly relevant examples that could likely 
draw in more cutting edge militaries, or their allies (e.g., the U.S. and Japan).’ 

That said, while many of the events that have occurred in both pre-modem and modern 
Chinese history continue to inform Chinese political and military culture today, this monograph 
limits its scope to events that have measurably influenced the PLA during the latter part of the 
20th century. This is primarily due to their particular proximity to certain aspects of China’s 
sovereign interests. By doing so, this monograph deals primarily with and hopes to contribute to 
the vast and ongoing discussion regarding China’s actual military evolution, while offsetting 
other interpretations that may overemphasize those more mystical or esoteric aspects of pre¬ 
modern Chinese war fighting.* 


^Information Office of the State Council, The People’s Republic of China, “China’s 
National Defense,” China.org.cn, July 1998, http://www.china.org.en/e-white/5/index.htm 
(accessed 5 February 2014), 15. 

’U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security 
Developments Involving the People's Republic of China 2013, U.S. Department of Defense, 2013, 
http://www.defense.gov/pubs/2013_china_report_final.pdf (accessed 22 February 2014), 3-5. 

*Timothy L. Thomas, Dragon Bytes : Chinese Information-War Theory and Practice 
from 1995-2003 (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Foreign Military Studies Office, 2004); and Timothy L. 
Thomas, Decoding the Virtual Dragon (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Foreign Military Studies Office, 
2007). 


3 



This monograph begins with a discussion of the relevant literature from both a Western 
and Chinese perspective on PLA westernization. The second section briefly discusses a 
methodological approach. The third section explores three case studies—PLA operations and 
performance during the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese conflict, as well as PLA attitudes and actions 
following both the U.S. led Gulf War in 1990-1991, and the U.S.-led NATO military intervention 
in Kosovo in 1999. The fourth section moves beyond these cases to discuss other factors related 
to PLA Westernization to include how the PLA hopes to benefit from its modernization efforts 
along Western lines in relation to its security objectives and the constraints it faces. 

Definitions 

The term Westernization is central to the discussion here, and means to convey the 
process of PLA military modernization efforts or actions that are similar to, or influenced by the 
military characteristics, cultures, and systems endemic to the armies of Europe or North America 
(i.e., the U.S.). 


LITERATURE REVIEW 

When considering the evolutionary development of the PLA, it is prudent to consult both 
Western and non-Westem perspectives. Limiting an inquiry such as this to just one perspective, 
either Chinese or non-Chinese, would certainly be incomplete. More importantly, a less than 
comprehensive approach would run the risk of mirror imaging (i.e., analyzing the PLA and 
understanding it solely through Western eyes). 

Therefore, a number of Western and Chinese official and unofficial sources have been 
useful in determining both the characteristics of a Western style of warfare, as well as the nature 
and motivations behind the evolution of the PLA. Beginning with the former, there are a number 
of sources that are particularly helpful in pinning down what constitutes a traditional and 
distinctly Western war fighting archetype. 


4 



Victor David Hanson’s The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece 
provides an historical perspective from which to view warfare’s development in the West through 
the ages. As the title suggests, Hanson sees these Western war fighting characteristics as 
originating in classical Greece, and that this approach has traditionally sought an “unequivocal 
and instantaneous result” gained primarily hy “firepower and heavy defensive armament.”® 
Additionally, Hanson argues that a distinctly Western way of war is characterized hy seeking the 
“decisive battle” in an “all or nothing” military engagement. 

In Hanson’s telling, the overall military goal in Western warfare has been to create 
“. . . the absolute destruction of the enemy’s armed forces in the field,” while seeking to “end the 
fighting quickly and efficiently. Hanson argues that these particular Western military attitudes 
and relatively brutal approaches to warfare have “baffled and terrified our adversaries from the 
non-Westem world for more than 2,500 years . . He further states, “outnumbered Western 
commanders have never been dismayed by the opportunity to achieve an incredible victory [by 
relying heavily on] the use of superior weapons, tactics, and cohesion among men.”'^ Although 
contentious, Hansen’s work does support the idea of Western proclivity for a form of warfare that 
is characterized by battles that are decisive, quick, and intense in terms of firepower. 

The Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare: The Triumph of the West edited by 
Geoffrey Parker is an authoritative work that provides five very useful and simple characteristics 
that help define what can be considered a Western style and approach to waging war across 

^Victor Davis Hanson, The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece 
(New York, NY: Knopf, 1989), xii, 9. 

'%id., xii. 

"Ibid., 9, 13. 


"Ibid., 9. 
"Ibid., 15. 


5 



time. The first of these includes the observation that Western militaries “have always placed 
heavy reliance on superior technology, usually to compensate for inferior numbers.”'^ In other 
words, military quality seems to have been a reasonable alternative to quality if the latter was 
sufficiently unavailable or unaffordable. This is particularly appropriate to the subject of PL A 
Westernization given the recent move by the Chinese military to reduce force numbers in favor of 
increasing the quality of both humans and hardware. 

Secondly, from the ancient Greeks to the “rise of missile weapons,” a Western way of 
warfare “has always exalted discipline [through professional training] ... as the primary 
instrument that turns bands of men fighting as individuals into soldiers fighting as part of 
organized units,” whether on land or sea.'® Third, and quite similar to Hanson, is “a [Western] 
vision of war centered on winning a decisive victory that [brings] about the enemy’s 
unconditional surrender.”'^ Napoleonic warfare waged during the 19th century, unlike its 18th 
century European equivalent, supports this assertion given the former’s reliance on large 
conscripted armies that sought actual combat through mass and concentrated attack, as opposed to 
the latter’s more risk and casualty averse variant. Additionally, while Parker points out that both 
the Chinese and Japanese ancient military traditions “also placed a high premium on technology 
and discipline,” his last two Western military characteristics—a relatively “unique ability to 
change as well as to conserve . . . military practices as need arose [along with the] power to 


'“'Geoffrey Parker, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare: The Triumph of the 
West, rev. and updated ed. (Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008). 

'%id., 2. 

'®Ibid., 3. 

'%id., 5. 


6 



finance those changes”—are critical distinctions when comparing Western and non-Westem ways 
of war fighting.^* 

However, neither Hanson nor Parker includes another characteristic—casualty 
aversion—that can add to an ever-evolving Western style of warfare.'® Specifically, some have 
argued that because of an increasing reliance on technology in war fighting. Western policy 
makers seek “virtually bloodless interventions” that mirror “the casualty-avoiding methods of 
eighteenth-century warfare.”^" This no doubt presents an appealing option for political leaders in 
relatively more open and pluralistic societies that seek to build consensus for military action, 
while simultaneously appeasing their constituents who vibrantly oppose such measures. Even so, 
while this particular characteristic is somewhat suspect it is interesting to ponder the level of 
tolerance on the part of China’s leadership and its people for sustaining large numbers of 
casualties in a conflict with an opponent that is relatively more casualty averse.^' Furthermore, it 
seems possible that if a high tolerance exists, it may provide an increasingly Westernized PLA 
with an additional military advantage. 

Taken together, Hanson, Parker, and the relatively recent notion of casualty aversion, all 
support a particular conception of a Western military approach to warfare. Key characteristics 
include a continuous adaptation of military methods and approaches, a preference for high 
quality, professional, and technologically superior hard power military means, the necessary 
allocation of sufficient fiscal resources in order to acquire these means and methods, and a goal of 

'^Parker, 5. 

'®EdwardN. Luttwak, “Toward Post-Heroic Warfare,” Foreign Ajfairs lA, no. 3 (1995): 
109-123. 

^^Ibid. 

^'Michael P. Noonan, “The Illusion of Bloodless Victories,” Orbis 41, no. 2 (1997): 308- 

320. 


7 



utterly destroying a sometimes numerically superior adversary’s will to resist with minimal cost 
in terms of manpower lost. Most importantly, these characteristics, along with the more recent 
ideas of casualty aversion, can serve as clear criteria that can be applied to relevant cases 
involving PLA actions, observations, and attitudes in order to illustrate increasing Westernization. 

When considering the Sino-Vietnamese case and its relationship as a starting point for 
greater PLA Westernization, Gerald Segal’s Defending China provides an excellent account of 
that conflict, along with other important events that have shaped China’s security and foreign 
policies. Segal includes clear descriptions of PRC and PLA goals and objectives tied to Chinese 
military actions against a relatively more proficient Vietnamese military in 1979, and how the 
PLA was ultimately unable to achieve these because of its low level of military effectiveness. 

Specifically, and quite clearly, Segal asserts “. . . the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war was 
China’s most important foreign policy failure since 1949, and [that] the main reason for this 
failure was the poor performance of the PLA.’’^^Additionally, Segal shows how the PLA had 
failed to modernize sufficiently during the 1950s and 1960s, while remaining overly reliant upon 
a purely defensive operating concept (i.e., people’s war) that lacked utility in a purely offensive 
and more modern context. 

Supporting Segal’s assertions is Chinese Warfighting: The PLA Experience since 1949by 
Mark Ryan, David Finkelstein, and Michael McDevitt’s. Ryan, Finklestein, and McDevitt 
provide an analysis of the Sino-Vietnamese conflict, but do so by incorporating the Vietnamese 
perspective. These authors shed additional light on the low level of PLA capability at a time when 
“the [Chinese military] had been ravaged by the dislocations of the Cultural Revolution, had not 
engaged in combat for ten years, and had not yet modernized its forces . . Those Vietnamese 

^^Gerald Segal, Defending China (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 1985), 211. 

^^Mark A. Ryan, David Michael Finkelstein, and Michael A. McDevitt, Chinese 
Warfighting: The PLA Experience since 1949 (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2003), 230. 



that fought against the PLA viewed their Chinese opponents as “untrained and not combat 
effective . . . suffering enormous casualties” for relatively little gain.^"^ Most importantly, Segal, 
Ryan, Finkelstein, and McDevitt support the assertion made here that these PLA military 
shortfalls and the resultant poor performance served as the impetus toward increased 
Westernization efforts that were to come. 

David Shambaugh’s Modernizing China's Military: Progress, Problems, and Prospects 
and Dennis Blasko’s The Chinese Army Today (2006 and 2012), both particularly informative, 
and provide keen insight into the factors that have shaped PLA development over time.^^ 
Additionally, both authors are experienced China scholars and analysts whose assessments and 
conclusions regarding China’s military development are highly reliant upon official Chinese 
primary sources. Furthermore, Shambaugh and Blasko provide well-researched insight into PLA 
thinking vis-a-vis the U.S. military’s performance during the 1990-1991 Gulf War, and its 
strongly influential impact on the PLA. Both authors also agree that this particular case was a 
significant event that shaped the development of the PLA. 

After the Gulf War had ended, both PRC and PLA officials viewed the overwhelming 
American military success as a threat to its one China policy regarding Taiwan, and feared how a 
similar U.S. led coalition could form to intervene in a dispute over Taiwanese independence with 
the U.S. Many PLA officials believed that if this were to occur, the PLA would not be able to 
protect PRC sovereign interests against a more Westernized military force. 

As a result of witnessing the U.S. military’s capabilities in action, Shambaugh states “the 
PLA’s goal [became to] develop a multifaceted, technologically modern force structure capable 

24Ryan et al, 230. 

^^Dennis J Blasko, Chinese Army Today: Tradition and Transformation for the 21st 
Century (New York, NY: Routledge, 2012), 288; and David Shambaugh, Modernizing China's 
Military: Progress, Problems, and Prospects (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 
2002), 228. 


9 



of pursuing multiple missions in a regional context. . According to Shambaugh and Blasko, 
the PLA thereafter oriented itself toward developing a more appropriate operating concept and 
the necessary means to carry it out in a local and limited conflict against a technologically 
superior foe. 

A more recent book of value on China’s military development is Larry Wortzel’s The 
Dragon Extends Its Reach: Chinese Military Power Goes Global}^ Wortzel, a retired U.S. Army 
officer with extensive professional and academic knowledge of China and its military, supports 
the idea that “as China's national interests [have] expanded significantly beyond its immediate 
borders, its military [has likewise expanded] its capabilities and scope of operations. 

Additionally, Wortzel provides valuable information that contributes to the general view of a 
PLA that has become a more Westernized armed force that has “systematically, if slowly, 
modernized its equipment, focused on training its personnel, and changed its mission to meet the 
challenges of new times . . 

Since 2002, the U.S. Defense Department has been required by law to submit an annual 
report on military and security developments involving the PRC. These official reports focus on 
PLA developments and operating concepts, as well as their implications for U.S. security. Most 
importantly, and when considered together, they help generally trace more recent PLA 


^^Shambaugh, Mor/em/zmg China's Military: Progress, Problems, and Prospects, 71. 

^^Larry M. Wortzel, The Dragon Extends Its Reach: Chinese Military Power Goes 
Global, 1st ed. (Sterling, VA: Potomac Books, 2013), 240. 

^^Ibid., X. 

2%id. 

^”For the most recent report, see U.S. DOD, Annual Report to Congress: Military and 
Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China 2013, 3. 


10 



developments, while providing evidence that supports the idea of a consistent PLA effort to 


military modernization along Western lines. 

From time to time, certain prominent China watchers, such as James Mulvenon, Andrew 
N.D. Yang, and again, David Finkelstein, have written a number of reports on China’s military 
modernization for prominent think tanks such as the RAND and Center for Naval Analysis 
corporations.^' These reports are especially valuable given their access to and extensive research 
of many primary PLA source documents. Source materials like these strongly underscore the 
assertion that both the Gulf War and U.S.-led NATO intervention against the Republic of 
Yugoslavia in Kosovo particularly influence PLA modernization efforts. 

For example, in their report Seeking Truth from Facts: A Retrospective on Chinese 
Military Studies in the Post-Mao Era, Mulvenon and Yang point out that, after the 1991 Persian 
Gulf War, the PLA experienced an unpleasant and clear realization that much of their equipment, 
weapons, personnel, organization, and training were sorely “antiquated” in relation to the U.S. 
military. This stark observation acutely elevated these matters to “a new and much higher level of 
significance” within the PRC govemment.^^ 

As stated above, this monograph would severely lack a comprehensive perspective if it 
did not consider Chinese sources, in addition to those Western. That said, a number of these 
sources are particularly fundamental, and have profoundly shaped traditional PLA attitudes and 
approaches to war fighting. 


James C. Mulvenon and Andrew N.D. Yang, eds.. Seeking Truth from Facts : A 
Retrospective on Chinese Military Studies in the Post-Mao Era (Santa Monica, CA: National 
Security Research Division, RAND, 2001), 213; and James C. Mulvenon and David Michael 
Finkelstein, China's Revolution in Doctrinal Affairs Emerging Trends in the Operational Art of 
the Chinese People's Liberation Army, CNA Corporation, 2005, http://www.cna.org/documents/ 
DoctrineBook.pdf (accessed 5 February 2014), 381. 

^^Mulvenon and Yang, 101. 


11 



Understanding the impact that Mao Zedong’s own writings had on military matters is key 
to understanding early PLA operating concepts that have shaped Chinese approaches to war 
fighting throughout much of China’s modem era?^ Specifically important is Mao’s concept of 
people’s war, which has strongly shaped PLA approaches to Chinese war fighting up to the 
1980s.^4 

The central concept of Maoist military thought and people’s war was that of “man over 
weapons.’’^^ Mao believed that the outcome of any armed conflict was “ultimately determined hy 
the ‘human factor’—popularly mobilized and politically motivated soldiers, fighting in 
accordance with the correct strategy and tactics.”^® For example, in December 1929, during the 
Ninth CCP Congress of the Red Fourth Army, Mao warned of “non-proletarian ideas” within the 
army that were “hinder[ing] the application of the Party’s correct line.”^’ Mao was specifically 
targeting what he considered the emergence of a “purely military viewpoint” that neglected 
political matters, which he considered to have primacy over purely military matters like 
training.^^ Consequently, Mao sought to increase the amount of political training for those within 
the army at the expense of military professionalism. 

Throughout much of the 20th century, Mao stressed the need for the PLA to adopt 
people’s war because of China’s relatively weak position, particularly concerning the 

^^Mao Zedong, Selected Military Writings of Mao Tse-Tung, ed. Combat Studies 
Institute, (Fort Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 2012), 285. 

^“^Ellis Joffe, The Chinese Army after Mao (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 
1987), 1-23. 

35lbid., 73. 

3%id. 

^’Zedong, 53. 

3%id., 53-56. 


12 



Kuomintang nationalists, the Japanese, the Soviet Union, and the U.S.^® In order to compensate 
for this weakness, the PLA would place heavy emphasis on political and ideological needs ahead 
of practical military considerations. The result was that hy the late 1970s, there was a “sharp 
decline in the professional standards of the PLA.”"*® 

However, more recent official PRC and PLA documents and writings provide valuable 
insight into the thinking and policies behind PLA modernization post-Mao, particularly 
throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. For example, PLA officials frequently wrote articles in 
influential party papers, such as Jiefangjun Bao (i.e.. Liberation Army Daily, or PLA Daily) in 
order to argue for a particular policy or approach. While this practice continues today, those 
writings at the time were particularly important in that they supported the idea behind increasing 
PLA modernization from the 1980s onward."^^ 

Chinese government statements regarding military policies, and operating concepts, also 
serve as a good starting point for a more relevant analysis. For example, official pronouncements 
and speeches, like one given by Deng Xiaoping in 1985 to the Central Military Commission 
(CMC), provide evidence of official CCP recognition for the need to modernize across all aspects 
of Chinese society, especially militarily. 

Sources like these help reveal that during the latter part of the 20th century, and after 
Mao’s death in 1976, China’s leaders assessed that a major conflict between the Soviet Union and 
the U.S. was unlikely, and that China’s decision to open its economy to foreign trade and 
investment was sound because of this now improved security environment. This attitude, along 

^^Zedong, 53-56. 

40joffe, 74. 

"^*Liu Huaqing, “Unswervingly Advance Along the Road of Building a Modern Army 
with Chinese Characteristics,” Jiefangjun Bao (18 August 1993): 15-22, Foreign Broadcast 
Information Service. 


13 



with the recognition that the PL A performed poorly during the Sino-Vietnamese conflict, 
motivated CCP officials like Deng to claim that China could now “concentrate without fear on 
the drive for [military] modernization,” and that the PLA was now required to make every effort 
to “ahsorh as many useful things as possible from other countries.Official party statements 
like these support the claim made here that military modernization along Western-lines became 
official policy in the wake of the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese conflict. 

In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, PLA white papers placed even greater emphasis 
on the urgent need to increase military modernization efforts to effectively counter military forces 
that were seen as vastly superior. In a 1998 white paper, the PLA stated, “military forces still 
occupy an important position in state security,” and recognized that the “military advantages” of 
other countries (i.e., the U.S.) “pose military threats” to PRC security."^^ More recently, the PLA’s 
2010 white paper entitled “China’s National Defense in 2010” stated that its continued goal is to 
“. . . build a fortified national defense and strong armed forces compatible with national security 
and development interests [and that such efforts are] a strategic task of China’s 
modernization . . 

The PLA’s most recent white paper, entitled “The Diversified Employment of China’s 
Armed Forces,” published in April 2013, is quite clear regarding the PLA’s desire to modernize 
its forces along Western lines in order to counter threats to its sovereign interests. It states: 


"^^Xiaoping Deng and Zhongguo gong chan dang. Zhong yang Makes! En'gesi Liening 
Sidalin zhu zuo bian yi ju.. Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, 1982-1992. vol. 3, 1st ed. (Beijing, 
China: Foreign Languages Press, 1994), 133. 

"^^Information Office of the State Council, The People’s Republic of China, “China’s 
National Defense,” 1998, 13. 

"^‘^Information Office of the State Council, The People’s Republic of China, “China’s 
National Defense in 2010,” Xinuanet, 31 March 2011, http://news.xinhuanet.eom/english2010/ 
china/201 l-03/31/c_1380685Lhtm (accessed 12 November 2013). 


14 



... it is a strategic task of China’s modernization drive as well as a strong guarantee for 
China’s peaceful development to huild a strong national defense and powerful armed 
forces which are commensurate with China’s international standing and meet the needs of 
its security and development interests. China’s armed forces act to meet the new 
requirements of China’s national development and security strategies, follow the 
theoretical guidance of the Scientific Outlook on Development, speed up the 
transformation of the generating mode of comhat effectiveness, build a system of modern 
military forces with Chinese characteristics, enhance military strategic guidance and 
diversify the ways of employing armed forces as the times require. China's armed forces 
provide a security guarantee and strategic support for national development, and make 
due contrihutions to the maintenance of world peace and regional stability [emphasis 
author] 

In summary, much of the official and non-official Chinese and Western sources available 
seem to heavily support the idea that the PLA is modernizing along Western lines, and that it is 
adopting both methods and means that are commonly associated with the militaries of Western or 
Western-like states, such as the U.S. and Japan. Additionally, the available literature, some 
discussed above, highlights the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese conflict, the 1991 Gulf War, and the 1999 
U.S.-led NATO military intervention against the Republic of Yugoslavia as being particularly 
important in driving modem Westernization trends within the Chinese military. 


METHODOLOGY AND ORGANIZATION 

As shown in the above review of relevant literature, this monograph consults both 
Western and Chinese primary and secondary sources that provide historical evidence and expert 
analysis to support those arguments made here. Additionaly, this monograph relies primarily on 
the qualitative analysis of a particular set of historic cases. 

To be sure, any exploration of PLA efforts to modernize throughout its history would 
benefit from the inclusion of a much larger and more comprehensive number of cases that would 
extend from its early 20th century origins up to the present day. However, such an all-inclusive 

"^^Information Office of the State Council, The People’s Republic of China, “The 
Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces,” Xinhuanet, 16 April 2013, 
http://news.xinhuanet.eom/english/china/2013-04/16/c_132312681.htm (accessed 13 November 
2013). 


15 



approach is beyond the scope of this monograph. That said, three significant cases have been 
chosen in order to provide a better and more contemporary understanding of PLA Westernization 
efforts. 

The first case considered is China’s punitive cross-border conflict with Vietnam in 1979, 
and the after effects of that event. The second case chosen will examine PLA actions and 
initiatives that followed the U.S. military’s Operation Desert Storm from 1990-1991 in order to 
illustrate increased efforts by the PLA to westernize in the wake of that conflict. The third and 
final historic case will likewise encompass what have been the PLA’s views, opinions, and 
resultant actions that emerged both during and after the U.S.-led NATO air campaign against 
Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and the Republic of Yugoslavia in order to prevent the 
ethnic cleansing of Muslim and Albanian Kosovars. 

Narrowing the cases to those that take place in the latter 20th century provides a more 
proximate evolving view of PLA thinking on contemporary warfare. Furthermore, events that 
have affected the PLA after the death of Mao Zedong in September 1976 are of particular 
importance due to the former leader’s great hold and sway over Chinese military thought and 
development. After Mao’s departure, it appears that senior PLA and CCP officials were better 
able to move away from dogmatic Maoist thought in general, and approaches to warfare in 
particular. 

Additionally, as mentioned previously, the cases chosen here relate closely to more 
contemporary CCP concerns over its ability to defend and protect PRC sovereignty, especially in 
light of China’s history with direct Western impositions against that sovereignty in the past. This 
makes the selection of cases such as the 1991 Gulf War and the 1999 Kosovo intervention 
appropriate given their similarity to core CCP sovereignty issues such as concerns over de facto 
Taiwanese independence, and international concerns over human rights issues tied to Muslim 
unrest in China’s Xinjiang province. 


16 



To test these cases, the author chose five clear and measurable criteria that help describe 
a Western military approach to war fighting. The first is an emphasis on and reliance upon 
superior technology and force quality, as opposed to simply sheer mass and force size only. 
Manifestation of this characteristic is measured in the form of official pronouncements that are 
present, and associated actions that support such emphasis, such as the actual acquisition of more 
modern military means by the PLA. 

The second characteristic is a focus on military discipline and modem training, as 
opposed to other non-military activities (e.g., political education). This is measured by testing for 
the presence of modern training events that have actually been conducted and their frequency 
during the relevant periods, as well as for institutional initiatives to increase the quality and 
education of PLA members to increase military professionalism and effectiveness. 

The third characteristic of a Western way of war fighting that will be applied to the 
chosen cases is a demonstrated ability to change and adapt when presented with a changing 
security environment, as opposed to dogmatic adherence to military approaches and methods that 
no longer apply or lack utility. Much like the first characteristic, this is measured by testing for 
the presence and importance of official exhortations and pronouncements that stress the need to 
improve PLA modernization of its personnel and systems, and the presence of unofficial writings 
by current and former PLA officials and scholars that equally echo the need to modernize. 

The fourth characteristic is the actual willingness to finance military development 
through fiscal allocation. This is measured by testing for any positive or negative change in 
defense spending. If present, a marked increase in fiscal spending that supports PLA 
modernization efforts will indicate the presence of this characteristic in the chosen cases. Any 
decrease, or little to no measured movement will fail to provide evidence regarding the presence 
of this characteristic. 


17 



The fifth and final characteristic is casualty aversion. Measuring this particular 
characteristic is difficult given the fact that the PLA has not been involved in actual comhat since 
the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese conflict. However, much like with the first and third characteristics, 
the presence of official and unofficial exhortations, pronouncements, and doctrinal writings that 
stress the need to avoid incurring excessive casualties through the employment of modem 
systems will indicate the presence of this particular characteristic. 

Table 1 lists these five criteria, along with the three historic cases mentioned. The intent 
of this and all subsequent tables throughout this monograph is to show how PLA attitudes and 
approaches toward warfare have trended toward becoming more Western since 1979. 


Table 1. Western Characteristics of Warfare across Three Case Studies 


WESTERN 
CHARACTERISTICS 
OE WARFARE 

CASE STUDIES | 

1979-1990 

1991-1998 

2000-Today 


PLA Actions/Developments 
Post-Sino-Vietnamese 

Conflict 

PLA Actions/Developments 
Post-U.S. Gulf War 

PLA Actions/Developments 
Post-U.S./NATO 

Intervention in Kosovo 

Emphasis Placed on 
Technology 




Emphasis on Discipline 
and Training 




Exhibited Willingness 
to Change/Learn/Adapt 




Allocation of Fiscal 
Resources in Support of 
Modernization 




Casualty Aversion 





Source: Created by author. 


CASE STUDIES 

By narrowing the selection of historic cases to those that occurred during the latter 20th 
century, this monograph seeks to provide a more proximate rationale behind PLA thinking on 
contemporary warfare. The first case considered examines PLA operations conducted against 
Vietnam in 1979, and how this particular event served to highlight PLA shortcomings, which 
spurred Westernization efforts. The second and third cases will examine PLA actions and 


18 




initiatives that followed the U.S. military’s Operation Desert Storm from 1990-1991, and 
NATO’s Operation Allied Force against the Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999 to illustrate 
increased efforts hy the PLA to Westernize in the wake of these modem conflicts. 

The 1979 Sino-Vietnamese Conflict 

The abysmal performance of the PLA during the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese conflict marked 
its nadir in modern times, and served as an impetus for increased military Westernization efforts. 
What resulted was a growing acceptance and realization by the PLA that it had to seek more 
Western approaches to war fighting to be effective in future conflicts. 

By 1979, China believed that its “struggle against Soviet power in general and 
Vietnamese influence in particular was not going well,” given Hanoi’s increased influence in 
Cambodia, and Moscow’s continued support for Hanoi."^® The PRC perceived that the newly 
unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam was a threat to its ability to freely assert its sovereign 
interests in what Beijing considered its backyard. The result was Beijing’s adoption of a strategy 
that sought to compel greater Vietnamese adherence to and respect for PRC regional influence, 
while forcing the eventual removal of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam from Cambodia, and to 
counter Soviet influence generally. 

In order to achieve this strategic goal, PRC leaders decided that any military approach 
undertaken by the PLA would need to be short and decisive. With a limited and quick offensive 
operation against Vietnam, China hoped to “teach lessons to both Vietnam and the Soviet Union” 
by conducting “a razor-sharp” limited military action to “stem the tide of Soviet influence in East 
Asia” before the Soviet Union was able to increase support or mobilize against China."^’ 
Additionally, it would have to include lethal and rapid maneuver to quickly destroy targeted 

^^Segal, 212. 

4’Ibid., 216-217. 


19 



Vietnamese forces directly across the Sino-Vietnamese border before drawing in increased Soviet 
support.After recently emerging from Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the PLA, which was 
unfortunately more politically than professionally focused at this point, would now have to 
conduct military operations that it had neither the ability, nor the means to conduct. 

Nevertheless, the PLA “had little room for error in a strategy highly dependent on the 
[relatively] surgical use of the military instrument.”"*® However, “when the PLA [ultimately] 
failed to strike an impressive blow, [the overall] Chinese strategy collapsed.”^** The reasons for 
this failure are many, but all tied to poor performance. 

By 1979, China’s military power had decreased in quality and effectiveness compared to 
only a decade prior when it had been called into action against India in 1962.^* By 1975, CMC 
officials, along with Deng Xiaoping believed the PLA “had become an aging, overstaffed, 
arrogant, obsolescent giant incapable of conducting modern warfare.”^^ 

One reason for this was that the PLA remained heavily reliant upon its aging Soviet 
equipment and creative efforts to keep it functioning.®^ By this time, China’s defense industry 


4*Segal, 217. 

4®Ibid. 

®'>Ibid. 

®Tbid.,21L 

®^Paul H.B. Godwin, “Compensating for Deficiencies: Doctrinal Evolution in the Chinese 
People’s Liberation Army 1978-1999,” in Seeking Truth from Facts : A Retrospective on Chinese 
Military Studies in the Post-Mao Era, eds. James C. Mulvenon and Andrew N.D. Yang (Santa 
Monica, CA: National Security Research Division, RAND, 2001), 88. 

®®The Sino-Soviet split, which began in the early 1950s, continued well into the 1980s, 
and served to hamper PLA efforts to not only acquire more modem military technology, but to 
maintain the Soviet equipment it had on hand throughout this period. For details see Immanuel 
C.Y. Hsii, The Rise of Modern China, 6th ed. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000), 
671-687; and Shambaugh, Modernizing China's Military: Progress, Problems, and Prospects, 
226-228. 


20 



proved “capable only of building weapons and equipment based on Soviet technologies of the 
1950s,” and severely lacked the ability to research and develop the military means to fight and 
prevail in a more modern conflict against a more Westernized opponent.^"^ This is because . . in 
the almost thirty years between the [Korean war, and the Sino-Vietnamese conflict,] little seemed 
to have improved in Chinese equipment and combat performance.”^^ Furthermore, . . the 
specific tactics adopted by the PLA during the war were predetermined by . . . the well-known 
limitations of out-dated [sic] armed forces.”^® 

As for the organization, command, and control of its forces during the Sino-Vietnamese 
conflict, the PLA established an ad hoc organizational structure by combining both the Kunming 
and Guangzhou military regional commands across China’s southern border area. PLA 
commanders massed forces “from 10 [different] military regions, with the militia and frontier 
guards providing rear security and logistical support.”^^ This equaled 20 divisions consisting of 
“300,000 soldiers, 7000-1000 aircraft, 1000 tanks, and 1500 pieces of heavy artillery,” massed on 
the Sino-Vietnamese border, and all of which had never previously operated jointly.^* Ultimately, 
the PLA ended up only attacking across the border with approximately 10 divisions in total, 
consisting of 80,000 soldiers, in a “largely set-piece” frontal assault along five axes against 
approximately 75,000-100,000 Vietnamese border and militia forces in well-established 
strongpoint defenses.^® 


^“^Mulvenon and Yang, 88. 
5^Segal,218. 

5%id. 

5%id., 219. 

5%id. 


5%id. 


21 



PLA forces conducted human wave attacks in both mountainous and built-up areas that 
led to high casualties. Shortly after the attack was launched on 17 February, “the PLA quickly 
ground to a snail’s pace.”® 

Having relied heavily upon its infantry forces, the PLA “by and large [fought] a one¬ 
dimensional war with [very little use of] tank [,air] and artillery support.”®' Additionally, “some 
of the most glaring problems in operations involved antiquated logistics and poor reconnaissance 
[with some reports stating that] Qing dynasty maps were used in some areas.”®^ However, by 
keeping their military objectives somewhat limited to the border area around Lang Son, the PLA 
hoped to avoid putting itself in a position where its “logistics, equipment, and air defense[s]” 
would be severely wanting.®^ Seventeen days later, the PLA limped back across the border, 
claiming victory primarily due to a lack of perceived Soviet response to its actions. 

In fact, it seems that the poor PLA performance, along with its limited objectives, 
prevented any perceived need by Moscow to increase its support to Hanoi. Instead, “China not 
only failed to teach the Soviet Union and the world a lesson about Soviet power,” but also 
revealed its military shortcomings. The PRC “lost a great deal in the 1979 [Sino-Vietnamese] 
war, whether the balance sheet is measured in lives or political cost. But perhaps the greatest loss 
was in a more intangible product—China’s reputation.”®"' 


®'’Segal, 219. 
®'Ibid., 220. 
®2lbid. 

®3lbid. 
®‘'Ibid., 227. 


22 



Most critically, the conflict also sparked the revelation within the PLA that it was 
currently unahle to decisively secure PRC sovereign interests. Furthermore, the PLA 
acknowledged, “the war had ‘lent a hig impetus to the modernization of our army’.”®^ 

The Sino-Vietnamese conflict not only served as a great impetus for change, hut it also 
served to move the PLA further away from a rigid and dogmatic adherence to Maoist people’s 
war. Afterword, “Chinese defense policy planners [became] more pragmatic, ensuring [increased] 
modernization of PLA training and that at least certain services obtained [more modern] 
weapons.”'’® 

Another result that stemmed from this humiliating failure seems to have been a very real 
shift in PLA understanding of war fighting in a more modem era. In fact, this particular PLA 
experience is quite analogous to the conceptual shift that took place within the Prussian military 
after its defeat in 1806 against France at the Battle of Jena-Auerstadt.®^ As with the Prussian case, 
the Chinese military had to grapple with how best to change itself after experiencing defeat. 

Nevertheless, after the Sino-Vietnamese conflict, the PLA realized its approach to war 
fighting had not worked, and that change was necessary in order to prepare for “a wide set of 
contingencies ranging from border conflicts to potentially high-intensity limited war.”®* This had 
the effect of pushing China’s armed forces down a path away from the dogmatic application of 
Maoist people’s war and toward becoming “a more flexible force capable of responding 
effectively to a wider range of contingencies than continental defense against [the Soviet 


Liberation Army Daily, quoted in Segal, 223. 

®®Ibid., 226. 

®’Peter Paret, The Cognitive Challenge of War: Prussia 1806 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton 
University Press, 2009), 164. 

®*Mulvenon and Yang, 97. 


23 



Union].”®® As a result, many within the CCP and the PLA began to outwardly voice the position 
that people’s war was no longer sufficient in providing the Chinese military with a suitable 
doctrine to counter more modern threats. 

On 12 March 1980, Deng Xiaoping, at a CMC meeting, openly questioned “the 
excessively defensive posture of fighting adversaries deep inside China in a war of attrition.”’® 
Deng went on to clearly assert that attempting to lure potential enemies deep into China during a 
potential conflict in order to defeat them, as Mao’s people’s war advocated, was no longer 
relevant. Instead, he proposed what he called “people’s war under modern conditions,” which was 
to be a more “active” form of frontier defense.’' Along with this change in terminology, came an 
increased emphasis by Deng and the CMC on “weaponry and technology instead of the human 
factor in war,” which was a clear break from “a cardinal tenet of Maoist military thought.”” 

There began to emerge within the PLA the view that Western characteristics, such as “modern 
technology, better connectivity, and improved command and control were necessary if the PLA 
were to prevail in modern war in the latter part of the twentieth century.”’^ 

This evolving view by the top leaders of China’s military appears to have resonated. For 
example, Su Yu, a prominent and widely respected PLA official, stated at the time that the rigid 
application of Maoist military principles should be avoided, and instead suggested a more 
pragmatic approach “in the light of actual conditions.’”'' 

®®Mulvenon and Yang, 97. 

’®Shambaugh, Mor/emfrmg China's Military: Progress, Problems, and Prospects, 62. 

’'Ibid. 

”lbid., 63. 

’^Wortzel, 22. 

’'Segal, 224. 


24 



However, while Deng Xiaoping and other like-minded Chinese leaders believed that 
military modernization was certainly necessary after the Sino-Vietnamese conflict, all agreed that 
for the time being, these efforts must be subordinated to the greater need to modernize China’s 
agricultural, industrial, and science and technology sectors first. By this time, Deng had already 
begun “to replace Stalinist-style central planning with a market economy and to open the country 
to foreign trade and investment,” the PRC could not afford to “spend much on fancy military 
equipment.”’® Instead, Deng’s intent was to increase spending on PLA modernization as the PRC 
economy grew overtime. 

In a speech given to the CMC in June 1985, Deng stated: 

The four modernizations include the modernization of defense. Without that 
modernization there would be only three [agriculture, industry, and science and 
technology]. But the four modernizations should be achieved in order of priority. Only 
when we have a good economic foundation will it be possible for us to modernize the 
army’s equipment.’® 

The result was that “after 1979 there were more clear cut emphasis within the PLA on those 
aspects of modernization that did not cost a great deal of money, for example in training and 
professional skills.”” 

Both Xu Xiangqian, China’s defense minister at the time, and Xiao Ke, who had been 
given the responsibility to revitalize PLA “research centers and professional military education,” 
viewed the PLA as unable to “meet the demands of modem war.”’* Both sought to revamp 
institutions such as the PLA Academy of Military Science in an effort to “[emancipate] the minds 

’®Susan L. Shirk, China: Fragile Superpower (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 
2007), 15,21. 

’®Xiaoping Deng, “Speech at an Enlarged Meeting of the Military Commission of the 
Central Committee of the Communist Party of China,” People’s Daily Online, 4 June 1985, 
http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/dengxp/vol3/text/cl410.html (accessed 5 February 2014). 

’’Segal, 225. 

’*Mulvenon and Yang, 90-91. 


25 



of PLA strategist—freeing them from stultifying consequences of literal dependence on Mao 
Zedong’s writings.”’® Additionally, both Xu and Xiao advocated for greater development of 
combined and joint operations, both within the ground forces of the PLA, and across the 
branches. Later, “observations by Chinese military strategists of other conflicts, particularly the 
British defeat of Argentine forces in the Falkland Islands in 1982, contributed to the perceived 
need to modernize military doctrine in China,” especially given the similarity of this conflict with 
a potential one that could occur over a de facto deceleration of independence by Taipei with 
support from Washington.*® Official CCP analyses and pronouncements like these, along with the 
creation of institutions like the Academy of Military Science in order to increase the training 
quality of the PLA, provide further evidence of increasing Westernization, along with an apparent 
willingness to change from within the highest ranks of China’s military establishment. 

As the PLA moved into the 1980s, it began to develop a military strategy that framed 
local, limited war as a specific type of conflict to “assert one’s own standpoint and will through 
limited military action.”*' Within this strategy, a more modern PLA operating doctrine soon 
developed that emphasized “rapid response by forces maintained at a high level of readiness,” 
along with “increased emphasis on mobility, lethality, intelligence, and command and control 
coordinating swiftly, moving joint service operations to quickly terminate war.”*’ 

By 1985, the PLA was preparing itself to fight and win local and limited wars primarily 
on China’s vast periphery. As a result, the PLA moved further away from a purely defensive 
people’s war approach it had clung onto, and began to “experiment with mobile, integrated 

’^Mulvenon and Yang, 90. 

*®Wortzel, 22. 

*'Jiao Wu and Xiao Hui, “Modem Limited War Calls for Reform of Traditional Military 
Principles,” Guofang Daxue Xuebao (November 1987), quoted in Mulvenon and Yang, 98. 

*2lbid., 97. 


26 



warfare” along Western lines.Fighting and winning against a technologically superior Western 
military foe like the U.S., in a dispute over Taiwan for example, would require an offensive 
capability that incorporated more modern and Western operating concepts, along with the modern 
means to carry them out. 

Later in the decade, the PLA began to conduct training exercises in order to improve its 
interoperability between its different branches. These exercises focused on specific regions and 
“involved air, ground, naval, and special operations units,” but suffered from a “lack of 
coordination” between the participating units.Additionally, the PLA struggled throughout much 
of the decade to develop integrated logistical systems that could support units in the field, instead 
of having them default back to “the old Maoist emphasis on unit-based ‘self-reliance’.”*^ 
However, the fact that the PLA did change its approaches to training in order to develop more 
modern military competencies, supports the assertion of increasing Westernization. 

Additionally, the PLA now actively sought to acquire and domestically develop modern 
military hardware and systems. However, a lack of technological and scientific capacity severely 
limited PLA advances. While attempting to “selectively purchase key systems” from some 
European suppliers, it appears the PLA’s self-reliant approach to development yielded little 
success largely because of its collective inability to replicate and reproduce those prototype 
systems it was able to acquire.*® However, as with training, efforts like these do support the idea 
of an increasingly Westernized PLA, albeit in its nascent stages. 


**Wortzel, 22. 

*‘*Shambaugh, Modemfrmg China's Military: Progress, Problems, and Prospects, 98. 
*®Ibid., 99. 

*®Ibid., 230. 


27 



Nevertheless, there is no evidence to suggest that the PRC significantly increased its 
fiscal allocation toward military modernization in the wake of the Sino-Vietnamese conflict. 
Growth of China’s gross domestic product (GDP) throughout the 1980s averaged nine percent, 
and the PRC spent just two percent of its GDP annually on defense.*^ This relatively low 
allocation is because the Chinese economy had just begun to open up to the larger global market, 
along with the collective perception held by many within the CCP and PLA of an overall 
improved security situation. While war with the Soviet Union or the U.S. was certainly possible, 
many of China’s top leaders now believed it was unlikely, Deng included. The result was that for 
now, much of the PRC budgetary allocation went toward modernizing China’s agricultural, 
industrial, and science and technological capacities.** 

Given this fiscal reality, the emphasis by the PLA by the mid-1980s shifted to 
“economizing in the armed forces” in order to increase available funds.*® One result of this was 
the reduction of approximately one million enlisted personnel in 1985 in order to streamline the 
massive number of soldiers in the ground forces, and free funding for the acquisition of modern 
military hardware.®® The PLA also reduced the number of its military regions from 11 to seven, 
while also trimming “the numbers of units in general departments, services, and branches.”®* 


*^Shambaugh, Mor/cm/zmg China's Military: Progress, Problems, and Prospects, 191; 
and The World Bank, “Data: GDP Growth (Annual %),” The World Rank Group, 
http://data.worldbank.org/country/china (accessed 9 March 2014). 

**Joffe, 48-62. 

*®Ibid. 

®®Timothy Heath, “Restructuring the Military: Drivers and Prospects for Xi’s Top-Down 
Reforms,” The Jamestown Foundation, http://www.jamestown.org/programs/chinabrief/single/ 
?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=41936&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=25&cHash=12cb9c60b4b918 
bb7d80cfef503069dl#.UwpwuHm3T4g (accessed 22 February 2014). 

®*Ibid. 


28 



Additionally, the CMC authorized the PLA to “go into business ... to offset and 
compensate for low levels of state allocations.”®^ However, while these commercial activities 
helped somewhat in financing PLA activities, they also had the “very deleterious effect of 
soldiers spending time in unprofessional business activity (much of it illegal) instead of 
training.”®^ 

In summary, the abysmal performance of the PLA during the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese 
conflict marked the nadir for the Maoist operating concept of people’s war, and served as a point 
of departure toward greater Westernization of the PLA. As seen in table 2, three out of the five 
characteristics of a Western way of warfare clearly manifest themselves in this case. 


Table 2. Manifestation of Western Characteristics of 
Warfare Post-Sino-Vietnamese Conflict 


WESTERN 

CHARACTERISTICS OE 
WARE ARE 

CASE STUDIES 

1979 - 1990 


PLA Actions/Developments Post-Sino-Vietnamese Conflict 

Emphasis Placed on 

Technology 

Yes 

Emphasis on Discipline and 
Training 

Yes 

Exhibited Willingness to 
Change/Leam 

Yes 

Allocation of Economic 
Resources in Support of 
Modernization 

No 

Casualty Aversion 

No 


Source: Created by author. 


Specifically, the PLA realized that, in light of its performance against the Vietnamese 
military, it would likely fail to defend China’s other core sovereign interests against a relatively 


^^Shambaugh, Modernizing China's Military: Progress, Problems, and Prospects, 184. 


®3lbid. 


29 




more modernized military threat, such as the U.S. in a dispute over Taiwan. As a result, official 
CCP and PL A pronouncements and actions in the wake of the Sino-Vietnamese conflict 
increasingly called for and directed the gradual acquisition of more modern military equipment 
and methods in order to counter military weakness. A purely defensive Maoist people’s war 
approach was out, and a more active defense, in the form of “people’s war under modem 
conditions” was in.^"^ 

As a result, the PLA had no choice hut to seek more low-cost (i.e., training and 
professional education) modernization efforts due to other fiscal priorities. This involved an 
increased emphasis hy PLA officials on training and personnel improvement in order to meet the 
demands of a more modern form of war fighting. For now, the PLA would primarily invest more 
in its human capital, organization, and tactics, while acquiring what it could in terms of hardware. 

Additionally, there appears to have been no discussion within the PLA of avoiding 
casualties in the wake of the Sino-Vietnamese conflict. However, much of the evidence discussed 
here does support the manifestation of a sincere willingness on the part of the PLA to change, 
adapt, and learn from this particular failure, all of which helped spur further movement hy the 
PLA toward a more Westem-like approach to war fighting. 

The 1990-1991 Gulf War 

The 1990-1991 U.S. led conflict against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq significantly shaped PLA 
thinking. It also served as one of the primary and most proximate impetuses behind PLA 
movement toward greater Westernization. 

After 1989, the PLA was excluded from Western military technologies and exchanges 
because of sanctions that had been imposed on the PRC by the U.S. and other European countries 


^‘^Shambaugh, Mor/em/zmg China's Military: Progress, Problems, and Prospects, 62-66. 


30 



after the CCP crackdown against demonstrators in June 1989 in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.®^ 
Within this context, and feeling somewhat isolated diplomatically and militarily vulnerable, the 
U.S.-led coalition response to Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait sent PLA officials reeling. Because 
of this conflict, the PLA’s movement away from a dogmatic following of Maoist military 
thought, and toward a more Western one would continue, alheit with more vigor. 

On 2 August 1990, the Iraqi military, consisting largely of Soviet equipped forces, 
invaded Kuwait, provoking the ire of many nations, especially the U.S. The actions of Saddam’s 
Iraq were “a clear threat to the great oilfields of eastern Arabia and virtually forced the West—led 
by the United States—^to react.”®® Because of its diplomatic and military power, Washington, 
much to the consternation of Beijing, was able to assemble a military coalition with United 
Nations support. However, it was the rapidity and overwhelming effectiveness of the U.S. 
response that most concerned the PLA. 

Within 34 hours of U.S. President George Bush’s order, “forty-eight F-15C air 
superiority fighters” arrived in Saudi Arabia, and a brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division was 
on the ground by 9 August.®® By January 1991, the U.S. military had moved approximately 
500,000 personnel and 3,700,000 tons of cargo, “roughly the equivalent of the population of 
Denver, Colorado ... a third of the way around the world.”®* U.S. and coalition mechanized and 
airmobile forces, along with “devastating levels of air power . . . [attacked] . . . deep into the flank 


®®Shambaugh, Mor/cmfrmg China's Military: Progress, Problems, and Prospects, 21; and 
Dennis J Blasko, Chinese Army Today: Tradition and Transformation for the 21st Century (New 
York, NY: Routledge, 2006), 164. 

®®Robert Michael Citino, Blitzkrieg to Desert Storm: The Evolution of Operational 
Warfare (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2004), 276. 

®®Ibid., 277. 

®%id., 278. 


31 



of the Iraqi positions, catching the defenders unprepared.”®® In the end, “the U.S.-led coalition 

fought the battle of maneuver nearly to perfection,” and Saddam Hussein’s war-making 

capabilities were “shattered,” with very little cost to the U.S.-led coalition.'®® 

The outcome utterly shocked the PLA. Prior to the conflict, “PLA analysis had predicted 

that U.S. forces would become bogged down in a ground war” based upon “the PLA’s study of 

the Soviet experience in Afghanistan and on the Iran-lraq conflict.”'®' PLA officials were 

particularly disturbed “when they saw the way that the United States and its allies used high- 

technology weapons, mobility, and join operations to collapse and defeat Iraq’s armed forces.”'®^ 

David Shambaugh provides a comprehensive listing of PLA concerns: 

Nearly every aspect of the campaign reminded the PLA High Command of its 
deficiencies: electronic warfare; precision-guided munitions; stealth technology; 
precision bombing of military targets with minimized collateral damage; the sheer 
numbers of sorties flown, with minimal lass of attack aircraft and life; campaign 
coordination through airborne command and control systems; the deployment of attack 
aircraft from half a world away using in-flight refueling; the use of satellites in targeting 
and intelligence gathering; space-based early warning and surveillance; the use of 
command centers in the United states to coordinate Patriot anti-missile defenses in Saudi 
Arabia and Israel; the massive naval flotilla assembled in the Gulf; the airlift and rapid 
deployment capability; the maintenance of high-tempo operations; the ability of troops to 
exist in desert conditions; modem logistics; information warfare and the ability to ‘blind’ 
Iraqi intelligence and defenses; and so on.'®^ 

After the conflict ended, Jiang Zemin, then head of the CMC and later PRC president, 
initiated a number of conferences and studies in order to thoroughly study and learn from the 


®®Citino, 287. 

'®®Ibid., 287-288. 

'®'Shambaugh, Mor/em/z/ng China's Military: Progress, Problems, and Prospects, 69. 
'®2wortzel, 23. 

'®^Shambaugh, Modernizing China's Military: Progress, Problems, and Prospects, 69-70. 


32 



U.S.-led military action against Iraq.'°"^ What Jiang and others soon realized was that the PLA had 
to become more modern in its means and approaches to waging a modern form of warfare as 
exhibited by the U.S. While this effort to modernize began in the 1980s, many Chinese officials 
believed that it would now have to gain greater momentum. 

PLA symposia resulted in a wide range of PLA pronouncements and publications that 
keenly analyzed the 1990-1991 Gulf War, and supported increased modernization efforts. Within 
such forums, many prominent PLA theorists, such as Xiong Guangkai, viewed the U.S. military 
performance as a true revolution in military affairs.Xiong placed emphasis on what he 
considered to be “new trends” in waging modern warfare such as improving the quality of a 
military instead of relying on sheer quantity; leveraging “smart weaponry,” and “information 
technology-based equipment” in order to offset quantity further; ensuring that air and naval 
forces, and not only land forces, receive adequate funding; and placing a higher priority on the 
“development of hi-tech branches,” such as “military space force[s], missile units and missile 
defense units, electronic warfare units and information warfare units.”'”® 

As China’s president, Jiang Zemin emphasized the need to improve the overall quality, in 
men and material, of the PLA, while reducing its size. By 1997, the PLA had cut approximately 
500,000 personnel from its ranks.Additionally, the PLA created the General Armaments 


"'"'Guangkai Xiong, Guo Ji Zhan LuE Yu Xin Jun Shi Bian Ge - International Strategy 
and Revolution in Military Ajfairs, Di 1 ban. ed. (Beijing, China: Qing hua da xue chu ban she, 
2003), 179. 

'"^Xiong, 168-172; Michael Pillsbury, Chinese Views of Future Warfare, ed. Michael 
Pillsbury (Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 1998), 249-420; and 
Kamphausen et ah, 12-13. 

'"^Xiong, 171-172. 

'"^Heath. 


33 



Department to oversee weapons and equipment develop and research, and link China’s civilian 
factories with its defense industry. 

Major General Wang Zhenxi echoed the importance of modernizing the PL A, especially 
precision weaponry, and electronic warfare capabilities, along with the need for survival systems 
that included an integrated command control network system that could withstand a modern 
assault.General Wang was the director of the Foreign Military Studies Division at the PLA 
Academy of Military Science at the time of the Gulf War, and was responsible for briefing a 
number of high-level PLA officials on the conflict and the PLA’s views of it. 

Furthermore, General Fu Quanyou, then commander of the Lanzhou military region and 
later director of the PLA General Logistics Department, recognized that the PLA must learn to 
fight jointly, by integrating all of its services, as the American military had done. In his view, a 
Western way of waging war was “five-dimensional,” and involved “land, sea and air forces, as 
well as space and electronic technologies. 

In short, the U.S. led conflict against Iraq, and its subsequent study and analysis by the 
PLA brought about “a thorough revision of operational doctrine and training in the PLA” that was 
to result in a “new doctrine of ‘limited war under high-technology conditions’.”"' This “broad 
theoretical examination of the revolution of military affairs inside PLA academic centers,” and 
among the top members of China’s military soon resulted in “a military-wide effort to modernize 
the force and field the capabilities the PLA was seen to lack.”"^ Therefore, it is clear that many of 

'"^Blasko, Chinese Army Today: Tradition and Transformation for the 21st Century 
(2012), 30. 

^^'^Shambaugh, Modernizing China's Military: Progress, Problems, and Prospects, 72. 

"%id., 73. 

"'Ibid., 70. 

"^Wortzel, 23. 


34 



the characteristics emphasized within these official pronouncements and efforts are quite 

consistent with those that constitute a Western way of waging warfare. 

After the Gulf War, China’s defense industry began to focus its research and 

development efforts into acquiring advanced weaponry. Priority was on: 

Mastering electronic warfare and electronic countermeasures (particularly air and naval 
countermeasures); improving ballistic missile production and precision-guided munitions 
(PGMs); building satellites, early warning and command systems, and advanced 
communication relay stations; investigating laser technologies; developing artificial 
intelligence and information warfare skills, improving avionics and mastering in-flight 
refueling; and developing anti-ballistic missile systems."^ 

The PLA also began to increase the frequency of training exercises that placed a greater 
emphasis on combined and joint operations between the different parts of the army, and between 
the army and the other branches of the PLA. Exercises conducted between 1993 and 1995 in 
particular, “involved some combination of different ground force units (armor, infantry, anti¬ 
chemical, heliborne, etc.), as well as multiservice joint exercises.’’""^ In addition, in 1994, PLA 
units from the Nanjing military region, directly across the Taiwan Strait, conducted amphibious 
landings with naval support from the People’s Liberation Army Navy. The pace of these 
particular exercises increased in scale between 1995 and 1996, and involved “live firing from 
ships, tanks, and bombers” along with ballistic missile supporting attacks by the PLA Second 
Artillery. 

Finally, it appears that there was also a marked increase in spending on defense, 
beginning in 1994. China’s GDP grew from approximately $379 billion to $1 trillion between 
1991 and 1999, a total growth of approximately 163 percent.*'® However, China’s defense budget 

"^Shambaugh, China's Military: Progress, Problems, and Prospects, 70. 

"frbid., 99. 

"®Ibid., 100. 

"®The World Bank. 


35 



grew from approximately $11.3 billion in 1991 to $39.5 billion in 1999—a 250 percent 
increase.^'’ Clearly, China increased its defense spending significantly because of overall 
economic growth. 

These increases greatly assisted PLA efforts to, among other things, acquire and 
incorporate advance weapon systems across the land, naval, and air braches. Increased spending 
also led to improvements in mechanized vehicles, air defenses, aviation platforms, and the PLA’s 
nuclear arsenal. However, the PLA also began to develop and test “a more robust space-based 
communications and intelligence architecture [that included] integrated satellites and precision 
guidance” of its weapon systems, along with other similar-improvements that sought to increase 
the capabilities of “joint operations across the domains of warfare.” 

To summarize, the PLA was both surprised and disturbed by the relatively rapid and 
overwhelming effective military response by the U.S. As a result, the 1990-1991 U.S. led conflict 
against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq significantly shaped PLA thinking, and served as one of the 
primary and most proximate impetuses behind PLA movement toward greater Westernization. 

In the wake of the conflict, China’s political and military leaders thoroughly studied and 
analyzed the conflict in order to learn how the PLA could improve the overall quality of its war 
fighting capabilities. These efforts included conferences and published papers that strongly 
advocated for a need to modernize the PLA along Western lines. 

Additionally, the PRC increased budgetary allocation in support of increased PLA 
modernization efforts that included the development and acquisition of advanced weaponry and 

'^^Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance (London, England: Institute for 
Strategic Studies, 1991), 244; Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance (London, 
England: Institute for Strategic Studies, 1992), 258; Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military 
Balance (London, England: Institute for Strategic Studies, 1995), 320; and Institute for Strategic 
Studies, The Military Balance (London, England: Institute for Strategic Studies, 2001), 322. 

“*^Wortzel, 23. 


36 



systems. Furthermore, the PLA sought to improve its professional training and discipline hy 
placing a greater emphasis on combined and joint operations both between the different parts of 
the land forces, and between the land forces and the other branches of the PLA. Finally, much 
like the previous case, it appears there was no discussion of casualty avoidance within the PLA 
through this period. 

As Table 3 below indicates, the PLA exhibited four out of the five characteristics 
associated with a Western style of warfare. Therefore, PLA attitudes and approaches toward 
warfare have continued to trend toward becoming more Western in the wake of the U.S. led 
1990-1991 Gulf War against Iraq. 


Table 3. Manifestation of Western Characteristics of Warfare 
Post-U.S.-led 1990-1991 Gulf War against Iraq 


WESTERN CHARACTERISTICS 
OE WARE ARE 

CASE STUDIES 

1991-1998 


PLA Actions/Developments Post-U.S. Gulf War 

Emphasis Placed on Technology 

Yes 

Emphasis on Discipline and 

Training 

Yes 

Exhibited Willingness to 
Change/Learn 

Yes 

Allocation of Economic Resources 
in Support of Modernization 

Yes 

Casualty Aversion 

No 


Source: Created by author. 


U.S. and NATO Military Action against the Republic of Yugoslavia 
Much like the previous case, U.S. and NATO military action against the Republic of 
Yugoslavia also served as a strong motivating force that has further reinforced PLA efforts to 
become increasingly Western-like in its approach to war fighting. A central reason is that this 
case, like the 1990-1991 Gulf War before it, provoked similar concerns over the PRC’s perceived 
inability to defend and protect core Chinese sovereign interests. 


37 




From March through June 1999, a the U.S. and NATO member countries conducted a 
predominantly air-centric military campaign named Operation Allied Force (hereafter Allied 
Force) against President Slobodan Milosevic and the FRY in order to counter Serbian efforts to 
ethnically cleanse and remove Muslim Kosovars from Kosovo. It is this particular justification for 
military intervention (i.e., concerns over human rights violations) on the part of the U.S. and 
NATO members that is both central to CCP and PLA concerns in this particular case, and 
continued to spur further adoption by the PLA of those characteristics that contribute to a 
Western approach to war fighting. 

Much like today, the PRC government during this period had been widely criticized by 
the U.S., along with other Western governments and groups for its treatment of the non-Han 
Uighur Muslim population in Xinjiang province.'^® With some in this Uighur Muslim population 
calling for a separate and autonomous region, Beijing had long sought to increase its control over 
the region in order to counter such calls for independence. Matters like these, remain central, or 
“core” issues that tie directly to Chinese perceptions about its sovereignty. 

Within this context, many Chinese political and military officials were highly concerned 
about the potential for Western governments to draw a similarity between the situations in 
Xinjiang and Kosovo. In the minds of China’s political and military leadership, human rights 
concerns held by the West relating to restive Muslim minority populations in China, much like in 


'^^Human Rights Watch, “China: Human Rights Concerns in Xinjiang,” Human Rights 
Watch, October 2001, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/10/18/china-human-rights-concerns- 
xinjiang (accessed 22 February 2014); and Dewardric L. McNeal, Congressional Research 
Service Report for Congress, China's Relations with Central Asian States and Problems of 
Terrorism, Policy Archives, 17 December 2001, http://research.policy.archive.org/1315.pdf 
(accessed 22 February 2014). 

'^“Michael D. Swaine, “China’s Assertive Behavior-Part One: On ‘Core Interests’,” 
China Leadership Monitor, no. 34 (2011): 1-25, http://www.hoover.org/publications/china- 
leadership-monitor (accessed 22 February 2014). 


38 



the Kosovo case, could lead to a similar U.S.-led case for military intervention against the 


Chinese government. 

When comparing the 1990-1991 Gulf War with Allied Force, it seems that many PLA 
analyses viewed the former as having “some characteristics of modem high-tech war, [while] the 
latter was [viewed as] a tmly modern high-tech war with ‘hyperconventionar[sic] features that 
must he analyzed and digested if the PRC were to he able to defend itself properly.”'^' 
Furthermore, it appears that the PLA viewed Allied Force more “as a validation of [its] earlier 
assessments of the trends in modern warfare,” which served to add momentum to Westernization 
efforts in order to counter a potentially similar U.S.-led military operation. 

Many of the trends in PLA modernization and training that discussed in the wake of the 
1991 Gulf War appear to have continued after Allied Force. For example, the PLA further 
reduced overall force size hy another 200,000, particularly in the land forces, while continuing its 
focus on improving the training and overall quality of its personnel.Additionally, the PLA 
introduced “joint operations command institutions and systems” into its command stmcture 
within its military regions. 


'^'June Teufel Dreyer, The PLA and the Kosovo Conflict (Carlisle Barracks, PA: 

Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2000), 4-5. 

'^^U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), Report to Congress Pursuant to the FY2000 
National Defense Authorization Act, Annual Report on the Military Power of the People's 
Republic of China, U.S. Department of Defense, 2002, http://www.defense.gov/news/Jul2002/ 
d20020712china.pdf (accessed 22 February 2014), 12. 

'^^The PLA increased is educational standards in certain key branches of the PLA, such 
as the Second Artillery, which has primary responsibility for China’s nuclear and conventional 
missile forces. Additionally, the PLA conducted a number of personnel reduction efforts that 
continued throughout the 2000s. For specifics, see Jacqueline Newmyer, “The Revolution in 
Military Affairs with Chinese Characteristics,” Journal of Strategic Studies 33, no. 4 (2010): 499; 
U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the People’s 
Republic of China 2006, U.S. Department of Defense, 2006, http://www.defense.gov/pubs/pdfs/ 
China%20Report%202006.pdf (accessed 22 February 2014), 5; and Heath. 

'24Heath. 


39 



Training efforts began to include “increased interaction and cooperation with foreign 
militaries” in order to assist in modernization efforts.Additionally, U.S. and NATO success 
against the FRY has served to confirm the PLA’s decision “to improve its joint operations 
capability by developing advanced [command, control, intelligence, surveillance, and 
reconnaissance] systems and improving inter-service cooperation.”'^® Lastly, the PLA continued 
to develop aerial refueling, airborne early warning and collection, and electronic countermeasure 
aircraft, along with increasing its surface and subsurface naval forces in order to improve its 
ability to “secure vital sea lines of communication and/or key geostrategic terrain.”'^^ 

The PLA also noticed that Serbian forces “suffered from inferior equipment, inadequate 
defense of civilian installations, and poor logistics.”'^* Additionally, the PLA began development 
of its “Three Attacks, Three Defenses” air defense plan, which concentrated on successfully 
“attacking stealth aircraft, cruise missiles, and helicopters, while defending against precision 
strikes, electronic warfare, and enemy reconnaissance.”'^® As a result, the PLA responded by 
placing even greater emphasis on developing its underground facilities, landline communications. 


'^®U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), FY04 Report to Congress on PRC Military Power 
Pursuant to the FY2000 National Defense Authorization Act, Annual Report on the Military 
Power of the People's Republic of China, U.S. Department of Defense, 2004, http://www. 
defense.gov/pubs/d20040528PRC.pdf (accessed 22 February 2014), 5. 

'^®U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), FY04 Report to Congress on PRC Military Power 
Pursuant to the FY2000 National Defense Authorization Act, Annual Report on the Military 
Power of the People's Republic of China, 4. 

'^^Ibid., 5; and U.S. DOD, Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the People’s 
Republic of China 2006, 1. 

'^^U.S. DOD, Report to Congress Pursuant to the FY2000 National Defense 
Authorization Act, Annual Report on the Military Power of the People's Republic of China, 2002, 
12 . 


'2®Ibid., 12-13. 


40 



and well-concealed supply depots.This also drove PLA efforts to both acquire and develop 
technologically capable military systems that could perform such tasks, and incorporate them into 
combined and joint training exercises. 

The PLA keenly noticed the ability of the U.S. Air Force to send strategic bombing assets 
half way around the world from bases within the continental U.S. to attack Serbian forces with 
global positioning system guided precision munitions, such as the Joint Direct Attack 
Munition.'^' Additionally, the U.S. Navy displayed its sea based strike capability when it 
delivered sea and air launched cruise missiles with precision, and well outside the range of 
Serbian forces.Perhaps a more important observation by the PLA in the aftermath of Allied 
Force was the apparent need for a vastly more effective operational and strategic offensive 
capability to counter a similar attack by either the U.S. or a similarly more modernized opponent 
like Japan’s Self Defense Forces or the Republic of China (ROC) military. The result was an 
increased effort by the PLA to increase its modernization efforts on developing the capability to 
conduct “offensive operations against targets at the operational and strategic level of warfare” 
that include “offensive strike assets,” much like the U.S. military had demonstrated in Kosovo. 


'^°U.S. DOD, Report to Congress Pursuant to the FY2000 National Defense 
Authorization Act, Annual Report on the Military Power of the People's Republic of China, 2002, 
12 . 


'^'Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Report to Congress, 
Operation Allied Force: After-Action Report, U.S. Department of Defense, 31 January 2000, 
http://www.dod.mil/pubs/kaar02072000.pdf (accessed 22 February 2014), xxiii, 79. 

'32lbid., 91-92, 93. 

'^^U.S. DOD, Report to Congress Pursuant to the FY2000 National Defense 
Authorization Act, Annual Report on the Military Power of the People's Republic of China, 2002, 
13. 


41 



Some within the PLA referred to this more modern form of warfare as “non-contact 


warfare,” and emphasized the need for improved PLA “precision, invisibility, and knowledge.” 
Faculty members at China’s National Defense University called for the PLA to “develop 
innovative military theories, disengage ourselves from the traditional contact war mode, and 
break new ground in joint operation, in integrated air and outer space warfare, and in information 
network warfare.”^^^ 

Soon after the U.S. and NATO military operation against the FRY, the PLA began to 
emphasize “operations that [would] paralyze the high-tech enemy’s ability to conduct its 
campaign.”'^® Beginning in the spring of 2000, senior PLA officials advocated for a coercive air 
campaign strategy, much like the one that occurred in Kosovo, that would include targeting not 
only military targets with high tech missiles and aircraft, but also critical infrastructure, oil 
depots, power plants, and transportation networks.Additionally, in January 2007, the PLA 
successfully tested a direct ascent, anti-satellite weapon system that was able to destroy an aging 
weather satellite in low-Earth orbit.Furthermore, the PLA development of an anti-ship ballistic 
missile displays further modernization efforts in order to develop an operational “non-contact” 


'^"^Newmyer, 495. 

'35lbid., 495-496. 

'^®U.S. DOD, Report to Congress Pursuant to the FY2000 National Defense 
Authorization Act, Annual Report on the Military Power of the People's Republic of China, 2002, 
13. 


'^^Mulvenon and Finkelstein, 234. 

'^^U.S. Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the 
People's Republic of China 2008, U.S. Department of Defense, 2008, http://www.defense.gov/ 
pubs/pdfs/China_Military_Report_08.pdf (accessed 22 February 2014), 3. 


42 



capability to “attack large ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific Ocean.”It 
becomes quite clear that military developments like these, along with ongoing improvements in 
China’s nuclear strike capabilities, were spurred on by Allied Force, and afford the PRC with “a 
way to signal the ability to disrupt American civilian and military operations.” 

Ratber than focusing solely on the defense, the PL A now sought the ability to become a 
military force that could effectively strike at an enemy’s will to resist with precision, and from 
afar.^"^^ In 2000, then-Senior Colonel Chen Bojian, emphasized that maintaining an effective 
offensive capability “has an extraordinary importance on the high-tech battlefield.”'"^^ Cben also 
states: 

No enemy would ‘let themselves so easily be involved in a protracted war with China,’ 
though China might be defeated, because of the excessive cost of campaigning. 
Moreover, given overall Chinese strategy, ‘it is also unallowable to have a protracted 
war. Under the conditions of a new history [(i.e., after Operation ALLIED FORCE)], the 
main task of the country is to carry out the economic construction . . . military actions 
must be quickly accomplished in scope and time.'"'^ 

This is a crucial point that further supports how the PLA has incrementally departed from the 

purely defensive and protracted approach of Maoist people’s war toward a more Westernized 

PLA approach that emphasizes technology, quality, and high tempo modem war fighting. 


'^^U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security 
Developments Involving the People's Republic of China 2011, U.S. Department of Defense, 2011, 
http://www.defense.gov/pubs/pdfs/2011_cmpr_final.pdf (accessed 22 February 2014), 3. 

'“"’Newmyer, 500; and U.S. DOD, Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the 
People’s Republic of China 2006, 3-4. 

'“"U.S. DOD, Report to Congress Pursuant to the FY2000 National Defense 
Authorization Act, Annual Report on the Military Power of the People's Republic of China, 2002, 
13. 

'“'^Charles F. Hawkins, “The People’s Liberation Army Looks to the Future,” JFQ: Joint 
Force Quarterly, no. 25 (2000): 16. 

'“'^Ibid. 


43 



Lastly, the trend of increased defense spending that began in the wake of the Gulf War 


and throughout the 1990s continued unahated after Allied Force. From 2001 to 2010, the PRC’s 
GDP grew 353 percent from approximately $1.3 trillion to $5.9 trillion.'"^'* Additionally, during 
the same period the PLA’s budget appears to have increased approximately 150 percent.In 
2002, the PRC announced publicly that its total-related military spending was $20 billion, with 
actual U.S. Department of Defense estimates placing it closer to $65 billion.'"^® In 2006, the PRC 
announced that it would increase its defense allocation “by 14.7 percent, to approximately $35 
billion.”^"^’ U.S. intelligence agencies estimated the actual figure to be “between $70 billion and 
$105 billion . . . two to three times the announced budget.”'"^* Just two years later, the U.S. 
Department of Defense estimated that China’s total-related military spending was “between $105 
billion and $150 billion.”^"^® That said, the latest estimates by the U.S. government state that the 
PRC defense budget grew at an average rate of 9.7 percent per year between 2003 through 2013, 


'“♦^The World Bank. 

'“^^U.S. DOD, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving 
the People's Republic of China 2011, 41; and U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), Annual Report 
to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China 2010, 
U.S. Department of Defense, 2010, http://www.defense.gov/pubs/pdfs/2010_cmpr_final.pdf 
(accessed 22 February 2014), 41-43. 

'“^^U.S. DOD, Report to Congress Pursuant to the FY2000 National Defense 
Authorization Act, Annual Report on the Military Power of the People's Republic of China, 2002, 
2 . 


'“^^U.S. DOD, Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the People’s Republic of 
China 2006, 19-20. 

'48lbid. 

'“^^U.S. Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the 
People's Republic of China 2009, U.S. Department of Defense, 2009, http://www.defense.gov/ 
pubs/pdfs/china_military_power_report_2009.pdf (accessed 22 February 2014), 31-32. 


44 



and that the current estimated amount for military-related expenditures is currently “between 


$135 hillion and $215 hillion.”^^° 

Regardless of the exact amount, it is clear that the PLA has henefitted significantly from 
China’s rapid GDP growth through the 2000s. Additionally, it appears that the majority of the 
PLA budget during this period, somewhere between two to four percent of GDP went to further 
modernizing its land, naval, and air forces, along with developing its space and cyber systems.'^' 
The result of these budget increases has made the PLA the highest funded military force when 
compared to the militaries of other regional powers. 

In summary, there is clear evidence to support the assertion that the U.S. and NATO 
military action against the FRY significantly shaped PLA thinking, and served as one of the 
primary and most proximate impetuses behind continued PLA movement toward greater 
Westernization. Because of the perceived similarities between this case and to the restive Muslim 
minority populations in China, PRC and PLA officials feared that a future case for war could be 
made against the Chinese government. Therefore, the PLA viewed Operation Allied Force with 
an intense interest that confirmed much of its earlier assessments and validated its modernization 
efforts along Western lines in order to counter a potentially similar U.S.-led military operation. 


'^°U.S. DOD, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving 
the People's Republic of China 2013, 45-46. 

'^'Ibid.; U.S. DOD, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments 
Involving the People's Republic of China 2010, 41-43; U.S. Department of Defense, Annual 
Report to Congress: Military Power of the People's Republic of China 2007, U.S. Department of 
Defense, 2007, http://www.defense.gov/pubs/pdfs/070523-China-Military-Power-final.pdf 
(accessed 22 February 2014), 25-26; Blasko, Chinese Army Today: Tradition and Transformation 
for the 21st Century (2006), 121-143; and Dennis J Blasko, Chinese Army Today: Tradition and 
Transformation for the 21st Century (2012), 148-174. 

i52For a comparison of state defense budgets within the region, see U.S. DOD, Annual 
Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of 
China 2013, 46. 


45 



While the PLA continued to focus on modernizing its systems and improving its force 
quality and structure, it also realized that it required a vastly more effective and Westernized 
operational and strategic offensive capability to counter a potential attack similar to those 
conducted hy the U.S. military in Kosovo. As a result, the PLA focused on developing a coercive 
air campaign strategy, much like the one that occurred in Kosovo, along with the development of 
ascent, anti-satellite anti-ship ballistic missile systems in order to both compel and deter potential 
enemies. 

Furthermore, in the wake of Operation Allied Force, the PLA continued to significantly 
increase its allocation of fiscal resources toward its modernization efforts. This has resulted in the 
PLA becoming the highest funded military force within the Asian region. However, much like the 
two previous cases, there appears to have been no discussion of casualty avoidance characteristic 
within the PLA throughout this period. 

As Table 4 below indicates, the PLA exhibited four out of the five characteristics 
associated with a Western style of warfare in the wake of U.S. and NATO military action against 
the FRY in 1999. Therefore PLA attitudes and approaches toward warfare have continued to 
trend toward becoming more Western. 


46 



Table 4. Manifestation of Western Characteristics of Warfare and 
Post-U.S./NATO Operations against FRY 


WESTERN 

CHARACTERISTICS OE 
WAREARE 

CASE STUDIES 

2000-Today 


PLA Actions/Developments Post-U.S./NATO Intervention in Kosovo 

Emphasis Placed on 

Technology 

Yes 

Emphasis on Discipline and 
Training 

Yes 

Exhibited Willingness to 
Change/Learn 

Yes 

Allocation of Economic 
Resources in Support of 
Modernization 

Yes 

Casualty Aversion 

No 


Source: Created by author. 


PLA Westernization and the Regional Balance of Power 

If Chinese military modernization efforts continue at their current pace, then the PLA will 
likely improve its capabilities over time. The PLA will be able to comprehensively defend the 
Chinese homeland and coastline beyond the “First Island Chain,” a line that runs north-south 
roughly from the Kurile Islands, through the Japanese and Ryukyu Islands, to Taiwan and the 
Philippines, and further into the Pacific region. The gap between compelling and deterring 
capabilities vis-a-vis Taiwan will close significantly and the PLA will likely be able to deny U.S. 
naval and air access to the region possibly out to the “Second Island Chain” area past the 
Philippine Islands and toward Guam. 

Additionally, if China’s ground force capabilities increase in conjunction with greater 
development of Chinese naval and airlift capabilities, China could possibly decide to use these 
force packages in a number of ways. For example, the PLA could be prepared to conduct 
regional and perhaps global non-combatant evacuation of Chinese citizens that are threatened, as 

'^^U.S. DOD, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving 
the People's Republic of China 2013, 34. 


47 




well as unilateral or partnered anti-piracy operations well beyond China’s shores. Additionally, 


and if deemed necessary, the PLA could be capable of unilaterally securing key economic 
interests or sea lines of communication (SLOC) in the region, such as through the Strait of 
Malacca. 

However, most devastating to continued PLA Westernization efforts in the short term 
would be a direct and sustained confrontation with the U.S. (e.g., over Taiwanese sovereignty). 
This would surely exhaust a Chinese military in the relatively nascent stages of its military 
modernization efforts along Western-lines. PRC officials most likely realize this, hence their 
preference for limited and local wars that are relatively short. 

Not relying solely on its hard power deterrence alone, China will use other elements of its 
national power (i.e., soft power) to target the third element of the Clausewitzian trinity; that being 
an adversary’s population and its will.^®^ Associated Chinese concepts such as “Three Warfares” 
with its psychological, media, and legal components must be considered when determining how 
China intends to conduct any operation tied to any possible security and foreign policy objectives 
discussed here.^^® 

China’s efforts to conduct humanitarian and disaster relief operations for its own citizens 
within China in time of need will improve and could possibly be called upon to further regional 
goodwill towards China if used accordingly. Though unlikely, China may possibly decide to take 


'^"^Mehmood-Ul-Hassan Khan, “China’s First Aircraft Carrier: A Research Study,” 
Defence Journal 15, no. 1/2 (2011): 53-62. 

'^^Carl von Clausewitz, Michael Howard, and Peter Paret, On War, eds. Michael Howard 
and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 78; and Joseph S. Nye, The 
Future of Power, 1st ed. (New York, NY: Public Affairs, 2011), 19-24. 

'^^Dennis J. Blasko, The Chinese Army Today : Tradition and Transformation for the 
21st Century (New York, NY: Routledge, 2006), 164; David Shambaugh, “China Flexes Its Soft 
Power,” The New York Times, 7 June 2010; and Wortzel, 151-162. 


48 



the lead in some international humanitarian and disaster relief efforts in order to increase its 
regional influence. 

That said, the increasing Westernization of the PLA is not occurring in a vacuum, and 
Beijing’s ability to shift the regional balance of military power must take into consideration a 
number of factors. First, barring any unforeseen shift or change in U.S. security commitment to 
the region (c.f., 1969 Nixon “Guam” doctrine), the Asian region will most likely continue to have 
a persistent U.S. presence due to the security and economic interests involving the U.S. and its 
allies and partners. 

Second, other regional powers such as India, Russia, and Japan, as well as Taiwan and 
South Korea, will most likely not sit idle in their own respective military development and 
modernization efforts. As China’s military capabilities increase, so will the militaries of other 
regional powers. 

Third, continued heavy investment and budget allocation toward defense spending by the 
PRC is highly dependent upon continued economic growth of the Chinese economy. Possible 
economic shocks or downturns may cause China’s leaders to make necessary budgetary 
compromises similar to those made in the early 1980s in order to focus on other domestic 
priorities. 

Lastly, Chinese military modernization may still be hampered by its defense industry and 
the “firewall” that separates its civilian and defense sectors.'^’ This limits the PLA’s ability to 
make weapons procurement and development decisions solely based on sound military 
practicality, as opposed to other less militarily relevant interests, such as those tied to state owned 
business interests. Furthermore, while China remains dependent upon foreign technology from 
such suppliers as Russia, it is uncertain how long countries like Russia would be willing to 

'^^Shambaugh, Modernizing China's Military: Progress, Problems, and Prospects, 240 . 


49 



continue such transfers of technology if they began to perceive China as a threat to their own 
security. 

Nevertheless, China does have money and time on its side. If the PRC can maintain the 
relatively stable environment it has enjoyed for approximately the last 20 years, continue to 
benefit from its economic growth, and continue to ameliorate most of its deficient areas, then the 
PLA will likely be able to continue to develop those naval, air, and land forces that will afford it 
comprehensive military capabilities commensurate with its great power goals. 

CONCLUSION 

This monograph has argued that three events in particular—the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese 
conflict, the 1991 U.S. Gulf War, and U.S. and NATO military action against the FRY in 1999— 
have contributed to a consistent PLA movement toward greater Westernization in its approaches 
toward and preparations for war. The abysmal performance of the PLA during the 1979 Sino- 
Vietnamese conflict marked the nadir for the Maoist operating concept of people’s war, and 
served as a point of departure toward greater military Westernization. Additionally, both the 1991 
Gulf War, and U.S. and NATO military action in Kosovo served to reinforce the trend in modem 
Chinese military development toward greater Westernization. 

Finally, as table 5 summarizes below, PLA attitudes and approaches toward warfare from 
1979 to today have trended toward becoming more Western. Four out of the five characteristics 
of a Western form of warfare have manifested themselves throughout the three chosen case 
studies. However, the fifth—casualty aversion—does not appear to be a current feature of PLA 
approaches to warfighting. Additionally, future research would benefit the ongoing analysis of 
China’s military development by exploring the possible military advantages associated with an 
increasingly Westernized PLA that also possesses a relatively higher tolerance for casualties in 
relation to any future adversary. 


50 



Table 5. Western Characteristics of Warfare across Three Case Studies 


WESTERN 

CHARACTERISTICS OE 

WARFARE 

CASE STUDIES | 

1979-1990 

1991-1998 

2000-Today 


PLA Actions/Developments 
Post-Sino-Vietnamese 

Conflict 

PLA Actions/Developments 
Post-U.S. Gulf War 

PLA Actions/Developments 
Post-U.S./NATO 

Intervention in Kosovo 

Emphasis Placed on 
Technology 

Yes 

Yes 

Yes 

Emphasis on Discipline 
and Training 

Yes 

Yes 

Yes 

Exhibited Willingness to 
Change/Leam/ Adapt 

Yes 

Yes 

Yes 

Allocation of Fiscal 
Resources in Support of 
Modernization 

No 

Yes 

Yes 

Casualty Aversion 

No 

No 

No 


Source: Created by author. 


51 




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