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Malcolm Davis

The military modernization of China is generating growing strategic uncertainty and risk in Asia, particularly in relation to regional maritime disputes in the South China Sea, East China Sea and the future status of Taiwan. There is also growing competition between China and the United States as China challenges the existing US strategic primacy in Asia. Over the longer term, China will develop military capabilities to project power beyond the ‘near and middle seas’ within the ‘first and second island chains’ into the ‘far seas’, notably the Indian Ocean. China’s growing strategic interests in this region, particularly those aligned along the ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ provide a key rationale for building new capabilities for the PLA, including expeditionary or ‘power projection’ capabilities in coming years. China’s investment in military modernization is focused on protecting its interests in these regions; reasserting itself as a regional great power; and countering US military capability. Of key importance is its ability to fight and win informationized local wars by building not only sophisticated ‘C4ISR’ capabilities for the PLA, but also the ability to fight and win information warfare through offensive military operations in space, and across the electromagnetic spectrum, including in cyberspace, an essential enabler for effective counter-intervention operations – known as ‘A2AD’ – to be employed to deter or delay US military intervention. Such capabilities are also highly relevant to the PLA should it seek to employ military force in far seas, notably along the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road in the Indian Ocean. This chapter examines where conflicts might occur, the basic aspects of China’s military strategy, and how it is influencing PLA modernization, with particular focus on naval, air and missile forces, as well as Chinese information warfare capabilities. It examines the US military response to Chinese capabilities through new and emerging operational concepts such as Joint Access Maritime in the Global Commons (formerly ‘AirSea Battle’). It argues that Chinese strategic interests will ultimately demand that China pursue a greater capability for power projection operations into the Indian Ocean, and that the current focus of the PLA on East Asia will be overtaken by a growing operational focus on Chinese interests and activities in the Indian Ocean, that will see new developments for Chinese military strategy and modernization.