WASHINGTON — China’s armed forces will continue their efforts to project military power outside the country’s region through 2030, according to a new analysis of its logistics capabilities.
China has made huge investments toward imposing “unacceptable costs” on potential adversaries inside the first and second island chain in the South and East China seas, concluded the analysis from Jane’s, done under the auspices of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The country has also stepped up efforts to support disaster relief and participate in global commons operations such as counter-piracy work in the Middle East, the analysis added.
But when it comes to supporting large-scale expeditionary operations in far-flung regions, China is still a way off, Jane’s reported.
The study found that China is using new investments such as its base in Djibouti to monitor and potentially disrupt U.S. operations in the Middle East and Africa, but opined that it’s unlikely China will continue expanding its international footprint in this decade.
“However, after 2030, the [People’s Liberation Army] will likely pursue more dedicated military bases beyond its existing Djibouti Logistics Support Base,” the study found. “The PLAN [Navy] and PLAAF [Air Force]’s capabilities in 2035 would theoretically allow the PLA to perform higher-level overseas combat operations, but operations in contested environments will almost assuredly require overseas military facilities or, at the least, preferred access to both ports and airfields in friendly countries.”
The Chinese will also remain hampered in its ability to project air power globally unless it can expand its aircraft carrier capabilities, the study said, adding that economic headwinds might prevent such an investment.
“The PLA will still likely have limited capability to conduct operations in hostile countries with integrated air defense systems without support from future PLAN aircraft carriers,” the report read. “This may be difficult for the PLA given slowing economic growth and defense budgets.”
The report recommends that the United States needs to monitor Chinese investments in platforms and capabilities that can support expeditionary operations, such as forward-deploying ordnance stocks in places like Djibouti or deepening investments in replenishment ships and helicopters that can perform anti-submarine warfare.
Congress should also find ways to invest in countries where China is investing money as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
“The U.S. should recognize that China may pursue overseas logistics nodes in countries that experience a vacuum of U.S. engagement,” the report read. “Particularly after 2030, China will likely pursue additional dedicated military bases overseas.
“U.S. economic and diplomatic engagement with these countries — both bilateral and through multilateral international organizations — will be critical to managing Chinese military ambitions.”
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.