As China further positions itself at the forefront of the international world order, so too does its military. According to the Defense Department’s “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has grown and modernized substantially over the last decade. Similar to the Cold War economy of 1960s America, China’s economy as of late has exhibited troubling signs of a military-industrial complex. Increased investment into cyber and space military technology coupled with ever increasing conventional and nuclear budgets spell concern for the United States.
Perhaps most troubling regarding the Chinese military, however, is the support it receives from the West. According to the Defense Department, “China continues to leverage foreign investments, commercial joint ventures, academic exchanges, the experience of repatriated Chinese students and researchers, and state-sponsored industrial and technical espionage to increase the level of technologies and expertise available to support military research, development, and acquisition.” Because of the “opacity” in Chinese civil-military business relations, and because of the dual (civil-military) purpose that some commonly invested-in Chinese technology has, the US ought to exercise prudence in cooperating with the Chinese military-industrial complex. For example, it was not too long ago when investigative journalism conducted by the US media uncovered evidence that the PLA, under the guise of private business ventures, was exporting prison-made consumer goods to the United States.
As the Defense Department’s annual report on military developments in China has made clear, the PLA’s burgeoning power has not gone unnoticed. Too often, however, the PLA is coddled by American investment and cooperation. Whereas the US government cannot control, without risking belligerency, how much the Chinese spend on their military or who the Chinese trade arms with, the US certainly can control its involvement in dubious cooperative programs with the Chinese defense industry. Lest we forget the PLA’s perpetuation of Taiwan Strait Crises, its annexation of Tibet, its involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, its sale of weapons technology to Iran and North Korea, and most recently its bellicose behavior regarding disputed territory in the South China Sea.
Whereas the rest of the world has taken notice of the PLA’s unprecedented rise, ordinary Chinese people are generally unaware. In mainland China, the PLA’s modernization and increased strength has been framed for propaganda victories. Chinese people can only view the PLA through the nationalist and hagiographic lens that the Party provides. Chinese people are not, however, aware of the international instability and recklessness that the PLA has propagated through its belligerent land-grab policies in the China Sea and its increased military budget. Once again, Party censorship has only allowed Chinese people to see strong yet benevolent policies. It is quite unfortunate that China has increasingly steered its ship towards international conflict yet its citizens are left in the dark.