28 May 2021

The Cristina Garafola Bookshelf: A RAND Researcher-Practitioner’s Insights into China’s Air Force, Military Modernization & Deterrence Efforts

I’ve been following Cristina’s pathbreaking work closely ever since I saw her present illuminating research on People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) forces at the China Aerospace Studies Institute (CASI)’s inaugural conference at RAND in June 2015. In addition to policy positions at State and Treasury, Cristina has applied her analytical insights at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, with responsibilities including development of the annual China Military Power Report to Congress. Cristina was collegially inclusive and welcoming of ideas, and I was honored to offer suggestions to her and her team. Most recently, she has written with Ken Allen what is certain to stand as the definitive book on the PLAAF as an organization. And this doesn’t even begin to address her other high-caliber analysis regarding PRC nuclear and conventional deterrence, Taiwan and cross-Strait scenarios, China’s space program, and much more… For that, I strongly recommend that you read The Cristina Garafola Bookshelf!
Cristina L. Garafola is an Associate Policy Researcher at the RAND Corporation. Her research focuses on the ramifications of China’s rise for its global status, particularly with respect to defense issues, China’s influence on regional actors, and implications for the United States. Garafola served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2017 to 2019, where she focused on National Defense Strategy and Indo-Pacific strategy implementation. She has also worked at the Department of the Treasury, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Department of State. She is the co-author of the book 70 Years of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (2021), published by the China Aerospace Studies Institute. Her work has been published by RAND and in Asian Security, the Journal of Strategic StudiesWar on the Rocks, and the Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief.

Garafola holds an M.A. in China studies from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), a graduate certificate from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies, and a B.A. in international relations and Chinese from Hamilton College. She has experience living and working in China and has also spent time in Myanmar (Burma) and Japan. She speaks Chinese.


Kenneth W. Allen and Cristina L. Garafola, 70 Years of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (Montgomery, AL: China Aerospace Studies Institute, 2021).

Click here to access a full-text PDF free of charge.

You can also access the book via Amazon.

Read an interview regarding the book.

A landmark volume with 474 data-packed pages and 1,955 endnotes on the evolution of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force since its founding in 1949! Entitled “70 Years of the PLA Air Force,” this unique reference is published by the China Aerospace Studies Institute, based at Air University and National Defense University. There has never been anything like it before, nor will there ever be again…

The authors focus on six main areas: strategy and doctrine, organizational structure, personnel, education, training, and military diplomacy and exchanges. They conclude by exploring directions the PLAAF may pursue leading up to the 80th anniversary of its founding in 2029.

This book provides a single unclassified source of information for those who have the opportunity to engage China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force in military diplomacy either in China or in the U.S., and for anyone else who is looking at the PLAAF. It addresses the PLAAF organizational structure, personnel (officer/cadre corps and enlisted force), education, training, and military diplomacy. It presents not only a snapshot of where the PLAAF is today, but also how it got there from its inception in 1949. Throughout the book, you will come to understand the importance of the organizational structure of the PLA; and how and why this impacts its decision making, its command and control, its procurement, and how it would likely fight. As no one else can, Ken Allen concentrates on the details of the organization, and how each unit relates to others though the grade system, and then explains the big picture implications of those relationships. He also shows why it is important to understand the system, and what happens if and when it changes. His self-selected epitaph, legendary in the PLA studies field, is: “He taught them Grades and Ranks.” Cristina Garafola provides additional inputs vital to addressing the PLAAF’s strategy, theory, and doctrine.

How to Access the Book

A free PDF is available here, or you can purchase a physical copy on Amazon.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1  Laying the Foundation  30

Chapter 2  The Evolution of PLAAF Strategy, Theory, and “Doctrine”  67

Chapter 3  PLAAF Organizational Structure  102

Chapter 4  PLAAF Personnel System   161

Chapter 5  PLAAF Education System   199

Chapter 6  PLAAF Training System   230

Chapter 7  PLAAF Military Diplomacy, Exchanges, and Cooperation  308

Chapter 8  Predictions for PLAAF Reforms from 2020-2029  340

Appendices  354


Dr. Brendan S. Mulvaney, Director, China Aerospace Studies Institute:

Ken’s contribution to the study of the PLA Air Force, and to the PLA more generally, cannot be overstated. From his start as an enlisted airman in Taiwan, to serving in Beijing as an attaché during the Tiananmen Square incident, and through the decades that followed, Ken has stayed focused on learning all that he can about the PLA Air Force, and probably more importantly he has tried to teach countless others about them as well. This is the mark of a true professional, never one to play “I know something you don’t know”, he has taken scores of young officers and analysts under his wing, he has mentored mid- and senior-level leaders, and he single handedly started the China Attaché Roundtable to help our military attaches going to Beijing, Hong Kong, Taipei, and across Asia, learn about China and the PLA. Again, as evidenced by the endorsements, his contributions are broad and wide ranging, and he as done all of it as a selfless leader.

Originally, the book was to have the subtitle: “An Overview of Strategy, Organization, Personnel, Education, Training, Military Diplomacy, and Prospects for the Future”, but that just seems unwieldy. Those who are familiar with Ken’s work know full well that he doesn’t “do” hardware, and true to form you will find very little about planes in this book. That is by design. There are plenty of other resources out there if you are interested in the hardware side of things, some even that CASI has published, but precious little out there on these topics. And while Ken has his feelings about ‘doctrine’, Cristina has picked up that ball and run with it. She does a great job complimenting Ken’s work, and draws on her deep background to bring out the important topics that need further explanation. She has done a terrific job, not just on her specialty of doctrine and strategy, but throughout the book and throughout the process of adding depth and explanation as needed. All of the work is meticulously documented, almost exclusively from Mandarin language sources, as the two thousand endnotes will attest.


Timothy M. BondsMichael J. MazarrJames DobbinsMichael J. LostumboMichael JohnsonDavid A. ShlapakJeffrey MartiniScott BostonCristina L. Garafola, and John Gordon IV, et al., America’s Strategy-Resource Mismatch: Addressing the Gaps Between U.S. National Strategy and Military Capacity RR-2691 (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2019).

Significant gaps exist in the ability of the United States and its allies to deter or defeat aggression that could threaten national interests. For example, NATO members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania remain vulnerable to Russian invasion. South Korea is vulnerable to North Korea’s artillery. China’s neighbors — especially Taiwan — are vulnerable to coercion and aggression. Violent extremists continue to pose a threat in the Middle East. Solutions to these problems will take both money and time. In this report, RAND researchers analyze the specific technological, doctrinal, and budgetary gaps between the stated strategic and defense policies of the United States and the resources and capabilities that would be required to implement those policies successfully.

Absent a change in administration policy or a new political consensus in favor of a defense buildup, there will not be enough resources to close the gap between stated U.S. aims and the military capabilities needed to achieve them. This leaves the Trump administration and this Congress with some difficult choices. The United States could decide to focus primarily on its own security, devoting to allies and partners only those forces and capabilities that could be easily spared. At the other end of the spectrum, the Trump administration could take the central role in defending U.S. allies against aggression by Russia, China, and other potential adversaries. The hard-to-find middle ground would be to provide the military with sufficient capabilities to ensure that aggression that imperils U.S. interests in critical regions would fail while helping allies build the capacity to do more for their own and the collective defense.


Cristina L. Garafola and Timothy R. Heath, The Chinese Air Force’s First Steps Toward Becoming an Expeditionary Air Force RR-2056-AF (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2017).

Research Questions

  1. What steps is the People’s Liberation Army Air Force taking toward becoming an expeditionary air force?
  2. What are the implications for China’s military and its ability to protect its emerging overseas interests?

This report is based on RAND Project AIR FORCE Strategy and Doctrine Program research that was presented at the second China Aerospace Studies Institute conference, sponsored by Headquarters, U.S. Air Force. It took place on May 2, 2016, at the RAND Corporation’s Washington office in Arlington, Va. Experts on airpower, military operations, and Chinese military modernization participated in the conference and provided valuable feedback to the report’s authors. The four resulting reports assess notable developments and implications of China’s emerging aerospace expeditionary and power-projection capabilities. As China’s economic, diplomatic, and security interests continue to expand, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and, in particular, its aerospace forces (including its air force, naval aviation, and space capabilities) will require more robust power projection and expeditionary capabilities on par with China’s expanding global footprint. In addition to traditional security concerns (e.g., Taiwan and maritime territorial disputes), such issues as countering terrorism, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, and sea-lane protection have now become factors in the PLA’s training, doctrine, and modernization efforts. Command of space — including the military use of outer space — is also of increasing interest to the PLA as it seeks to develop new capabilities and operating concepts to support its growing range of military missions. This report focuses on the PLA Air Force’s initial steps toward becoming an expeditionary air force, a development that will have important implications for the reach of China’s military and its ability to protect China’s emerging overseas interests.

Key Findings

Non-war, Peacekeeping, and Foreign Missions Have Informed the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) of Its Limitations

  • Domestic experiences, such as participation in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake rescue effort, helped the PLAAF improve its abilities to navigate across vast distances, exercise command and control, and anticipate logistics and maintenance needs at remote locations.
  • The first international exercise involving PLAAF participation overseas was Peace Mission 2007.
  • The PLAAF has also carried out relief efforts to other countries as well as its first noncombatant evacuation operation involving the use of military aircraft to evacuate Chinese citizens from Libya in 2011.
  • The PLAAF has recently expanded its role in foreign military exchanges by attending international air shows and air competitions beginning in 2013 and 2014, respectively.


Eric HeginbothamMichael S. ChaseJacob HeimBonny LinMark R. CozadLyle J. MorrisChristopher P. TwomeyForrest E. MorganMichael NixonCristina L. Garafola, and Samuel K. BerkowitzDomestic Factors Could Accelerate the Evolution of China’s Nuclear Posture RB-9956-AF (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 20 April 2017).

This brief discusses how domestic factors could influence China’s evolving nuclear deterrent.

Key Findings

Domestic drivers are likely to accelerate China’s nuclear modernization over the coming decade:

  1. Increased bureaucratic influence over nuclear force planning and policymaking
  2. Elevation of nuclear constituencies within the PLA
  3. Lack of organizational firewalls to prevent advances in conventional capability from influencing nuclear force structure.

Since its first nuclear test in October 1964, China has maintained a modest strategic force designed to achieve limited deterrence goals. It has maintained a no-first-use policy and the ability to impose some risk of a second strike to deter attack. China’s restrained posture has made it an outlier in the nuclear world. In recent years, however, new trends have turned China’s outlier status on its head: While the United States and Russia have reduced their nuclear inventories, China has increased its strategic missiles and warheads and dramatically improved the quality of its force (Figure 1). China appears to be moving from a modest strategy of minimum deterrence toward a more robust strategy of assured retaliation, although China itself has not used either label (and talks instead about its requirement for a “lean and effective” nuclear deterrent). Although China is unlikely to change formal policy, it is developing capabilities that may ultimately allow it to engage in limited nuclear warfighting.

RAND Project AIR FORCE analysis finds that, while the strategic relationship with the United States continues to be the primary driver of the shift in China’s nuclear policy, a range of international and domestic drivers is likely to accelerate this trend over the coming decade. This brief focuses on three internal factors that could influence China’s nuclear direction: (1) a gradual shift from direct political control of nuclear policy to involvement by more-bureaucratic actors, (2) an increase in the size and status of the nuclear constituency within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and (3) the lack of organizational firewalls to prevent advances in conventional capability from influencing nuclear force structure and creating pressure for changes in policy. These factors are consistent with the unitary-actor, bureaucratic-politics, and bureaucratic-process models familiar to policy analysts, but they have not been applied systematically to the study of Chinese strategic forces. … … …


Eric HeginbothamMichael S. ChaseJacob HeimBonny LinMark R. CozadLyle J. MorrisChristopher P. TwomeyForrest E. MorganMichael NixonCristina L. Garafola, and Samuel K. BerkowitzChina’s Evolving Nuclear Deterrent: Major Drivers and Issues for the United States RR-1628-AF (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 15 March 2017).

This report analyzes international and domestic factors that will affect China’s approach to nuclear deterrence, how those drivers may evolve over the next 15 years, and what impact they are likely to have. China’s approach to nuclear deterrence has been broadly consistent since its first nuclear test in 1964. Key elements are its no-first-use policy and reliance on a small force of nuclear weapons capable of executing retaliatory strikes if China is attacked. China has recently accelerated nuclear force building and modernization, and both international and domestic factors are likely to drive faster modernization in the future. Chinese nuclear planners are concerned by strategic developments in the United States, especially the deployment of missile defenses. Within the region, Beijing is also an actor in complex multilateral security dynamics that now include several nuclear states, and the improving nuclear capabilities of China’s neighbors, especially India, are a growing concern for Beijing. Constituencies for nuclear weapons have gained in bureaucratic standing within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). With few, if any, firewalls between China’s conventional and nuclear missile forces, new technologies developed for the former are already being applied to the latter, a trend that will almost certainly continue. Given these changes, China is likely to increase emphasis on nuclear deterrence, accelerate nuclear force modernization, and make adjustments (although not wholesale changes) to policy.


Cristina L. Garafola, “The Evolution of the PLA Air Force’s Mission, Roles and Requirements,” in Joe McReynolds, ed., China’s Evolving Military Strategy (Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation, 2016), 99-132.

Every Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping has called on the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) to strengthen its capabilities, modernize its aircraft, and shoulder an increasingly outward-looking mission set. Jiang Zemin, for example, highlighted the need to “struggle to build a powerful, modernized air force that is simultaneously prepared for offensive and defensive operations” (攻防兼备) in a 1999 speech on the topic. In more recent years, the PLAAF’s role has expanded even further, with the PLAAF commander being granted a seat on the Central Military Commission (CMC) along with the PLAN and PLASAF commanders since 2004. That year also saw the creation of both the PLAAF’s service-specific strategy, a major milestone confirming the service’s importance to China’s leadership and its growing clout, and the “strategic air force” concept, which describes the PLAAF as having both offensive and defensive capabilities and integrating air and space capabilities.

This evolution is reflected in the major works on the PLA’s strategic thought that have been issued over this period. Changes in the discussion of the PLAAF from 2001 to recent works, including the 2013 version of Science of Military Strategy and other authoritative sources, highlight the increasing responsibilities of the PLAAF as a “strategic service” able to provide decisive impact during a conflict. These sources paint a picture of a transformation from a campaign-focused approach, adopted as the PLAAF was still absorbing the lessons of the 1991 Gulf War, to a strategic-level focus that is capable of conducting offensive and defensive operations, deterrence missions, layered air defense, protection of China’s border and maritime “rights and interests,” and MOOTW activities.

The PLAAF’s Changing Status, Mission and Roles

Until only recently, the PLAAF’s standing and missions have reflected its status largely as a supporting service to the PLA Army (PLAA). A recent authoritative publication describes the PLAAF’s development in three separate phases since the PLAAF was established on November 11, 1949. During the first period (1949 to 1955), the focus was on “building an Air Force on the Army’s foundation,” figuring out how to employ the PLAAF in combat during the Korean War, and establishing an aviation industry.

During the second period (1956 through the 1980s), the PLAAF suffered both in terms of its warfighting capability and also politically. Subpar education and training negatively impacted the PLAAF during the Cultural Revolution, and the 1971 “Lin Biao incident”—in which Minister of Defense Lin Biao, who had strong ties to the PLAAF and its commander Wu Faxian, fled the country and was killed in a plane crash—resulted in purges of PLAAF leadership and deep suspicion regarding the political reliability of PLAAF forces.

After the reform and opening period began, Deng Xiaoping stated that “the Air Force will be first” as a force provider in future combat. However, PLA analysts described the PLAAF’s main strategic missions during this period as homeland air defense and “supporting Army and Navy operations.” During this period, the PLAAF “established the strategic thought of territorial air defense as the main operational goal” while also continuing to develop a more self-reliant aviation industry. Through the end of the Cold War, the PLAAF’s main missions consisted merely of territorial defense, interdiction, and close air support for the PLA Army (PLAA). This set of roles was part of a PLA-wide mission that largely called for focusing northward on a potential ground-based, territorial incursion-style conflict with the Soviet Union.

In the third period (from the 1990s onward), however, strategic concerns about a possible conflict with the Soviet Union were allayed after its collapse in 1991. The PLA also began observing changes in the types of major wars being fought globally, particularly the high-tech nature of wars such as the Kosovo War and both Gulf Wars, which emphasized air power over ground forces. One study on the Second Gulf War argued that these wars led to “a new operational model” in which the application of air power could achieve the “strategic target,” concluding: “localized warfare practice has… [revealed] the subduing function of the position of air warfare.” Overall, lessons-learned studies concluded that China “should take the requirements for winning future high-tech local wars as the basis” for “greatly strengthening national defense and modernization building” to improve the PLA’s warfighting capabilities, with particular appreciation for the role that “high technology air strikes” play in modern warfare. These concerns were echoed by senior CMC leadership, with Jiang Zemin calling on the PLAAF to convert from a homeland air defense force to a force “that is simultaneously prepared for offensive and defensive operations” (攻防兼备) in an important 1999 speech. … … … 


Bonny Lin and Cristina L. Garafola, Training the People’s Liberation Army Air Force Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) Forces RR-1414-AF (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016.)

Research Questions

  1. How is China training its ground-based air defense units, and what insights can this training provide for assessing Chinese air defense capabilities?
  2. In what way do PLAAF SAM training activities shape operational effectiveness at the unit level?
  3. What are the key themes, strengths, and weaknesses of training conducted by PLAAF SAM units?

This report analyzes key trends and themes in China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) surface-to-air missile (SAM) unit training. After providing background information on China’s air defense forces, the report introduces the basics of PLAAF SAM training, including training requirements, trends in recent training activities, and analysis of training themes.

Based on this research, we found that PLAAF SAM units are improving their capabilities, although progress is uneven and capabilities may vary significantly between similarly equipped units. Based on data collected on PLAAF SAM training activities, the intensity of SAM training varies across China’s former seven military regions. SAM units near the capital area and in the coastal regions appear to be most active. SAM units follow a yearly training cycle, with training peaking during the summer and early fall. Content-wise, PLAAF SAM units are engaging in more realistic and challenging combat training compared with the mid-2000s. They have increased the duration and difficulty of their training, continue to emphasize denial and deception tactics, and focus significant efforts on countering low- and extreme-low-altitude targets. SAM units are engaging in substantial mobility and night training, but face logistical hurdles that undercut their ability to rapidly move to operating locations and safety concerns that hinder their ability to engage in difficult and sophisticated training. There is limited joint and combined-arms training, but units appear to be moving beyond simple altitude de-confliction toward sharing data, employing more sophisticated target identification methods, and coordinating firepower with aviation units.

Key Findings

PLAAF SAM Units Are Improving Their Capabilities

  • SAM training intensity varies across China’s former seven Military Regions; SAM units near the capital and coasts appear to be most active.
  • PLAAF SAM units follow a yearly training cycle; training peaks during the summer and early fall.
  • Progress is uneven; capabilities may vary significantly among similarly equipped units.

PLAAF SAM Training Content Largely Corresponds to Key Themes from PLA Training Regulations

  • PLAAF SAM training guidance includes the Outline of Military Training and Evaluation, Five-Year Plan–related training reform guidelines, and annual PLA training guidance from the last decade.
  • Training themes of 2013–2014 reflect this guidance — an emphasis on mobility, opposition force or confrontation, live-fire and nighttime, poor weather or difficult physical environments, and under complex electromagnetic conditions.
  • PLAAF SAM training appears to focus on countering the high-technology air assault threats envisioned by the 2005 China Air Force Military Encyclopedia.

SAM Units Conducting More Realistic and Challenging Combat Training Compared with the Mid-2000s

  • They are engaging in sophisticated confrontation training against aviation units, training without predetermined scripts and in unfamiliar territory, and training longer and under more difficult circumstances.
  • SAM units continue to emphasize and practice denial and deception tactics and focus on countering low- and extreme low–altitude targets.
  • There is limited joint and combined-arms training, despite the high priority the PLA places on acquiring the capability for integrated joint operations.
  • SAM units appear to be moving beyond simple altitude de-confliction toward sharing data and coordinating firepower with aviation units.


  • PLAAF SAMs are likely to continue to engage in more difficult and sophisticated training, including unscripted training against aviation opponents and complex operations at night. PLAAF SAMs are also likely to train more closely with PLA Army air defense units as the two services work on their ability to operate jointly. Future research should explore developments in PLAAF capabilities in these areas.
  • Much is still unknown about PLAAF SAM training and operations, including how PLAAF SAMs train with radar, AAA, and ECM troops; how they coordinate with PLA Army air defense forces as well as PLA Navy and Naval Aviation assets; and how PLAAF reserve forces train with the active force for air defense. Research on these topics would expand our understanding of SAM training and operations.
  • An additional valuable area for study could include an evaluation of the data and findings from Kongjun Bao compilation presented here in light of classified sources.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

Background on China’s Air Defense Forces

  • Chapter Three

Understanding PLAAF SAM Training

  • Chapter Four

PLAAF SAM Training Activities, 2013-2014

  • Chapter Five

Key Training Themes and Implications

  • Chapter Six



David C. GompertAstrid Stuth Cevallos, and Cristina L. Garafola, War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable RR-1140-A (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016).

Research Questions

  1. What are the alternative paths that China and the United States might take before and during a war?
  2. What are the effects on both countries of each path?
  3. What preparations should the United States make, both to reduce the likelihood of war and, should war break out, to ensure victory while minimizing losses and costs?

Premeditated war between the United States and China is very unlikely, but the danger that a mishandled crisis could trigger hostilities cannot be ignored. Thus, while neither state wants war, both states’ militaries have plans to fight one. As Chinese anti-access and area-denial (A2AD) capabilities improve, the United States can no longer be so certain that war would follow its plan and lead to decisive victory. This analysis illuminates various paths a war with China could take and their possible consequences.

Technological advances in the ability to target opposing forces are creating conditions of conventional counterforce, whereby each side has the means to strike and degrade the other’s forces and, therefore, an incentive to do so promptly, if not first. This implies fierce early exchanges, with steep military losses on both sides, until one gains control. At present, Chinese losses would greatly exceed U.S. losses, and the gap would only grow as fighting persisted. But, by 2025, that gap could be much smaller. Even then, however, China could not be confident of gaining military advantage, which suggests the possibility of a prolonged and destructive, yet inconclusive, war. In that event, nonmilitary factors — economic costs, internal political effects, and international reactions — could become more important.

Political leaders on both sides could limit the severity of war by ordering their respective militaries to refrain from swift and massive conventional counterforce attacks. The resulting restricted, sporadic fighting could substantially reduce military losses and economic harm. This possibility underscores the importance of firm civilian control over wartime decision-making and of communication between capitals. At the same time, the United States can prepare for a long and severe war by reducing its vulnerability to Chinese A2AD forces and developing plans to ensure that economic and international consequences would work to its advantage.

Key Findings

Unless Both U.S. and Chinese Political Leaders Decline to Carry Out Counterforce Strategies, the Ability of Either State to Control the Ensuing Conflict Would Be Greatly Impaired

  • Both sides would suffer large military losses in a severe conflict. In 2015, U.S. losses could be a relatively small fraction of forces committed, but still significant; Chinese losses could be much heavier than U.S. losses and a substantial fraction of forces committed.
  • This gap in losses will shrink as Chinese A2AD improves. By 2025, U.S. losses could range from significant to heavy; Chinese losses, while still very heavy, could be somewhat less than in 2015, owing to increased degradation of U.S. strike capabilities.
  • China’s A2AD will make it increasingly difficult for the United States to gain military-operational dominance and victory, even in a long war. 

Conflict Could Be Decided by Domestic Political, International, and Economic Factors, All of Which Would Favor the United States in a Long, Severe War

  • Although a war would harm both economies, damage to China’s would be far worse.
  • Because much of the Western Pacific would become a war zone, China’s trade with the region and the rest of the world would decline substantially.
  • China’s loss of seaborne energy supplies would be especially damaging.
  • A long conflict could expose China to internal political divisions.
  • Japan’s increased military activity in the region could have a considerable influence on military operations.


  • U.S. and Chinese political leaders alike should have military options other than immediate strikes to destroy opposing forces.
  • U.S. leaders should have the means to confer with Chinese leaders and contain a conflict before it gets out of hand.
  • The United States should guard against automaticity in implementing immediate attacks on Chinese A2AD and have plans and means to prevent hostilities from becoming severe. Establishing “fail safe” arrangements will guarantee definitive, informed political approval for military operations.
  • The United States should reduce the effect of Chinese A2AD by investing in more-survivable force platforms (e.g., submarines) and in counter-A2AD (e.g., theater missiles).
  • The United States should conduct contingency planning with key allies, especially Japan.
  • The United States should ensure that the Chinese are specifically aware of the potential for catastrophic results even if a war is not lost militarily.
  • The United States should improve its ability to sustain intense military operations.
  • U.S. leaders should develop options to deny China access to war-critical commodities and technologies in the event of war.
  • The United States should undertake measures to mitigate the interruption of critical products from China.
  • Additionally, the U.S. Army should invest in land-based A2AD capabilities, encourage and enable East Asian partners to mount strong defense, improve interoperability with partners (especially Japan), and contribute to the expansion and deepening of Sino-U.S. military-to-military understanding and cooperation to reduce dangers of misperception and miscalculation.


Michael S. ChaseCristina L. Garafola, and Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga, “Chinese Perceptions of and Responses to U.S. Conventional Military Power,” Asian Security (March 2017): 1-19.

Chinese analysts view the US military not only as a model for emulation but also as a serious threat given its strengths in high tech weapons and equipment, power projection, and unparalleled ability to conduct information-intensive joint combat operations. Yet they also see many of the capabilities the US military relies upon to execute these operations – most notably forward bases, space capabilities, and computer networks and information technology systems – as potentially vulnerable to disruption. Accordingly, China has developed capabilities designed to deter or counter US military intervention in areas close to China. This poses two interrelated challenges for the United States: maintaining its military advantage in an era of rapid technological change and preserving deterrence against growing Chinese ambitions in Asia.

Michael S. Chase and Cristina L. Garafola, “China’s Search for a ‘Strategic Air Force’,” Journal of Strategic Studies 39.1 (Fall 2016): 4-28.

Once dismissed by many outside observers, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has undergone an impressive transformation over the past two decades, emerging as one of the world’s premier air forces. As it continues to modernize, it is focused on becoming a ‘strategic air force.’ PLAAF strategists suggest this means it should play a decisive role in protecting Chinese national interests, field modern capabilities commensurate with China’s standing as a major power, and enjoy the institutional status befitting its role as a ‘strategic service,’ an important consideration given the historical dominance of the ground force in China’s military.


Cristina L. Garafola, “PLA Reforms and Their Ramifications,” Defense Dossier, Issue 17 (Washington, DC: American Foreign Policy Council, September 22, 2016), 6-9.

At the Third Plenum of the 18th Central Committee in November 2013, the Communist Party of China formally announced a series of major reforms to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).1 So far, those reforms have included a reduction of 300,000 personnel, a reorganization of the former seven Military Regions into five “theater commands,” and the restructuring of the former four General Departments into 15 smaller organizations that all report directly to the Central Military Commission (CMC). Official media coverage has also detailed an extensive anti-corruption campaign that has led to disciplinary action against dozens of high-ranking PLA officers, as well as plans for an end to fee-based services that had been run by PLA personnel as secondary sources of income.

This newest round of reforms has been portrayed as a far-reaching process for both the PLA and Chinese society as a whole. It is expected to last until 2020, and will improve the military’s efficiency, warfighting capability, and—most importantly, from the Party’s perspective— its political loyalty. However, the reforms also challenge entrenched interests within the PLA, and could lead to reluctance within the military to adjust to new realities. Nevertheless, the reforms will likely succeed due both to recognition within the PLA of continued weakness in operational capabilities and to the senior Party leadership’s ability to coopt support from various groups within the institution.

The Rationale for Reform

On January 1, 2016, the CMC released a document explaining the rationale for undertaking the reforms as well as the priority areas for reforming the PLA.2 According to the “Opinion on Deepening the Reform of National Defense and the Armed Forces,” the reforms are necessary both for the PLA and for China as a whole. In addition to being the only path forward to transform the military into a modern fighting force, they are also one component of policies designed to help China reach broader national-level goals, which official policy statements have detailed as becoming a “moderately prosperous society” by 2021 and becoming a “modern socialist country” by 2049.

The main goals of the reforms as described in the “Opinion” are twofold. The first is to guide the PLA toward the “correct political direction” of Communist Party control and away from the perceived laxness of the pre-reform PLA, which was seen as corrupt and too opaque for Party leadership to administer. The second is to improve the PLA’s ability to fight and win wars. … … …


Nathan Beauchamp-MustafagaCristina GarafolaAstrid Cevallos, and Arthur Chan, “China Signals Resolve with Bomber Flights Over the South China Sea,” War on the Rocks, 2 August 2016.

An unprecedented display of Chinese strategic systems over disputed territories in the South China Sea reflects China’s efforts to signal its resolve following a diplomatic defeat.

After the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) tribunal ruled July 12 in favor of the Philippines’ case, invalidating many of China’s territorial and other claims in the South China Sea, Beijing has sought to demonstrate its military strength in the region. The People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s (PLAAF) long-range strategic bomber, the H-6K, has played a key role in projecting Chinese military power via publicized flights over the South China Sea. Since early May, state-run media have released photos and videos of H-6Ks flying over Fiery Cross Reef, Scarborough Shoal, Mischief Reef and Livock Reef in the southern Spratly Islands, as well as Woody Island in the northern Paracel Islands. “Combat readiness patrols” by H-6Ks and other PLAAF aircraft “will continue on regularized basis,” a PLAAF spokesman said July 18.

The release of the H-6K footage follows an expanding array of PLA Navy aircraft and systems that have been deployed to land features controlled by China in the South China Sea. In May of last year, The Wall Street Journal reported that China had deployed artillery to one reclaimed island in the Paracels. By February of this year, the PLA had deployed surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) on Woody Island, although a recent report suggests the SAMs were removed just before the July 12 ruling. In March, the PLA fired an anti-ship cruise missile from a system deployed to Woody Island. PLA Naval Aviation J-11 and JH-7 fighters were also deployed on Woody Island last October as well as in February and April of this year. And in May of this year, J-11 fighters conducted an intercept of U.S. aircraft above the South China Sea that the Department of Defense characterized as “unsafe.”

Despite President Xi’s pledge during his September visit to the United States that China would not “militarize” the Spratly Islands in the southern portion of the South China Sea, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative reported in February that China may have installed a high-frequency radar system in the Spratlys. The May H-6K video marked the PLAAF’s first public appearance in the disputed area, revealing PLAAF assets in the region in addition to PLA Navy systems and aircraft.

The decision to publicize the PLAAF’s flights in the South China Sea is significant because of the messages being conveyed to both internal and external audiences. To Chinese domestic audiences, the flights project strength and emphasize progress in the PLA’s ongoing military modernization and reform process—an especially significant reminder at a time when Beijing appears weak after losing the tribunal case in The Hague. The flights also transmit a conventional deterrence message to external audiences. The recent trend of H-6K flights extending farther beyond China’s borders raises concerns for the United States and other actors in the Asia-Pacific region about China’s increasing capability to employ long-range bombers to strike targets in the Western Pacific.

Finally, H-6K flights over disputed territories in the South China Sea clearly signal China’s decision to publicize a growing role for the PLAAF and its bombers in maritime overflight operations, following a previous flight in the East China Sea air defense identification zone (ADIZ) and training activities conducted beyond the First Island Chain in the Western Pacific. … … …


Cristina Garafola, “Will the PLA Reforms Succeed?” China Analysis, European Council on Foreign Relations, March 2016, 3-5.

At the Third Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in November 2013, major reforms to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were announced. Beginning in September 2015, elements of the reform programme have been made public and the process is expected to last until 2020. The changes challenge a number of established interests, including by restructuring the Military Region system as well as the four General Departments, which have been blamed for facilitating patron-client ties in the PLA.

Official sources say that these and other reforms are necessary to transform the PLA into a military force capable of conducting integrated joint operations to protect the Party’s interests within and beyond China’s borders. PLA analysts point out the importance of implementing the reforms, but also highlight the challenges that will come in attempting to carry them out, especially given entrenched interests within the PLA.

Overhauling the PLA

Since they began in September, the reforms have already brought about large-scale changes to the force structure, organisation, and operational command of the PLA. On 1 January 2016, the Central Military Commission (CMC) released an “Opinion on Deepening the Reform of National Defence and the Armed Forces” (hereafter, the “Opinion”), which provides the rationale, objectives, and priority areas for the reform programme.1 The “Opinion” states that the reforms represent the only way to achieve the rejuvenation of the military as well as China’s national-level goals, including the goals of becoming a “moderately prosperous society” (小康社会, xiaokang shehui) by 2021, and becoming a “modern socialist country” by 2049.2 The reforms are also necessary to overcome the structural and policy barriers that exist in the current national defence system. … … …


Cristina Garafola, “Aung San Suu Kyi’s Trip to China: Sino-Myanmar Relations as the Countdown to the November Elections Begins,” The Diplomat, 6 August 2015.

The importance of a recent visit extends beyond its unprecedented nature.

In June 2015, Burmese parliamentarian and opposition party leader Aung San Suu Kyi led a delegation of National League for Democracy (NLD) party members to China. Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK), the general secretary of the NLD, met with President Xi Jinping and other senior Chinese officials.

The trip marked a series of firsts in the Sino-Myanmar relationship: the first visit by the Nobel Peace Prize winner to China since her release from house arrest in November 2010, as well as the first meeting between President Xi and ASSK, both heads of their respective parties, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the NLD.

The high-level discussions also reflected the importance of ASSK’s trip for both sides. For China, whose relations with Myanmar have become increasingly strained since 2011, ASSK’s visit provided an opportunity to engage with a key player in the now-pluralized political landscape prior to Myanmar’s upcoming parliamentary elections on November 8th. For ASSK and the rest of the NLD delegation, meeting with Chinese leadership provided a forum for bilateral engagement with one of Myanmar’s most important neighbors in the region, relations that will continue, if not expand, if the NLD performs as well as expected in the November elections. … … …


Michael S. Chase and Cristina Garafola, “China’s Search for a ‘Strategic Air Force’,” Jamestown China Brief 15.19 (2 October 2015). 

Note: This piece is based on a longer article published in The Journal of Strategic Studies that is available for download here and will appear in the print version of the journal in early 2016.

On September 10, People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) spokesman Shen Jinke stated that some PLAAF systems displayed to the public during the “9-3” military parade, including the H-6K bomber, the KJ-500 airborne early warning and control plane, and the H-9 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system testified to the quickening pace of China’s drive to transform the PLAAF into a “strategic service” (战略性军种) (Liberation Daily, September 10). Once dismissed by many outside observers, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has undergone an impressive transformation over the past two decades, emerging as one of the world’s premier air forces. As it continues to modernize, it is focused on becoming a “strategic air force” (战略空军). PLAAF strategists suggest this means the air force should play a decisive role in protecting Chinese national interests, field modern capabilities commensurate with China’s standing as a major power and enjoy the institutional status befitting its role as a “strategic service,” an important consideration given the historical dominance of ground forces in China’s military.

Becoming a “Strategic Air Force” 

Through the 1990s, the PLAAF faced daunting obstacles on its path to becoming a more modern and operationally capable air force, including a relatively narrow set of missions and capabilities that lagged behind other regional air forces. By the late 1990s, however, tremendous changes were underway across the Chinese military. The reform of China’s defense industry and dramatic increases in defense spending enabled China to begin developing and deploying the hardware that PLA leaders viewed as essential to building a more modern and operationally capable military, including a more technologically advanced and powerful air force. The PLAAF’s doctrine and force employment concepts also evolved in line with a broader transformation of doctrine across the PLA that followed the issuance of new campaign guidance documents (战略方针) in 1999. Additionally, according to the China Air Force Encyclopedia, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, in a 1999 speech to commemorate the PLAAF’s 50th anniversary, called for the PLAAF to “prepare struggle to build a powerful, modernized air force that is simultaneously prepared for offensive and defensive operations” (攻防兼备).[2]In 2004, this idea was incorporated into the PLAAF’s first ever service-specific strategic concept, which called on it to “integrate air and space and be simultaneously prepared for offensive and defensive operations.”

Both this phrase and the concept of the PLAAF as a “strategic air force” have been endorsed in official state media as well as by Chinese senior leadership. During a visit to PLAAF Headquarters in April 2014, Chinese leader Xi Jinping emphasized the need to “accelerate the construction of a powerful people’s air force that integrates air and space and is simultaneously prepared for offensive and defensive operations, provides staunch support for the realization of the China dream and the dream of a strong military.” Xi also described the PLAAF as a “strategic service,” one that must be capable of playing a decisive role “in the overall situation of national security and military strategy” (Xinhua, April 14, 2014). Widely publicized in official Chinese media, Xi’s remarks underscored the growing importance that China attaches to the transformation of the PLAAF along “strategic” lines. Although the term “strategic air force” is not defined in authoritative Chinese military publications, a review of publications by a number of PLAAF officers and other Chinese analysts sheds light on what it means for the Chinese air force to realize this goal.[1] Based on these writings, a “strategic air force” has a clearly defined strategy and an accompanying set of missions that enable it to directly achieve important national security objectives. … … …


Cristina Garafola, “‘Serve in a Company’ and ‘Switch Posts’: Mix of Old and New in Recent PLA Personnel Policies,” Jamestown China Brief 15.4 (20 February 2015).

On January 11, 2015, Xinhua reported that a directive issued by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) General Political Department (GPD) and endorsed by Central Military Commission chairman Xi Jinping ordered military and political officers to rotate posts at the grassroots level (jiceng) (Xinhua, January 11). In the PLA, “grassroots level” generally refers to subunits (fendui) at the battalion level and below.[1] Xinhua’s report stated that, as the GPD circular noted, the new policy is aimed at helping “train quality grassroots officers who excel as military and political officers in charge.” The new policy also applies to the People’s Armed Police (PAP) and is being implemented after a pilot program was carried out at the battalion and company level in 2014 (Beijing Youth Daily, January 11; Ministry of National Defense[MND], January 12). The grassroots position rotation policy follows a separate GPD directive from April 2013 requiring senior field-grade officers to conduct short tours as a first-year enlisted soldier in a grassroots-level position (Xinhua, April 21, 2013). Both policies come at a time when the PLA is looking to fulfill the goal of achieving the “strong army dream” in the Xi Jinping era, while at the same time facing old problems such as broad gaps in understanding between officers and grassroots soldiers. A mix of new and old grassroots personnel policies appear to target some of these problems while providing opportunities for the PLA’s political component under the GPD to shape the training of the next generation of PLA political and military leadership.

Historical Continuity: The “Serve in a Company” Campaign

Although some of the recently proposed policy changes are new, grassroots personnel policies have strong historical roots within the PLA and can be placed in the broader context of its development. PLA leadership emphasizes the importance of the grassroots level for two reasons. First, because most soldiers in grassroots units are not Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members, political and ideological training of soldiers via Party grassroots organizations helps “ensure the Party’s absolute leadership over the military and earnestly grasp the military’s thinking, politics and organization [as well as] ensure the Party guidelines and policies [are] carried out and implemented among grassroots units” (PLA Daily, October 18, 2000). More recently, a “Military Grassroots Construction Outline” (jundui jiceng jianshe gangyao) released in February 2015 reiterated the importance of political thought work for grassroots troops (PLA Daily, February 4). Second, grassroots-level units are the ones largely carrying out military operations and, hence, are seen as the foundation upon which PLA combat power is based; a July 2014 PLA Daily article noted that “we must consistently do a good job in strengthening grassroots force building… and truly lay a strong and solid combat power groundwork for our armed forces as a whole” (PLA Daily, July 4, 2014).

Correspondingly, a series of policies have targeted both a better understanding of grassroots personnel’s needs and improvements to grassroots leadership training throughout the PLA’s history. A Party-run magazine called CCP History Extensive Reading (dangshi bolan) ran an article in December 2013 that traced the history of the “serve in a company” (xialian dangbing) concept back to two Party-wide directives that the PLA studied and implemented beginning in 1958, with subsequent official documents proclaiming that hundreds of thousands of cadres had participated, including hundreds of generals (Dangshi BolanSeptember 13, 2013). According to the article, the “serve in a company” campaign requirements began to loosen in 1963 as the PLA was needed to participate in the “Four Cleanups” Movement (siqing yundong), and the campaign was eventually subsumed into the Cultural Revolution as it began to take off in 1966. More recently, the “serve in a company” campaign regulations were modified in 2007 and discussed at a convention in 2010 (People’s Daily, 2011). In this context, the revamp of the “serve in the company” campaign is not unexpected.

Based on PLA and other Chinese state media reports, the recent grassroots policies announcements are the result of directives released since Xi Jinping assumed the chairmanship of the Central Military Commission (CMC) in November 2012. The first major directive, titled the “Provision Regarding Organizing Leaders and Administrative and Functional Cadres at the Regiment Level and Above to Serve in the Company and Live in the Squad” (guanyu zuzhi tuan yishang lingdao he jiguan ganbu xialian dangbing, duanlian zhuban de guiding), was issued by the GPD in April 2013 (Xinhua, April 21, 2013). The “Provision” appears to require that officers at the regiment level or above serve in grassroots units in order to better connect high-level officers to grassroots soldiers, while potentially also providing opportunities for grassroots soldiers to learn about a senior officer’s perspective.[2]

The primary candidates for the program include commanding officers or administrative and functional cadres under the age of 55, cadres who do not have experience holding a post at the grassroots level as well as some administrative and functional cadres at the company level or below (Xinhua, April 21, 2013). This latter category could include certain junior-grade officers working in regimental-level headquarters or above, such as intelligence, armament or logistics specialists, whose specialties are not generally found at the grassroots levels—meaning that they did not have the opportunity to serve in grassroots leadership positions. For program participants, the term of “service” can last no fewer than 15 days and participants must serve again within a set number of years (see chart below). Presumably to minimize any exploitation of loopholes by reluctant units, the “Provision” also requires that at least one officer from a unit must participate in a given year or other timeframe (also see below). Officers who participate are also instructed to wear a private’s uniform (MND, January 12). … … … 


Cristina Garafola, editor, China’s Strategy for the “Network Domain” (Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation, 2014).

While the rise of computer network exploitation has opened new opportunities for China to gather intelligenceand exposed U.S. government agencies and corporations to risks of espionageChinese planners are keenly aware of China’s own vulnerabilities. Viewing the country as an underdog facing threats from “the world’s only network superpower,” both military and civilian thinkers continue to debate the implications of cyber-war, intelligence gathering, and to seek an approach to protect China’s own networks.

On March 25, 2014, The Jamestown Foundation organized a panel titled “China’s Strategy for the ‘Network Domain’ as part of its annual China Defense and Security Conference. This panel report contains full-length transcripts of four presentations and a question and answer session.

Joe McReynolds, a research analyst at Defense Group, Inc.’s Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, describes Chinese Views of Offense and Defense in the Network Domain, explaining the how the “network domain” differs from “cyber war,” what it means for Chinese strategy and operations and how Chinese military thinkers approach deterrence and escalation in network war.

Jamestown Fellow Peter Mattis explains The Role of Computer Network Exploitation in China’s Intelligence and Strategic Practices, explaining how hacking fits in with traditional intelligence gathering, what it means for Chinese leaders’ ability to understand the world and how it has made China a “first-rate intelligence power.”

Leigh Ann Ragland, a research analyst at Defence Group Inc.’s Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, covers The Chinese Approach to Defending Cyberspace, a profile of Xu Rongsheng, China’s first cyber-security expert, illuminating the bureaucratic challenges that have stymied Chinese efforts to develop a strategy for defending its networks.

Russell Hsiao, Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Project 2049 Institute, explains Chinese Cyber-War Up Close: The View from Taiwan, drawing lessons from Taiwan’s 15 years of experience of network attacks from mainland China.


Cristina Garafola, “Lunar Rover Marks Another Advance in China’s Space Programs,” Jamestown China Brief 14.2 (24 January 2014).

On December 2, at approximately 1:30 AM local standard time, an enhanced Chang Zheng-3B rocket carrying the Chang’e-3 lunar probe lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan, China. On December 14, China became only the third country to complete a lunar soft landing, following the United States and the former Soviet Union. The next day, Chang’e-3 released the lunar rover Yutu onto the moon’s surface, and both the rover and the lander have begun conducting experiments and sending visual information and data back to Earth. According to official state media, Yutu will explore the moon’s surface for three months and the lander has the capability to run for one year (Xinhua, December 23, 2013).

While China’s recent achievements are still roughly 40 to 50 years behind advances made during the U.S.-Soviet space race, the Chang’e-3 lunar probe landing marks another significant accomplishment in a period defined by China’s 2011 space white paper as “crucial” for “bring[ing] new opportunities to China’s space industry.” Moreover, China’s space programs have enjoyed a string of successes that have put China on track to becoming one of the world’s most advanced space-faring nations within a decade. The PRC has created and supported such programs to reap the benefits of conducting space-based scientific research as well as opportunities for international recognition and improving its popularity domestically with Chinese citizens. As a result of this testing, research, and development, China’s lunar and deep space programs have already begun to spur advances in dual-use technologies that will shape China’s military and civilian use of space. 

Recent Developments in Lunar and Deep Space Programs

The China Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) has three phases: 1) orbital missions; 2) soft landing missions; and 3) “return” missions in which samples are sent back to Earth. A fourth possible phase is future manned lunar missions. In 2009, Ye Peijian, the chief designer of the Chang’e lunar probe, stated that China was studying the feasibility of conducting a manned lunar mission between 2025 and 2030, but little more is known about a prospective lunar mission. The chart below provides a synopsis of completed and future missions: … … … 


Peter Wood and Cristina Garafola, “Counting Z’s: The Gradual Expansion of China’s Helicopter Force,” Jamestown China Brief 13.8 (12 April 2013).

While much attention has been given to Chinese development of fixed-wing aircraft like the J-20 and J-31, relatively little has been devoted to China’s helicopter development. On March 16, 2013, a CCTV television news segment featured a squadron of Z-10 helicopters in Jinan Military Region (MR), marking the fifth squadron of China’s primary attack helicopter observed in public and the fourth squadron to appear since October of last year [1]. The other four squadrons are based out of Nanjing, Beijing, Guangdong and Shenyang MRs (Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment, April 10, 2012). The Z-10 has been flying since at least 2003 and was revealed to the public in 2004 (International Defense Review, September 13, 2007). Now being deployed to units, the Z-10 is an indicator that China is making more significant progress in terms of aerospace development than it is generally given credit for.

The arrival of the Z-10 and the smaller Z-19 scout helicopter are important because they represent the culmination of a much longer process of technical and doctrinal development. With a large acquisition project that gained China aircraft from all over the world, including not only Soviet and French designs but also U.S. Blackhawk helicopters, China clearly recognized the benefit of helicopters. This is not surprising given the employment of helicopters in combat was pioneered in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, two wars in which China participated. The astounding performance of the Apache attack helicopter during the Persian Gulf War—a conflict intensely studied by China’s military—provided further impetus for China’s development programs [2]. In fact, helicopters have been compared favorably to tanks in terms of overall speed, mobility over terrain and firepower, strengthening the argument for more investment over tanks, armored vehicles and ground troops (PLA Daily, July 9, 2003). For the ground forces, the next logical step beyond acquiring modern main battle tanks and mechanized infantry forces is a large contingent of helicopters for transport, scouting and attack.

Though China’s helicopters cannot compare to the thousands used by the U.S. military, the PLA now has a not-insignificant force. The 2013 issue of The Military Balance gives a total of 914, even though only non-authoritative estimates currently are available for the total numbers of Z-10 and Z-19 attack helicopters. Still, this suggests, despite the lack of an authoritative number, a significant increase from the 500 helicopters listed during rescue operations in the wake of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake (China Daily, July 5, 2008). According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Institute, between 1977 and 2012, Chinese imports from the USSR (and later Russia), France and the United States comprised 477 helicopters of various makes. Although China’s official media maintains that all of the Z class helicopters are produced indigenously, it has continued to purchase Russian transport helicopters and manufacture Z-8 and Z-9 aircraft based on French designs (Global Times, July 25, 2012). At the same time, China’s civilian helicopter market also is growing, which, given the dual use capability of several platforms such as the Z-9 and Z-11, would improve China’s overall ability to build its own helicopters. … … …


Cristina Garafola, “PLA Succession: Trends and Surprises,” Jamestown China Brief 12.24 (14 December 2012).

On November 26, Air Force General Xu Qiliang gave his first major speech as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC). In front of a military audience, Xu urged the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to hasten the process of military modernization (Xinhua, November 27). Army General Zhang Yang, Director of the General Political Department and one of the eight regular CMC members, emphasized the importance of “further uniting behind a common purpose” and “strengthening” the PLA’s “sense of responsibility and duty to the mission.” The 18th Party Congress marked an important round of transitions for the PLA that also highlighted the difficulties of studying the military’s leadership transition process. In the Mao era, the PLA leadership had been tightly linked to the unpredictable factional politics surrounding the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but the increasing routinization of the succession process since the 1980s has led to a better understanding of leadership transitions within the PLA’s top echelons. Unexpected promotions during the recent Party Congress, however, challenge the reliability of some observed trends in PLA leadership succession. In particular, the continuing domination of the ground force component among the military services (e.g., Army, Navy and Air Force) works against succession routinization and hampers modernization efforts for the PLA going forward.

CMC Membership and Succession 

Known as the “supreme command” of the military, the CMC currently has 11 members that include the General Secretary of the CCP, two uniformed military vice chairman, the Minister of Defense, and representatives from the four service and branch commands. The directors of the four general departments form the joint and de facto army command and sit on the CMC and, since 2004, the commanders from the PLA Navy (PLAN), PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and the Second Artillery also have been CMC members. The CMC “provides guidance for China’s national military strategy and overall war effort,” including force building, weapons purchases and development, senior personnel promotions, and the PLA’s overall organizational structure [1].

PLA succession is difficult to understand in the same way that broader CCP succession processes are opaque. First, the base of power is ostensibly broad but in reality flows downward from a narrow top. The CMC is theoretically elected by the approximately 200 members of the CCP’s Central Committee, but in practice the outgoing CMC as well as the GPD’s Cadre Department and possibly certain top party leaders likely control appointments to the CMC, making predictions a challenge. That said, however, the pool of top military leaders to fill the vice chairmen and CMC member billets is fairly predictable based on their current positions and grades (“Assessing the PLA’s Promotion Ladder to CMC Member Based on Grades vs. Ranks,” China Brief, July 22, 2010; August 5, 2010).

Second, for those officers who are eligible based on their grade and position, promotions depend as much on merit as they do on guanxi, factional pedigrees and officers’ skill at maintaining good relations within their units [2]. Most enlisted members and officers will serve in the same unit throughout their career, so harmony within the unit can have long-term implications for advancement.

Third, much of how Western PLA analysts frame their understanding of the military is based on patterns and norms that have developed in the reform era. For example, officers in high-level positions must retire once they reach a certain age (e.g., military region leader grade-officers must retire by the age of 65), officers can only be promoted one grade at a time and so on. When established norms run up against intractable personality and institutional conflicts, however, the structural elements of institutions have changed to accommodate nonconforming promotions. For example, Army General Fan Changlong’s recent promotion as the senior of the two CMC vice chairmen required him to skip a grade, which was unprecedented based on past high-level promotions. The Army, however, wanted a ground forces general in that position to balance Xu Qiliang as the first PLAAF member to hold the vice chairmanship. Though Fan’s promotion resolved the balance of power dilemma by keeping other non-ground forces from being promoted and breaking the grade promotion precedent, poking a hole in one of the guidelines generally used to understand the rules of the game. … … …


Cristina Garafola, “Four More Years: The DPP Assesses its 2012 Loss and Looks Ahead to 2016,” Jamestown China Brief 12.9 (5 October 2012).

Taiwan’s presidential election in January 2012 marked a fresh wave of defeat for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and has forced the party to grapple with its future vis-à-vis the Kuomintang (KMT). DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen’s loss, widely believed to be the result of the DPP’s ambiguous cross-Strait policy based around the “Taiwan Consensus,” has prompted the party to rethink its handling of the campaign and begin to regroup for the 2016 election. Since its defeat, the DPP has announced a combination of new initiatives and changes to existing policies. The party, however, still faces significant obstacles, including resolving inter-party tensions, securing voter confidence and forging consensus on an approach toward the People’s Republic of China. Despite some promising signs that the party is addressing its weaknesses, the DPP will need to assuage concerns about its policy positions, unify around a single candidate, and sell its revamped platform to voters to successfully return to power in 2016.

Aftermath of the Election

In mid-February, the DPP published a report analyzing six main reasons for its defeat in the January 2012 presidential and Legislative Yuan (LY) elections:  (1) “voters’ doubts about the DPP as a ruling party”; (2) “a collaborated effort of the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] and the Chinese Communist Party to use the cross-strait economy as a scare tactic”; (3) “the KMT’s abuse of its administrative resources as campaign tools”; (4) travel difficulties for people returning home to vote; (5) lower than expected voter turnout; and (6) tactical voting that reduced blue votes for third-party candidate James Soong in favor of President Ma Ying-jeou. During the election, the DPP rejected the “1992 Consensus”—that both Taipei and Beijing agree there is only “one China,” though both sides interpret “one China” differently—but the party denied that this stance contributed to voters’ concerns about a potential DPP administration’s handling of cross-Strait relations. The party acknowledged that both the KMT, which has embraced the “1992 Consensus,” and the mainland effectively portrayed the DPP as opposing the expansion of trade and cross-Strait economic ties (Taipei Times, February 16).

Since the publication of the party’s assessment, the DPP has been focused on voters’ concerns about the “Taiwan Consensus,” which Tsai described in a pre-election interview with the New York Times: “people in Taiwan have to get together and form a consensus of their own and…turn around to talk to the Chinese to form a cross-Strait consensus so we can build a relationship on that consensus.” This reframing of cross-Strait relations was put forward as an alternative to the “1992 Consensus.”  Voters’ familiarity with the “1992 Consensus,” however, contrasted sharply with their unease over how the “Taiwan Consensus” would affect cross-Strait relations and growing economic integration that is widely viewed as beneficial for Taiwan. This was especially true given that Beijing made support of the “1992 Consensus” a precondition for any Taiwan-based groups seeking formal talks. Beijing’s negative response to the “Taiwan Consensus” exacerbated popular fears that a return of the DPP to power would cause a reemergence of the cross-Strait tensions that existed during most of Chen Shui-bian’s presidency from 2000 to 2008.

In the months following the election, the DPP launched a series of initiatives to clarify the “Taiwan Consensus” and elaborate on the party’s cross-Strait policy. New party chairman Su Tseng-chang announced on July 25th that the DPP would reestablish its Department of China Affairs, which had been merged into a larger international affairs department in 2007 (Global Times, July 26). On July 27th, the DPP announced a “three stages and three levels” plan for cross-Strait relations. The three stages consist of the following: (1) restarting the China Affairs department and organizing a higher-level task force called the China Association Committee; (2) carrying out debates and discussions in the China Association Committee; and (3) codifying the party’s vision for cross-Strait policy. The three “levels” for party action are “domestic,” “international,” and “cross-Strait” (Want China Times, July 29). Both the pre- and post-election cross-Strait frameworks are based on the party’s 1999 “Resolution on Taiwan’s Future,” which maintains that Taiwan is sovereign and independent, so the “three stages and three levels” concept is more a repackaging of the “Taiwan Consensus” than a change in policy. This reformulation aimed to address voters’ concerns by providing a step-by-step plan that explains how the party develops and executes its policy toward the mainland.

The party also is expanding its contacts across the Strait and further abroad. Three DPP members, legislators Hsiao Bi-khim and Lin Chia-lung and former spokesman Lo Chih-cheng, visited the mainland this year, although in the capacity of private citizens because the party does not yet have an official relationship with the CCP. The DPP additionally plans to re-open its U.S. office, which was closed in 2000 after the DPP came to power, in order to have more regular contact with U.S. interlocutors. … … …