The PLA Beyond Borders: Chinese Military Operations in Regional and Global Context

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No longer confined to China’s land territory or its near abroad, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is conducting increasingly complex operations farther and farther from China’s continental borders. Within Asia, the PLA now regularly operates into the far reaches of the South China Sea and deep into the Western Pacific, enforcing China’s territorial claims and preparing to counter U.S. intervention in a regional conflict. Beyond Asia, the PLA is present on the ground, at sea, or in military exercises with foreign partners across the Indian Ocean and into the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Foreign militaries now regularly encounter the PLA, whether in tense incidents or friendly contacts, on their home turf and in the global commons.

Drawn from a 2019 conference jointly organized by NDU, the RAND Corporation, and Taiwan’s Council on Advanced Policy Studies, The PLA Beyond Borders surveys the dimensions of Chinese operations within the Indo-Pacific region and globally. The international contributors look both at the underlying enablers of these activities, including expeditionary capabilities and logistics, command and control, and ISR systems, as well as new and evolving operational concepts and operational patterns. Employing different analytic lenses, they portray a reformed PLA accelerating the pace of its overseas operations and increasing its modernization not only in the traditional domains, but also in space and cyber.
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Introduction: The PLA Beyond Borders
Joel Wuthnow
Part I: Enabling Operations: Capabilities, Infrastructure, and Organizations

1 The PLA’s Expeditionary Force: Current Capabilities and Future Trends 
Kristen Gunness
2 Crossing the Strait: Recent Trends in PLA ‘Strategic Delivery’ Capabilities
Chung Chieh and Andrew N.D. Yang
3 China’s Overseas Base, Places, and Far Seas Logistics 
Isaac B. Kardon
4 PLA Command and Control of Overseas Operations 
Phillip C. Saunders
5 China’s Air and Maritime ISR in Coastal Defense and Near Seas Operations
Shinji Yamaguchi
6 The PLA Strategic Support Force: A “Joint” Force for Information Operations
John Chen, Joe McReynolds, and Kieran Green

Part II: Into Action: PLA Operational Concepts and Practice
7 Reassessing China’s Use of Military Force
Andrew Scobell
8 Bomber Strike Packages with Chinese Characteristics
Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga
9 PLA Operational Lessons from UN Peacekeeping
Joel Wuthnow
10 China’s Security Assistance in Global Competition: The Case of Africa
Jonah Victor
11 A New Type of Cross-Border Attack: The PLA’s Cyber Force
Ying-Yu Lin
12 Space and Chinese National Security: China’s Continuing Great Leap Upward
Dean Cheng

About the Contributors

By NDU Press The PLA Beyond Borders: Chinese Military Operations in Regional and Global Context Joel Wuthnow is a senior research fellow in the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs (CSCMA), Institute for National for Strategic Studies (INSS), at the National Defense University. He also serves as an adjunct professor in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Dr. Wuthnow has worked as a China analyst at CNA, a postdoctoral fellow in the China and the World Program at Princeton University, and a predoctoral fellow at the Brookings Institution. Dr. Wuthnow holds degrees from Princeton University (AB, summa cum laude, in public and international affairs), Oxford University (M.Phil. in modern Chinese studies), and Columbia University (Ph.D. in political science). Arthur S. Ding is a Professor Emeritus at the National Chengchi University (NCCU), Taipei. He is now an adjunct professor at both the NCCU and Taiwan’s National Defense University. His research focuses on China security, including China’s security policy and defense, party-military relations, and China’s defense industry. He holds degrees from National Taiwan University (AB in Anthropology) and the University of Notre Dame (MA and Ph.D. in political science).  Phillip C. Saunders is director of CSCMA and a distinguished research fellow in INSS. Dr. Saunders worked at the Monterey Institute of International Studies from 1999 to 2003, where he directed the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. He served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Saunders is co-author, with David Gompert, of The Paradox of Power: Sino-American Strategic Restraint in an Era of Vulnerability (NDU Press, 2011) and editor of seven books on Chinese military and security issues. Dr. Saunders attended Harvard College and received his MPA and Ph.D. in International Relations from the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. Andrew Scobell is Distinguished Fellow for China at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Previously he was a Senior Political Scientist at the RAND Corporation. Recent publications include China’s Grand Strategy: Trends, Trajectories, Long-Term Competition (RAND, 2020), Command and Control in U.S. Naval Competition with China (RAND, 2020) and Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA: Assessing Chinese Military Reforms (NDU Press, 2019). He was born in Hong Kong and earned a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University. Andrew Nien-dzu Yang is the secretary general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies (CAPS). He is a leading international authority on the dynamic relations among Taiwan, the United States, and China. CAPS primarily focuses on studying and analyzing the strategic and security aspects of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) domestic and international situation, particularly cross-Strait relations. Mr. Yang has been in charge of organizing a series of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) international conferences since 1987, which have earned international acclaim and recognition in the academic field of security and defense studies. Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga is an Associate Policy Researcher at the RAND Corporation, where he focuses on Asian security issues. His research interests include the Chinese military, Chinese foreign policy, the Korean Peninsula, and U.S. INDOPACOM posture. Prior to joining RAND, Beauchamp-Mustafaga was the Editor of the Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief. He has also spent time with the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the Center for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University (CISS), and the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC). Beauchamp-Mustafaga graduated from the dual-degree MSc in International Affairs program at the London School of Economics and Peking University, and earned a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs and Chinese Language and Literature from the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. John Chen is a Lead Analyst at SOS International’s Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, where he conducts China-related research and analysis on foreign policy, national security, and science and technology issues using Chinese-language sources. His research interests include Chinese military modernization, cybersecurity strategy, and information warfare operations.  He holds an AB from Dartmouth College and an MA from Georgetown University. Dean Cheng is the Heritage Foundation’s senior research fellow on Chinese political and security affairs. Cheng has written extensively on China’s military doctrine, its space program, and “dual use” issues associated with the communist nation’s industrial and scientific infrastructure. He previously worked for Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) and then with the China Studies division of the Center for Naval Analyses. He is the author of “Cyber Dragon: Inside China’s Information Warfare and Cyber Operations.”   Chung Chieh is an assistant research fellow at the National Policy Foundation. Before that, he served as the chief of staff in a congressional office from 1997 to 2015, with a specific focus on the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee (formerly known as National Defense Committee) from 2001 to 2015. His expertise includes PLA military reform, the ROC’s national defense policy, the ROC’s South China Sea policy, and coercive diplomacy.  Kieran Green is a Chinese Language-Enabled Analyst currently working at SOS International’s Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis. His main areas of focus include PLA military capabilities, Sino-U.S. relations, and cybersecurity policy. Kieran holds a BA from Tufts University, where he graduated with a double major in Chinese and International Relations, and is proficient in Mandarin Chinese. Kristen Gunness is a senior policy researcher at RAND. Formerly, she served as the director of the Navy Asia Pacific Advisory Group at the Pentagon, where she advised the Chief of Naval Operations on security, maritime, and foreign policy trends in the Indo-Pacific region. Prior to her position on the Navy staff, she was a senior project director for Chinese military and security affairs at CNA. Ms. Gunness has written extensively on Chinese security, foreign policy, and military affairs, and her research has appeared in academic and policy publications. She is a graduate of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies holds an MA in Security Studies from Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. Isaac Kardon is an Assistant Professor at the U.S. Naval War College, where he is a core member of the China Maritime Studies Institute. He studies PRC foreign policy, with recent work on overseas port development and Indo-Pacific maritime commerce and security. Dr. Kardon has worked as a research analyst at the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs at the National Defense University’s Institute for National for Strategic Studies, a postdoctoral fellow in the China and the World Program at Princeton University, and a visiting scholar at NYU Law and the PRC National Institute for South China Sea Studies. His book, China’s Law of the Sea (Yale University Press, forthcoming) analyzes China’s efforts to “make the rules” of maritime order. Dr. Kardon holds degrees from Dartmouth College (B.A in History), Oxford University (M.Phil. in Modern Chinese Studies), and Cornell University (Ph.D. in Government). Ying-Yu Lin is an adjunct assistant professor in the Institute of Strategy and International Affairs at National Chung Cheng University in Chiayi, Taiwan. He received a Ph.D. from the Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University. He is also a research fellow with the Association of Strategic Foresight and a consultant to Taiwan’s 2016 and 2020 Quadrennial Defense Reviews and its 2017 and 2019 National Defense Reviews. His research interests include PLA studies, cyber security, and sea power. Joe McReynolds is a Principal Cyber Analyst at SOS International’s Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, the China Security Studies Fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a co-founder of the China Cyber and Intelligence Studies Institute, and a 2019 visiting fellow at both the Japanese Ministry of Defense and Keio University. He is the lead editor and co-author of China’s Evolving Military Strategy (Brookings Press, 2016) as well as the upcoming Chinese Information Warfare. He has expertise in Sino-American national security issues, including China’s cybersecurity efforts, information warfare operations, defense science and technology development, and IT sector civil-military integration. Jonah A. Victor is a senior analyst at the U.S. Department of Defense and adjunct associate professor of security studies at Georgetown University. He is the co-author of African Security: An Introduction (Bloomsbury/Tauris, 2020). He has served as an adviser and analyst on African and East Asian affairs including at the National Security Council, the National Intelligence Council, and the Department of Defense. Victor holds degrees in Political Science from the University of Michigan (BA) and Pennsylvania State University (MA, Ph.D.). Shinji Yamaguchi is a Senior Research Fellow in the Regional Studies Department of the National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS), Ministry of Defense, Japan, which is located in Tokyo. He specializes in Chinese politics, China’s security policy, and contemporary Chinese history. He earned his Ph.D. in Political Science from Keio University. He was a Visiting Scholar at the Sigur Center for Asian Studies of George Washington University from 2018 to 2019. His publications include “Strategies of China’s Maritime Actors in the South China Sea: A Coordinated Plan under the Leadership of Xi Jinping?” China Perspective No. 3 (October 2016). He is a co-author of the NIDS China Security Report 2012, 2013, 2016, 2017, and 2018.

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