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Chinese President Xi Jinping opened the 19th Congress of the Communist Party in the Great Hall of the People near Tiananmen Square on October 18th with bold promises to build China into the world's hegemonic superpower in the next 30 years.
While recognizing the upcoming economic challenges, Xi's speech expressed a desire to increase the authoritarian nature of the Chinese government and its stranglehold over the country. He declared in his three-and-a-half-hour speech that "it was time for his nation to transform itself into a mighty force" on the international stage, economically, culturally and militarily.
Xi's speech was the clearest indication yet of the direction of Chinese policy that looks to solidify its hold on power, consolidate its gains and begin to expand China's reach farther across the globe.
General Joseph Dunford, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is on record stating to the Senate Armed Services committee, "I think China probably poses the greatest threat to our nation by about 2025."
The statement was made during his confirmation hearing and takes into account that Russia and North Korea are the largest threats currently, but China's rapid military modernization and overseas expansion is moving it up the list.
In July of this year, China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti, Africa. This follows on an extensive campaign of Chinese investment and alliance-seeking throughout Africa and South America to build infrastructure, secure mineral rights and set up trade deals to counter the United States.
In the view of US intelligence officials, "Chinese leaders see the US-led world order, most notably the US alliance network and promotion of US values worldwide, as constraining China's rise and are attempting to reshape the world order better to suit Chinese preferences and growing clout."
At home too, China has launched new campaigns of suppression to bring the population more firmly under the control of the communist party as its economic growth continues to outstrip that of the US. The breakdown of the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) has also worked to strengthen China's position on the world stage.
China already enjoys a strong lead in mid-range rocket technology with its network of bases across its territory capable of launching several thousand high-yield rockets at targets over a thousand miles away, more than sufficient to overwhelm any naval or ground forces it might face. But now China is pouring billions into modernizing its ships, submarines and aircraft to compete with the United States.
A recent report pointed to the vastly increased strategic lift capability China is developing. Any foreign use of military force requires not simply the aircraft and ground forces to launch an offensive, but a large fleet of transport aircraft to put in place the ground forces and logistical systems to conduct military operations.
China's focus on this aspect of force projection has put the world on notice that China is preparing to project its influence beyond its own borders and, according to the report, "may also be more inclined to use force to protect its core interests."
Direct evidence of expeditionary warfare capacity includes six large amphibious transport docking ships, a new class of amphibious assault ship, aircraft carriers and advanced guided missile cruisers. This is in addition to three new classes of attack submarines, including both nuclear-powered and diesel electric.
The subs have already entered service in the Gulf of Aden to fight piracy. By 2020, China will be the third most powerful nation with respect to attack submarines, behind only the United States and Russia, when its six nuclear-powered Type-093 subs are joined by more advanced nuclear subs.
Many new long-range, heavy transport aircraft, such as the Y-20 transport are entering service along with a Chinese version of the Russian An-225, the largest cargo aircraft in the world. Long-range drones with offensive capabilities similar to those of the US will accompany these ships and reports indicate that 10 new refueling ships will also help to extend the range of the Chinese naval fleets by 2020.
China continues to expand its network of naval bases in the South China Sea and General Dunford reported that "Chinese leaders seem committed to increases in defense spending for the foreseeable future. China's military modernization is targeting capabilities with the potential to degrade core US military technological advantages.
The officially disclosed increase in China's military budget was 8.5% (inflation adjusted) from 2007 to 2016, and is now set to increase dramatically over those numbers.
If left unchecked, we face a China that is able to replace the United States in its trade alliances, military force-project capability and is thus able to impose its political and cultural will on the world.
Just as the 20th century was the American Century, we now stand at grave risk of the 21st century becoming the century of a risen Chinese superpower able to spread its brand of authoritarian control across the globe.