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China Naval Modernization:
Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities?

Ronald O’Rourke

Congressional Research Service Report RL 33153

China is building a modern and regionally powerful Navy with a modest but growing capability for conducting operations beyond China’s near-seas region. The question is of particular importance to the U.S. Navy, because many U.S. military programs for countering improved Chinese military forces would fall within the Navy’s budget. Observers expect that there will be a stronger emphasis in DOD planning on U.S. naval and air forces.  Decisions that Congress and the executive branch make regarding U.S. Navy programs for countering improved Chinese maritime military capabilities could affect the likelihood or possible outcome of a potential U.S.-Chinese military conflict in the Pacific over Taiwan or some other issue.

Even in the absence of such a conflict, the U.S.-Chinese military balance in the Pacific could influence d choices made by other Pacific countries, including whether to align their policies more closely with China or the United States. Decisions regarding U.S. Navy programs for countering improved Chinese maritime military forces could therefor influence the political evolution of the Pacific, which in turn could affect the ability of the United States to pursue goals relating to various policy issues, both in the Pacific and elsewhere.

China’s naval modernization effort encompasses a broad array of weapon acquisition programs, including anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles, submarines, surface ships, aircraft, and supporting C4ISR systems. Observers believe China’s naval modernization effort is oriented toward developing capabilities for: addressing the situation with Taiwan militarily; asserting China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea; enforcing China’s view that it has the right to regulate foreign military activities in its 200-mile maritime exclusive economic zone; displacing U.S. influence in the Western Pacific; and asserting China’s status as a leading regional power and major world power. Consistent with these goals, observers believe China wants its military to be capable of acting as an anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) force—a force that can deter U.S. intervention in a conflict in China’s near-seas region over Taiwan or some other issue, or failing that, delay the arrival or reduce the effectiveness of intervening U.S. forces.