The Buzz

How China's Military Really Sees America

The 2012 iteration of China's defense white paper was a bit more transparent about how the PLA felt. In an indirect criticism of the U.S., it stated that "there are signs of increasing hegemonism, power politics, and neo-interventionism...some country has strengthened its Asia-Pacific military alliances, expanded its military presence in the region, and frequently makes the situation there tenser."

China's 2010 defense white paper, again, without mentioning the U.S. by name, stated that: "International military competition remains fierce...Some powers have worked out strategies for outer space, cyber space and the polar regions, developed means for prompt global strikes, accelerated development of missile defense systems, enhanced cyber operations capabilities to occupy new strategic commanding heights." China's 2008 defense white paper expressed similar concerns about the U.S., using almost the exact same indirect language.

In contrast to official statements made by China's defense ministry, retired or semi-retired PLA generals and admirals, many of whom have backgrounds in political warfare and intelligence, are openly hawkish and anti-American. A number of such individuals regularly appear as commentators on Chinese state-run television shows. [1] Many also frequently publish strident editorials in state-run media and PLA publications. However, when challenged, Chinese authorities can credibly (if disingenuously) claim these are non-authoritative individuals whom are only expressing their own personal views. [2]

The Internal View

Authoritative PLA writings show that the Chinese military's institutional view of the U.S. has far more in common with the hawkish commentators than the authors of China's defense white papers. A survey of PLA materials shows that internal Chinese military publications often refer to the U.S. as the "Strong Enemy" (强敌). This term is commonly used across a broad range of writings. Moreover, authoritative PLA publications take pains to paint America as a hostile force and frequently discuss the possibility of launching first strikes on the U.S. in wartime scenarios.

For example, the Liberation Army Press textbook Informatized Joint Operations, written by a team of officers at the Nanjing Army Command Academy in 2006, describes the "Strong Enemy's" strategy as "provocative, offensive, and expansionistic in nature." It states that America "ignores the rules of international relations...using gunboat diplomacy and relying on its own military power to serve as the world policeman, making up all kinds of rationales and excuses to push forward its hegemonic power politics all over the world." [3]

The book goes one to assert that the American military's wartime target list includes China's major cities, nuclear power plants, chemical plants, and dams, targets which would cause mass civilian casualties and wreck havoc across Chinese society. [4] The book then describes in detail how the PLA would defend against such attacks and defeat the "Strong Enemy" in war. [5]

According to the PLA Academy of Military Sciences' 2013 Course Book on Wartime Political Work, U.S. military intervention against China is "inevitable" (particularly in a local conflict against Taiwan) because "the Strong Enemy seeks world hegemony and works to contain China's rise." [6] To counter this, the book discusses the application of media, legal, and psychological warfare against the "Strong Enemy." Should these operations fail to deter American intervention, the authors note the importance of conducting offensive strikes on U.S. aircraft carrier groups. [7]

In a similar vein, the 2014 PLA Air Force textbook Research on Air Force Strategy Problems dedicates over 60 pages to a discussion on the "threats" posed to China by the U.S. military. [8] Notably, many military capabilities considered defensive by Americans, such as early warning satellites, surveillance radars, and missile defense systems, are listed in the threat category. [9] The authors advocate dealing with the "American threat" by expanding China's stockpiles of intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear warheads, and theater missiles. The authors further advocate increasing the PLA's ability to carry out first strikes on U.S. port facilities, airbases, and missile defense sites using a combination of theater missiles, electronic attacks, and saboteurs. [10]


While unconfirmed, an initial assessment of Chinese military writings suggests that the PLA is engaged in a long-term, centrally-managed, strategic deception operation aimed at the United States' government and military. While propaganda materials create an image of a relatively benign and friendly China, internal PLA writings espouse a doctrine that is fundamentally offensive and hostile to American values and interests. Irrespective of what is said by Chinese military propagandists in their defense white papers and public statements, the reality is that PLA officers are trained to view the U.S. as an enemy, and they will plan and act accordingly.