AFTER MORE than thirty years of post-Mao economic reforms and average annual economic growth rates of approximately 10 percent, China has begun to develop a new generation of military technologies that significantly advance its strategic capabilities. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is developing a wide range of weaponry that enables it to project power off of the Asian mainland and into new theaters, including the high seas and space. These advances underscore the potential challenge China poses to U.S. security and the importance of paying vigilant attention to the developments in the U.S.-China balance of power.
Yet China does not pose a threat to America's vital security interests today, tomorrow or at any time in the near future. Neither alarm nor exaggerated assessments of contemporary China's relative capabilities and the impact of Chinese defense modernization on U.S. security interests in East Asia is needed because, despite China's military advances, it has not developed the necessary technologies to constitute a grave threat. Beijing's strategic advances do not require a major change in Washington's defense or regional security policy, or in U.S. policy toward China. Rather, ongoing American confidence in its capabilities and in the strength of its regional partnerships allows the United States to enjoy both extensive military and diplomatic cooperation with China while it consolidates its regional security interests. The China threat is simply vastly overrated.