China's Military Is Slowly Becoming a Superpower Before Our Eyes

China J-20 Elephant Walk
May 10, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: Chinese MilitaryChinaPLACCPWorld OrderMilitaryDefense

China's Military Is Slowly Becoming a Superpower Before Our Eyes

The Chinese military has been following the concept of “active defense” since 1949.

China presents the greatest long-term national security threat to the United States. Beijing is looking to upend the rules-based international system that Washington has overseen since the end of World War II. 


In its latest National Security Strategy, published in 2022, the White House identified China and its military as the pacing challenge that will trouble U.S. national security and foreign policy experts for years to come. 

“The PRC is the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it. Beijing has ambitions to create an enhanced sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and to become the world’s leading power,” the strategy document states.

Chinese Strategic Goals 

The Chinese military has been following the concept of “active defense” since 1949. The concept prescribes both offensive and defensive operations to secure the Chinese Communist Party’s national policy goals. 

Perhaps the most important foreign policy for Beijing right now is to reunify with Taiwan, whether that happens through diplomacy or military action. Another major strategic objective is to secure control over the South China Sea and its important maritime trade routes. 

Military Modernization 

Beijing’s ambitions are reflected in its military modernization efforts. According to official numbers, Beijing spent approximately $225 billion in 2023 on its armed forces. It is extremely likely that actual spending is much higher. In June, Congress shared a U.S. intelligence community assessment that estimated Beijing’s actual military budget to be close to $700 billion. In comparison, for 2023, the United States had a military budget of about $858 billion. 


The Chinese Navy is the largest in the world, with more than 340 submarines and surface warships, including a few aircraft carriers in different stages of readiness. But Beijing can call on the services of its shadowy maritime militia and coast guard to assemble more than 750 vessels of all types. 

In the air domain, the Chinese air force has thousands of fourth-generation fighter aircraft and growing numbers of fifth-generation stealth fighter jets, including the Chengdu J-20 multirole aircraft. 

Beijing is heavily investing in its conventional and nuclear missile forces. As the war in Ukraine verified, long-range munitions play an important role in modern-day warfare. China is working to field an arsenal of more than 2,000 missiles of all types, including intercontinental ballistic, cruise, hypersonic, and anti-ship munitions. 


In addition, China is rapidly modernizing and expanding its nuclear missile arsenal. According to the Pentagon, Beijing has more than 400 nuclear warheads and is looking to reach 1,500 by 2035. In contrast, the United States has about 5,800 warheads, and Russia has approximately 6,400.

With an eye to the future, the Chinese military is also increasingly incorporating information operations and artificial intelligence into its operations. 

About the Author: 

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations and a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ). He holds a BA from Johns Hopkins University and an MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.