A Useful Contribution
Authoritative in nature, ambitious in scope, and controversial in context, a report of this sort inevitably attracts criticism. Chinese state media mouthpieces and spokespeople denounce the report annually, typically without offering any substance of their own. The report represents a bureaucratically assembled patchwork of information whose stitching is not always perfect. A single public deliverable from a busy bureaucracy drowning in more urgent takings—many highly classified and unknown to outsider observers for years—it is never intended as a model of expository writing for its own sake. But this year’s report offers both stronger takeaways and less confusion and arguable inconsistency than usual.
Certainly, there are always points that people quibble over. This author, for instance, disagrees with the report’s use of the phrase “China’s ‘near seas’” to describe the Yellow, East, and South China Seas—the vast majority of which are part of the global maritime commons and should remain so. On a far more substantive note, Harvard doctoral student Elsa Kania has suggested how the report might consider some key Chinese terminology with greater context and nuance. She nevertheless welcomes this year’s report’s “more detailed discussion of emerging technologies, including robotics and artificial intelligence, advanced computing, quantum technology, and hypersonic and directed-energy weapons.” In encapsulating the greatest areas of Chinese advancement for reporters at the rollout event, Schriver acknowledged the importance of such technologies: “their power projection through ballistic and cruise missiles is an area they’ve made tremendous progress and they continue to develop enhanced capabilities in those areas. …particularly in new domains, they’ve invested a lot in cyber, space, hypersonics, A.I.”
What everyone can surely agree on: with China’s continued comprehensive efforts there will be no shortage of issues for the Pentagon to cover in next year’s report. However imperfect such coverage, we are far better off with it than without it.
Dr. Andrew S. Erickson is a professor of strategy in the China Maritime Studies Institute and the recipient of the inaugural Civilian Faculty Research Excellence Award at the Naval War College, where he serves on the Naval War College Review’s Editorial Board. Erickson is also a visiting scholar and an associate in research at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University and blogs at www.andrewerickson.com.