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China’s Military Modernization – Aggressiveness or Defensiveness? Research Paper

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Updated: May 10th, 2019


China is one of the most controversial states of the twentieth century. Currently, the state is not a purely communist state. It is still arguable whether China has ever taken a stand over its relationship with its neighbors.

For the better part of the twentieth century, China spent its time in militarization programs. This paper explores the reasons why the republic of China engaged in such an extensive militarization program, and what the resulting military strength was used for.

The paper analyses the events and the arguments presented by the ruling regimes of the twentieth century to explain the militarization of the state.

This paper does not present the absolute declarations, but uses logical reasoning and contemplation of events to make a reasonable conclusion regarding China’s obsession with military programs in the second half of the twentieth century.


Before China became a communist nation, there was little problem over its borders with its neighbors and other third world countries in the east. Militarization and aggravation was not common (Fisher 7).

After the emergence of the communists, there was a rush by the world’s superpowers to influence the undecided states. China was overwhelmed by the communist ideology leading to formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

This marked the beginning of the animosity between the republic of china and the neighboring countries (Fisher 4). Russia, a neighbor state, had some interests in china, and went to the extent of going to war over issues with china.

During this period, China took to investing heavily in military development while holding on to radical communist ideologies.

This was the beginning of the conflict with several other states. Militarization of China was causing fear in the United States, which was in a bitter engagement with the soviet republic in a cold war.

China went to an indirect war with United States over the latter’s interest in the Far East (Cordesman et al 40).

All along, china had frosty relations with all its neighbors who were supported by the United States. To protect its sovereignty as a communist republic, it is obvious that China needed military power.

The communist government that was in control at the time affirmed this perspective by saying that China was engaging in such extensive military development to protect itself against threats that were being caused by other countries with an aggressive military tendencies (Cordesman et al 42).

However, the scale of military development that China engaged in is arguably beyond the extent that any nation had gone to in the quest to defend its people against an anticipated attack by an enemy.

China also engaged in seemingly offensive and aggravated military operations within its neighborhood.

Literature Review

It is arguable that the militarization of China went beyond reasonable economic logic. At the time of this development, China had many humanitarian issues, and had a large population to support.

This did not compare to the need for the country to defend itself against its enemies. Mathew Mowthorpe analyses the situation China found itself in after the Second World War.

The country had contended with Japan, which had an incomparable military might in the armed conflict. The republic also experienced instability with the government being toppled too often (Mowthorpe 81). This was not a favorable situation for china to develop industrially.

To Mao, this was the root of all china’s problems, and was the reason why many other nations such as Japan would often breach China’s sovereignty.

Mowthorpe, the author of the book, “Militarization and Weaponization of Space”, explains why china engaged in such an extensive program for development of aircraft and missiles.

Richard Fisher investigates the reasons why China engaged in militarization so much in the twentieth century. In his book, “China’s Military Modernization”, Fisher explains that china’s communist regime was ambitious, but appeared a secretive and rouge state (Fisher 5).

This explains the country’s animosity towards many nations including the communist Soviet Union.

In this book, Deng Xiaoping, China’s leader during the Nixon administration in the United States is quoted saying that China was challenging any power that was developing space technology, and particularly developments pertaining war and the military.

During the Vietnam War, China attacked United States interests in Vietnam (Fisher 9).

June Grasso, Jay Corrin, and Michael Kort analyze the course of industrialization of China. The three authors explore the reasons for the great leap, as China’s industrial revolution was known.

Chairman Mao’s policies and beliefs are a major topic in the books. Development of the steel industry, military installations and establishment of modern technology in china is explored.

Immanuel Chung-Yueh Hsü analyses the effect of imperial powers on China in his books, “Rise of Modern China”. He further explores the course China took in an effort to fortify itself and counter the activities of the United States in its neighborhood.

The efforts that China put into military development, and the quest by Chairman Mao and the communist regime to establish regional influence are investigated.

The author also examines the regional interests that made China result into regional wars while it still had an enormous territory to protect.

Anthony Cordesman and Martin Kleiber explain China’s present industrial and military success in their book, “China’s Military”. China’s current military power and the course the country took to attain it are explored.

The specific policies that China formulated to ensure the success of its military ambitions also come under scrutiny. In addition, the resources that china possessed from the beginning of its plan to the present are also highlighted.

Y.Y Kueh explores the necessity of various strategies by different regimes in his book, “China’s new industrialization”. The tactics used by Chairman Mao and the strategies used by his subsequent successors are analyzed.

The intention of each of the regimes and its achievements are highlighted. There is an extensive comparison of Mao’s approach to militarization and industrialization, and the course taken by Deng Xiaoping, and other subsequent leaders after him. Their dedication to the policy of militarization is gauged and explained.


In this research paper, the military history of China has been examined in terms of ideological inclination and achievements. An account of events since independence from France and after the Second World War has provided insight to the politics in China.

The effects and the course of the developments instituted by the communist regime are also investigated. A research on documented interests of the communist regime under Mao and subsequent communist leaders has also been an important aspect to explore to determine the real ambition of the Chinese nation.

The views of early analysts on the actions of China during the cold war have been used to illustrate the struggles of China as an emerging influential nation.

In addition to the ideological history of the republic of china, an analysis of the conflicts that the country has engaged in for vague reasons has also been done in the paper.

The spirited resistance against Soviet and American influence in the Far East has also played a crucial role in understanding the case of China in the politics of the eastern countries.

The gradual change of politics in China from extreme communism to moderate socialism and capitalism in China is gauged, and the influence of failure of some of the most powerful communist nations in analyzed as a factor.

Finally, the present situation and the final position of China are presented in the light of the research conducted. This method is used since there is extensive documentation of events in the history of China.


It is arguable that the communist regime in China was over ambitious and kept on attacking neighboring countries. For this reason, China had to undergo industrial development and extensive militarization to be able to take control of the states surrounding it.

This is evident from the many conflicts that china started during the era of its militarization (Grasso et al 186). The communist regime tried to take control of the neighboring countries albeit without success due to the protection from other world powers.

Since there was a significant external threat for the communist regime and the presence of pressing humanitarian needs, and it seemed reasonable for China to aggravate its neighbors.

Mao’s Takeover

After about a decade after the communist party came to power through a revolution, Mao succeeded in convincing the party to change its policies. Economic policies were particularly of interest to Mao.

He had been struggling to achieve the changes to the policies of the party to put China on a course towards industrial and military modernization. At that time, Mao had enough power to convince party officials to embrace his ideas (Grasso et al 191).

In a unified declaration, Mao and communist party officials announced that the country would embark on the great leap forward, a program aimed at compelling China’s population, which was over a half a billion, to engage in an economic toil with a high military-like discipline.

Through promises of a better life to a starving and impoverished population, Mao got China on a path of industrial and military development at a great humanitarian cost for reasons that have never been established since then (Kueh 148).

Mao told his party members and the citizenry that the only way to achieve a better life and freedom was through political superiority. Since everyone was in need of a better economy in China, most of the population and party members obliged.

Mao’s National Policy

Several of Mao’s declarations put doubt on what foreign powers thought was an effort to industrialize China and alleviate poverty. Mao claimed that suffering and poverty was important for people to be able to work towards achievement of what they did not have.

This declaration seemed to indicate that Mao was lying to his people. It was difficult for people to see any good in suffering (Hsü 85). The government consolidated agriculture and industry into a communal system and abolished the last traces of capitalism from the territories of china.

Mao dismantled the social system, and this reflected his great disinterest in the society and the wellbeing of his people.

The only interest that he seemed to have was industrialization and militarization of the communist republic. Moreover, the leader encouraged euphoria among his people and established an authoritarian grip on China.

China’s Interest in Regional Politics

By early 1960s, Mao had already shown interest in the neighboring territories and was in a bitter engagement with Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet Union’s leader. Khrushchev had stopped Soviet’s major aid to china since Mao was advocating archaic forms of development for his nation.

Mao threatened to bring Russia into China as a ploy to force party members to back his military consolidation plans (Hsü 103). China’s efforts at regional political supremacy began with Mao’s unrealistic and militaristic approach.

Although the Chairman was aiming at developing a powerful military, he was too ignorant of his people’s humanitarian plight to achieve his goals. However, Mao succeeded in aggravating the Soviet Union and other neighbors that were critical of his extremely fanatical communist stance.

At one time, Mao threatened his enemies with a war that would kill a half of the world’s population. When he said this, he was referring to China’s nuclear war capabilities.

This was significant evidence pointing towards the intention of China’s communist regime to aggravate its neighbors and other states with interest in them (Hsü 125).

Furthermore, the fallout between Chairman Mao and Nikita Khrushchev supports this.

The Guise of an Utopian Achievement

Evidently, China’s initial efforts at militarization were aimed at defending its territory and the people, but later changed course (Mowthorpe 51).

The population that the communist regime claimed to defend was suffering in poverty and neglect, while the government spent most of the proceeds from their labor on military conflicts and development of advanced weaponry.

Whole China put effort in making advanced weaponry, she did not have the economic capability to stand an all-out war against the neighbors and their supporters (Mowthorpe 64).

She was still receiving aid from the Soviet Union, and had a far much underdeveloped infrastructure.

China and the Korean War

China showed regional interests when the Korean War started in 1953. While China could argued that proximity and the political situation in Korea was of genuine interest to them, there was no reason to engage in an all-out war in a foreign and sovereign country without any direct aggravation.

This was an early demonstration of China’s defiant stance and defensive nature. Korea’s position allegedly threatened China’s security (Mowthorpe 84).

China-Soviet Border Conflict

After China’s disagreements with the Soviet Union over the ideological supremacy of the two nations and the withdrawal of aid by the USSR, China started a border conflict in the late 1960s and 1970s claiming that border demarcation that had lasted for over a half a century was not fair to the Chinese (Mowthorpe 89).

The two countries clashed over borders in a conflict that was expected to deteriorate into a nuclear conflict. The Chinese took onto a defensive stance while the soviets tried push back the Chinese to the original border limits.

In this war it seemed as though the Chinese were probing the Soviet Union to assess the extent to which the soviets were willing to commit themselves to a war in case the integrity of their border was breached (Mowthorpe 92).

This is evident from the fact that the war began with a Chinese attack on a soviet border installation.

China and the Vietnam War

In the 1970s, China joined forces with the North Vietnamese in a war against the capitalist government in Vietnam, and against the United States, which was engaged in Vietnam. The Chinese were in a constant conflict with neighbors (Mowthorpe 73).

While the Chinese had a reason to repel capitalist forces from near their borders, it was also necessary to engage in a war they could barely afford. Its sovereignty was at stake if Americans took control of Vietnam.

Recent Militarization Efforts

Recently, the Chinese have shown no intention of stopping the militarization they started half a century ago.

Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of the cold war, and the large-scale failure of the communist ideology, the Chinese are still striving towards militarization and are often involved in military confrontations with their neighbors.

Although the United States does not directly intervene, there is always some diplomatic issue between the two countries (Mowthorpe 74).

Since communism ideas failed, China has slowly been turning to capitalist tendencies and embracing the ideas of competitive development in the sectors of its economy.

Technological Advancement

Technologically, China has become a hub for production of technological products for all countries of the world (Grasso et al 140). The large population and the vast natural resources are a major advantage for China.

Using these resources, the country has succeeded in building a strong military. There have been allegations of development and testing of weapons of mass destruction by china in recent times (Grasso et al 115).

Communist nations and some of China’s neighbors have since stopped their quarrels with it. China itself has been doing well in adopting reforms towards a moderate capitalism, but remains a highly secretive state that embraces socialism. However, the country remains aggressive.

China’s Persistence on Militarization

Since the end of the cold war, china has continuously increased its spending on the military. China seems to be anticipating a major conflict in future. This is supported by the fact that the country has been dedicated to militarization since the establishment of the communist state.

The relationship with the United States is still a full distrust, and the two nations exercise caution towards each other (Cordesman et al 110). Analysts who previously thought that China has all along been championing the interest of the communists have been disapproved by recent actions by China.

As late as 1998, China tested a nuclear bomb, an aggressive indication that the country was still inclined towards ambitious military development.

There is an agreement among nuclear-armed nations to prevent further proliferation and development of nuclear weapons (Cordesman et al 52).


Since China has not sufficiently dedicated itself to any one political ideology, then it is logical to conclude that the country’s leadership is not radically ideological.

There is no substantial reason for china to engage activities that breach international concessions in the twenty first century. China has stopped its interference in the affairs of the neighboring nations, but there are always accusations of aggravation raised by smaller states in its neighborhood.

Currently, China is an influential power. It is not clear what its ultimate regional military interests are. However, China’s military consolidation and interference in the neighboring states over decades seems to be more of defensiveness rather than aggressiveness.

Given the scale of interference that the United States and other powers such as the former Soviet Union have engaged in china’s neighborhood over the decades, China finds it important to keep its military strong in case of an armed invasion.

Works Cited

Cordesman, Anthony H., and Martin Kleiber. Chinese military modernization: force development and strategic capabilities. Washington, D.C.: CSIS Press, 2007. Print.

Fisher, Richard D.. China’s military modernization: building for regional and global reach. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Security International, 2008. Print.

Grasso, June M., Jay P. Corrin, and Michael Kort. Modernization and revolution in China: from the Opium Wars to the Olympics. 4th ed. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2009. Print.

Hsü, Immanuel C. Y.. The rise of modern China. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970. Print.

Kueh, Y. Y.. China’s new industrialization strategy was Chairman Mao really necessary?. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2008. Print.

Mowthorpe, Matthew. The militarization and weaponization of space. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2004. Print.

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