This Story Has Been Updated.
UPDATE, April 16, 2015, 8:41 EDT: Though the report cited below was published by China's state-run military news site, it is not technically a state-published report, but rather a reprint of a report written by Chen Dingding, a Chinese foreign policy and military expert and scholar based in Macau, who is not associated with the People's Liberation Army.
China’s military has been growing at an exponential rate, expanding in manpower, hardware and global presence. After several years of advancement, China’s military says it is in a place to fight a modern war against Japan -- as long as the U.S. doesn’t intervene.
China’s People’s Liberation Army has yet to be tested, leading many China watchers and critics skeptical of China’s real combat readiness, with many viewing China’s military prowess mostly as hype. “Overall, the PLA has made impressive strides in its ability to perform its assigned missions, including advances in capabilities designed to counter U.S. military intervention in a crisis or conflict in the region,” a 2015 report by Rand Corp. said. “But it still faces a number of serious challenges.”
“Many analysts believe that the PLA does not stand a chance against the mighty U.S. military for a series of reasons, ranging from poor training to lack of war experience,” China’s official military news portal, China Military Online, wrote. “Such estimate [sic] might be true, but it might also truly underestimate the fighting power of the PLA.”
“It is undoubtedly true that no one wants to see a general war between China and the U.S., though in reality both countries might be dragged into a war they do not want to fight in areas like the East China Sea,” the post said. Any war between China and Japan would likely immediately involve the United States, which signed treaties with Japan in 1952 and 1960 that obligate the U.S. to defend Japan in the event of attack.
Perhaps it is hubris, or maybe just confidence, but the PLA seems to think any military inadequacies are temporary -- or in some cases an advantage. According to China, there are four reasons why its military can win a modern war:
1) Equipment. China knows it plays second fiddle to the United States in military technology, but in the Asia-Pacific region, PLA hardware is quickly matching that of Japan, China’s biggest military opposition. “Although some might claim that Japan now has an edge over China, very soon China’s PLA will surpass Japan’s SDF [Self-Defense Forces] in terms of hardware given China’s economic size and greater military spending," the military report says. "So, in 10 years’ time, the PLA will have superb military hardware that is only second to the United States.”
2) Training. The report points to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anticorruption drive and military overhaul, which led to a reshuffle of the PLA’s top brass. The military was plagued by corruption in the past, with training standards not uniform and leadership lacking focus. “President Xi Jinping is determined to eliminate corruption within the PLA. When he is finished, there is good reason to believe that the PLA’s fighting ability will increase significantly."
3) Military experience is “overvalued.” While China’s wartime experience is limited, so is that of its biggest regional rivals. “People have overestimated the value of experience. Yes, it is true that the U.S. military has ample experience, but many other militaries do not, including Japan’s. So China’s lack of war experience might hurt its chances of winning against the U.S., but not necessarily against other rivals.”
4) “Morale.” China says it has no interest in “conquering” new territories, claiming that a war that involves China would be a defensive one. While those who lay claim to various disputed territories and maritime borders would likely disagree with the notion that China is merely defending its sovereignty, Chinese authorities insist military action would be taken only if Chinese sovereignty is under fire.
“This is about defending China’s sovereignty and territories and this is fundamentally different from conquering others’ territories. Thus morale will be high. If history is any indication, the Korean War tells us that the weaker Chinese army could repel and defeat a stronger U.S. army. The fact that China then was fighting for its sovereign integrity is a key factor in explaining the defeat of the United States.”