The EconomistThe Economist

China v America: How Xi Jinping plans to narrow the military gap

08 May 2023 · 6 min read

China's leader aims to build a "world-class" military that has the capacity to take Taiwan. The longer Xi waits, the more the military balance tips in China’s favor, reports The Economist.

Curated by informed

EVER SINCE British troops vanquished Qing dynasty forces in the Opium Wars of the 19th century, Chinese modernisers have dreamed of building world-class armed forces with a strong navy at their core. China’s spears and sailing ships were no match for steam-powered gunboats, wrote Li Hongzhang, a scholar-official who helped set up the country’s first modern arsenal and shipyard in Shanghai in 1865. If China systematically studied Western technology, as Russia and Japan had, it “could be self-sufficient after a hundred years”, he wrote.

It took longer than Li imagined, but today his dream is within reach. China’s navy surpassed America’s as the world’s largest around 2020 and is now the centrepiece of a fighting force that the Pentagon considers its “pacing challenge”. The question vexing Chinese and Western military commanders is this: can China continue on the same path, relentlessly expanding its capacity to challenge American dominance? Or does a slowing Chinese economy, and a more hostile, unified West, mean that China’s relative power is peaking?

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