China's Transition into the 21st Century: U.S. and PRC Perspectives

  • July 01, 1996
  • Dr David Shambaugh, Senior Colonel Wang Zhongchun

This past April the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute held its Seventh Annual Strategy Conference. The theme, "China Into the 21st Century: Strategic Partner and . . . or Peer Competitor," was especially timely. Dr. David Shambaugh and Senior Colonel Wang Zhongchun look at China from two very different perspectives. Professor Shambaugh contends that those who succeed Deng Xiaoping, fearful of any further erosion of Communist Party hegemony and determined to return China to a purer form of neo-Maoist Marxism, will become even more conservative as China's economic and social problems intensify. Despite considerable political and economic challenges, his best estimate is that China will, from inherent inertia, "muddle through" well into the 21st century. Indeed, it is in the interests of the United States for China to hold together as a territorial nation-state and political unit because disintegration would foster socio-economic dislocations that could destabilize Asia. At the same time, U.S. policy must maintain pressure on China to improve human and civil rights performance. Senior Colonel Wang Zhongchun provides a tour d'horizon of nearly a half-century of Chinese defense policy, from a distinctly PRC perspective. He then argues that China has attained a position of security and, even though the world presents many uncertainties, Beijing is committed to playing a positive role for peace and stability in Asia. The central principle in today's security analysis is that defense policy must support economic development so that China can grow into an economically progressive, democratic, and modern socialist country. Colonel Wang portrays China's military posture as one that seeks, above all, to protect China's territorial sovereignty, while focusing in this relatively peaceful era on modernizing in step with national economic development.