The PLA and Kosovo: A strategy debate

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Where the United States saw humanitarian motivations for organizing a NATO coalition force to intervene in Kosovo, the Chinese leadership discerned a dangerous precedent that could be used to oppose Beijing's designs on Taiwan and control of dissident ethnic minority areas. Lengthy discussions ensued within China on how to respond to this provocation. Within the military, different factions of the People's Liberation Army responded mainly in terms of three prior predilections. One group, believers in the efficacy of People's War techniques, maintained that the Yugoslav government's ability to withstand NATO bombing proved the continuing relevance of People's War. A second school, advocates of larger defense budgets and high-tech warfare, argued that only by possessing comparable weapons could the People's Republic of China protect itself against American aggression. The third group cautioned that excessive arms spending could destroy the PRC, much as happened earlier with the Soviet Union. They believed that luring Beijing into an arms race was part of a hegemonist plot against China. Proponents of this group advocated better use of existing weapons, the use of unconventional warfare techniques, and the selective development of "trump card" weapons to exploit enemy weaknesses. The debate among these schools faded from the Chinese press with both the end of the Kosovo conflict and subsequent improvements in the Washington-Beijing dialogue. The underlying issues of this debate remain, however, and are likely to reemerge in the future. Hence a study of Chinese reactions to the Kosovo incursion yields insights of potential importance to future Sino-American relations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)100-119
Number of pages20
JournalIssues and Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • "China threat"
  • Kosovo
  • Military modernization
  • PLA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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