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Off the shelf.

An article in this issue's Forum argues that it may be wise for the United States to find ways to achieve national objectives in cooperation with China rather than to assume an adversarial role. Whether one considers China as an emerging market, a strategic partner, an adversary, or all three, one thing is certain: the United States cannot ignore China, and as this issue's Forum shows, China is indeed on the minds of numerous strategists and policymakers. Because China will be a player in an increasing number of endeavors in the Asia-Pacific, U.S. military officers and national security policymakers need to avoid viewing the world solely through the prism of the war on terror and devote ample time to studying China and Asia-Pacific issues. As Admiral Timothy Keating points out, "Our outlook must be broad if we are to help the Asia-Pacific--fully 43 countries--achieve their potential."

A History of the Modern Chinese Army

by Xiaobing Li

Lexington, KY: The University

Press of Kentucky, 2007

413 pp. $39.95

ISBN-13: 978-0-8131-2438-4

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Professional reading about the Peoples' Liberation Army (PLA) should begin with this book. It not only chronicles the history of the PLA but also delves into the social and political influences on its evolution and provides a comprehensive picture of the PLA today. The detailed history and discussions about how and why changes have occurred in the PLA provide the basis from which to understand both the current actions of China as it pushes to modernize its military and overall Chinese strategic concerns. For example, Professor Li describes how the PLA, a formerly uneducated, peasant force, is in the midst of a transformation from a "labor-intensive" to a "technology-intensive" army. Witness the contrast between the PLA of decades past with today's modernizing force: In 1983, only "4% of the 224 top Chinese generals had some college credit hours," but since 1995, the PLA has been focusing on higher education and recruiting officers from universities with the goal of reshaping the PLA into a technologically advanced force capable of "winning the next war under high-tech conditions" (p. 2).

Li, a Chinese native and PLA veteran, made extensive use of recently available primary and secondary Chinese language sources in the exhaustive 10-year research for this book. His personal experience and native language abilities allow him to present an excellent examination of the PLA, which is enhanced by his ample inclusion of sources not readily available to Western researchers. He also adds value to his research by integrating "soldiers' stories" into the work in an effort to "move away from the conventional approach" to view Chinese soldiers as party pawns or simply lost in the "human waves" (p. 6). Li concludes that the PLA's modernization is a product of social and economic changes in China and that these changes are interdependent--thus, for China to successfully complete the modernization of the PLA, it must also achieve economic reform and sustain economic growth (p. 295).

The Chinese Army Today

by Dennis J. Blasko

Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge, 2006

228 pp. $42.95

ISBN-13: 9-780-415-77003-3

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If you are looking for a concise, up-to-date volume on the PLA, this is the book for you. Lieutenant Colonel Blasko, a 23-year veteran of the Army during which he served as a military intelligence officer, Chinese Foreign Area Officer, and U.S. Army attache to China and Hong Kong, is truly an expert on the affairs of the PLA. He puts all his expertise into this book, which contains accurate and concisely structured information about the current organization, order of battle, and capabilities of the PLA--as much as one can find in an open source publication. As the author states, the book "is intended to be a baseline for understanding the Chinese military and perhaps encourage future studies of issues only briefly mentioned here" (p. xi).

In addition to the survey of today's PLA, Blasko describes its continuing modernization and transformation program. In a matter-of-fact approach, he deftly puts the PLA and its capabilities into realistic perspective without ignoring the significance of the PLA's modernization. He effectively exorcises the "China rising" bogeyman by putting the scope of China's modernization into perspective. One example of this is in his description of how the PLA will fight. Blasko explains that China's current campaign to transform and modernize the PLA will not reap a significant improvement in capability in the near term: "While the PLA has a general vision of how it wants to employ its forces in future conflicts ... it is likely there will be a gap between what the PLA strives to do and what it actually can accomplish for some time to come" (p. 93). Also, in the concluding chapter, Blasko cites the PLA leadership's own assessment that it will take another 10 to 20 years to reach "advanced world standards." He cautions, however, that the effectiveness of China's military modernization cannot be judged by foreign standards and that the Chinese leadership remains "committed to military modernization as part of the nation's strategic development plan" (pp. 182-183).

Blasko states that he wanted to write "the type of book [he] would have liked to have read before becoming a U.S. Army attache to China" (p. 2). He has achieved his goal.

Asia Pacific in World Politics

by Derek McDougall

Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2007

371 pp. $59.95 ($24.50 paperback)

ISBN-13: 978-1-58826-194-6

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Dr. McDougall, an associate professor of politics at the University of Melbourne and an expert in the international politics of the Asia-Pacific and regional security issues, presents an excellent introduction to current international politics by the major players in the region. Focusing on the United States, China, and Japan, Asia Pacific in World Politics examines the relationship between these countries as well as the ongoing conflicts over Taiwan and North Korea and the changes occurring in Southeast Asia.

Surprisingly, this is not an Australia-centric perspective on international politics (evidenced by treating both Australia and Russia as "other key regional actors") and does not approach issues from a single national perspective. McDougall says, "The underlying assumption is that to understand the dynamics of international politics in Asia-Pacific, one needs to focus first on the interaction of states and, in particular, on the interaction of its major powers" (p. 25). He draws on realist, liberal, and cultural approaches to international politics and notes that his methodology includes "a strong emphasis on the role of states, but not to the exclusion of other actors" (p. 5). Accordingly, he devotes an entire chapter to describing the roles of some prominent international organizations in the region--valuable information, considering that U.S. military commanders will inevitably have to deal with them during any conceivable operation in the future.

McDougall concludes by reiterating that past is prologue and that although "there can be wild cards, such as the collapse of the USSR or September 11 ... a focus on the key factors affecting the most significant actors in the region does provide a good starting point" for predicting the future in the Asia-Pacific region (p. 327).

Other recently published titles recommended for additional reading about china's military, geopolitical, and security issues in the Asia-Pacific region:

* Bolt, Paul J., and Albert S. Willner, eds. China's Nuclear Future. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006. 221 pp. $52.00.

* Dillon, Dana R. The China Challenge: Standing Strong against the Military, Economic, and Political Threats That Imperil America. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007. 213 pp. $24.95.

* Kane, Thomas M. Ancient China on Postmodern War. Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge, 2007. 193 pp. $120.00.

* Lewis, John Wilson, and Xue Litai. Imagined Enemies: China Prepares for Uncertain War. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006. 362 pp. $60.00.

* Sutter, Robert G. China's Rise in Asia: Promises and Perils. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005. 297 pp. $76.00 ($26.95 paperback).

* Tsang, Steve, ed. If China Attacks Taiwan: Military Strategy, Politics and Economics. Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge, 2006. 215 pp. $125.00.
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Title Annotation:'A History of the Modern Chinese Army', 'The Chinese Army Today' and 'Asia Pacific in World Politics'
Publication:Joint Force Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2007
Words:1329
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