Thomas G. Mahnken argues in FP that we may be overlooking growth on Chinese doctrine and capabilities due to ethnocentrism and apathy:
“According to at least one high-ranking official, the United States has systematically underestimated the pace and scope of Chinese military modernization for years. On Oct. 21 in an interview with the Voice of America, the incoming Commander of U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM), Admiral Robert F. Willard, USN, told reporters that, “In the past decade or so, China has exceeded most of our intelligence estimates of their military capability and capacity, every year. … They’ve grown at an unprecedented rate in those capabilities. And, they’ve developed some asymmetric capabilities that are concerning to the region, some anti-access capabilities and so on.” Willard should know. Prior to becoming the USPACOM commander, he was in command of all U.S. naval forces in the Pacific; before that, he was Vice Chief of Naval Operations.”
I agree that emerging Chinese capabilities, specifically in anti-ship missiles, cruise missiles, and anti-satellite weaponry as well as the general maturation of PLA in doctrine, C4ISR, and strategic reach needs more attention from a defense community still overwhelmingly focused on terrorism. However, I do not quite understand Mahnken’s point here:
“The United States needs to do more to understand the Chinese military. The PLA intently studies the U.S. military; the U.S. military lacks a similar curiosity about them. That needs to change.”
There is a robust and growing literature on Chinese military capabilities, doctrine, and theory and studies have appeared at the US Army War College, Center for Naval Analyses, RAND, and in the open source for at least 15 years. These studies rely extensively on primary Chinese sources, including the PLA campaign textbook Zhanyi Xue (On Military Campaigns). The more well-known Chinese work Unrestricted Warfare has, even, according to some, had an influence on US/UK/AUS military thinking.
That being said, there does need to be more translations and widespread distribution of Chinese military works, akin to the open-source translations of the Soviet military works on the 1970s and 80s.