While China’s growing power has reshaped the global economy and international order, the future global role of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) remains unclear. However, Chinese leaders have articulated Beijing’s determination to become a leading global military power, with overseas military access and bases as one component of this vision. Historical cases suggest that China could develop a global basing network within the next 20 years if it is determined to do so.

In this short report, the authors synthesize insights from two longer RAND Arroyo Center reports to examine China’s growing overseas interests, valuable attributes of potential host nations from Beijing’s perspective, and potential power projection operations that the PLA may carry out. The authors also draw several lessons from three countries’ experience with overseas access and basing — Gaullist France, the Soviet Union in the late Cold War era, and contemporary Russia in Syria — and discuss the implications for U.S. responses to China’s growing global military presence.

The research described in this report was sponsored by U.S. Army Pacific and conducted by the Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program with the RAND Arroyo Center.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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