The Chinese government believes that the larger, and much modernized, Chinese navy is not for threatening neighbors, but for security and diplomatic purposes. In other words, to have the ability to influence distant events the same way Western nations have been using navies for centuries. The Chinese point out that the U.S. uses their navy more for diplomacy, peacekeeping and disaster relief than for waging war. China wishes to emulate this. It is in this spirit that China contributes to the Somalia anti-piracy effort and sends its new hospital ship abroad to serve populations in need of care. India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan all fear that a stronger Chinese fleet would be used to bully them, and coerce compliance in business dealings. For thousands of years, China has used its military power to dominate neighbors, but for the last two centuries China has been too weak for much of this. Now, China appears to be going back in history to find useful examples for future military planning. The neighbors know what that means, and don't like it at all.
Meanwhile, the Chinese are not all that confident about their military capabilities. Corruption continues in the Chinese armed forces, and this includes promotions and assignments. The Chinese president has called for the military to raise their standards in recruiting and training officers, but coming down hard on the military over corruption is still not considered a safe option. Since the unrest of 1989, which was put down (reluctantly) by the army, Chinese politicians have given the military a lot more money, and asked few questions about exactly where all of it went. But despite the corruption problems, the politicians are appealing to the generals and admirals to compete effectively with civilian employers to obtain people smart enough to operate and command all the new, and much more complex, ships, aircraft and electronic weapons. In response, the military goes through the motions, but not all the brass are enthusiastic about favoring brains over loyalty (to the corrupt commanders.)
The Chinese military has admitted that it is also a victim of Internet based crime, but calls most of it a "public nuisance." No mention is made of foreign nations attempting to spy on Chinese military operations via the network. China would prefer that foreigners not know what China is aware of in this area. Last month, Wikileaks documents revealed that U.S. government officials were convinced that Cyber War type information gathering attacks were coming from China. That's no secret, and the diplomatic documents reveal an ongoing debate over how to respond to this Chinese declaration of Cyber War on the West.
China continues to use the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), a mutual defense operation (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are members, with Mongolia, Pakistan, India and Iran as associate members, or "observers") to extend its diplomatic, economic and military influence into Central Asia. This vast area used to be part of Russia (as the Soviet Union). Russia doesn't like this Chinese expansion, but the former parts of the Soviet Union, that are now independent states, like China acting as a counterweight to Russia (which many fear will try to regain its Central Asian territories.)
The three year old military hotline between the U.S. and China has yet to be used for an emergency. But the U.S. and China are increasing meetings between their military personnel, as a way to avoid future misunderstandings that might require the hotline. Meanwhile, China has neighbors that could use a hotline. Thus China and South Korea have set up a military hotline, so that any problems concerning North Korea, or over fishing rights, can be quickly defused. The two countries have long standing disputes over who controls what fishing areas off South Koreas west coast. China is also very concerned with there being a unified Korea, as a democracy, rather than a communist police state. If North Korea collapses, China and South Korea will want to stay in touch, early and often, lest there be any dangerous misunderstandings. China has been offering to establish the hotline for years, but only if South Korea offered something in return. South Korea finally came through, by cancelling its military officer exchange program with Taiwan.
May 10, 2011: India has protested the presence of several hundred Chinese military engineering personnel in Pakistani Kashmir, apparently working on fortifications (bunkers and the like). China ignored the protests. India is concerned over the growing cooperation between China and Pakistan. This includes Chinese troops taking over security for the Karokoram highway that links Pakistan with China by passing through some of the highest, and most difficult, territory on the planet.
May 9, 2011: Taiwan is delaying delivery of six Patriot anti-aircraft missile batteries three years (to 2017) and 60 Black Hawk helicopters four years (2020) from the American manufacturers. Taiwanese politicians say this was done because of budget shortages. Taiwanese military officials blame the delays on manufacturing problems in the United States. China has pressured both Taiwan and the U.S. to halt the shipment of these weapons to Taiwan, as these systems would threaten Chinese troops if China decided to take Taiwan by force.
May 8, 2011: Taiwan revealed that it had begun arming its warships with a new, supersonic, anti-ship missile. Called Hsiung Feng 3, the missile is made in Taiwan.
May 7, 2011: The Chinese military confirmed that it planned to maintain its current strength of 2.3 million troops. There were rumors going around that the force would be downsized to 1.5 million.
May 5, 2011: China announced that it would expand military cooperation with Serbia. This is part of China's "Partners With Pariahs" (not the official name) program. China will hook up with anyone who might be useful, no matter the judgment of world opinion. So China does business with Zimbabwe, Libya, Burma, North Korea, Iran and numerous other international bad boys. It's just business.
May 2, 2011: China presented Sierra Leone with $4 million worth of light weapons (assault rifles, RPGs and heavy machine-guns) as part of a military training program. This is a low key, and low cost, way of building good will with governments in Africa. China wants access to raw materials in Africa, and this is one way of helping to obtain it. While China would also like to sell expensive, high-tech weapons to African nations (and sometimes does), these systems are often too expensive and complex for poorly developed African nations to maintain.
April 27, 2011: The Chinese military held its first regularly scheduled (the last Wednesday of each month) press conference. For 30 minutes, officers answered questions about military matters. Foreign reporters were expected to watch their manners, something Chinese journalists knew to do. But the officers did provide some new information, or confirmation that some things were not yet ready for a public airing. No surprises, but an encouraging change from the usually very secretive Chinese military.