If we were to limit ourselves to putting a superficial perspective on the table, this article could end up being remarkably short, because “no, not really” would be the straightforward answer to the question which constitutes the title of this post.
Does China have military allies? No, especially not if we are to see things from a NATO or even CIS-like perspective.
Does China actively seek out military allies? No. While it is indeed interested in expanding its geopolitical influence, it is less than proactive with respect to seeking out military alliances.
Does China have a historical track record of military alliances? Once again, the answer is no, not really. Leaving a few facets such as the China – USSR dynamic aside which themselves are questionable, China has a clear historical track record of considering itself the proverbial center of the world and therefore assuming that everyone else will eventually gravitate toward it. Its very name, Zhōngguó (central state) attests to just that. Even if it ended up having to suffer every now and then for military isolationism-related reasons, the historical status quo is crystal-clear: China has never been much of a fan of military alliances.
Can we simply call this a “case closed” situation and end the article here?
While we could indeed do just that, it would be sub-optimal to put it mildly and grossly incomplete to be more precise.
For additional precision, it is in our opinion mandatory to add one more question to the mix:
Does China need military allies?
We have to understand that at this point in time, 1 of 5 to 6 people worldwide is Chinese. Whether we are referring to its sheer territory size, population size, GDP size or anything else, it becomes abundantly clear that no matter which angle we choose to view the situation from, we end up almost inevitably concluding that when it comes to most metrics, China represents a category of its own.
Therefore, no, it most likely does not need military allies.
First and foremost, economic (dis)incentives speak for themselves.
Are there countries which don’t “depend” on China but which would be economically devastated if trade with China would cease to exist? Most definitely. In fact, most countries fit this description in light of the fact that they have China as their #1 trading partner.
As can be seen, while there aren’t many nations one can consider China-dependent, there are more than enough countries (the overwhelming majority, in fact) who would have so much to lose if trade ties to China were cut that it would be economically unrealistic to paint the picture of a global geopolitical landscape which is inches away from dramatic 20th century-like military confrontations. That is just not the case anymore.
Does this mean geopolitical escalations are out of the question?
Of course not, it simply means it would be close to irrational to expect the manifestations to mirror those we came across in the 20th century. From hybrid warfare (anything from propaganda to covert activity) to cyber-attacks, 21st century warfare has changed in a manner which renders alliance systems of the past not necessarily useless but most definitely far less effective or necessary. As such, a more than compelling answer to questions such as “Why doesn’t China seek our military alliances?” would simply revolve around the fact that… well, they just aren’t as relevant to today’s geopolitical landscape.
Does this mean China wants to be completely isolated?
No. Whenever geopolitical conditions dictate it, China has no issues whatsoever exploring common projects with partners such as Russia (despite occasional diverging interests) but there is a world of difference between an all-encompassing military alliance and manifesting some degree of willingness to cooperate militarily.
Is this status quo likely to change?
Hard to believe, especially in light of the fact that due to the overly-complex nature of 21st century geopolitical interests, even cracks in already-established organizations such as NATO are starting to become obvious, with the most recent example revolving around Turkey’s plans in Syria or a more distant one being represented by the decision of the same country to purchase a missile defense system from the number one adversary of NATO, Russia.
A reasonable conclusion can only be this: seeing today’s military landscape through a 20th century lens makes little sense. Not because military threats have somehow evaporated (they haven’t) but because the proverbial rules of the game have changed to such a degree that any kind of 20th century parallel becomes difficult to explain.
Once again, we are dealing with a clear “Realpolitik” approach on behalf of China. When conditions dictate it, China is definitely willing to explore various forms of military cooperation but the likelihood of ultimately seeing “old school” set-in-stone military blocks with China in the spotlight is… let’s just say on the (very) low side.