Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Recent Xinjiang Riots: A Commentary

The riots that have rocked the southern Chinese province of Xinjiang may remind the Beijing political leadership yet again of the fragility of the Chinese state and that the threat of separatism and identity politics are alive and kicking. Unless Beijing takes steps to assimilate the Uighurs into the Chinese society and usher in economic and social development for them, the problem can linger and become a hotbed for violence and terrorism in China.

While the Chinese leadership has maintained that Xinjiang does not pose any serious challenges, there is also hype about terrorist threat that stems from the Xinjiang Uighur movement. For instance, the Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member in charge of security Luo Gan stated that the “overall situation in the region is satisfactory, but the police and security agencies should be prepared for dangers.” This is the case because China fears that the religious and ethno-nationalist movements in the Central Asian region could easily spread across the border to Xinjiang.

Xinjiang undoubtedly is an area of significant strategic importance to China, given that it borders eight nations in Central and South Asia. The region is an energy-rich area, and the third largest oil-producing region in the country. Proximity to the Central Asian nations provide China with abundant opportunities to promote border trade, tap oil and gas resources from Central Asia in addition to keeping US influence in Central Asia under check through various means, including the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

The Uighurs numbering 130 million are one of the 55 officially designated minority groups in China. They are believed to be enjoying all the civil rights of full citizenship, beneficiaries of certain affirmative policies of the Central government, and enjoy less strict family planning regulations. Unlike the rest of China, the Uighur population are allowed to have two or three children. However, this group remains much poorer, less educated and are not well-represented in the Communist Party or government positions. It is an irony that Uighur top party leadership is under a Han Chinese. While some of the other minority groups -- Zhunag with a population of 16 million, Hui Muslims of 10 million, or the Lhoba with only 3,000 -- have also been treated not too fairly by the state and have had conflicts at a local level, they have not resulted in political or separatist movement status. This has been mainly on account of the Chinese policy of changing the demographic mix of the region by promoting Han migration to Xinjiang.

It might be pertinent to understand the background of the current Uighur movement. The Qing Dynasty gained control over East Turkestan (the current Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region) in the 19th century. But as central control weakened as a consequence of the Chinese civil war, the ethnic Uighurs sought to re-establish sovereignty over their homeland. They managed to establish themselves as Republic of East Turkestan for a brief period from 1945-49. However, after Mao’s victory in the civil war in 1949, the PLA troops re-entered Xinjiang and established complete control over Xinjiang. This was in fact the first wave of population shifts that took place in the region. Thereafter, the Chinese leadership began consolidation of the area by sending retired ethnic Han Chinese soldiers into Xinjiang to form new units called “Production and Construction” Corps (Bingtuan). The second wave of population shifts took place in the 1990s, due partly to the disintegration of Soviet Union and thereafter Beijing’s fear of instability creeping in the region. This time around, China fashioned major economic incentives to move Han population to Xinjiang. Beijing also undertook the “Big Development of the Northwest” that brought in nearly two million Han Chinese to Xinjiang. Although there was a surge in the economic sphere with massive subsidies, oil exploitation and rapid urbanization, Uighurs did not benefit from any of these and this created bitterness in the minds of the Uighurs.

The Beijing government has followed rather illiberal policies of pumping in Han Chinese into areas inhabited by migrants, whether it is in Tibet or in Xinjiang. Such policies implemented by Beijing have altered the population balance in a significant manner and has aggravated the situation. The area, which had a mere 6 to 7 per cent of Han population, is today 40 to 45 per cent Han. Fearful of marginalisation through such proactive measures by the Chinese government, Uighurs have become fiercer in their agitation against Chinese rule in Xinjiang. In 1996, the Chinese government decided to adopt a series of measures on the Uighurs termed as “Strike Hard” (Yan Da) campaign to re-establish firmly its control on Xinjiang.

Similarly, the local leadership of the Central leadership has taken measures that would further isolate the Uighur minority. For instance, in 2002, Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan declared that the Uighur language was “out of step with the 21st century,” and accordingly, the government started to shift the entire education system to Mandarin, replacing Uighur teachers with Han Chinese. The local officials went to the extent of organizing public burnings of Uighur books. Control over religion and religious practices too were implemented, including religious weddings, burials or pilgrimages to the tombs of local saints. Earlier in 2008, the government announced plans to demolish the city of Kashgar, one of the oldest cultural centre of the Uighur civilization. This move was to uproot 50,000 families from their traditional homeland to some new township.

While this is one side of the story, the other side relates to the reports of apparent linkages between some of the Uighur groups and terrorist organisations like Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Hizb-ul-Tahrir, Jamaat-i-Islami, Tableegi Jamaat, and such other groups that operate out of Central Asia. This has constrained American moves to pressurise the Chinese governments on human rights issues particularly after September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. There have been however reports by human rights groups worldwide to suggest that the Chinese leadership is using the campaign against global terrorism as a way to crackdown and thereby curtail the Uighur movement.

Recent Violence
The recent violence started with a minor brawl between Uighurs and Han Chinese workers at a local factory in Shaoguan, Guangdong on June 25, 2009, leading to the deaths of two Uighurs. This in turn is believed to have set the trigger for the July 05 riots. Chinese leadership continues to argue that the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an Uighur separatist group associated with Al Qaeda, is driving the hatred and fuelling the violence in Xinjiang. The leadership is also of the view that it is the ETIM leadership, located in Waziristan on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that is responsible for a series of bombing in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China prior to the Beijing Olympics. For the first time, the government, through an article in People’s Daily, also blamed the United States, accusing that it financed the World Uygur Congress led by Ms. Rebiya Kadeer’s organization, and other organisations that advocate human rights and democracy for ethnic Uighurs in China.

The Beijing leadership has reacted to the violence rather aggressively, trying to crush the uprising and preventing any spread of it to other parts of the region. About 20,000 troops from nearby regions were brought into Urumqi after the violence began, forming cordons between ethnic Uighur neighborhoods and those dominated by Han Chinese. The government has also enforced severe restrictions on any religious and cultural expression including the Friday prayers by the Uipghur’s Muslim population. Further, China has interpreted any expression of dissent and anger as advocating separatism, thereby crushing it by repressive means. Advocating separatism is a crime under Chinese law that can be met with death penalty. The party chief of Urumqi, Li Zhi, did not mince words of their intentions when he said, “To those who have committed crimes with cruel means, we will execute them.”

China, in order to cash in international support and sympathy for the Xinjiang fiasco, implanted the Al Qaeda element and that China was fighting the Al Qaeda in the global war on terrorism. However, the manner in which the whole issue has been treated by China has invited Al Qaeda right into their borders. Following the death of nearly 200 people, Al Qaeda has issued warning to China, more particularly the Chinese abroad in Africa. Meanwhile, protesting against the killing of nearly 200 Uighur Muslims, thousands of Turks and Uighur expatriates took to demonstrations and burning Chinese flags and Chinese products. Unless China puts out a more nuanced response, the troubles in Xinjiang could spiral out of control.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sino-Indian Border Tensions: Implications

After years of reports of China upgrading its combat capabilities in Tibet, New Delhi has finally begun to react. The recent decision (June 8, 2009) by the Government of India to deploy two additional army divisions and two air force squadrons near its border with China sparked new tensions between the two countries, with Beijing reiterating yet again that a large stretch of the state of Arunachal Pradesh belongs to them.

With this new deployment in Assam, India’s troop strength in the region will cross more than one hundred thousand. Meanwhile, the Indian Air Force (IAF) announced that it will deploy two squadrons of advanced Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft in Tezpur, Assam. Though only four fighters are deployed now, there are plans to increase it to its full complement in a gradual manner. Additionally, India has acquired three Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS), which also potentially has uses on the Eastern border. In addition, India is also undertaking upgradation of airstrips and advanced landing stations along the Northeast, including at Tezpur (Assam), Chabua (Assam), Jorhat (Assam), Panagarh (West Bengal), and Purnea (Bihar). If the AWACS are deployed to the northeast, it could be significant as it is a potent force multiplier capable of monitoring the movement and activities of troops and aircraft on the Chinese side. The state of Arunachal Pradesh is also planning to raise a 5,000-strong force, comprising of local populace, to supplement Indian Army efforts during a crisis. This is being modeled on Ladakh Scouts that proved useful during the 1999 Kargil War with Pakistan. The Indian moves have clearly irked the Beijing leadership as reflected in several editorials in the PLA mouthpiece People’s Daily. One editorial said that “China won’t make any compromises in its border disputes with India.” The question is whether this anger stop with these editorials or whether they translate into a more serious problem on the border.
For more than five years now, China’s anti-India rhetoric has been going up significantly, not just among officials, but also in the academic and think-tank circles. Earlier, Professor Ma Jiali of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), a government think-tank, had argued that India should “return” Tawang, a sacred place for Tibetan Buddhists in Arunachal Pradesh, to China for resolving the vexed border issue, as Beijing could then be “magnanimous” in settling the border in the Western and Middle Sectors of the disputed boundary. In April 2009, a provocative article titled, ‘A Warning to the Indian Government: Don’t Be Evil!’ China has sent a strong message to India. The author compared the present India-China situation to that of 1962 when, the author claims, India provoked a war with China. He noted that China today is better prepared in terms of its military presence in Tibet and nearby regions, besides possessing nuclear weapons. He also contended that China believes that India has been in an aggressive mood as evident in its stationing of more troops on the border, conduct of military exercises with countries, and massive arms acquisitions with China as the target. He concluded by accusing the Indian government of “walking today along the old road of resisting China,” advising India “not to requite kindness with ingratitude.”
Similar has been the voice from the Chinese officialdom. In November 2006, just before the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to India, the Chinese Ambassador to India, Sun Yuxi, made a claim on the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh. Besides, Chinese have protested at the Indian troop movements in Sikkim, as well as against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh in January 2008. In May 2007, the Chinese government refused visa to an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer from Arunachal Pradesh to visit China, stating that Arunachal Pradesh was part of Chinese territory. In August 2007, the Chinese demanded that India remove two bunkers on the Sino-Indian border close to the tri-junction of Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet, raising doubts about earlier China’s acceptance that Sikkim is part of India. More recently China has objected to a loan proposal by the Asian Development Bank because part of the loan would be used in Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims. China had also opposed the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) waiver to India last year for international nuclear commerce with India and has objected repeatedly to Indian proposals to add names of Pakistan-based terrorists to the UN terror list.
Lately, China has been trying to activate the Sikkim card as a bargain for its larger claim on the state of Arunachal Pradesh, and more particularly Tawang. For instance, in May 2008, China began to make fresh claims on Sikkim, otherwise a peaceful sector on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that divides India and China. Sikkim is a state in the north-eastern part of India, bordering China, which acceded to India in 1975. China lays claims to the northernmost tip of Sikkim that appears on the map like a protruding finger and thus termed Finger Area. It contains some stone cairns or heaps of stones that demarcate the India-China border. However, China has continued to state that it will demolish those cairns as the current mapping is not entirely correct and is based on the 1924 Survey of India. The current border controversy started last year when PLA troops began frequenting the area and constructed a road that crossed the Finger Area. Although India protested such moves in February 2008, the Chinese have continued assert their claims and have succeeded in introducing the issue as an agenda in the boundary talks between the two countries.
China has been trying to adopt various measures to put pressure on India so as to get leverage from India on the boundary issue. For instance, the Chinese border incursions have been on an increase. There were nearly 200 border intrusions in all three sectors in 2007, 270 in 2008 and 60 so far in 2009, although most of the intrusions took place in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. Border incursions into Sikkim have also gone up significantly. While the numbers may not critical, it still demonstrates the changed Chinese attitude towards India. The Chinese incursions are also getting deeper into Indian territory than before. Nevertheless, the Indian establishment continues to maintain that these are minor issues and that India and China being responsible powers will not stumble into a military clash. Despite India’s stationing of more than 40,000 troops in the state of Sikkim, its policy and posturing have continued to be, by and large, defensive.
On the other hand, despite the assertion that India is not a challenge, it continues to irk China to see India’s rising politico-strategic and military profile, especially in the Asia-Pacific. India’s Look East policy has been highly criticized. In fact, China’s concerns are reflected in an internal study undertaken at the behest of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mohan Malik, a noted China-watcher, in a recent essay analysed this internal study undertaken in 2005, which recommended that China undertake measures to maintain the current lead and strategic leverage in terms of territory, P-5 membership, or the Nuclear Club; hold on to diplomatic advantages through its special relationship particularly with India’s neighbouring countries; as also maintain the economic lead over India. India’s role and stand on Tibet may also be irksome to the Chinese leadership.
The Chinese are firmly convinced that increasing rhetoric along with increased incursions on the eastern sector will pressurise India to agree to major compromises on the border and territorial issue. China also believes that it should be in no hurry to resolve the border issue with India, but should be patient.
Lastly, will the Chinese anger result in a limited conflict on the border? If so, how are the two sides placed for such a conflict? In the past few years, the infrastructural developments that China has undertaken in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as well as on the India-China border provide the potential to the PLA Army to mobilise forces and equipment in a much shorter span of time. It would enable China to quickly mobilise large forces by train and by road onto Indian borders. Earlier this exercise not only took a long time but also was impossible during periods of snow. The new rail line into Tibet, and expressways, have changed the scenario totally. It is believed that China has about 160,000 troops in Tibet, and with improved infrastructure, it will be able to amass another 100,000 troops from the central reserve in a span of six weeks. Indian military planners have also noted that China has vastly improved its air force capability in the region, with multiple air bases and forward airstrips near the border. The PLA Air Force is also believed to have improved its command and control structures. China can also deploy heavy-lift planes in Tibet, though they may not be able to land and take-off fully loaded because of altitude restrictions. Besides the positioning of intermediate range ballistic missiles such as DF-4 and DF-21 in Tibet, it is reported that they could also deploy DF-31 ICBMs in bases such as at Delingha, near Tibet. This may mean that even a limited conflict between India and China has the potential to spiral out of control to become a dangerous nuclear flashpoint.
The infrastructure on the Indian side is quite deplorable. Indian military and political establishment appears to have believed for a long time that if it undertakes major infrastructure development, it would actually enhance the Chinese ability to move into Indian territory. However, the Indian government has recognised, of late, the need to upgrade the general infrastructure in the region. In June 2006, the Indian Cabinet sanctioned a series of infrastructure projects along the border. These projects include the building of 72 roads, three airstrips and several bridges in the border areas along the undefined LAC that would enable the Indian military to move troops quickly into the region. China may not perceive these developments favourably, even though these developments are on the Indian side of the border.
However, in terms of forces, India has about twelve mountain divisions capable of swift offensive operations in the mountainous areas. Two of these were reportedly created in February 2008, specifically for combat in Arunachal Pradesh. Two additional such divisions are estimated to become operational by 2015-16, at a cost of around INR 14 billion (USD 358 million). These will be reinforced by air power, including possibly, AWACS, and fighter jets. There have also been reports of India’s plans to procure 140 ultra-light 155mm artillery pieces, as also a large number of heavy lift and combat ready helicopters, all of which would have special utility in mountain warfare. Although India has tested a number of intermediate-range missiles, including the Agni-3 capable of hitting both Beijing and Shanghai, these missiles are still not operational.
Despite such rhetoric, China may not be in a mood to engage in a border conflict with India, as it would affect the growth trajectory of China quite adversely. Second, while Beijing may like to intensify its pressure on India, it recognizes that India is not the same that it defeated in 1962. India’s upgraded military capabilities, specifically air power if used in combat, will significantly alter the outcome of a conflict.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Rising Chinese Power: A Common Agenda in India-Australia Dialogue?

While the recent attacks against Indian students in Australia will top Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna’s agenda in Canberra, India should not lose sight of certain strategic imperatives that could potentially drive the two countries to a closer partnership. Can a rising Chinese power emerge as a striking imperative between New Delhi and Canberra in the coming years?

Joel Fitzgibbon, in the preface to the 2009 Defence White Paper titled, Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030, noted that the “biggest changes to our outlook … have been the rise of China, the emergence of India and the beginning of the end of the so-called unipolar movement.”
The white paper added that Chinese rise in the economic, political and military spheres and the resultant regional military modernisation have triggered significant concerns in Australia. More specifically, the defence white paper noted that the Chinese military modernisation could “affect the strategic reach and global postures of the major powers.” It added that the Chinese military will also be the strongest in Asia, with significant margin and will have power projection as one of its major features. The “pace, scope and structure” of such modernisation, the white paper notes, can trigger concern among the Asian neighbours, unless China undertakes some serious confidence building measures among these neighbours. The more serious worry for Australia is the implication of a reduced US strategic presence in the Asia-Pacific that would trigger regional powers to shoulder their own security. These concerns are reflected in a series of research essays and analyses in Australia looking carefully at the growing Chinese power and more importantly at how that power will be used or what kind of an international player would China turn out to be.
The 2007 Australian National Security Report had also highlighted concerns about China. It stated that “the pace and scope of China’s military modernisation, particularly the development of new and disruptive capabilities such as the anti-satellite (ASAT) missile, could create misunderstandings and instability in the region.” However Australian Defence Minister Brendan Nelson, during his recent visit to Beijing, backtracked a bit, saying that Chinese military modernisation programme was not a threat and that Australia’s support of an anti-ballistic missile defence system being developed by the US and Japan was directed at “rogue states” such as North Korea and non-state actors and not at China. He also had to reassure his hosts that India was not being included in any emerging coalition, something that appears to be particularly bothering Beijing.
In the case of Australia, there appears to be significant difference between the intelligence agencies and the policy makers, particularly the defence department. The intelligence agencies appear to be going along with a more benign China (“the growth of an ‘engaged’ China”) as opposed to the defence department that visualizes “inevitable collisions” as China becomes more powerful.
India also has concerns about China. Although economic ties between the two countries have improved significantly, there is a significant gap between the two countries on politico-strategic affairs and the evolving Asian security framework. While the rise of China has created ripples in India, the most worrying has been the pace of its military modernisation and the secrecy that shrouds it. There have been concerns also about the decision-making process in China. The military leadership in China sometimes appears to have an agenda of its own as was witnessed in a few cases in the recent past. More importantly, decision-making during crises is almost a prerogative of the military leadership. This will have adverse implications particularly for countries like India, US, Japan, Australia and Russia.
Another concern stems from the uncertainty of a more powerful China It is not certain whether the China’s rise would lead to a period of stability or be one with destabilising consequences for the region and the world at large. This fear arises from the fact that China has pursued an aggressive military modernisation, much beyond its stated objective of defending against external intervention in Taiwan. While China has continued to argue that its military modernisation and capability building are geared towards a crisis on the Taiwan Straits, its ambitions could go well beyond that, as several recent reports show, including the Australian defence White Paper. There have been many reports of China developing an aircraft carrier. Reports also show that China has deployed new missile units outfitted with conventional theatre-range missiles at various locations in China that could be operationalised in a variety of non-Taiwan contingencies, which has implications for India. Similarly, the missile re-organisation that China undertook in July 2007 is noteworthy. According to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), satellite photographs reveal the deployment of the DF-21 medium-range missiles at Delingha, which could put at risk all of northern India, including New Delhi. These missiles could potentially target Russian ICBM fields, although it is reasonably certain that China does not intend to target Russia. There have also been significant improvements in China’s AWACS capabilities (Air-borne Early Warning and Control) and aerial-refuelling programmes.
In the long-term, the increasing Chinese defence expenditure and its military modernization could give China arena capacity to dominate Asia. These trends also suggest that other powers need to be cautious in estimating the consequences of China’s rise. Rise of new powers have altered the security milieu historically. However, if the rising power indicates that its intentions are peaceful and defensive, essentially through its defence/military postures, this could reduce the suspicion and thereby help create a peaceful region. This has not been the case with China. China has exhibited ambitions to form a Greater China comprising of the Mainland, a politically and economically integrated Taiwan, and Hong Kong and Macau.
If these trends continue, rising Chinese power could possibly become the biggest strategic imperative for both India and Australia to strengthen their strategic partnership. Although the earlier efforts in terms of quadrilateral initiative have died, it might be in the interest of like-minded countries to join their hands together in cementing a stable and peaceful order in Asia. It may also be worth the effort to see how China can be brought into the camp through CBMs, particularly in the military-security arena.

Mixed signals over Chinese missiles

Here's a link to a story on the recent NASIC report and Chinese missiles by Peter Brown that has quoted me extensively. The story appeared in today's Asia Times Online.

As defense analysts and experts in the United States, Japan and India digest the recent "Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat" report by the US Air Force (USAF) National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) - particularly any elements pertaining to China - important gaps or omissions are surfacing.

The bottom line is that these gaps, along with differences between the NASIC report [1] and a US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)-authored report on the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) released earlier this year, are making the overall US analysis of the situation unfolding in China involving missiles and military space matters increasingly hard to gauge.

An admission by the commander of the USAF Space Command

(AFSPC), General Robert Kehler, made in a written response to questions submitted to him during a Congressional sub-committee hearing in March and just recently published, underscores the fact that the US recognizes that it has to do a much better job when it comes to the broad topic of space intelligence.

"Several initiatives have been taken to address the need for more and better qualified space intelligence analysts. Recent billet additions at AFSPC, NASIC, DIA and CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] have taken place through internal reallocations and external over guidance approval. NSA [National Security Agency] has reprioritized for better space analysis and USSTRATCOM J2 [US Strategic Command - Intelligence] is reestablishing space analysis.

Overall analytic resources will remain insufficient, despite the improvement cited above, and will require active efforts to increase efficiency and collaboration. AFSPC is hosting an interagency forum to review/refine intelligence shortfalls and to seek interagency solutions," said General Kehler.

"The Defense Intelligence Space Threat Committee under NASIC leadership has been established to oversee and coordinate a wide variety of complex space/ counterspace analytical activities. Space/counterspace intelligence requirements have been revaluated and are now being reprioritized and rewritten to more clearly focus the intelligence community."

As the world adjusts to China's overt display of anti-satellite (ASAT) warfare in 2007 - satellites like the inactive Chinese weather satellite it destroyed that year represent a critical component in almost all ballistic missile defense systems - and as the line which separates conventional ballistic missiles from small satellite launchers becomes blurred due to advances in satellite design and complexity, the task at hand does not get any easier. Witness the launches undertaken since last year both by Iran and North Korea, for example. China's decision to use its latest manned space flight in 2008 as an opportunity to launch a small satellite from the manned spacecraft may not fall into the same category as these launches, but it does not make matters less complicated either.

"Training is also a critical element of USAF efforts to address adversary space threat. AFSPC recently expanded the Space Professional Development Program to include the USAF intelligence community. The National Space Security Institute has begun a comprehensive review and expansion of AFSPC's space professional training courses in close cooperation with the (AFSPC Directorate of Intelligence) and the intelligence community at large," said General Kehler.

His response speaks to the process and not the results. Still, it is quite unlikely that a Chinese military commander would make any admission in public view.

Dr Gregory Kulacki, China project manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, identifies the lack of analysts with meaningful proficiency in the Chinese language as one of the most important gaps in US space intelligence capabilities.

"The mistaken characterization by US experts of the BX-1 satellite released from the Shenzhou VII [last year] is a good example of how insufficient or non-existent language skills can weaken analysis," said Dr Kulacki. "The BX-1 mission was highly publicized and discussed in detail in the Chinese media, but because [many US experts were] unable to understand that material, [they] created yet another tempest in a teapot over the BX-1."

In Asia, important gaps in the NASIC report have generated questions in India in particular. Specifically, two important omissions involve China's activities in Tibet, and a reorganization of its missile facilities at a base near Tibet that started two years ago, according to Dr Rajeswari Rajagopalan, senior fellow in security studies at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

"China's positioning of its intermediate range missiles such as DF-4s and DF-21s in Tibet, and reports which suggest that China could also deploy DF-31 and DF-31A ICBMs at bases such as Delingha near Tibet, raise serious concerns. Both the DF-31s and DF-31As are road mobile and use solid propellant engines. Placing medium-range ballistic missiles in Delingha which can hit targets approximately 2,500 kilometers away can put all of northern India at risk, including New Delhi," said Dr Rajeswari Rajagopalan, senior fellow in security studies at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

On page 3 of the NASIC report, it is reported that, "China has the most active and diverse ballistic missile development program in the world ... China's ballistic missile force is expanding in both size and types of missiles. New theater missiles continue to be deployed in the vicinity of Taiwan, while the ICBM force is adding the CSS-10 Mod 1 (DF-31) and CSS-10 Mod 2 (DF-31A) ICBMs. The new JL-2 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) is also under development. Future ICBMs probably will include some with multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), and the number of ICBM nuclear warheads capable of reaching the United States could expand to well over 100 within the next 15 years."

Richard Fisher, a Chinese military expert at the Washington DC-based International Assessment and Strategy Center, told the Washington Times in early June that, "in just over two months, US intelligence community estimates have China's ICBMs increasing by 25%. That's a formidable rate of growth." [2]

For Fisher, this sharp increase signals a need for more in-depth analysis, and for more players to become involved.

"This year's dual assessments have been produced by two US intelligence community teams: the DIA is largely responsible for the annual PLA report to the Congress [released in March], and a USAF team produces the NASIC report," said Fisher. "We should not be surprised that they produce differing results, but the fact that we have benefited slightly in terms of new ICBM number assessments to me proves that there should be much more competition in the production of such assessments. Democracies require more facts, not less."

Rahul Bhonsle, a South Asian defense analyst based in New Delhi, finds Fisher's statement quite alarming.

"However, this does not denote the trends of developments in the past which have been more conservative. For China to suddenly attain a leap does not appear to be practical. My reading is that China is more focused today on improving its internal information and logistics management systems so as to enhance response times rather than develop and or induct additional systems," said Bhonsle.

Otherwise, despite the fact that the NASIC report specifically mentions Taiwan in three different sections, he is not concerned about the omission of China's activities in or near Tibet in the report which, "appears to be more of a capability-based rather than a threat-based analysis".

"There are some indications of the Chinese preparing some advanced launch positions in Tibet which is of concern to us. These locations remain unidentified so far, so building up information on these is a priority," said Bhonsle.

Brian Weeden, technical advisor at the Colorado-based Secure World Foundation, sees the NASIC assessment as warranting further clarification. He describes what is underway in China as "actually fairly slow growth compared to what the US and Soviet Union did starting in the 1950s".

"Right now, it is clear that China has no intention of matching the US or Russia warhead for warhead, and it has no plans to achieve the same level of overwhelming nuclear force. They are still sticking to the philosophy of limited deterrence, ie having just enough," said Weeden. "And if having 'just enough' is your goal, then it is obvious that you would want to have those few nuclear weapons as survivable as possible. Road-mobile ICBMs and SLBMs are exactly that."

Weeden finds that talk about percentages is a way to overemphasize or perhaps even conceal real numbers.

"Going from 10 to 20 nuclear weapons is a 100% increase, but so is going from 1,000 to 2,000, and adding 1,000 more warheads is much more of a problem than adding 10," said Weeden.

According to Rajagopalan, China's growing missile capabilities - both in actual numbers and the types of missiles - and the proliferation of those missiles have triggered regional insecurity and resulted in a spiraling arms race in the region.

"If China increases the number of ICBMs from even 20 to 25 in a year, this small growth is something that India, US, and Japan might watch out for. It may not have reached any dangerous proportion, but this is something that needs close monitoring," said Rajagopalan. "Development of these missile forces and the ever-growing submarine force indicate that China prefers to implement an area denial strategy. Such a capability will allow China to create a buffer zone around its land and maritime periphery which in turn will increase the difficulty for others to operate close to the Chinese mainland."

Weeden is also eager to examine several recent projections of Chinese submarine-launched nuclear warheads in greater detail, too.

"Recent predictions that China could have upwards of 400 sub-launched nuclear warheads within the decade are absurd. The newest class of [Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear] SSBN (JL-2) has 12 launch tubes, each of which can hold a missile with one warhead. There is no way that China is going to be able to roll out 30-plus SSBNs in a decade."

For Hideaki Kaneda, a retired Vice Admiral and former Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) commander, who is the director of the Okazaki Institute in Tokyo, the debate over numbers does not tell the whole story. While he agrees with Fisher's assessment, he finds China's persistent lack of transparency involving its overall nuclear strategy, not to mention its entire military strategy, unsettling given the steady increase in Chinese defense budgets since the mid-1980's. China's focus on ASATs, and other countermeasures intended to disable otherwise effective missile defense systems, and China's efforts to secure its position as a third nuclear superpower, while "anticipating the trend of global nuclear reduction" are important developments that Kaneda elects to highlight.

When asked which specific Chinese missile-related trends disturb him, he responded simply - "Every trend."

"The Japanese government will review its "National Defense Program Guidelines [NDPG]" by the end of this year. I hope the revised NDPG would effectively address all my concerns as expressed here. Though it depends on which parties [achieve] political dominance in the next general election," said Kaneda.

Certainly, the recent debate over Japan's possible adoption of a preemptive strike capability as a reasonable measure has cast the emerging NDPG in a different light.

Kaneda would not comment on how open he felt the Japanese people are today to his point of view. A longtime and somewhat hawkish advocate for a greater emphasis on ballistic missile defense (BMD) in Japan, he also would not comment on the BMD efforts now underway in Japan involving all the existing branches of the JSDF. He also did not comment on whether or not he would prefer to consolidate BMD developmental and testing activities under one command or under a single agency in a manner similar to what is now in place in the US under the Missile Defense Agency.

No matter how you interpret the numbers or what upward curve you select, Fisher finds them disturbing.

"PLA nuclear missile numbers are growing to a point to which we can drop this notion they have a 'minimum' nuclear deterrent force. An early nuclear missile force in excess of 120 is plausible, and they could be divided roughly evenly between land and sea-based platforms," said Fisher. "This means that all PLA nuclear missiles will be harder to find, and that China will become increasingly aggressive toward the US and other navies operating in the South China Sea, the best place for their SSBN operations."

As for the PLA Navy's (PLAN) development of Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) capabilities, Weeden emphasizes that the real story is not what PLAN is doing, but what the US Navy is not doing.

"The Chinese are not doing anything new with ASBMs. The concept dates back to 1955 and was pioneered by the US. The main issue is that the US Navy has not really been paying attention to the threat and is not really prepared to defend against it," said Weeden. "There are multiple technologies that can defend against it, but right now the navy is not really tackling it seriously."

At the same time, Weeden cautions that any description of China's missiles as "being technologically advanced is true when compared to the likes of Iran and North Korea, but China's ICBMs and SLBMs are still decades behind that of the US, Russia, France, and Great Britain".

"China's sole SSBN has never done a deterrence patrol. China has still yet to MIRV any of its nuclear delivery vehicles, something that the other powers did a long time ago. The significance of MIRVing cannot be understated," said Weeden.

"In the NASIC report, [it states] that 'the number of ICBM nuclear warheads capable of reaching the United States could expand to well over 100 within the next 15 years'. So the growth is 'considerable' compared to how many warheads China has capable of reaching the US now, but negligible compared to what Russia already has deployed and historically had deployed."

Fisher, on the other hand, wants readers to understand that the number of Chinese nuclear missile warheads could grow more quickly than has been suggested by recent US open or unclassified intelligence reports.

"My sources suggest the DF-5A already carries up to six warheads, and that future versions of the DF-31A and JL-2 could carry three to four warheads. If true, then it is plausible to consider future PLA nuclear warhead counts that reach 500, again, no longer a 'minimum' force," said Fisher.

Fisher like Kaneda wants to firmly establish the links between Chinese ASAT and Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) components in a broader public debate about US and Japanese defense policies.

"Even though the PLA has conducted multiple ASAT tests leading up to its success in 2007, no unclassified [US intelligence] report since has commented on how the PLA ASAT program may also indicate the existence of a larger PLA ABM program. The PLA's first ABM program took place from 1963 to 1980. If you can shoot down a satellite then you can shoot down a missile warhead," said Fisher. "The potential for the PLA's future no-longer-minimum nuclear force also being defended by an ABM system should be causing the Obama Administration to halt its nuclear disarmament plans. Such may also help explain why the Russians do not want to go below 1,500 deployed warheads, a reduction that I think would still be foolish for Washington and Moscow."

According to Fisher, while experts in Japan, India and the US may disagree at times over what is going on and why, "Americans are quite fortunate to have access to any level of [US intelligence] assessment of the PLA, which is issued at a level of detail that would put any Chinese commentator in jail."

1. Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat - NASIC (June 2009)
2. Missile threats - Bill Gertz (June 4, 2009)

Peter J Brown is a freelance writer from Maine USA.

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