Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Annual Report to Congress, "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China 2010"

The latest US report on the Chinese military power, titled Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China, has been released by the Pentagon yesterday. The report details China's evolving military strategy, the accompanying military modernisation to implement the evolving military strategy, and also looks into the force structuring along the Taiwan Strait. The report, while addressing the issue of power projection that goes beyond Taiwan, offers analysis of the emerging situation vis-a-vis India, Russia, Central Asia and South China Sea.

For more details on the evolving strategy and power projection beyond Taiwan, in the report, continue reading.

One of the key features of its evolving strategy is that of the area denial or anti-access strategy, along with asymmetric means of warfighting. Asymmetric warfare remains an important component of the Chinese military strategy given the lacunae in several vital areas and they are compelled to rely on asymmetric means to attack enemical forces. The report notes, for instance, the increasing Chinese reliance on "an array of systems to attack intelligence, communications, and navigation satellites, seeking to neutralize the US advantage in space, ... an emphasis on offensive and defensive electronic warfare" are examples of their way of using asymmetric means to exploit certain weaknesses in a strong enemy force. Similarly, China has mastered area denial strategy that would essentially restrain the ability of other countries to use a particular space or facility. This will allow China to establish a buffer zone around its land and maritime periphery which in turn will increase the difficulty for other states to operate close to Chinese mainland. Beijing’s anti-access strategies have expanded to all spheres of warfare including space, cyberspace, land, air and naval. One of the China watchers notes that this strategy may not have fully evolved to defeat superior military, but they may employ “a number of tactics that are clearly anti-access in intention or effect.” Such tactics can be expected to be in wide use in a potential conflict on the Taiwan Straits, where the US and Japanese forces would be involved and who will rely on information systems heavily. Attacks against logistics have been another area that the PLA plans to attack.

China has been developing strategies and capabilities "to improve extended-reach power projection," which has impacted upon the shifting military balance in East Asia and beyond. The report also noted that while China has been increasingly focusing on military operations other than war (MOTW) such as international peacekeeping, disaster relief, anti-piracy operations, these very same capabilities, it is feared, could become options for Beijing "for military coercion to gain diplomatic advantage, advance interests or resolve disputes in its favor."

On India, the report noted that China continues to be concerned about the persisting border disputes with India as also "the strategic ramifications of India's rising economic, political, and military power." The report cites that in order to strengthen regional deterrence, "the PLA has replaced older liquid-fueled, nuclear capable CSS-3 intermediate-range ballistic missiles with more advanced and survivable solid-fueled CSS-5 MRBMs and may be developing contingency plans to move airborne troops into the region." The refurbished border infrastructure has also been noted in the report. There is a clear military imbalance between the two sides, in terms of equipments and units as well as the physical infrastructure. The infrastructural developments that China has undertaken in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as well as on the Indo-China border, in the last few years, provide the potential to the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) to mobilize forces and equipment onto Indian borders in a much shorter span of time. China now has a 40,000-km road network in Tibet, apart from rail links like the 1,118-km one from Lhasa to Gormo in Qinghai province. This would enable China to mobilize large forces by train and by road onto Indian borders. Earlier this exercise not only took a long time but also was impossible during winter. The new rail line into Tibet, and expressways, have changed the scenario totally.

Although Russia is apparently the "closest international partner," Beijing "remains concerned that Russia's long-term interests are not wholly consistent with China's. Not only the interests are not consistent, the "PLA strategists view Russia as a potential long-term military challenge." Russia, on the other, has its own concerns of the rising Chinese power. Beijing's "significant force structure in the Lanzhou, Beijing, and Shenyang Military Regions, in addition to its conventional and strategic missile forces" are of enormous concern to the Russians.

China has its power projection ambitions also in Central Asia and South China Sea, which both come into conflict with the Russian and US interests respectively.

An aircraft carrier's significance for power projection purposes cannot be underestimated. China is aware of this and if one is to go by what the Chinese admirals have to say, they have the will and apparently the technological and economic strengths to build one in the next few years. The Report states that "in April 2009 PRC Navy Commander Admiral Wu Shengli stated that 'China will develop its fleet of aircraft carriers in a harmonious manner. We will prudently decide the policy." In March 2009, another PLA Navy Admiral Wu Huayang had said, "China is capable of building aircraft carriers. We have such strength. Building aircraft carriers require economic and technological strength. Given the level of development in our country, I think we have such strength." The report says that China will build "multiple carriers by 2020."

Lack of transaprency and rising military expenditures are other issues that the report has paid attention to, in addition to the force posturing across the Taiwan Strait.

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