China is Stirring: Why Now?
Peace and Freedom
January 20, 2007
In the last few weeks and months, two important new military capabilities were apparently demonstrated by China to show the U.S. new -- and some say troubling – Chinese military powers. First, in October of 2006, a Chinese Song Class diesel electric submarine crept covertly to within five nautical miles of the USS Kitty Hawk, a U.S. navy aircraft carrier.
This one act said to many naval observers two things: That China intends to patrol further than ever from its shores and that China now can effectively evade U.S. Navy anti-submarine warfare systems and place warships in a position to quickly eliminate the U.S. Navy’s capital ships.
Then on January 11, 2007, China launched a land-based rocket that intercepted and destroyed an old Chinese satellite. This one act indicated that China may have the early stages of a “space denial” weapon system for use against the U.S. in a crisis or war.
Both incidents followed a period of decreased intelligence gathering by the U.S. against China.
Military intelligence officials told us that the U.S. Pacific Commander, Admiral William “Fox” Fallon, had restricted U.S. intelligence-gathering activities against China, fearing that disclosure of the activities would upset relations with Beijing.
Last week the White House announced that Admiral Fallon is now the President’s nominee to succeed General John Abazaid as the Commander of the Central Command.
We asked ourselves, “Why would China be revealing these apparently new, and to some frightening, capabilities at this time?”
We discovered a mixture of reasons after questioning several current and former officials of the State and Defense Departments in the U.S. along with former National Security Council staff members and some well known “China watchers.” We also drew upon the excellent reporting on China by Mr. Bill Gertz of the Washington Times.
--Burgeoning Power. China is the burgeoning superpower of the world. China's economy, the world's fourth largest, is likely to enjoy a fifth straight year of double-digit growth in 2007. On January 20, 2007, Reuters reported that “Beijing's leaders, despite unveiling a slew of policies in recent months to prevent over-heating, are unwilling to countenance a major slowdown because of the need to create jobs for millions of people joining the workforce every year.”
It seems as though every product for sale at your neighborhood Wal Mart or Sears is marked “Made in China.”
Speaking of China’s government leaders, Yuan Gangming, an economist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a top think-tank, said “As in 2006, they want a growth rate of 10.5 percent or even higher."
China is spreading its wings and its economic influence the world over.
In China, the sea routes and overland transportation system from China to the sub-Saharan region of Africa is called “The New Silk Road.” The original “Silk Road” was a key trade route comprised of an interconnected series of roads, routes and sea lanes spanning from Korea to the Mediterranean Sea.
"This new 'silk road' potentially presents to sub-Saharan Africa - home to 300 million of the globe's poorest people and the world's most formidable development challenge - a significant and rare opportunity to hasten its international integration and growth," author of the study “Africa's Silk Road: China and India's New Economic Frontier.”
The author of the book, World Bank Economic Adviser Harry G. Broadman, says that skyrocketing Asian trade and investment in Africa is part of a global trend towards rapidly growing South-South commerce among developing countries.
"Asian exports to Africa are growing at 18 per cent per year, faster than to any region in the world. China and India's foreign direct investments in Africa are more modest than trade flows, but they are growing rapidly," Broadman said.
Paul Craig Roberts wrote in August 2005, that “China already is a world power. China holds enough U.S. government debt to have the dollar and U.S. interest rates in its hand.”
Paul Craig Roberts is an economist and a nationally syndicated columnist. He served as an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Ronald Reagan Administration (1981–1989). He is a former editor and columnist for Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, and the Scripps Howard News Service.
China “owns” a large chink of U.S. debt – second only to Japan. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are funded largely on “borrowed” money from China.
This according William Schneider in The National Journal: “The U.S. budget deficit is financed by borrowing. More and more of that money comes from China, now the United States' second-largest lender, after Japan. China's investment in U.S. government debt has more than tripled in the past five years, from $71 billion in 2000 to $242 billion in 2005.”
Is that a problem? No, says the director of the Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Holtz-Eakin. "Dollars all look the same," he added. "Their ultimate source doesn't matter."
William Schneider is the CNN's senior political analyst. He is also a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times, National Journal, and The Atlantic Monthly.
--“Testing the Waters.” China is “feeing out” the international response to many of its new initiatives. The U.S. Pentagon has asked that China become more open and forthcoming about its military plans and investments for many years. Just recently, China has become more “transparent” about its military spending and its priorities.
Just after Christmas, 2006, China released a new “White Paper” on its defense intentions. "China will not engage in any arms race or pose a military threat to any other country," the 91-page white paper said. "China is determined to remain a staunch force for global peace, security and stability."
"The struggle to oppose and contain the separatist forces for Taiwan independence and their activities remains a hard one," said the report from the State Council, China's Cabinet.
It indirectly criticized the United States for promising Beijing that it will adhere to the "one-China" policy, "but it continues to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan, and has strengthened military ties with Taiwan."
As for the navy, it is "working to build itself into a modern maritime force of operation consisting of combined arms with both nuclear and conventional means of operations," the report said.
Sunanda K Datta-Ray of the Hindustan Times wrote, “China’s ambitious defence White Paper hard on the heels of its African initiatives warns of a relentless advance to what — shades of the Middle Kingdom! — Hu Jintao calls his country’s ‘historical mission.’”
In his annual threat assessment, Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Congress on Jan. 11: "Several countries continue to develop capabilities that have the potential to threaten U.S. space assets, and some have already deployed systems with inherent anti-satellite capabilities, such as satellite-tracking laser range-finding devices and nuclear-armed ballistic missiles."
On the same day, the Chinese destroyed an aging weather satellite using what's known as a kinetic-kill vehicle sent into space aboard a Chinese ballistic missile. Kinetic-kill vehicles were an integral part of President Reagan's dream of protecting the U.S. against ballistic missile attacks, a plan critics mocked and still do.
--Distractions of Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea. China knows that the U.S. is terribly distracted by other foreign policy imperatives. Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea are “sucking the air out of our ability to breathe and concentrate on other, seemingly lesser trouble spots,” a former State Department country officer told us. “Why do you think we don’t pay much attention to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela?”
Last July, at the height of the war between Israel and Hezbollah, the U.S. Secretary of State had a scheduled trip to China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Malaysia. Naturally, in the heat of war, the American Secretary of State scrubbed the entire trip, save the Malaysian piece.Asians we know, were very offended – each nation lost face and all Asia lost face, they told us. The Chinese were particularly concerned that Israel and Hezbollah seemed more important to Ms. Rice than all of China.Making things worse, the U.S. Secretary of State went to Malaysia for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers. Instead of visiting with heads of state in Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul and Hanoi, the Secretary of State went to a club meeting of Foreign Ministers and played the piano for the assembly at dinner (Brahms' Sonata in D Minor, 2nd Movement).
Worse still, for right or wrong, the Secretary of State rushed back to the Middle East, it seemed, to deal with the troubles of Israel; a small and insignificant nation in the eyes of many in the vast populations of Asia. We, in America, lost face – especially in the calculating minds of the Chinese.
--U.S. Navy is “Stretched,” Showing some “Strain.” The United States Navy has, as best we can determined, contracted form a “goal” during the Ronald Reagan years of 600 ships to about 276 ships now. Every unplanned deployment of Aircraft Carrier Battle Groups or Marine Corps Amphibious Groups exacerbates the “strain” on a service which would have a key role on the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean should any major Asian crisis come to the edge of hostilities.
When the President made the decision to send an additional Aircraft Carrier Battle Group to the vicinity of the Persian Gulf and North Arabian Sea recently, many writers questioned how the U.S. would account for the loss of that firepower near Japan and Korea or in the event of a crisis near Taiwan.
There are only 12 U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. Typically, four may be engaged in overseas operations or deployments, four are preparing and training for future action and three or four have recently returned from six-months of at sea operations and are in some form of maintenance. One or more may be in an extended overhaul and unavailable for service.
With two aircraft carriers in the vicinity of the Persian Gulf and North Arabian Sea that only leaves one in the entire Pacific Ocean and one covering the Atlantic/Mediterranean operating areas.
China sees this and asks itself: “If we ever need to take back Taiwan by force, we might best do this when the U.S. Navy Aircraft carriers are days or weeks away.”
We didn’t make this question up. It was a gift to us from a People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Admiral.
China is no match for the U.S. Navy, certainly. But a number of advanced warships will gradually come into service in the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (P.L.A.N.) in the next few years. The bulk of these ships will belong to two new guided missile destroyer classes called 052B and 052C. The 052C will be fitted with an advanced integrated air defense system, supposedly similar to the U.S. Aegis phased-array radar display, with a high capability to engage multiple targets simultaneously.
China's surface fleet consists presently consisting of 64 large combatant units: 21 destroyers and 43 frigates. Chinese Navy planners are facing the demanding task of replacing obsolete ships with more modern and capable units.
To speed this process, P.L.A.N. continues to bring into service units of the Russian Sovremenny-class destroyers, while pursuing the construction of its own type 052B and 052C-class warships.
China also is pursuing the construction of a completely new ship, , that is expected to be very large and loaded with heavy surface armament. The first ship of this series is being built in China's Dalian shipyard.
Beijing is apparently not yet attempting to build an aircraft carrier.At the moment, the creation of an extensive ship-borne air force by building and China’s submarine fleet consists of 57 units: 51 diesel submarines (SS) and six nuclear powered attack submarines (SSN).
China currently has one new Type 094 nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) of the Xia-class but construction of the series has been slow and laborious. Regional Crisis and the Protection of Sea Lines of CommunicationThe naval construction plan as a whole indicates that the duties that P.L.A.N. will be called upon to tackle in the next few years will be the protection of sea lines of communication to keep open the "choke points" relevant to China's trade flow, and power projection in areas identified as vital for China's national interests.
All these tasks coincide with China's anxiety to acquire and protect the necessary natural resources (especially oil) to sustain the growing energy requirements of its national industrial system. Increased dependence on overseas resources will bring Beijing to require a greater effort by Chinese naval forces to protect the trade flows and show the flag in ports of countries that are considered important trading partners.Moreover, P.L.A.N. will be required to conduct long-range missions in the open sea to defend exclusive economic zones and to control areas with uncertain sovereignty, as in the case of the Spratley Islands. These isolated islands, situated in the South China Sea, are claimed by China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, due principally to the rich oil deposits believed to be located there.
The ships commissioned in P.L.A.N. will enable China to conduct missions of this kind, with the aim of deploying a fleet overwhelmingly superior to those of all other Asiatic countries (especially Taiwan) with the exception of the Indian and Japanese navies which Beijing can try, at least, to counterbalance.The submarine fleet will have the same duties as surface vessels, but is also expected to be assigned the hard task of facing the "traditional" Taiwanese adversary and, supposedly, coping with U.S. battle groups.
In fact, it appears that Beijing discarded the possibility of deploying a limited number of aircraft carriers (which would appear excessive in relation to other regional navies) since they would have little hope of prevailing in an engagement with U.S. naval forces. This explains why China's aircraft carrier planning and construction is slowing in pace. Indeed, Beijing now prefers a well-stocked fleet of diesel submarines and nuclear powered submarines to have the difficult role of exerting some deterrence against American ships in case of a crisis. Following this path, China will rise to a respectable level of underwater power, partially repeating the Soviet strategy during the Cold War. However, unlike the past Soviet submarine fleet (essentially dedicated to attacking N.A.T.O. forces and protecting bastions full of SSBNs), Chinese submarine forces seem to be assigned the role of supporting surface forces -- in their attempts to control sea lines of communication, with the additional mission of trying to exert some form of counter-power against U.S. forces. In this context, moreover, the Taiwan issue requires careful examination. In fact, the expansion and improvement of the Chinese submarine fleet, especially in diesel submarine numbers, can give Beijing an additional card to play against Taipei under the form of a submarine blockade.
Such a blockade is potentially very hard to neutralize and cope with, even for Taiwan's respectable anti-submarine warfare forces; this strategy can exert stronger pressure than diplomatic threats, but is not comparable to a real attempt at invasion, hazardous and hard to carry out -- and also fraught with unforeseeable political and military consequence.
The Chinese fleet's evolution in the coming years suggests that P.L.A.N. will be essentially concerned with protecting sea trade with the aim of assuring an uninterrupted flow of energy resources to satisfy the needs most dependent on overseas resources and to safeguard sea lines of communication. The enlargement and modernization of the Chinese fleet will inevitably alarm the surrounding countries and other regional powers (such as India and Australia) and will oblige other states to renew their surface and submarine forces. However, it appears unlikely that P.L.A.N. can, or will, become a force with global projection (notably far behind the U.S. Navy's capabilities, or those of the Soviet Navy during the 1980s) in the next decade. The chief missions that P.L.A.N. will be called upon to perform are eminently regional, such as power projection to support claims to areas of dubious sovereignty, but with rich subsoil resources (such as the Spratley Islands), to achieve the same operative capability as the more powerful Asian fleets, and ability to engage such a demanding adversary as the Taiwanese fleet (able to perform at high levels due to continuous acquisition of American equipment). In relation to U.S. Navy battle groups, P.L.A.N. can, at most, aim for the possibility of exerting some form of deterrence (especially through the use of submarine forces), thus refuting all those who, since the beginning of the twenty-first century, have imagined American and Chinese battle groups confronting one another to decide which state will rule over the Pacific Ocean.
--U.S. Seen Often As “Easy Mark.” The Associated press reported last week that State Metal Industries, a Camden, New Jersey, company convicted in June of violating export laws over a shipment of AIM-7 Sparrow missile guidance parts it bought from Pentagon surplus in 2003 and sold to an entity partly owned by the Chinese government. The company pleaded guilty to an export violation, was fined $250,000 and placed on probation for three years. Customs and Border Protection inspectors seized the parts -- nearly 200 pieces of the guidance system for the Sparrow missile system -- while inspecting cargo at a New Jersey port.
The company was only ordered to pay a fine of a few thousand dollars.
“For better or for worse, our U.S. openness and the perceived weakness of our laws encourages the Chinese to believe that America doesn’t really care about deterring or catching Chinese spies or law violators,” a Pentagon official who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity told us.
“There are Chinese spies everywhere in America: we know it and they know we know it. We just don’t really do much about it unless what they do is really quiet serious or blatantly wrong.,” the same official told me.
--Weakness of the “Lame Duck” President. The midterm elections in November 2006 were a stinging blow to President Bush and the Republican Party. Control of the House and the senate shifted to the Democratic Party. By Many accounts, the president of the United States became a “lame duck” president, with very limited power and influence until he is replaced by a new man – or woman.
This is the kind of situation that emboldens Chinese leaders.
In no nation is more duck eaten than in China.
Another piece of troubling news from China: China's military is delaying the U.S. visit of its strategic nuclear forces commander despite a promise by Chinese President Hu Jintao last year that the general would hold talks with the U.S. Strategic Command leader.
Caroline Bartholomew, chairman of the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said Beijing's failure to respond to the U.S. office is a concern. "The commission recommended a [U.S.-China] dialogue on strategic-forces issues to ensure that both China and the United States understand the lines in the sand," she said. "There are certain acts which have traditionally been and will continue to be seen as hostile, such as blinding satellites and threatening a nuclear attack on our cities."
Miss Bartholomew said "we must hope that Gen. Jing's lack of responsiveness to the invitation to visit U.S. Strategic Command, despite the fact that he has been elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, does not reflect Chinese government disinterest in strategic warning and mutual threat-reduction measures."