Exacerbating military modernisation in China

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PAWE? BIE?KOWSKI, Asian Programme

A successful aircraft carrier programme is just one example of China’s rapid development of modern military capabilities pinpointed by the most recent Pentagon’s report Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2011, annually presented to US Congress.

A report invariably causes a backlash in Beijing and is considered by the Chinese as an evidence of American military hypocrisy which contributes to strengthening of the “China threat” syndrome. The basic “finding” of the latest edition is an estimate that China will build a modern, capable military by 2020, with an ability to project and sustain a small naval and ground force (perhaps several ground battalions and a naval flotilla) far away from China by the end of the decade, but still only in low-intensity operations.[1] While Chinese military is “closing key gaps” and extends a possible scope of its actions, the Pentagon assesses this trend as “threatening to regional stability”.[2]

Indeed, the report recalls Chinese strategy writings which describe the first two decades of the 21st century as “the strategic window of opportunity” when China’s comprehensive national power is deemed to grow quickly in line with national ambitions. China’s own assessment of its progress is that of a significant growth in power. One of the most widely commented realms of China’s growing military clout are PLA’s advancing anti-access, area denial capabilities (A2AD), composed of systems capable of engaging adversary’s naval vessels up to 1,850 km from Chinese coastline. Among them are anti-ship ballistic missiles, conventional and nuclear submarines, guided missile destroyers carrying anti-ship cruise missiles and maritime strike aircraft, including bombers and fighters. The purpose of Chinese hugely invested A2AD strategy is to practically seal off a certain space or potential conflict zone in order to avoid any intervention of an external power, be it most likely the US in case of any serious Taiwan or South China Sea contingency. The J-20 stealth fighter programme, currently in progress in China, as well as ballistic missile defence programme, are clearly elements of this strategy.

Extended operational reach by at least two of PLA services has been successfully demonstrated in recent months and years. The Gulf of Aden operation gives the PLAN a chance to participate in international antipiracy efforts far away from Chinese zones of direct influence. Importantly, China constantly maintains a flotilla of three naval vessels in the area, carrying out regular shifts. Chinese task force is also known for its successful operational cooperation with other national flotillas off Somali coast. This particular experience reinforces China’s ability to sustain a forward military presence in an area where Chinese interests might be in danger. Another significant achievement has been an airlift operation undergone in order to evacuate Chinese nationals from war-torn Libya in early 2011, conducted by PLA Air Force’s Il-76 long-haul transport aircraft operating from Sudan. Having been the first ever operation to evacuate PRC citizens stranded abroad, this action was also a showcase of China’s quickly developing strategic airlift capabilities, necessary for effective power projection. Similarly, participation of PLAAF fighter aircraft in the 2010 “Anatolian Eagle” exercise in Turkey proved an ability of Chinese air force to take part in combat operations far away from national territory. Su-27 fighters, supplied with extra fuel tanks, made all their way from China to Turkey, refuelling only in Iran.

A development considered as a danger in the US is especially China’s progress in cyber warfare capabilities. The Pentagon report repeats its claim of information warfare units having been established in China for the purpose of developing viruses and executing computer network operations. Recently a new evidence of this practice has seen the light of the day. A programme broadcasted freely on CCTV-7 showed what most likely was a documentary footage of perhaps at least several years old cyber attacks conducted by a Chinese entity on Falun Gong websites based in the United States.[3] Despite repeating denials by Chinese authorities regarding China’s use of information technology for hostile purposes, cyber warfare remains in line with authoritative Chinese military writings and faces mounting evidence.

A newly-reported, growing phenomenon in China’s military modernisation, likely to generate enhanced sustainability of defence industry, is civil-military integration (junmin ronghe  ????). In general, it became observable that dual-use technology industries do better than companies manufacturing solely for military purposes. Most notably the shipbuilding and defence electronics sectors, extensively linked to global civilian R&D chains, have generated bigger profits over last ten years than electronics and software companies producing only for the army. Currently the most favoured sectors seem to be missile and space systems, shipbuilding, and aircraft manufacturing. Additionally, the same sectors are even more intensively a target of Chinese industrial espionage exercised abroad, mostly in the United States. A term of civil-military integration itself, popularised by president Hu Jintao, describes direction of efforts necessary to be taken in order to support an overall doctrine of “War under Conditions of Informatisation” which requires extensive links between civilian and military industries. Under the current leadership guidance, civil-military integration in China should cover defence industries and production, national defence education, joint civil-military security system, and national defence mobilisation. Therefore, China is more or less advancing towards a modern concept popularised already in the West, that is outsourcing, but obviously “with Chinese characteristics”. Decentralised structure of Chinese internal security system (relying primarily on People’s Armed Police) is increasingly reaching out to local companies for the purpose of procurement of weapons and equipment. Cooperation between municipal authorities and local garrisons’ commanders in the realm of access to civilian resources has also been a feature of People’s War, now renewed and given fresh practical value. Civil-military integration is supposed to fill in the gaps of inadequacy and inefficiency.[4]

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Paweł Bieńkowski

Absolwent Instytutu Stosunków Międzynarodowych UW (2011), studiował również na University of Kent w Canterbury (2008-9). Odbywał staż w brukselskim Egmont – The Royal Institute for International Relations, gdzie prowadził badania dotyczące współpracy UE z jej partnerami strategicznymi w dziedzinie zwalczania zagrożeń transnarodowych (2011). Reprezentant Polski na obchodach EU-China Year of Youth 2011 w Brukseli i Shenzhen. Praktykant w Ambasadzie RP w Pekinie (2010). Prezes Koła Wschodniego UW (2007-2009). Działa na rzecz popularyzacji idei Azji w środowisku akademickim. Członek Centrum Inicjatyw Międzynarodowych w latach 2010-2013.

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