Thursday, February 03, 2005

Chinese Strategic Data

January 27, 2005: Department of Defense intelligence analysts are having a hard time figuring out when China thinks it will be ready to make a grab for Taiwan. The recent surge in the construction of short range amphibious ships, and constant movement of more ballistic missiles to within range of Taiwan, indicate something may happen sooner rather than later. Taiwan is only 300 kilometers from China. There are about 600 DF-15 missiles (with a range of 600 kilometers) aimed at Taiwan now, and by next year, there may be 800. Moreover, it is suspected that these missiles, and their half ton warheads, are being equipped with precise GPS navigation systems. Such systems could cripple Taiwan's air force and air defenses. China has been training its marines and army troops for amphibious operations. Because of all this, it is believed that China would be ready to make a run at Taiwan by 2010. By then they would have several hundred modern warplanes, dozens of destroyers and submarines, bombers equipped with anti-ship missiles and a long standing declaration that they would regain control of Taiwan one way or the other.

But other analysts point out that China has always done poorly in the early stages of a war, and that their program to create a large force of professional troops, and modern equipment, will take longer. Only small portions of the Chinese armed forces are getting trained and equipped to Western standards. Over 90 percent of the Chinese military are beset by decades old equipment designs and corrupt or incompetent leaders. Only with highly trained and well equipped troops, would they have a chance against Taiwanese and American forces. To produce a large force like this would take another ten or twenty years, at least. In the meantime, the Taiwanese have noted the Chinese preparations, and have suddenly for modernization fever. Until recently, Taiwanese legislators were keen to cut their defense budget. No more.

Since the 1990s, Chinese officers have been writing books about the future of the Chinese military, and possible war involving Taiwan and the United States. The authors recognize many of China's military problems, without admitting that the corruption and lack of readiness are as bad as they really are. But the books also discuss taking advantages of enemy vulnerabilities. Cyberwar, innovative tactics and electronic warfare are discussed, and China is known to be investing heavily in these areas. The most worrisome aspect of all this is the nationalistic flavor of these books, making it seem like a sacred duty to regain Taiwan, and take on the United States, in order to restore China to its exalted position in the world. China has not been a major world power for over two centuries, and many Chinese leaders are harping on this big time. Foreign observers, and some Chinese, see all this as the usual ploy beleaguered dictators use to get their subjects minds off local problems!

. The military dictatorship of Argentina used this in 1982, making a grab for the British Falkland islands, in the belief that the British would not exert themselves to take the islands back. The Argentine gamble failed, for the British did send a fleet to regain the islands. What most analysts of Chinese affairs fear most is "another Falklands," with China going after Taiwan. The United States is a far more formidable military force than 1982 Britain. In 1982, the Argentines did manage to capture the Falklands, but a future attack on Taiwan might not even be able to grab the island before the American fleet and air force showed up to help out. Moreover, China has nuclear weapons, and the temptation to threaten use of nukes if more powerful American forces do not back off. China is playing with fire, and it's uncertain how many Chinese leaders are even aware of how dangerous a game they are involved in.

September 25, 2004: For the second year in a row, for China allowed military observers from foreign countries to observe some military exercises. Officers from Brunei, the Philippines, Tajikistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Russia, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Vietnam were invited to watch a military exercise in Henan province. A reinforced mechanized division went through several exercises. China also offers training courses for foreign officers at Chinese military colleges. China is trying to improve its relations with its neighbors, and being more open with military operations is one way to do that. These exercises, featuring elite Chinese units, also serve to show the neighbors that China's armed forces are strong, and China is not to be messed with or defied.

September 23, 2004: Never before in its history has China's well being been so dependant on sea trade. For thousands of years, China was a "continental power." That is, a nation that produced all it needed, or obtained it from neighbors via a shared land border. Only luxuries came in by sea. China is now importing nearly six million barrels of oil a day, a figure which is up a third from last year. China's export industries turn out so much stuff that last year, China passed the United States as the world's largest cargo handler. So China's growing fleet of warships and patrol aircraft should come as no surprise. But other nations in the region (South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines), are also very dependant on seaborne trade. Who shall control these sea lanes that are so important to all? Right now it's the United States Navy. China is not comfortable with that.

August 1, 2004: China's defense minister again threatened Taiwan with invasion, maintaining what is now a long tradition of threats.

July 22, 2004: China is now pushing the idea that Taiwan will be peacefully (with perhaps a bit of military threat) taken over by 2021. There has been much speculation that China might make an attempt to capture Taiwan, using military force, sooner. But a closer examination of China's military power indicates that it will be many years, a decade at least, before China could be capable of taking Taiwan via an air, land and sea campaign. But then there is the possibility of American intervention. Even 2020 might not be enough time for China muster sufficient force to take on American military power. Increasingly, the Chinese leadership is taking the longer, and safer, view. This is in contrast to the saber rattling from some generals and other officers.

China also has an ancient problem with peacetime rot. The military becomes less effective during long periods of peace, but the generals are not aware of how poorly prepared their troops are. China last fought in 1979, against Vietnam, the military performed poorly.

Taiwan is taking the Chinese threat seriously, and considering moving some of the eight military air bases in western Taiwan, to the eastern side of the island. This would make the air bases less vulnerable to attack by Chinese amphibious troops. But everything on Taiwan is vulnerable to air, with the west coast reachable within ten minutes by warplanes flying from China.

May 28, 2004: China apparently believes it can more easily defeat the Taiwanese armed forces with strong words, rather than more modern weapons. China has put enormous economic and diplomatic pressure on countries that even consider selling advanced weaponry to Taiwan. Even the United States gets this treatment, and, to a certain extent, it works. There is a growing block of legislators and voters in America that believes China should not be crossed when it comes to arming Taiwan. All of this plays into a growing complacency among Taiwanese voters, who are growing increasingly reluctant to pay for new, and expensive, weapons. Many Taiwanese believe that the United States will protect them, mainly because Taiwan's high tech economy is, in effect, a key part of the American economy. It's true that Taiwan produces many electronic components that are essential for the smooth running of the American economy. But nothing made in Taiwan is irreplaceable. This is the Chinese view, and China believes that, year by year, Taiwan becomes weaker militarily, while China modernizes and becomes stronger. Eventually, China can attack Taiwan and win, even if the United States intervenes. This sort of siege approach may take another decade or two. But in the Chinese scheme of thinking, such patience is an accepted approach.

March 16, 2004: The Chinese and French Navies are holding a five-day long joint naval exercise off the coast of Qingdao, a port city in east China's Shandong province (about 1,250 kilometers from Taiwan's northernmost point). This cruise is the twelfth visit made by French warships to China and their fourth to Qingdao. Involving around 700 sailors (322 of them French), this is to date the largest joint drill held by the Chinese and any foreign navy.

The corvette-class 'Commandant Birot' and anti-submarine-warfare destroyer 'Latouche-Treville' arrived on March 12, joining the Chinese 'Harbin' destroyer, a supply vessel 'Hongze Lake' and a ship with a helicopter landing pad. The two groups completed flag signal exchanges and fleet formation changes. The March 16 exercises lasted eight hours, including refueling exercises at sea and search-and-rescue exercises, as well as landing helicopters on the other's vessels.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Sing Tao Daily also reported that Chinese heavy military equipment had been moved into the south-western province of Fujian (facing Taiwan) while across the channel, news reports said that mobile antiaircraft missile systems had been quietly deployed in Taipei as police stepped up security.

So why is the timing of this exercise important? And why are the French involved?
This show of military strength just four days before Taiwan holds a presidential election signaled China's desire to isolate the self-governing island before the vote and its first-ever referendum, which Beijing views as a provocative step towards independence. However, China's official Xinhua news agency made no link between the exercises and the election.

China adopted a more subtle approach to avoid driving Taiwan voters into the camp of the pro-independence Chen. In 1996, China threatened Taiwan with missile tests and war games in the run-up to the island's first direct presidential elections, an attempt to dissuade voters from re-electing President Lee Teng-hui. This backfired and Lee won by a landslide.

France simply has more to gain by appearing to side with China. France, once a major supplier of weapons to Taiwan, has made no major deals with them for about 10 years. However, the diplomats can win French businesses a firm footing in a larger and rapidly growing market.

In January, President Chirac sided with China by opposing Taiwanese President Shui-bian's plan to hold a referendum on missile defense concurrent with the presidential elections. Taiwan responded by suspending high-level government exchanges with France. - Adam Geibel

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