“The USA can defend its close allies in the Asia-Pacific region. But India cannot depend on the USA to bail it out. Washington has its complex foreign policy objectives whether correct or wrong, and can ditch India as Obama thought of doing in 2009.”
The Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, the ‘People’s Daily’ (Sept 06) announced China’s latest challenge in an article titled “China Needs Powerful Carrier Killers”. It remarked “In a bid to protect its own strategic interests, China should not only build its anti-ship missile capacity, but also possess a range of other carrier-destroying measures as well”.
China has always maintained that development and security go hand in hand, and are interdependent.
Although the article names the United States and unnamed western states, the warning cannot be ignored by the smaller neighbors of China, who are perceived by Beijing to be coming under the new US influence challenge in the Asia-Pacific region. The article went on to say that, “China should let the world be aware that no foreign aircraft carrier is allowed to do whatever it wants to do in China’s waters”, but tempered it by adding it will not attack foreign aircraft carriers without a justified reason. In China’s political lexicon, its waters go beyond the UN Law of the Seas Conference (UNLOC) of territorial waters.
This kind of an article carried by the People’s Daily and its English language subsidiary, the Global Times, making it easily accessible to non-Chinese reading foreigners, cannot be ignored. Its implications are immense and can be stretched to other military and territorial areas. This article also said such capacity is necessary for an emerging power and is a necessary infrastructure for China’s military modernization.
China has always maintained that development and security go hand in hand, and are interdependent. This should be acceptable if a state ensures its security from outside attacks to concentrate on its economic, social and political development and stability. This is fair. But when a country starts going beyond its natural boundary and “covets the neighbor’s territory” and beyond, it becomes a cardinal sin.
China enjoyed a phenomenal economic growth in the last 30 years, pipping Japan to the second largest economy in the world, recently. Following its principle of mutual support, the economy put China’s military modernization on a fast road. It is now poised to set its foot prints in a large regional arc.
The astute Deng advised that while building power, China should not flaunt it, hide its capabilities, and wait for the right time; secure its position, and be calm…
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducted its largest ever military exercise from the west of the country to the east, ‘stride 2009’, demonstrating that it had achieved complete security for its territory. The exercise comprised four of its seven military regions, the air force, rapid action force, warfare under informatized conditions, other para-military forces and co-opted the civilian sector. It is for the first time that the PLA inducted tactical nuclear force which are embedded with PLA forces and not the 2nd Artillery, its main strategic force under direct command of the Central Military Commission (CMC).
The ‘stride’ exercise was followed by its international naval review in December, 2009 to which 45 other nations were invited. For the first time the PLA Navy (PLAN) unveiled for public view its newest nuclear submarines the SSN type-093 and SSBN Type-094. Earlier, the PLA’s 60th anniversary parade had demonstrated China’s strategic nuclear muscle capability. New missiles displaced, especially the DH-10 nuclear tipped cruise missile suggested Revolution in China’s tactical nuclear warfare. More details of the DH-10 are expected to come out gradually.
The usually opaque Chinese military deliberately displayed some capability about where it was going. While the Americans and NATO found that China was still far behind in military technology, it did awe China’s neighbors. This was precisely the intention.
Skipping over a series of developments, suffice it to say that Beijing is concentrating on a bi-polar world context with China and the USA as the two poles. The concept is not new, but in the present context replicates USA’s Obama presidency’s proposal of G-2, the US and China, as the leading global players. In G-2, Beijing saw a trap that it was being ensnared to take equal responsibility in global affairs, especially economic affairs. This is a responsibility that China does not want, and insists it is a developing country quoting various statistics and parameters.
This is the practice of the age old Chinese Art of War (Sun Zi) ‘denial and deception’ strategy, but not necessarily in that order always. With its wealth of $2.4 trillion dollars in foreign exchange, holding around $800 billion US treasury bonds, and now buying up Japanese currency, and the second largest economy, it claims the position of developing country. On the other hand, supported by its huge modernized military it has started aggressively projecting its power.
The Chinese navy will soon be positioning its flag on a permanent basis in the Indian Ocean, a maritime area acutely relevant to Indias security and a strategic area for India.
With its economic and military power, and buying political support in both pariah and poor countries, China appears to be bent upon elevating the global competition between itself and the US. It could be an effective strategy for some time, but does not have sustainability for a long and effective period. For example, Rwanda and Sudan regimes are not sustainable. North Korea is as much a card as it is a headache. But a very strong drive in Beijing, despite recent bilateral problems with the USA, is to link its place as a junior competitive partner with the US. This reflects China’s genius. Emphatic emphasis on this level of relationship with Washington hammered day in and day out can convince many, especially how the White House responds.
Part of this is reflected by a recent article in the official Global Times (Sept. 12, 2010). The article, more seriously a policy examination, titled “US contraction offers China fresh opportunities” examines how China can benefit from USA’s cyclic contraction and expansion examined by America analysts years ago. The article points out that presently the US has entered a period of contraction, engulfed by its financial crisis, forcing it to relegate the war on terror, nuclear proliferation and other security challenges and challenges from emerging powers as a lower priority, and China can take advantage of this. The article accepts that the US is the only country capable of causing substantial damage to China’s national and internal stability, but a weak America unable to contain China will ease US-China tensions, allowing space to Beijing.
This article cannot be missed by China watchers. It makes clear that the US is the only country that can contain China, but is in a kind of decline at the moment because of its economic problems which US President Barak Obama is fumbling with. The writers of this article have identified the weakness of the Obama administration, but remained careful not to project when China can or will overtake the USA. Other countries are dismissed from this equation, but Washington is warned that it is not paying enough attention to other emerging powers that can challenge the US. Although these countries are not named the indications are very clear one would be India.
The article, however, is not the whole truth, but one that is trying to diminish other emerging powers and powers on decline, which are beginning to rise – Russia and Japan. Yet, hidden in such Chinese articles and diplomacy are subtle variants of deception. It encourages other powers and countries to adversely engage a third, while keeping itself out of direct involvement. China had earlier tried to pit Russia against the US, the US against the erstwhile Soviet Union, Iran and North Korea against the US and Japan.
China’s recent growing assertiveness should not surprise anyone. It was quietly growing from around 2004 and even earlier. While the PLA remains in control of the communist party, some subtle changes in the equation has been going on from about 1995. The PLA resisted new communist leaders as the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), till veteran leader Deng Xiaoping forced party General Secretary Jiang Zemin on them as the Chairman of the CMC, in 1993. But both Jiang Zemin and his successor Hu Jintao had to depend on the PLA for their political power. For this they had to pay a price – giving the PLA more say in territorial affairs, relations with the USA and Japan, and boundary/ border negotiations. While the PLA understands that they draw their power from the party, they have carved out a policy niche for themselves.
The Chinese intentions were clear when they started issuing stapled visas to Kashmiris of India for the last two years, while issuing visas on the passports of POK residents visiting China.
These changes became visible to the outside world from 2004. A debate emerged over the relevance of Deng Xiaoping’s 1991 dictum, “hide your strength, bide your time”. The astute Deng advised that while building power, China should not flaunt it, hide its capabilities, and wait for the right time; secure its position, and be calm; maintain low profile, never take lead.
An article by a security think-tank in China argued (2004) that Deng’s policy had served its time, and an economically and militarily powerful China should assert its place. It went as far as to argue that the region between the (Gulf and Middle East and Indian Ocean) Eastern Line and (Asia – Pacific region) Western Line should be China’s sphere of influence. This theory was also tested out informally by a Chinese military officer with the USA Pacific Command Chief in 2008. In fact, US President Barak Obama almost partially agreed to this postulate during his visit to China in 2009, suggesting Beijing could mediate in the affairs of South Asia. Apparently, wiser heads in Washington prevailed over Mr. Obama’s obtuse understanding of the dynamics of the region.
A clear indication of China’s growing ambition came again in 2004 in an official document titled “Historic Mission of the Armed forces in the New Period of the New Century”. This document re-assessed the party leadership’s strategic view, looking at retrieving territories that they claimed should be China’s and expanded the national security concept.
The party constitution in 2007 at the 17th National Congress of the CCP was amended to include more articulated contents of the “Historic Missions” document. Apart from expanded security tasks including providing guarantee to the party’s rule, the PLA was given the additional task to “play an important role in safeguarding world peace and promoting common development”.
…since China occupies Aksai Chin illegally. Beijing seeks to legitimize this occupation without addressing other sectors of the boundary.
The PLA was also involved in one way or the other in the country’s economic development, but as Secretary General and CMC Chairman Hu Jintao elaborated subsequently, the military was to play a larger role in securing China’s strategic interests including its energy and raw material procurement through sea lanes well beyond its territory. The next step expected is PLA Navy patrolling the Indian Ocean to secure sea lanes for the oil and gas import from the Gulf and Africa to overground pipelines through Myanmar already under construction, and Gwadar port in Pakistan for pipelines to be constructed.
The Chinese navy will soon be positioning its flag on a permanent basis in the Indian Ocean, a maritime area acutely relevant to India’s security and a strategic area for India. Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW) operations like this one could quickly change to confrontational attributes when Chinese ships come head on with ships of other countries including that of the Indian Navy. There are cases of Chinese warships coming into face-to-face positions with US warships in South China Sea. The naval character of the Indian Ocean is set to change by 2013.
PLA spokespersons and PLA and other official think tanks specialists, have shown aggressive positions especially from 2008. The PLA officers have been in the front line in taking such stands.
India and South Asia are on the Chinese strategy focus mainly to disturb the established balance. The target is India as usual. Despite Beijings attempts to dwarf India by encircling it (with Pakistan as the pivot) for the last fifty years which proved costly for India, China did not succeed.
The recent round of confrontation was growing from 2008. The Chinese Defense White Paper 2008 noted that conflicting claims of territorial and maritime interests continued to be serious, regional hotspots were complex, and the “US had increased its strategic attention to and input in the Asia-Pacific region”. Assessing these developments, China stepped up preparation for local wars under informatization conditions, joint military training and rapid reaction, and has recently conducted an exercise in its coastal waters testing local war under electro-magnetic conditions.
China’s military development, Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) is also focused on asymmetric warfare and area denial. The aircraft killer missile, the DF-21 D, is being developed for this reason and aimed at the US aircraft carrier force.
The sinking of the South Korean frigate, the Chaoan, in March 2010 by a North Korean torpedo, sparked off the recent round of diplomatic confrontation and naval showing between Beijing and the USA, Japan as well as South Korea. Military exercises between the two sides are going on and may last till the end of the year if not more.
A corollary to this is China’s claims on maritime territory from Japan controlled Senkaku (Diaoyu in Chinese) islands in the East China Sea, to the Spratly islands in the South China Sea. The Spratly islands are claimed in entirety both by China and Vietnam, and partially claimed by Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia.
The problem here is that China’s claim in South China Sea emphasizes its sovereignty over it Sea to control the shipping lanes. This prompted US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to assert in Hanoi in June, that the South China Sea freedom was in America’s national interest. By retorting that Ms. Clinton’s statement was “an attack on China”, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi revealed Beijing was preparing to take over full control of this vital international shipping waters. With this, China could blackmail the concerned countries, especially Japan which imports 90 percent of its energy requirements through this stretch of water. Recently, a Chinese submarine planted a Chinese flag on the floor of the South China Sea.
Arunachal Pradesh may soon be depicted by China as “Southern Tibet”, making it a “core interest” of China, therefore, reserving military action to achieve its objective.
There is something peculiar about China’s behaviour with its neighbours. Following a shooting incident in Manila in August in which seven tourists from Hong Kong got killed, Beijing has demanded that Manila resolve this issue properly as it could impact bilateral relations. This was an incident in which the Philippines government was as much taken aback as anybody else. But Beijing wants Manila to apologies for allegedly mishandling the situation.
Similarly, Beijing has threatened Japan over an incident in which a Chinese fighting vessel collided with two Japanese patrol boats in Japanese water, and the captain of the Chinese vessel was put to mild legal chastisement. China elevated the incident to the level of serious bilateral relations, and cancelled important engagements with Japan.
China is very much aware that neighbors like Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia are busy rearranging their relations with the USA in the face of Chinese threats. Military-to-military relations between the USA and Vietnam have commenced for the first time, with the US hosting a group of senior Vietnamese military officers on board the aircraft carrier USS George Washington in August. Hanoi is also procuring maritime military equipment from Russia like Sovreimny class destroyers from Russia, which can patrol the South China Sea effectively.
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which had resolved to change the pro-US policy of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to construct a win-win relationship with China, has been pushed back to the USA’s corner. By the end of this year Japan and USA are expected to come out with a new joint military agreement. Even South Korea has reverted to the US fold for security.
China cannot blame anybody but itself by aggressively pushing domination in the Asia Pacific region which is changing the power equations. This does not bode well for the security and stability of the region.
India has to work on its own and must not succumb to US pressures to restrict its military modernization.
India and South Asia are on the Chinese strategy focus mainly to disturb the established balance. The target is India as usual. Despite Beijing’s attempts to dwarf India by encircling it (with Pakistan as the pivot) for the last fifty years which proved costly for India, China did not succeed.
China has embarked on a new approach. China’s refusal to give a visa to Lt Gen BS Jaswal, who heads the Northern Command including Jammu and Kashmir, using its military to build and repair roads in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), describing officially POK as northern Pakistan, and projecting India’s sovereign territory of J&K as a disputed territory is intended to change the entire Kashmir question on its head.
The Chinese intentions were clear when they started issuing stapled visas to Kashmiris of India for the last two years, while issuing visas on the passports of POK residents visiting China. Typically, the Indian government underplayed the issue. Having tested India’s resolve and finding there was none, they embarked on the subsequent steps stated above.
China and Pakistan appear to have decided to convert POK as Pakistani territory, and in doing so to legitimize the 5,400 sq kms of POK ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963 as Chinese sovereign territory. With this, Pakistan along with China would acquire a strategic military advantage over India.
It would follow from here that the Indian Jammu & Kashmir be converted into a tripartite issue between India-Pakistan-China, since China occupies Aksai Chin illegally. Beijing seeks to legitimize this occupation without addressing other sectors of the boundary.
As for the India-China talks to resolve the border issue, a solution is nowhere in sight. In fact, further complications by China may be expected. There are reports to suggest that Arunachal Pradesh may soon be depicted by China as “Southern Tibet”, making it a “core interest” of China, therefore, reserving military action to achieve its objective.
China has been suddenly increasing its areas of “core interest”. From Tibet and Taiwan it recently included the South China Sea under this nomenclature. Other territories are likely to be added.
What defies common sense is why China is opening so many fronts at the same time. This contradicts Chinese strategy which lays down taking on one adversary at a time while cooperating with others. At the same time, signals coming out of China in the first fortnight of September, 2010 suggests China wants to mend military exchanges with the US which they suspended in November, 2009.
One explanation could be that at the 18th Party Congress to be held in 2013 Hu Jintao retires as Party General, but he would like to hold on to power as the Chairman of the CMC, which does not have a tenure or age limit. He would, therefore, need the PLA’s support and acquiesce to the PLA’s military policies.
Unfortunately, however, once the powers are given to the PLA they cannot be easily withdrawn. Hu Jintao is no Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping. The structure of the Long Marchers does not exist. Mao and Deng could dismiss their top military commanders. Mao did it with Lin Biao. Deng did it with Yang Shangkun and Yang Baibing. Hu Jintao cannot do it with Chen Bingde.
The USA can defend its close allies in the Asia-Pacific region. But India cannot depend on the USA to bail it out. Washington has its complex foreign policy objectives whether correct or wrong, and can ditch India as Obama thought of doing in 2009.
India has to work on its own and must not succumb to US pressures to restrict its military modernization. The Agni-5 nuclear missile must be operationalized as soon as possible. China respects strength which can damage it. Effective nuclear capacity is for larger deterrence. The Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) policy between the USA and the Soviet Union ensured peace during the cold war.