PLA's psywar against the US
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By B Raman
Issue Net Edition | Date : 07 Jan , 2011

As Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, gets ready to visit China from January 9 to 12 and as President Hu Jintao’s State visit to Washington DC on January 19 approaches, the People’s Liberal Army (PLA) of China seems to have mounted a psychological warfare against the US by disseminating through the Internet and through the “ People’s Forum” columns of the Party-controlled “People’s Daily” two unverified and unverifiable news items which would add to the concerns of the US and ultimately of India too.

The first item, originating from the Japanese media, but disseminated in China without any comments regarding its authenticity, relates to a possible reconsideration by the PLA of the “no first use of the nuclear weapons” policy in order to provide for contingencies where China may undertake a pre-emptive nuclear strike. On January 6, the “People’s Forum” section of the “People’s Daily” carried the following report under the title “Chinese Forces Drop No First-Use Policy ?” attributing it to the Japanese Kyodo news agency without any comments on its authenticity: “ The Chinese military will consider launching a pre-emptive atomic strike if the country finds itself faced with a critical situation in a war with another nuclear state, internal documents showed Wednesday. The newly revealed policy, called “Lowering the threshold of nuclear threats,” may contradict China’s strategy of no first use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances, and is likely to fan concern in the United States, Japan and other regional powers about Beijing’s nuclear capability.

“¦relates to a possible reconsideration by the PLA of the “no first use of the nuclear weapons” policy in order to provide for contingencies where China may undertake a pre-emptive nuclear strike.

The People’s Liberation Army’s strategic missile forces, the Second Artillery Corps, “will adjust the nuclear threat policy if a nuclear missile-possessing country carries out a series of airstrikes against key strategic targets in our country with absolutely superior conventional weapons,” according to the documents, copies of which were obtained by Kyodo News. China will first warn an adversary about a nuclear strike, but if the enemy attacks Chinese territory with conventional forces the PLA “must carefully consider” a pre-emptive nuclear strike. The documents suggest the Second Artillery Corps educate its personnel in worst-case scenarios for conflicts with other nuclear states. Akio Takahara, a professor of contemporary Chinese politics at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Public Policy, said an adjustment of the PLA’s nuclear threat policy as spelled out in the documents runs counter to President Hu Jintao’s pledge that China will not launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike under any circumstances. “It is uncertain whether such policy adjustment represents a policy shift or has been in existence from before,” Takahara said. “But a pre-emptive strike as assumed (in the documents) would apply to an extreme situation such as war with the United States, and that is almost inconceivable today. I think President Hu is aware of that.”

This item was carried by the “People’s Daily” along with another unauthenticated item regarding China’s success in the development of a Stealth aircraft based on a pretended photograph of the Stealth aircraft that started circulating in China’s military-related blogs at the beginning of this year. This item, as reported in the “People’s Forum” under the title “Does China Intentionally Leak The Image of J-20?” said: “A photograph of what is reported to be a new Chinese stealth fighter and “carrier-killer” missile has prompted concerns that a tilt in the balance of military power in the western Pacific towards China may come sooner than expected. The emergence of the hi-tech weaponry – which would make it more difficult for the US navy and air force to project power close to Taiwan and elsewhere on China’s coastline – comes at a politically sensitive time. Later this month, President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, will hold a summit in Washington aimed at patching up their differences after a niggling year in bilateral relations. The photograph, of what appears to be a prototype J-20 jet undergoing runway tests, has been circulating on the internet since last week, fuelling speculation that China’s fifth-generation fighter may fly ahead of forecast.”

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It added: “The defence ministry has yet to comment on the image, which seems to have been shot from long-distance near the Chengdu aircraft design institute. The photographer is also unknown, which has added to the mystery about its origins and authenticity as well as the motive of the distributor. But defence analysts believe this is the first glimpse of the twin-engined, chiselled-nosed plane that mixes Russian engine technology with a fuselage design similar to that of the US air force’s F-22 “stealth” fighter, which can avoid detection by radar. If confirmed, it would be an impressive step forward for the Chinese air force, which until now has largely depended on foreign-made or designed planes. “I’d say these are, indeed, genuine photos of a prototype that will make its maiden flight very soon,” said Peter Felstead, the editor of Jane’s Defence Weekly. The J20 is likely to be many years from deployment, but the US defence secretary, Robert Gates – who visits Beijing next week – may have to revise an earlier prediction that China will not have a fifth generation aircraft by 2020. It is not the only challenge to US superiority in the region.”

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

B Raman

Former, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai & Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat. He is the author of The Kaoboys of R&AW, A Terrorist State as a Frontline Ally,  INTELLIGENCE, PAST, PRESENT & FUTUREMumbai 26/11: A Day of Infamy and Terrorism: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

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