The engine of the ongoing Sino-Russian “strategic partnership” remains unchanged: countering U.S. superiority in the development and employment of ever-emerging weaponry, including the burgeoning National Missile Defense program. But even though the reluctant partners agree on this broad strategic mandate, Russian and Chinese military officials remain at odds over what is at the heart of China’s military modernization plans and how those plans are likely to be pursued.
Senior Russian military officials, such as Col.-Gen. A. Belousov, first deputy defense minister, state that “China is our most serious neighbor, and we understand full well the position that it will hold in 30 years or less. So cooperation with it is extremely important for our country.” But a growing number of Russian officials and experts assert that China constitutes the main — and, perhaps, sole — threat to Russia. It remains the quintessential specter of resource hunger and demographic overflow.
China has more ground forces than Russia and virtually unlimited manpower reserves. Unlike Russia, it has large reserves of arms and materiel. Indeed, Russian military experts now warn that Chinese military might is growing even faster than its economic power. Russian officials also point out that China’s swelling economic might and its growing population require tremendous resources.
Because the world’s repository of natural resources has already been divided up, it seems logical that the vector of Chinese expansion will be directed toward the abutting regions of Russia (above all, Siberia and the Far East) as well as Kazakhstan and other countries of Central Asia. And it should be remembered that China’s geopolitics as formulated by Mao gave priority to expanding the country’s borders, especially by annexing Russian territories.
Despite the general stability in Sino-Russian relations, perennial Russian concerns over a large-scale, non-nuclear conflict between the two powers remain central to Russian military planning. Efforts to prevent this scenario only by political means, by promoting friendly relations or by relying on conventional weapons will likely prove ineffectual. The “Chinese factor” dictates that Russia’s main political thrust be grounded in nuclear weapons and strategic cooperation with the West.
Some Russian analysts, however, go so far as to charge that Russian nuclear weapons are, in fact, a “nondeterrent” against China. They believe the Chinese leadership would be willing to sacrifice “hordes” of its citizens in pursuit of its geostrategic objectives.
Recent Chinese military disclosures seem less concerned with identifying potential future enemies (besides the United States and Russia) than in detailing how China’s military modernization plans will bridge the “era gap” in emerging weaponry. The “leaps and bounds” theory, wherein Chinese prototypes leap over current U.S. and Russian models, promises to solve the problem.
According to Chinese experts, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) revamped its research, development, test and evaluation program in the late 1990s. At that time, the Chinese decided to cancel weapons projects that had been active for 10 years or longer and to direct those funds toward developing so-called new-concept weapons: laser, beam, electromagnetic, microwave, genetic, biotechnological and nanotechnological. The results demonstrate that, besides solving the problem of modernizing its conventional forces, China now has three other military priorities: space, nuclear weapons and new-concept weapons.
Early this year, Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan instructed the PLA’s General Armament Department to focus on cutting-edge military technologies. He stressed that “2004 saw remarkable progress in the development of arms, equipment and national defense technology.” Cao called on the PLA to enhance strategic and basic research and to make breakthroughs in key technologies in a bid to “leap forward in the armaments-development drive.”
In the wake of the March session of the National People’s Congress, Chinese military scientists noted that the PLA will implement modernization in two stages and by three major steps. In the first stage (2005-2020), the PLA will basically complete mechanization and intensify what they refer to as “informationization.” In the second stage (2020-2050), the PLA will basically complete informationization and national defense modernization.
The central principle driving the modernization of national defense is reliance on science and technology to make the three armed forces strong. The ultimate objective of this revolution in military affairs (RMA), say the Chinese, is to build informationized troops and win information wars.
Chinese military officials assert that since Hu Jintao assumed the chairmanship of the Central Military Commission in 2004, the PLA has noticeably enhanced its command of the sea, air and information realm. In addition, the PLA has streamlined the ground forces and intensified the restructuring of the naval and air forces and the Second Artillery. The object of this overhaul is coordinated development of naval, air and ground (including nuclear-delivery) forces.
The PLA will continue to be guided by the core strategic idea of implementing the RMA “with Chinese characteristics,” and will strive to elevate the level of national defense modernization to “a historically new height in a shorter period of time.”
Russia and China agree that the “space-information continuum” constitutes the nucleus of future wars.
Chinese military scientists assert that information war missions are accomplished most effectively by using space-based assets. The Chinese delineate at least three reasons for the importance of space warfare to information war missions. First, space is the “commanding height” for future information warfare. Second, seizure of space constitutes the first combat operation in a future information war. And, third, the critical nature of space control in a future information war is clearly reflected in the ever-escalating preparations by world military powers to win a future space war.
As “informationized war” advances, say the Chinese, space will truly become the new theater of war.
According to Chinese military strategists (and at least partially by “incorporating” critical foreign technologies into domestic developmental programs), China should pursue the following capabilities to offset the military advantages of U.S. and Russian space systems: electromagnetic pulse weapons, anti-satellite satellites, suicide satellites, space mines, ground- and air-based high-energy laser weapons, orbiting laser and beam weapons, high-altitude weather-monitoring rockets, novel strategic weapons against space weapons and pre-emptive nuclear strikes against system components.
Chinese military officials say priority should be given to developing two capabilities: an “around-the-clock” spatial imaging reconnaissance system and a new generation of solid-fuel rockets to carry micro-satellites. The latter would be used to establish a space network for precise positioning, communications and electromagnetic jamming and reconnaissance. These rockets would be capable of carrying payloads of up to 15 tons, and of launching satellites into near-Earth orbit.
Chinese military scientists stress that the creation of ballistic missile defense systems and corresponding “penetrating measures” again prove the “shield-spear” dialectic, each of which will always generate the other and advance competitively. These experts assert that, for the long term, China “must intensify new and high-tech pre-research in this field, focus on aerospace threats and missile-attack and defense confrontations, and establish an all-dimensional and integrated missile-defense system as soon as possible.”
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE U.S.
The ambitious plans for modernizing China’s military are being fueled, in large measure, by significant strides in the development of the country’s military-industrial complex. Reforms now underway are focused on creating an integrated military-civilian production system.
In the Russian view, however, China cannot compete militarily with the United States, India, Japan or Russia today. So, to quote Jiang Zemin in 2002, China must temporarily “sheathe the sword and learn humiliation” in order to win time to solidify the “master plan” and then claim the role of world leader. As a result, the essence of China’s current foreign policy initiatives consists of cultivating partnerships with the aforementioned powers and other regional players.
Therefore, during the near term, China’s geostrategic objectives will be achieved not by open military confrontations, but by “multidimensional and multiyear political mergers and ‘special’ military operations,” according to Russian officials. During this period of “rebirth,” the PLA’s air and space forces will play key roles in securing naval dominance in the region .
According to Russian military officials, the ultimate goal of Chinese military reform is to create a military establishment that guarantees “living space” within “strategic borders.” These strategic borders will shift, however, along with the expansion of China’s “Integrated State Power,” the primary components of which are economic and military might.
They caution that a Chinese “Monroe Doctrine” is quietly at work: “All of Asia belongs to the Chinese — and not only Asia.”