On 31 January 2002, the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation published an article by Richard Fisher, titled "The PLA's growing combat potential", which highlighted the recent purchase of an additional three Sovremenny-class destroyers from Russia, and its implications for security in the Taiwan Straits.
In its 1 February 2002 issue, the Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review published an extensive article by its reporter David Lague, titled "Buying some major military muscle", about the international arms-buying spree of China's People's Liberation Army.
On the following pages, we briefly summarize both articles, followed by information and comments on Israel's sale of "dual use" technology, also designed to enhance China's military capabilities in the Taiwan Straits.
The three Sovremenny destroyers, which are to be delivered by 2006, have greatly improved capabilities as compared to the two Sovremenny's recently delivered by Russia to China. The latter two are outfitted with the supersonic SS-N-22 Sunburn anti-ship missile, and are primarily intended to hold off US aircraft carrier battle groups which would come to Taiwan's aid in case of a Chinese attack on the island.
The new Sovremenny's, of the Project 956EM type, incorporate recent Russian advances in warship design and weapons, including stealth shaping. The major difference in the weapon system will be that they will carry the Mach-3, 300 km range, Yakhont missile, which is reported to have land-attack capabilities as well. The PLA will thus be able to use the new ships for distant political intimidation missions. The new Sovremenny's are also reported to have much longer survivability in combat: the older versions were only designed to launch their missiles, and couldn't withstand any major battle damage themselves.
The Jamestown Foundation articles states that the new destroyers would be a major element in China's strategy to overwhelm Taiwan with a "space-missile-air power" combine.
In the Far Eastern Economic Review article, Mr. David Lague gives a broad overview of all aspects of China's weapons and technology purchasing drive. It states that the primary purpose is to build up the military power to take Taiwan by force and to deter the United States from coming to Taiwan's assistance.
The article quotes the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute as saying that in 2000 China became the world's biggest importer of arms, valued at a total of US$ 3 billion, more than twice the value of any other buying country. In combination with "dual use" technology equipment, most analysts expect the total to be much higher. Russia and Israel are reported to be the major suppliers, although for non-lethal military hardware and dual use technology, US and European manufacturers are said to be eager suppliers.
The article states that while in recent years there was much international attention on Chinese espionage at US nuclear-arms laboratories, China is now simply buying much of its technology needed to upgrade its military power. It gives the example of Rolls-Royce, which recently supplied China with 90 Spey jet engines. In the West, these engines power civilian jet aircraft, but China is fitting them on its JH-7 fighter bombers, which are also being modified with modern radar and long-range missiles.
Another example is the British company Surrey Satellite Technology, a prime European producer of micro-satellites, both for communications as well as earth observation. Surrey has transferred technology and capabilities to China in a joint venture with Beijing's Qinghua University, which could easily transfer it to the PLA. " this type of technology is vitally important for the Chinese military to mount combined air and sea operations in the Taiwan Strait" says the article.
The article concludes that the main concern for the US and regional governments is that short-term corporate greed is overpowering Western fears of arming a potential enemy of the future to the teeth.
The above FEER article already referred extensively to the large-scale purchase by the Chinese military of "dual use" technology to enhance its military capabilities. Another example was give in a recent article in Defense News, which highlighted the Israeli sale of up to seven communication satellites to China ("Israeli-China satellite Pact proves progress in bilateral impasse", by Barbara Opall-Rome, Defense News, 18 January 2002). A further contract of surveillance satellites on the basis of the Israeli EROS platform is reportedly also in the works.
The communication satellite deal was signed on 17 January 2002 in Beijing between Israeli Aircraft Industries and China's government-owned China Aerospace Corp., which produces rockets and satellites for China's military. However, the first two satellites were portrayed as destined for Hong Kong's use for broadcast of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. However, the 1000 kg AMOS-HP satellite platform is reported to be a future standard for a military communications platform.
The deal is also reported by Defense News to be a compensation order for Israel to make up to China for the cancellation of the earlier Phalcon early warning radar aircraft (see "Israel's AWCS sale to China" in Taiwan Communiqué no. 91 and "The Israeli Phalcon radar sale" in issue no. 92).
Taiwan Communiqué comment: While Israel and China are presently arguing that the satellite sale is "purely for economic and commercial purposes" it is obvious that a network of small communication satellites under the control of the Chinese military is a strategic asset in any future conflict in the Taiwan Straits.
The satellites would provide the PLA with real-time intelligence and surveillance, and would improve their chances in the case of an attack against Taiwan or against US military forces in the area. We therefore urge Israel not to proceed with the deal, and urge the US government and Congress to pressure Israel to refrain from building up the capabilities of a repressive, Communist country that threatens its neighbors. This is equivalent to selling weapons to Hitler Germany.
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