Taiwan Communiqué No. 76, June 1997

China's military buildup

During the past few months both the United States Department of Defense and a number of prominent defense publications have presented details on China's military buildup. On the following pages we summarize this information.

Selected Military Capabilities of the PRC

The Department of Defense report was released on 8 April 1997, and was titled "Selected Military Capabilities of the PRC." It stated that China has "a large, well-established infrastructure for the development and production of ballistic missiles" and will have the industrial capacity to "produce as many as a thousand new [ballistic] missiles within the next decade." The report said China is developing additional land-attack cruise missiles as a "high priority" for "theater warfighting and strategic attack."

The report stated that China's long-term goal is "to become one of the world's great powers," and that Beijing "will probably build its military power to the point where it can engage and defeat any potential enemy within the region with its conventional forces and can deter any global strategic threat..." The report said China's efforts will include developments in seven areas of military capability. These are:

  1. Development of advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, either through a dedicated development program, or by gaining access to commercial or third party systems with militarily significant capabilities.
  2. Development of highly accurate and low-observable ballistic and cruise missiles, and the investment in infrastructure that would allow for production of such weapons in militarily significant quantities, particularly in numbers sufficient to conduct attacks capable of overwhelming projected defense capabilities in the region.
  3. Development of enhanced command and control networks, particularly those capable of battle management that would include long-range precision strikes.
  4. Development of unmanned aerial vehicles, particularly those with extended ranges or loitering times.
  5. Exploitation of the Global Positioning System or other similar systems, including commercial land surveillance satellites, for significant military purposes, including particularly for increasing accuracy of weapons or the situational awareness of operating forces.
  6. Development of capabilities for denial of sea control, such as advanced sea mines or improved submarine capabilities.
  7. Continued development of follow-on forces, particularly those capable of rapid air or amphibious assault.

Together with recent reports that China is building a full-scale replica of Taiwan's largest air base and the report in the Office of Naval Intelligence's 1997 annual report on "Worldwide Submarine Challenges" that a new Chinese submarine-launched ballistic missile can target the US by 2007, this presents a strong indication that China is building up its military might to attempt to attack Taiwan and at least deter the United States from getting involved.

Aviation Week: China's military great leap forward

In a recent issue, the leading aerospace publication Aviation Week & Space Technology also published an extensive article about China's military modernization drive ("China's military seeks great leap forward", AW&ST, 12 May 1997).

The Sukhoi-27

Aviation Week detailed in particular the Chinese developments in the area of fighter aircraft, cruise missiles, and advanced ballistic missiles. It stated that the military modernization is being fueled by major arms technology transfers from Russia, and to a lesser degree from Israel and the West.

The article states that the Chinese military is putting high priority on the development of much more accurate ballistic missiles, such as the 600-mile range Dongfang-15 (M-9), the 300-mile range Dongfang-11 (M-11) and supersonic cruise missiles such as the Mach-2 SSN-22. It aims to produce enough of them to "...overwhelm any potential enemy in the region." The article quotes former CIA-director James Woolsey as saying that "...they are modernizing their military in such a way that could particularly with ballistic and cruise missiles be a threat to Taiwan..."

The article also describes China's long-range intercontinental ballistic missile capability: at present China has approximately half a dozen Dongfang-5's deployed, a missile with a range of 13,000 km and a yield of 4-5 mtons. However, according to the article, China is acquiring MIRV-capability from Russia, and intends to outfit its future Dongfang-41 (range 12,000 km) with this capability. From launch sites in Northern China, this missile could hit almost any target west of the Rocky Mountains.

The article details China efforts to developing a whole range of tactical fighter aircraft. It refers to the purchase of some 50 Sukhoi-27 fighters from Russia, 38 one-seaters and 12 two-seaters. It states that it is even more significant that China has acquired a license to build the Sukhoi-27SK in China. The first Chinese-built aircraft is expected to be completed by 2000, while by 2010, the Chinese expect to have in excess of 225 of these advanced fighters.

Aviation Week writes that Israel also has a significant role in providing China with advanced weapon technology: China's new F-10, single-seat, multi-role fighter (comparable to the F-16) is largely based on Israel's canceled Lavi program, while the Israeli's are also providing China with radar and unmanned aerial vehicle capability.

FEER: Sino-Russian military cooperation

The prominent Hong Kong-based publication Far Eastern Economic Review in a recent article also focused on Russia's sale of military equipment to China ("Brothers in Arms", Far Eastern Economic Review, 13 March 1997).

The Review gave a good overall perspective of China's arms purchases in Russia, and reported that in particular the purchase of two Sovremenny-class destroyers and its "Sunburn" anti-ship missiles are designed to make the American Navy in the Western Pacific feel more insecure (see "Buying two destroyers from Russia", Communiqué no. 74, pp. 13-14). The Chinese military planners reportedly are of the opinion that Beijing can credibly threaten Taiwan only if it can keep the 7th Fleet at bay.

The Review article also stated that the Chinese are putting in a major effort in attempting to gain access to defense electronics, airborne radar, undersea warfare and missile technology. They seem to have some success: a Russian defense reporter is quoted as saying that in the Sukhoi-27 licensing agreement to build more than 200 fighters in China, the Chinese were only interested in the plans for the basic mainframe. They weren't interested in additional equipment "...because people in Moscow say they've already stolen the blueprints for these."

Defense News: Chinese covet high-technology arsenal

In a recent front-page article, Defense News reported on a new US government report, titled "Chinese views on Future Warfare" by the Pentagon Office on Net Assessment ("Chinese covet high-technology arsenal", Defense News, 19-25 May 1997). The publication is essentially a translation and compilation of writings by China's Peoples' Liberation Army (PLA).

According to Defense News, the writings reflect the doctrinal shift in the PLA from a low-technology, personnel-intensive "peoples' war" to high-technology regional warfare based on information deterrence and possible first strikes.

The reports contains a number of articles by COSTIND officials (China's Commission of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense), which emphasize technologies such as "enhanced information warfare" (classical psychological warfare with modern information technology) as well as a host of high-tech areas in which China should acquire capabilities. Some of these are:

Launching missiles from a merchant ship ?

Another prominent US defense publication, Inside the Pentagon, on 5 June 1997 published an article which indicated that China is considering outfitting merchant ships with ballistic and cruise missiles, and use the protection of surrounding merchant vessels in a possible attack against Taiwan ("Busy Sealanes Could Provide Chinese Cover for Missile Attack on Taiwan", Inside the Pentagon, 5 June 1997).

Speaking at a 22 May 1997 symposium on Chinese security issues at Fort Myers, Virginia, one expert postulated that China could use such an approach, and that such an attack "would be using technology that is currently available or speculated to be available to China in the next three years."

The expert said "it's a scenario that does not require China to have a blue water navy, amphibious landing ships, nor to land troops on Taiwanese soil." He said this so-called "defensive containment" strategy would be based on China's calculation that the U.S. government, fearful of military commitments that may result in large numbers of U.S. casualties, might not come to the aid of Taiwan should it fall under threat of Chinese attack.

China's expected acquisition of Sovremenny-class destroyers with SSN-22 "Sunburn" surface-to-surface cruise missiles, as well as its current inventory of C-801, C-201, C-802 missiles, "could give the Chinese the capability to contain surface action in the Taiwan Strait by placing a reasonable doubt of safe passage to ships attempting to enter the area," said the expert.

He estimated that a couple dozen of these cruise missiles, launched five nautical miles from the Chinese mainland, can hit a target 150 nautical miles away in less than two minutes. By shooting from the shallow waters close into the Chinese coastline, from amid the clutter of merchant vessels, China would be placing United States warships in the position of having to launch a counterattack on vessels located within Chinese territorial waters.

In addition, China could deploy hand-held Global Positioning Systems receivers on merchant ships to assist it in targeting Taiwan, and U.S. ships would be at a loss to pinpoint which Chinese ships were supporting the attack in this way. The Chinese battle group would be surrounded by dozens of merchant vessels, some engaged in commercial shipping, others assisting the battle in targeting, he said.

To defend against such a scenario, the article stated that the United States should make clear its commitment to the defense of Taiwan, undertake joint exercises and work out rules of engagement and command and control.

China's arms trading

Yet another unsavory note in the Chinese dirty laundry list of violations is the fact that China continues to export weapons to repressive and undemocratic regimes. The Washington Post reported recently that the famous Burma road constructed by the Allied Forces in World War II is now being used by China to export weapons to the military regime in Burma ("Burma Road of WW-II fame now brings arms from China", Washington Post, 1 June 1997).

In a separate development, on 31 May 1997 the State Department confirmed earlier reports that China had sold cruise missiles to Iran. The report stated that the missiles were of the C-802 ship-based anti-ship type, roughly equivalent to the French EXOCET. The report also implied that China is supplying Iran with a land-based version of the C-802, which would be more difficult to detect ("US confirms China missile sale to Iran", Washington Post, 31 May 1997).

According to the 1992 Gore-McCain Act the sale of these missiles require the Administration to impose sanctions on the Chinese government. However, the Clinton Administration has been hesitant to take this step. In Congress, there is pressure building to force the imposition of these sanctions: in the beginning of May 1997, a number of senators introduced Senate Resolution 82, which "...urges the Clinton Administration to enforce the Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Proliferation Act of 1992 (50 U.S.C. 1701 note) with respect to the acquisition by Iran of C-802 model cruise missiles ..."

At a Senate hearing on 10 April 1997, Robert Einhorn, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation, did state that China fails to sufficiently control the sale of missiles and other sensitive items to countries like Iran and Pakistan and that China's "problematic record" on such exports can be attributed largely to conscious decisions by Chinese leaders to pursue policies deemed to be in China's national interest. He stated that exports of sensitive items are subject to strict centralized government approval procedures.

At the hearing, Gary Milhollin, Director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, testified that China's exports today constitute "the most serious proliferation threat in the world, and China has held that title for the past decade and a half."

Ambassador James Lilley, former US Ambassador to China and now Director of the Institute for Global Affairs at the University of Maryland, testified that Russia has been selling weapons of mass destruction to China to help keep production lines hot.

At the end of May 1997, the United States did imposed sanctions on two Chinese state companies for selling chemicals and chemical production equipment to Iran, which according to the State Department "substantially boosted Tehran's effort to develop poison-gas weapons."

Taiwan Communiqué comment: While the latter sanctions are a positive step, they are only peanuts in comparison what would be required if Mr. Clinton would indeed live up to the provisions of the Gore-McCain Act. The present lackadaisical approach will not impress the Chinese or have any positive effect.

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