Thursday, June 21, 2007

Battling Propagandas. This is what we have come to.

'Unfounded, exaggerated and ill-intentioned'

By Jing-dong Yuan

China's official media have refuted recent reports and official statements in the West that highlight major advances in Chinese military capabilities.

Since the January 11 Chinese anti-satellite test that downed one of its own defunct weather satellites, there has been growing coverage and speculation on China's space weapons, ballistic-missile developments, the new Jian-10 jet fighter, potential launching of an aircraft carrier, and China's "anti-access" strategies against US forces in a potential military conflict across the Taiwan Strait. Beijing argues that these alleged capabilities are either exaggerated or fabricated with ill intentions.

China's anti-satellite (ASAT) test has drawn the most attention. US military leaders suggest that the test demonstrated significant progress by incorporating a mobile platform in its launch system, hence "displaying a worrisome level of flexibility on the part of this potential adversary", according to US Air Force chief of staff General Michael Moseley.

Bill Gertz of the Washington Times went even further: "Pentagon officials said intelligence estimates indicate that China will have produced enough satellite interceptors by 2010 to destroy most US low-earth-orbit satellites."

US Marine Corps General James Cartwright, commander of US strategic forces, who is also slated to be the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, reportedly alleged that China is developing a full array of space weapons, including missiles and jammers, and may deploy nuclear weapons in space against US space capabilities.

The US Office of Naval Intelligence states that China is building five nuclear submarines armed with JL-2 (Giant Wave) submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). There are also reports that China is to build its own aircraft carrier that would give it power-projection capabilities beyond the Taiwan Strait to match its growing economic power and secure its maritime interests.

The US Department of Defense 2007 report on China's military capabilities says Beijing may be contemplating development of a preemptive strategy in addition to expanding its naval and missile forces. It also argues that the size of Chinese defense expenditure is larger than is officially stated, and while there is modest progress in transparency, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) remains shrouded in secrecy in terms of its doctrine, intentions and strategies.

The Rand Corporation in a recent report warns against growing Chinese capabilities in using "anti-access" strategies to prevent deployment and operation of US forces in the Taiwan Strait and around the Korean Peninsula, hence undermining Washington's ability to accomplish its goals in the region.

And finally, China has recently also launched its Jian-10 fighter aircraft that rival the best of the US and Russian air fleets. These sources argue that China's growing military capabilities are shaking the region's military balances of power and fanning a regional arms race.

Beijing rejects these allegations as unfounded, exaggerated and ill-intentioned, aimed at stoking fear of a "China threat" in the region and therefore justifying the United States' own expansion of military spending and development of new weapons systems.

An article published in the International Herald Leader, a newspaper affiliated with with the official Xinhua News Agency, charges that the US military uses China's January ASAT test to justify its own ASAT developments. The article cites an April 11 conference in the US state of Colorado as an example, alleging that the meet was attended by both the military and defense contractors, and the major theme was on space warfare and response capabilities. In addition, it reports that the US military has in recent months conducted several ASAT tests and allegedly used a laser beam to cause one Russian satellite to lose contact with its ground station.

While China remains undecided on whether to build its own aircraft carrier, out of concerns over costs, technologies and political implications, Chinese analysts reject the "Chinese aircraft-carrier threat" thesis, suggesting that no one seems to have any concern over the nine countries in the world that currently possess 26 aircraft carriers.

They argue that the purposes behind such reports are to stoke fear and anxiety among China's neighbors, create pressure on China to delay building aircraft carriers, and sustain Western (read US) maritime dominance while preventing China from acquiring the abilities to protect sea lines of communication critical for its economic development.

Indeed, Chinese media claim that US media and experts exaggerate developments in China's overall naval capabilities. For instance, Western reports even speculate that the PLA Navy may develop its own Aegis-type anti-missile systems. With the deployment of the 094-class nuclear submarines, China can now dispatch its submarines close to Alaska, enabling them to launch SLBMs that could hit any target in the continental United States.

Chinese analysts also reject US and Western reports that growing Chinese military capabilities are changing the regional balances of power, especially in the Taiwan Strait. They note the recent Rand study "Entering the Dragon's Lair" that they say exaggerates the PLA's ability to prevent US military intervention in a future crisis across the Taiwan Strait, arguing that such alarmist assessments are meant to justify continued military sales to Taiwan and the United States' own global military readjustment, shifting its strategic focus to East Asia. Indeed, recent Rand reports almost all conclude that US military intervention in a Taiwan conflict would fail.

The intentions, the Chinese claim, are obvious. As Taiwan remains an important card in US global strategic game, Washington's interests are at the minimum to keep the Taiwan Strait status quo. These dire scenarios therefore provide the pretext for the US military to enhance its capabilities to be able to intervene and win in future military conflicts over the Taiwan Strait, say Chinese analysts.

Beijing's concerns over apparent recent Western and especially US exaggeration of Chinese military capabilities are understandable. As China continues to rise economically, it is bound to run into conflicts with other key stakeholders in the international economy. Already there is pressure on China to revalue its currency to reduce its huge trade imbalance with the United States. Washington in recent months also has imposed punitive tariffs on Chinese goods, accusing Beijing of unfair subsidies.

China can ill afford reports that describe rapid expansion and improvement of China's military capabilities, especially given that it still has unresolved territorial disputes with a number of neighboring countries, including with another rising economic power India and its strong rival for East Asian primacy, Japan.

Not only can the revival of the "China threat" rhetoric undermine its efforts to project itself as seeking a peaceful rise, but such concerns could also draw greater US attention and hence Washington's incentives to cement alliances and strengthen its military presence in the region, which in turn further complicate an eventual unification with Taiwan.

Dr Jing-dong Yuan is director of the education program at the Center for Non-proliferation Studies and an associate professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

Original article posted here.

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