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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Geopolítica da China

China's military might
The long march to be a superpower

From The Economist print edition
The People's Liberation Army is investing heavily to give China the military muscle to match its economic power. But can it begin to rival America?

THE sight is as odd as its surroundings are bleak. Where a flat expanse of mud flats, salt pans and fish farms reaches the Bohai Gulf, a vast ship looms through the polluted haze. It is an aircraft-carrier, the Kiev, once the proud possession of the Soviet Union. Now it is a tourist attraction. Chinese visitors sit on the flight deck under Pepsi umbrellas, reflecting perhaps on a great power that was and another, theirs, that is fast in the making.

Inside the Kiev, the hangar bay is divided into two. On one side, bored-looking visitors watch an assortment of dance routines featuring performers in ethnic-minority costumes. On the other side is a full-size model of China's new J-10, a plane unveiled with great fanfare in January as the most advanced fighter built by the Chinese themselves (except for the Ukrainian or Russian turbofan engines—but officials prefer not to advertise this). A version of this, some military analysts believe, could one day be deployed on a Chinese ship.

The Pentagon is watching China's aircraft-carrier ambitions with bemused interest. Since the 1980s, China has bought four of them (three from the former Soviet Union and an Australian one whose construction began in Britain during the second world war). Like the Kiev, the Minsk (berthed near Hong Kong) has been turned into a tourist attraction having first been studied closely by Chinese naval engineers. Australia's carrier, the Melbourne, has been scrapped. The biggest and most modern one, the Varyag, is in the northern port city of Dalian, where it is being refurbished. Its destiny is uncertain. The Pentagon says it might be put into service, used for training carrier crews, or become yet another floating theme-park.

American global supremacy is not about to be challenged by China's tinkering with aircraft-carriers. Even if China were to commission one—which analysts think unlikely before at least 2015—it would be useless in the most probable area of potential conflict between China and America, the Taiwan Strait. China could far more easily launch its jets from shore. But it would be widely seen as a potent symbol of China's rise as a military power. Some Chinese officers want to fly the flag ever farther afield as a demonstration of China's rise. As China emerges as a trading giant (one increasingly dependent on imported oil), a few of its military analysts talk about the need to protect distant sea lanes in the Malacca Strait and beyond.

This week China's People's Liberation Army (PLA), as the armed forces are known, is celebrating the 80th year since it was born as a group of ragtag rebels against China's then rulers. Today it is vying to become one of the world's most capable forces: one that could, if necessary, keep even the Americans at bay. The PLA has little urge to confront America head-on, but plenty to deter it from protecting Taiwan.
The pace of China's military upgrading is causing concern in the Pentagon. Eric McVadon, a retired rear admiral, told a congressional commission in 2005 that China had achieved a “remarkable leap” in the modernisation of forces needed to overwhelm Taiwan and deter or confront any American intervention. And the pace of this, he said, was “urgently continuing”. By Pentagon standards, Admiral McVadon is doveish.

In its annual report to Congress on China's military strength, published in May, the Pentagon said China's “expanding military capabilities” were a “major factor” in altering military balances in East Asia. It said China's ability to project power over long distances remained limited. But it repeated its observation, made in 2006, that among “major and emerging powers” China had the “greatest potential to compete militarily” with America.

Since the mid-1990s China has become increasingly worried that Taiwan might cut its notional ties with the mainland. To instil fear into any Taiwanese leader so inclined, it has been deploying short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) on the coast facing the island as fast as it can produce them—about 100 a year. The Pentagon says there are now about 900 of these DF-11s (CSS-7) and DF-15s (CSS-6). They are getting more accurate. Salvoes of them might devastate Taiwan's military infrastructure so quickly that any war would be over before America could respond.
Much has changed since 1995 and 1996, when China's weakness in the face of American power was put on stunning display. In a fit of anger over America's decision in 1995 to allow Lee Teng-hui, then Taiwan's president, to make a high-profile trip to his alma mater, Cornell University, China fired ten unarmed DF-15s into waters off Taiwan. The Americans, confident that China would quickly back off, sent two aircraft-carrier battle groups to the region as a warning. The tactic worked. Today America would have to think twice. Douglas Paal, America's unofficial ambassador to Taiwan from 2002 to 2006, says the “cost of conflict has certainly gone up.”

The Chinese are now trying to make sure that American aircraft-carriers cannot get anywhere near. Admiral McVadon worries about their development of DF-21 (CSS-5) medium-range ballistic missiles. With their far higher re-entry velocities than the SRBMs, they would be much harder for Taiwan's missile defences to cope with. They could even be launched far beyond Taiwan into the Pacific to hit aircraft-carriers. This would be a big technical challenge. But Admiral McVadon says America “might have to worry” about such a possibility within a couple of years.

Once the missiles have done their job, China's armed forces could (so they hope) follow up with a panoply of advanced Russian weaponry—mostly amassed in the past decade. Last year the Pentagon said China had imported around $11 billion of weapons between 2000 and 2005, mainly from Russia.

China knows it has a lot of catching up to do. Many Americans may be unenthusiastic about America's military excursions in recent years, particularly about the war in Iraq. But Chinese military authors, in numerous books and articles, see much to be inspired by.

On paper at least, China's gains have been impressive. Even into the 1990s China had little more than a conscript army of ill-educated peasants using equipment based largely on obsolete Soviet designs of the 1950s and outdated cold-war (or even guerrilla-war) doctrine. Now the emphasis has shifted from ground troops to the navy and air force, which would spearhead any attack on Taiwan. China has bought 12 Russian Kilo-class diesel attack submarines. The newest of these are equipped with supersonic Sizzler cruise missiles that America's carriers, many analysts believe, would find hard to stop.

There are supersonic cruise missiles too aboard China's four new Sovremenny-class destroyers, made to order by the Russians and designed to attack aircraft-carriers and their escorts. And China's own shipbuilders have not been idle. In an exhibition marking the 80th anniversary, Beijing's Military Museum displays what Chinese official websites say is a model of a new nuclear-powered attack submarine, the Shang. These submarines would allow the navy to push deep into the Pacific, well beyond Taiwan, and, China hopes, help defeat American carriers long before they get close. Last year, much to America's embarrassment, a newly developed Chinese diesel submarine for shorter-range missions surfaced close to the American carrier Kitty Hawk near Okinawa without being detected beforehand.

American air superiority in the region is now challenged by more than 200 advanced Russian Su-27and Su-30 fighters China has acquired since the 1990s. Some of these have been made under licence in China itself. The Pentagon thinks China is also interested in buying Su-33s, which would be useful for deployment on an aircraft-carrier, if China decides to build one.

During the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1995-96, America could be reasonably sure that, even if war did break out (few seriously thought it would), it could cope with any threat from China's nuclear arsenal. China's handful of strategic missiles capable of hitting mainland America were based in silos, whose positions the Americans most probably knew. Launch preparations would take so long that the Americans would have plenty of time to knock them out. China has been working hard to remedy this. It is deploying six road-mobile, solid-fuelled (which means quick to launch) intercontinental DF-31s and is believed to be developing DF-31As with a longer range that could hit anywhere in America (see map below), as well as submarine-launched (so more concealable) JL-2s that could threaten much of America too.

All dressed up and ready to fight?
But how much use is all this hardware? Not a great deal is known about the PLA's fighting capability. It is by far the most secretive of the world's big armies. One of the few titbits it has been truly open about in the build-up to the celebrations is the introduction of new uniforms to mark the occasion: more body-hugging and, to howls of criticism from some users of popular Chinese internet sites, more American-looking.

As Chinese military analysts are well aware, America's military strength is not just about technology. It also involves training, co-ordination between different branches of the military (“jointness”, in the jargon), gathering and processing intelligence, experience and morale. China is struggling to catch up in these areas too. But it has had next to no combat experience since a brief and undistinguished foray into Vietnam in 1979 and a huge deployment to crush pro-democracy unrest ten years later.

China is even coyer about its war-fighting capabilities than it is about its weaponry. It has not rehearsed deep-sea drills against aircraft-carriers. It does not want to create alarm in the region, nor to rile America. There is also a problem of making all this Russian equipment work. Some analysts say the Chinese have not been entirely pleased with their Su-27 and Su-30 fighters. Keeping them maintained and supplied with spare parts (from Russia) has not been easy. A Western diplomat says China is also struggling to keep its Russian destroyers and submarines in good working order. “We have to be cautious about saying ‘wow’,” he suggests of the new equipment.

China is making some progress in its efforts to wean itself off dependence on the Russians. After decades of effort, some analysts believe, China is finally beginning to use its own turbofan engines, an essential technology for advanced fighters. But self-sufficiency is still a long way off. The Russians are sometimes still reluctant to hand over their most sophisticated technologies. “The only trustworthy thing [the Chinese] have is missiles,” says Andrew Yang of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taiwan.

The Pentagon, for all its fretting, is trying to keep channels open to the Chinese. Military exchanges have been slowly reviving since their nadir of April 2001, when a Chinese fighter jet hit an American spy plane close to China. Last year, for the first time, the two sides conducted joint exercises—search-and-rescue missions off the coasts of America and China. But these were simple manoeuvres and the Americans learned little from them. The Chinese remain reluctant to engage in anything more complex, perhaps for fear of revealing their weaknesses.

The Russians have gained deeper insights. Two years ago the PLA staged large-scale exercises with them, the first with a foreign army. Although not advertised as such, these were partly aimed at scaring the Taiwanese. The two countries practised blockades, capturing airfields and amphibious landings. The Russians showed off some of the weaponry they hope to sell to the big-spending Chinese.

Another large joint exercise is due to be held on August 9th-17th in the Urals (a few troops from other members of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, a six-nation group including Central Asian states, will also take part). But David Shambaugh of George Washington University says the Russians have not been very impressed by China's skills. After the joint exercise of 2005, Russians muttered about the PLA's lack of “jointness”, its poor communications and the slowness of its tanks.

China has won much praise in the West for its increasing involvement in United Nations peacekeeping operations. But this engagement has revealed little of China's combat capability. Almost all of the 1,600 Chinese peacekeepers deployed (including in Lebanon, Congo and Liberia) are engineers, transport troops or medical staff.

A series of “white papers” published by the Chinese government since 1998 on its military developments have shed little light either, particularly on how much the PLA is spending and on what. By China's opaque calculations, the PLA enjoyed an average annual budget increase of more than 15% between 1990 and 2005 (nearly 10% in real terms). This year the budget was increased by nearly 18%. But this appears not to include arms imports, spending on strategic missile forces and research and development. The International Institute for Strategic Studies in London says the real level of spending in 2004 could have been about 1.7 times higher than the officially declared budget of 220 billion yuan ($26.5 billion at then exchange rates).

This estimate would make China's spending roughly the same as that of France in 2004. But the different purchasing power of the dollar in the two countries—as well as China's double-digit spending increases since then—push the Chinese total far higher. China is struggling hard to make its army more professional—keeping servicemen for longer and attracting better-educated recruits. This is tough at a time when the civilian economy is booming and wages are climbing. The PLA is having to spend much more on pay and conditions for its 2.3m people.

Keeping the army happy is a preoccupation of China's leaders, mindful of how the PLA saved the party from probable destruction during the unrest of 1989. In the 1990s they encouraged military units to run businesses to make more money for themselves. At the end of the decade, seeing that this was fuelling corruption, they ordered the PLA to hand over its business to civilian control. Bigger budgets are now helping the PLA to make up for some of those lost earnings.

The party still sees the army as a bulwark against the kind of upheaval that has toppled communist regimes elsewhere. Chinese leaders lash out at suggestions (believed to be supported by some officers) that the PLA should be put under the state's control instead of the party's. The PLA is riddled with party spies who monitor officers' loyalty. But the party also gives the army considerable leeway to manage its own affairs. It worries about military corruption but seldom moves against it, at least openly (in a rare exception to this, a deputy chief of the navy was dismissed last year for taking bribes and “loose morals”). The PLA's culture of secrecy allowed the unmonitored spread of SARS, an often fatal respiratory ailment, in the army's medical system in 2003.

Carrier trade
The PLA knows its weaknesses. It has few illusions that China can compete head-on with the Americans militarily. The Soviet Union's determination to do so is widely seen in China as the cause of its collapse. Instead China emphasises weaponry and doctrine that could be used to defeat a far more powerful enemy using “asymmetric capabilities”.

The idea is to exploit America's perceived weak points such as its dependence on satellites and information networks. China's successful (if messy and diplomatically damaging) destruction in January of one of its own ageing satellites with a rocket was clearly intended as a demonstration of such power. Some analysts believe Chinese people with state backing have been trying to hack into Pentagon computers. Richard Lawless, a Pentagon official, recently said China had developed a “very sophisticated” ability to attack American computer and internet systems.

The Pentagon's fear is that military leaders enamoured of new technology may underestimate the diplomatic consequences of trying it out. Some Chinese see a problem here too. The anti-satellite test has revived academic discussion in China of the need for setting up an American-style national security council that would help military planners co-ordinate more effectively with foreign-policy makers.

But the Americans find it difficult to tell China bluntly to stop doing what others are doing too (including India, which has aircraft-carriers and Russian fighter planes). In May Admiral Timothy Keating, the chief of America's Pacific Command, said China's interest in aircraft-carriers was “understandable”. He even said that if China chose to develop them, America would “help them to the degree that they seek and the degree that we're capable.” But, he noted, “it ain't as easy as it looks.”

A senior Pentagon official later suggested Admiral Keating had been misunderstood. Building a carrier for the Chinese armed forces would be going a bit far. But the two sides are now talking about setting up a military hotline. The Americans want to stay cautiously friendly as the dragon grows stronger.


China's New Naval Strategy
January 26, 2000 00 00 GMT

In the first exercise of its kind, the Chinese People's Liberation Army/Navy (PLAN) conducted maneuvers involving several small missile craft more than 250 nautical miles from the Chinese mainland. Although the PLAN has openly aspired to develop an ocean-going capacity, most of its efforts have focused on acquiring a larger number of major surface vessels capable of long-range deployments. It seems that now, faced with an unstable security environment and an uncertain economy making it difficult to purchase new major surface combatants, the PLAN may have found a way to utilize its fleet of small attack craft as an effective and less costly — though less capable — interim solution.

A formation of Chinese light combat vessels recently engaged in a combined naval exercise more than 250 nautical miles from the country's coast, reported the Jiefangjun Bao newspaper Jan. 17. It was the first time these types of vessels — including fast guided-missile ships, escort vessels, submarine chasers and corvettes — had conducted exercises outside coastal waters.
To understand Chinese naval strategy, it is important to have a general understanding of naval strategy. The primary strategic aim of a navy is to defend a nation's shores. As economic and strategic interests increase, the navy's role expands to include power projection capabilities. The evolution of the PLAN has followed this pattern almost exactly. It has been, and still is, limited to a coastal defense role. However, it has slowly enlarged its ocean-going capability. This is a function of a new strategic focus for the Chinese military.
In the late 1990s, the Chinese military shifted from a doctrine concerned with a defensive ground war to a doctrine based on a more balanced, flexible and smaller military able to operate outside of territorial waters. This new doctrine concentrates on force and force projection rather than simply on national defense. The centerpiece of this emerging doctrine has been the PLAN, which in the past had been regarded as the least important among all the services.
Several factors contributed to this strategic shift. Paramount among them is a sense of unease throughout region, including economic fluctuations, an unclear picture of the U.S. commitment to the area and uncertainty over the emerging Japanese role in the region. A second factor affecting China's military strategy is energy security. China is the largest consumer of oil outside of the United States. China will need to rely more on imported oil to sustain its economic growth. Much of this oil is transported by sea, thus the increased importance of safeguarding sea lines of communication (SLOC). A third factor is an inherent need for China to achieve regional military supremacy to assert authority over neighboring states. Two classic examples are the breakaway province of Taiwan and the strategic and potentially mineral rich Spratly Islands.
China's ability to address the above factors hinges on the PLAN's force structure. The PLAN has over 1,100 warships, more than three times the number of ships in the U.S. Navy. However, unlike the U.S. Navy, the PLAN, aside from its submarine force, is more geared toward a coastal defensive role. It consists of only 54 major combatants, such as destroyers, frigates and submarines, accounting for only 5 percent of the total number of ships. The rest of the navy consists of patrol craft, mine-warfare vessels and a small amphibious force.
In the short term, the PLAN is developing a "green water" capability, meaning the ability to operate out to the first island chain — all areas to the west of a line running from Japan, the Senkaku islands, Taiwan and the west coast of Borneo. By 2020, the PLAN aims to have the ability to expand this force into a "blue water" capable navy, a force able to assert control over the second island chain, including areas west of the Kuril Islands down to the Mariana islands and Papua New Guinea.
Inside the green water line, PLAN strategy would need to focus on controlling and interdicting sea lanes. Out to the blue water line, the PLAN would need to expand its air defense and anti-submarine capabilities as the capacity increases for the United States or another navy to concentrate and cut off the PLAN from the mainland.
To move from a green line to blue line strategy, the PLAN is procuring major surface combatants. It is steadily increasing domestic warship production and importing sophisticated vessels and armaments from Russia. China is constructing a new 6,000-ton destroyer to succeed its largest current warship. In November 1997, China signed a contract with Russia to purchase two Sovremenny-class destroyers with an option for a third. China has reportedly begun an aircraft carrier program. It could build its own carrier or modify two existing mothballed carriers, the Ukrainian Varyag carrier and the Russian Minsk bought by Chinese companies for non-military purposes.
However, with China's uncertain financial situation, coupled with the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the region, China may not be able to wait until these new capital ships are fully mission capable. This may have been the main driving force behind the small vessel exercises. It gives China the ability to project forces out to the first island chain. In particular, most of the PLAN's newest small attack craft are being assigned to the East Sea Fleet, which has operational responsibility for the seas around Taiwan. This means that not only does the PLAN demonstrate it has the ability to extend its reach, it also demonstrates that the PLAN is developing its sea interdiction in the event of future interventions by the U.S. Navy around Taiwan.
Still, for small warships to be effective in future wars at sea, they must have the logistical support to enable them to move to and sustain themselves in the open sea. This means that, as was the major focus of this recent exercise, the fast attack fleet needed to conduct re-supply, repair and refueling methods at sea. It leaves the fleet virtually anchored to the mainland by a long tether of extremely vulnerable lightly armed or unarmed re-supply vessels. In this scenario, the tactical realities of a long supply tail may outweigh the strategic necessity of the PLAN to extend its reach.
Nevertheless, in utilizing the small vessels, the PLAN has created a model for an interim solution to power projection. Even though the PLAN may have demonstrated its ability to operate out to the first island chain, it still lacks the ability to directly engage any sizable ocean-going force while operating at such a distance. Until its major warship production or procurement is increased, the PLAN is still tied to the mainland.

Anniversary of China's Navy Brings a Renewed Focus to Long-Term Strategic Goals
April 23, 1999 00 00 GMT

With the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army naval force being commemorated on April 23, China has renewed discussions of modernizing and expanding its navy. Chinese President Jiang Zemin has called on China to "Strive to establish a modern navy with a strong, comprehensive combat capacity." While calls to expand China's naval capacity are not new, they do portray some of Beijing's long-term strategic goals.
In conjunction with the April 23 fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Chinese People's Liberation Army naval forces, China's Xinhua News Agency has conducted an interview with Chinese Navy Commander Shi Yunsheng. In the interview, Shi pointed out the emphasis the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee and Central Military Commission have placed on modernizing and improving the Chinese Navy. He cited Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who also chairs the Central Military Commission, who wrote that China should "strive to establish a modern navy with a strong, comprehensive combat capacity."
Shi spoke of three major aspects of the naval improvement program. First, he said China was pursuing an "offshore defense" policy, improving naval technology to bring the Chinese Navy closer to other modern navies of the world, and providing it with the ability win a war at sea. Second, he said the Navy was working to develop and improve weapons systems, launching new models of warships, submarines, and fighter aircraft, and developing better missiles, torpedoes, guns, and electronic equipment. Third, he said the Navy was accelerating and improving the training of new recruits, as well as working to attract more qualified entrants. He pointed out that improved training facilities are already in place and operating, giving Naval commanders more comprehensive training.
The focus on expanding and improving China's Navy is not new. In 1996, Chinese military officials were calling for improved logistical support to allow China's Navy to break free of its coastal defense role (Stratfor Global Intelligence Update, September 19, 1996). Since the 1980s, China has been developing its petroleum supply equipment for naval support, announcing newly improved designs earlier this month. The expansion of the Chinese Navy from its current coastal roles to a blue water navy remains a vital part of Beijing's long-term regional goals, for without it China has very little ability to project its power.
This is the central issue behind the long-running naval expansion plans. While China is a massive country with ample human and natural resources, it remains unable to fully take on the role of a superpower, or even a major regional power, due to its lack of a blue water navy. This is not to say that China is not an important regional and world player, but that its geographical position encourages a defensive posture, which has occasionally undermined its offensive intentions, principally in Taiwan. China shares extensive borders with over a dozen other nations, while its industrial and population centers are located primarily in the east and south east around the maritime periphery of the country. This geography has resulted in a defensive posture designed to protect its land borders as well as its coastal industrial and financial infrastructure.
The Chinese Navy has maintained a defensive position vis-à-vis its southern and southeastern coast, one which required relatively close contact with the shore for supplies and logistics. This in part explains why China, despite its size and apparent power, has been unwilling and unable to launch a war of conquest against Taiwan. While China can launch a massive missile strike against Taiwan, it lacks the naval resources for a full naval assault.
To overcome this, Beijing has promoted two main strategies for years. One is the formation of a blue water navy, including better supply vessels. The other is to extend its maritime borders by controlling key island locations, thereby allowing its coastal forces to maintain supply far from the mainland. This has been most actively pursued in recent years in the Spratly Islands. By controlling forward naval bases in the Spratlys, China extends its "legitimate" zone of control to the other side of the South China Sea. This same strategy has led to the disputes over the Paracel Islands, and the Diaoyutai Islands, the latter of which would extend control over the East China Sea.
While the "creeping invasion" of the Spratlys may be extending China's southward reach, its attempts to modernize and expand the Navy face a serious hindrance. China's naval plans have been promoted since before the financial crisis the country now faces. However, even then there was little progress toward creating a naval force with a true ability to project its power over long distances. Now, it is increasingly unclear how China plans to finance this blue water Navy. China's economic troubles are numerous. Beijing has just announced its foreign debt for 1998 was $146.04 billion, $1.04 billion more than its total foreign reserves at the end of 1998. China has also recently hinted at plans to increase the wages of its civil servants by 30 percent, among other new spending initiatives.
China's lack of financial resources will continue to seriously hinder its ability to expand it naval forces to create a forward projection force. Its associated policy of artificially extending its maritime borders by basing naval operations at various island groups will most likely remain as China's primary method of projecting its naval capabilities. However, while the economic situation is slowing the process, China remains committed to expanding its role in the region, extending its naval reach. It should be noted that historically, when a land-based power attempts to exert its influence over the sea, it often sets off a naval arms race it cannot win without risking financial and social stability. However, only in doing so can China finally become a major regional power with the ability to extend its military influence well beyond its coastal waters.

From Singapore to Port Said: China's Influence over the World's Waterways
May 10, 2000 00 00 GMT

As the U.S. House of Representatives debates the normalization of trade relations with China, Beijing is using trade to establish a strategic presence in the world's major waterways. On May 7, the Chinese government finalized an agreement with Egypt, allowing ships of the China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) to use port facilities along the Suez Canal. The deal may be pure business, but COSCO's connections to the Chinese military are difficult to ignore.
The Chinese merchant ship “Empress Phoenix” called at Port Said, Egypt on May 8, one day after Egyptian and Chinese officials inked an agreement to allow Chinese vessels to operate at the port. Two details make this event noteworthy. Port Said is the gateway to the Suez Canal. And the vessel is owned by a company, China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO), with strong links to the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
The business aspects of this affair are straightforward. The official Xinhua news agency reported that the agreement will allow additional Chinese vessels to load and unload cargo at the port. Until now, these ships have had to dock at the Israeli port of Haifa on the Mediterranean Sea. But in a larger sense, the developments in the Suez Canal are part of an emerging pattern in which companies under the influence of Beijing's military are developing an important presence in the world's major waterways.
The Empress Phoenix is owned by China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO), the second-largest shipping company in the world. While it has an independent board of directors, it is a state-owned enterprise whose leadership reportedly has ties to the People's Liberation Army (PLA), which helps fund itself through business ventures. The exact operational level of the PLA's involvement in COSCO is unclear and some dismiss it altogether. Others are more strident. Retired Adm. Thomas Moorer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last fall that the company is “the merchant marine arm of the PLA.” In 1996, the Empress Phoenix was found smuggling 2,000 Chinese AK-47s into Oakland, California.
The shipping deal is the first solid deal to emerge from Chinese President Jiang Zemin's trip to Egypt last month. Jiang met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the two pledged to broaden bilateral cooperation between the two countries, especially in the economic realm. On an immediate and practical level, COSCO's new access to Said is pure business. Shipping companies need ports, and Egypt needs growth. Indeed, the captain of the Empress Phoenix reportedly said that COSCO vessels will arrive at the port on a weekly basis.
However, the deal also has strategic meaning. Not only will COSCO vessels have a place to dock in one of the world's busiest waterways; 16,000 vessels transit the Suez Canal each year, carrying 12 million containers. COSCO's new presence increases the overall level of Chinese participation at the Egyptian Port. Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa, another firm with reported ties to the PLA, is part owner of a 30-year concession to develop the eastern portion of Port Said.
In the event of an international crisis, Beijing could exploit these facilities. Port Said sits along one of the important transit routes for aircraft carriers of the U.S. Navy, which regularly travel the length of the canal as they transit from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. If these vessels were unable to use the canal they would have to travel thousands of extra miles, around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, adding about three weeks to their journey. Intelligence on the movement of all kinds of naval forces can also be collected with greater ease.
The use of Port Said completes a triad of business arrangements at the world's major waterways. Hutchison Whampoa's business interests near the Panama Canal have been widely publicized, though by itself the canal holds little strategic importance. Five percent of world trade travels through the canal's locks, but U.S. carriers have been unable to squeeze through for decades. COSCO has a large presence in Singapore, which guards the southern entrance to the Strait of Malacca, as well as Port Klang, a Malaysian facility at the northern end of these strategically important straits.
The shipping companies associated with the PLA are taking advantage both of their immense size and the need for investment in the aging ports of the developing world. In a peacetime context, China is clearly attempting to embrace global trade - the very issue Washington is debating right now. But the PLA itself is using peacetime to improve its ability to operate at sea. In addition to the on-again, off-again threats to Taiwan, the navy is expanding and outposts on the Spratly Islands have recently been reinforced.
And advancing strategic interests under the banner of legitimate business interests is an excellent tactic.

China Buys the Original Soviet Carrier
May 05, 2000 00 00 GMT

Russia has reportedly sold China the aircraft carrier Kiev, the Russian daily Kommersant reported on May 5, 2000. If the sale goes through and a refitted ship is delivered, Beijing will achieve a long-sought goal: joining the ranks of the world's power projection navies.
By itself, the carrier - actually a hybrid cruiser with a 900-foot flight deck - will not be enough to allow the buyer, the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), to tip the regional balance of power. But the transaction will give the seller, Moscow, several strategic advantages; not only will it net hard currency but the carrier will catch the attention of both regional and global actors.
Kiev was the first Soviet carrier, its keel laid in 1970. It was originally designated an anti-submarine cruiser. When it entered service, the ship enjoyed heavy anti-aircraft defenses. With a limited flight deck - and a limited number of jets on board - the vessel was no match for U.S. carriers of the period. But Kiev and its sister ships could threaten smaller European navies, and the ship was tracked during its 1976 cruise in the Mediterranean Sea.
With the pending sale of Kiev, Russia will have sold all four of the ships in her class. The sale price for Beijing has not been revealed. In 1995, Russia sold two others to South Korea for scrap, at $4.5 million each. More recently, India agreed to pay Russia $700 million to refit Admiral Gorshkov, likely a low estimate for such extensive work. Admiral Gorshkov is being refitted to accommodate between 30 and 60 MiG-29K fighters. It originally carried Yak-38 Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) fighters that are now retired.
While the Chinese will realize a naval ambition, they will also shoulder its costs. As India's experience demonstrates, China will have to spend significantly to re-flag Kiev and put it to sea. A $1 billion refit - a more likely estimate - will rob Beijing of funds for endeavors like reinforcing its ground forces along the Russian border. China will have to train a crew, qualify an air wing and install an air defense system. In addition, Beijing must deploy escort vessels and oilers for protection and re-supply.
The acquisition of Kiev will shift Chinese military doctrine and ultimately demand an American response. The U.S. Navy controls the Pacific and Indian oceans, and a Chinese carrier battle group will make Beijing appear more threatening. China's neighbors will worry about their safety, leading them to turn to the United States for security guarantees and Russia for arms sales. As U.S. attention shifts to Beijing, Russia will be increasingly free to act without Western criticism and reaction; indeed Moscow's value to the United States may grow.

China: Rusting Carriers May Prove Tea Leaves for Naval Future
March 07, 2002 23 20 GMT

The former Russian aircraft carrier Varyag recently arrived in the Chinese port of Dalian. Although Beijing has said this acquisition will become a floating casino, the likely plan for its use is research. China has already studied at least two other types of carriers for their options and capabilities. Whichever model -- if any -- it chooses to develop, China will be forced to change its naval doctrine to match.
The former Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag arrived at the northern Chinese port of Dalian on March 3, completing a four-month journey from the Black Sea. Chong Lot Travel Agency, a Macau-based company with ties to the Chinese navy, purchased the Varyag in April 1998 from Ukraine -- which itself had taken possession of the unfinished carrier after the breakup of the Soviet Union -- and the ship ostensibly is destined to become a floating casino off of Macau.
Beijing's explanations for the ship's presence in port, however, hold no water. Chong Lot was not among the companies recently granted gambling licenses in Macau, and local authorities have repeatedly pointed out that Macau's ports are too shallow for a ship of the Varyag's size. Instead, it appears that China hopes to gain valuable insight from this latest acquisition. The People's Republic already has obtained at least three other carriers for study: the World War II vintage Australian carrier HMAS Melbourne and two Soviet-era Kiev-class carriers, Kiev and Minsk. Beijing now has three distinct models of aircraft carriers to study, each representing a different possible path of development for China's naval doctrine.
Chinese military planners have long debated both the necessity and type of aircraft carrier to add to their fleet, though there is a general consensus that the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) intends to have an active carrier by 2020. Beijing currently has minimal ability to project naval power, and a carrier would significantly increase its range and its status as a true regional power. Cost and technical limitations, however, have weighed against China's plans, and likely there are some voices questioning the true benefit of having a carrier at all, when what China really needs are greater amphibious assets, submarines and missile destroyers for defensive and strategic purposes.
One thing is clear from the Varyag acquisition: China has not yet decided what kind of carrier it wants to build, if it chooses to build one at all. Each of the carriers Beijing has obtained offers a different design upon which to base a future ship. These differing characteristics would shape China's navy in distinctive ways.
The Melbourne, purchased by China United Shipbuilding Co. in 1985, was a traditional, straight-deck catapult carrier. The 15,700-ton ship, which has since been dismantled, measured 700 feet. It was originally launched as the British HMS Majestic in 1945 but was later transferred to the Australian navy. While in Australian service, it proved to be jet-capable -- carrying A-4 Skyhawks and Sea King helicopters for anti-submarine warfare operations.
For Beijing the Melbourne represents a basic, small-scale aircraft carrier -- something slightly larger than Thailand's 11,500-ton, 600-foot Chakri Naruebet. It is also comparable in some respects to the U.S. Wasp- and Tarawa-class amphibious assault ships, which, although much heavier and multipurpose, are only 140 feet longer than the Melbourne and carry their own compliment of AV-8B Harriers. U.S. Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ships also carry Harriers, but their 600-foot frames are smaller.
Beijing has already experimented with the Melbourne, reportedly building a replica of the flight deck on land to practice carrier takeoffs and landings. For China building a similar size carrier would be less expensive, easier to deploy and would fit with a more coastal or even green-water naval strategy.
China's other previous acquisitions, the Kiev and its sister ship the Minsk, represent a different path toward carrier development. These 43,000-ton, 900-foot Kiev-class vessels were compromise designs, building on the Soviet's ship-to-ship missile strengths while adding an aviation component. The Kiev, launched in 1972, and the Minsk, launched 1975, were in effect heavy cruisers fitted with angled flight decks. They carried helicopters, which gave over-the-horizon guidance for the ships' missile batteries, but also had V/STOL (vertical/ short takeoff and landing) aircraft for defense.
This style of carrier would give Beijing more bang for its buck by capitalizing on China's own strength in surface-to-surface missiles while expanding its reach. Beijing may have acquired some of Russia's experimental Yak-36 VTOL aircraft, which would serve an air-defense role on such a carrier. Sources suggest China may also have obtained some more recent Yak-141 air-defense V/STOL aircraft, again useful for protecting a compromise carrier along a Kiev design.
The acquisition of the Varyag -- after years of frustration with the Turkish government's refusal to let the engineless ship pass through the Bosporus Strait -- gives Beijing one more model for carrier design. The Varyag is a relatively modern, catapult-equipped fleet carrier. Construction of the Varyag, originally the Riga, began in 1985 but was not completed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its sister ship, the Admiral Kuznetsov, is the only remaining active carrier in the Russian navy.
The Varyag was designed to carry Su-27K naval fighter bombers, which China reportedly has already obtained. The 67,500-ton, 1,000-foot carrier is similar in size to the United States' 80,000-ton, 1,060-foot Kitty Hawk- and John F. Kennedy-class carriers. The USS Kitty Hawk itself is forward deployed to Japan.
For China adding a carrier of this size to its fleet would be a major step in asserting itself as an international naval power. However, playing with the big boys comes with a downside, most notably cost. A typical U.S. carrier battle group includes not only the carrier itself but also two cruisers, at least two destroyers (one for anti-submarine warfare and one for anti-air defense), a frigate for anti-submarine warfare, two submarines and supply ships.
Currently, China's largest ships are destroyers, and it has very limited anti-air capabilities and nothing equaling the U.S. AEGIS system, meaning Beijing would have to expend resources on much more than building a new carrier. Maintaining a large carrier is also expensive, particularly if Beijing decided to fit a Varyag-type ship with nuclear reactors.
China is now facing a question not only of which type of ship to build but also one of fundamental naval doctrine. A small escort carrier like the Melbourne is more cost-effective, faster to build and fits with a more local or regional naval role. In addition, Chinese pilots have already been training on a mock-up flight deck of that size.
Moving up one level, Beijing can imitate a Kiev-class carrier (for which it already has two hulls). This vessel represents a combination of a heavy cruiser -- currently missing from the PLAN inventory -- and a carrier, albeit one primarily fitted for helicopters and V/STOL aircraft. China's limited experience with carrier-based aviation and apparent problems in its own naval aviation development programs may make such a carrier a more attractive choice, particularly if Beijing's primary goal for carriers is to dissuade or intercept U.S. carrier task forces.
The final choice, a full fleet carrier, would require a dramatic shift in China's naval doctrine as well as its fleet. Although China could use a full fleet carrier to assert its presence around the world, a single one would pale in comparison to Washington's 12 active carriers.
Even as Beijing debates the merits of each type of carrier -- or the need for a carrier at all - there are other benefits to glean from the hulls it now has. These give the PLAN a chance to see if its shipyards and facilities can even handle ships of this size, or if they have the capacities to do so. Also, Chinese ship designers can study every aspect of the hulls to learn how to best use space in the ships.
One final use of these hulls, and particularly of the Varyag, is for Chinese military forces to further develop and train in anti-carrier operations. The U.S. carrier battle groups that regularly ply Asian waters remain one of China's biggest concerns. Washington's 1996 intervention in the Taiwan Strait and the U.S. military's effective use of carrier-based aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan have emphasized the dangers to Beijing. Through inspecting the hull design and carrying out mock attacks on the carrier, the military may gain valuable information on how best to attack a U.S. carrier -- and how to defend one of its own in the future.
China's collection of old ex-Soviet aircraft carriers does not mean Beijing is about to refit and launch three aircraft carriers into the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Rather it reflects the continuing evolution of Chinese naval doctrine -- and reveals that the debate over what type of carrier, if any, the PLAN should build is far from over. Regardless of whether it emulates one of these designs, Beijing ultimately has gained valuable insight into carrier design, construction, operation, defense and attack from its acquisitions.

U.S. Perceptions of a Chinese Threat
May 31, 2006 19 13 GMT

By George Friedman
The U.S. Department of Defense released its annual report on China's military last week. The Pentagon reported that China is moving forward rapidly with an offensive capability in the Pacific. The capability would not, according to the report, rely on the construction of a massive fleet to counter U.S. naval power, but rather on development and deployment of anti-ship missiles and maritime strike aircraft, some obtained from Russia. According to the Pentagon report, the Chinese are rapidly developing the ability to strike far into the Pacific -- as far as the Marianas and Guam, which houses a major U.S. naval base.
Whether the Chinese actually are constructing this force is less important than that the United States believes the Chinese are doing this. This analysis is not confined to the Defense Department but has been the view of much of the U.S. intelligence community. There is, therefore, a consensus in Washington that the Chinese are moving far beyond defensive capabilities or deterrence: They are moving toward a strike capability against the U.S. Seventh Fleet.
If this analysis is correct, then the reason for U.S. concern is obvious. Ever since World War II, the United States has dominated all of the world's oceans. Following that war, the Japanese and German navies were gone. The British and French did not have the economic ability or political will to maintain a global naval force. The Soviets had a relatively small navy, concerned primarily with coastal defense. The only power with a global navy was the United States -- and the U.S. Navy's power was so overwhelming that no combination of navies could challenge its maritime hegemony.
In an odd way, this extraordinary geopolitical reality has been taken for granted by many. No naval force in history has been as powerful as the U.S. Navy. The U.S. Navy does not have the ability to be everywhere at all times -- but it does have the ability to be in multiple places at the same time, and to move about without concerns of being challenged. This means, quite simply, that the United States can invade other countries, anywhere in the world, but other countries cannot invade the United States. Whatever the outcome of the invasion once ashore, the United States has conducted the Iraq, Kosovo, Somali, Gulf and Vietnamese wars without ever having to fight to protect lines of supply and communications. It has been able to impose naval blockades at will, without having to fight sea battles to achieve them. It is this single fact that, more than any other, has shaped global history since 1945.
Following the Soviet Strategy?
The Soviets fully understood the implications of U.S. naval power. They recognized that, in the event of a war in Europe, the United States would have to convoy massive reinforcements across the Atlantic. If the Soviets could cut that line of supply, Europe would be isolated. The Soviets had ambitious goals for naval construction, designed to challenge the United States in the Atlantic. But naval construction is fiendishly expensive. The Soviets simply couldn't afford the cost of building a fleet to challenge the U.S. Navy, while also building a ground force to protect their vast periphery from NATO and China.
Instead of trying to challenge the United States in surface warfare, using aircraft carriers, the Soviets settled for a strategy that relied on attack submarines and maritime bombers, like the Backfire. The Soviet view was that they did not have to take control of the Atlantic themselves; rather, if they could deny the United States access to the Atlantic, they would have achieved their goal. The plan was to attack the convoys and their escorts, using attack submarines and missiles launched from Backfire bombers that would come down into the Atlantic through the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom (GIUK) gap. The American counter was a strong anti-submarine warfare capability, coupled with the Aegis anti-missile system. Who would have won the confrontation is an interesting question to argue. The war everyone planned for never happened.
Today, it appears to be the Pentagon's view that China is following the Soviet model. The Chinese will not be able to float a significant surface challenge to the U.S. Seventh Fleet for at least a generation -- if then. It is not just a question of money or even technology; it also is a question of training an entirely new navy in extraordinarily complex doctrines. The United States has been operating carrier battle groups since before World War II. The Chinese have never waged carrier warfare or even had a significant surface navy, for that matter -- certainly not since being defeated by Japan in 1895.
The Americans think that the Chinese counter to U.S. capabilities, like the Soviet counter, will not be to force a naval battle. Rather, China would use submarines and, particularly, anti-ship missiles to engage the U.S. Navy. In other words, the Chinese are not interested in seizing control of the Pacific from the Americans. What they want to do is force the U.S. fleet out of the Western Pacific by threatening it with ground- and air-launched missiles that are sufficiently fast and agile to defeat U.S. fleet defenses.
Such a strategy presents a huge problem for the United States. The cost of threatening a fleet is lower than the cost of protecting one. The acquisition of high-speed, maneuverable missiles would cost less than purchasing defense systems. The cost of a carrier battle group makes its loss devastating. Therefore, the United States cannot afford to readily expose the fleet to danger. Thus, given the central role that control of the seas plays in U.S. grand strategy, the United States inevitably must interpret the rapid acquisition of anti-ship technologies as a serious threat to American geopolitical interests.
Planning for the Worst
The question to begin with, then, is why China is pursuing this strategy. The usual answer has to do with Taiwan, but China has far more important issues to deal with than Taiwan. Since 1975, China has become a major trading country. It imports massive amounts of raw materials and exports huge amounts of manufactured goods, particularly to the United States. China certainly wants to continue this trade; in fact, it urgently needs to. At the same time, China is acutely aware that its economy depends on maritime trade -- and that its maritime trade must pass through waters controlled entirely by the U.S. Navy.
China, like all countries, has a nightmare scenario that it guards against. If the United States' dread is being denied access to the Western Pacific and all that implies, the Chinese nightmare is an American blockade. The bulk of China's exports go out through major ports like Hong Kong and Shanghai. From the Chinese point of view, the Americans are nothing if not predictable. The first American response to a serious political problem is usually economic sanctions, and these frequently are enforced by naval interdiction. Given the imbalance of naval power in the South China Sea (and the East China Sea as well), the United States could impose a blockade on China at will.
Now, the Chinese cannot believe that the United States currently is planning such a blockade. At the same time, the consequences of such a blockade would be so devastating that China must plan out the counter to it, under the doctrine of hoping for the best and planning for the worst. Chinese military planners cannot assume that the United States will always pursue accommodating policies toward Beijing. Therefore, China must have some means of deterring an American move in this direction. The U.S. Navy must not be allowed to approach China's shores. Therefore, Chinese war gamers obviously have decided that engagement at great distance will provide forces with sufficient space and time to engage an approaching American fleet.
Simply building this capability does not mean that Taiwan is threatened with invasion. For an invasion to take place, the Chinese would need more than a sea-lane denial strategy. They would need an amphibious capability that could itself cross the Taiwan Strait, withstanding Taiwanese anti-ship systems. The Chinese are far from having that system. They could bombard Taiwan with missiles, nuclear and otherwise. They could attack shipping to and from Taiwan, thereby isolating her. But China does not appear to be building an amphibious force capable of landing and supporting the multiple divisions that would be needed to deal with Taiwan.
In our view, the Chinese are constructing the force that the Pentagon report describes. But we are in a classic situation: The steps that China is taking for what it sees as a defensive contingency must -- again, under the worst-case doctrine -- be seen by the United States as a threat to a fundamental national interest, control of the sea. The steps the United States already has taken in maintaining its control must, under the same doctrine, be viewed by China as holding Chinese maritime movements hostage. This is not a matter of the need for closer understanding. Both sides understand the situation perfectly: Regardless of current intent, intentions change. It is the capability, not the intention, that must be focused on in the long run.
Therefore, China's actions and America's interpretation of those actions must be taken extremely seriously over the long run. The United States is capable of threatening fundamental Chinese interests, and China is developing the capability to threaten fundamental American interests. Whatever the subjective intention of either side at this moment is immaterial. The intentions ten years from now are unpredictable.
As the Pentagon report also notes, China is turning to the Russians for technology. The Russian military might have decayed, but its weapons systems remain top-notch. The Chinese are acquiring Russian missile and aircraft technology, and they want more. The Russians, looking for every opportunity to challenge the United States, are supplying it. Now, the Chinese do not want to take this arrangement to the point that China's trade relations with the United States would be threatened, but at the same time, trade is trade and national security is national security. China is walking a fine line in challenging the United States, but it feels it will be able to pull it off -- and so far it has been right.
U.S. Defense Policy: Full Circle
The United States is now back to where it was before the 9/11 attacks. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld came into office with two views. The first was that China was the major challenge to the United States. The second was that the development of high-tech weaponry was essential to the United States. With this report, the opening views of the administration are turning into the closing views. China is again emerging as the primary challenge; the only solution to the Chinese challenge is in technology.
It should be added that the key to this competition will be space. For the Chinese, the challenge will not be solely in hitting targets at long range, but in seeing them. For that, space-based systems are essential. For the United States, the ability to see Chinese launch facilities is essential to suppressing fire, and space-based systems provide that ability. The control of the sea will involve agile missiles and space-based systems. China's moves into space follow logically from their strategic position. The protection of space-based systems from attack will be essential to both sides.
It is interesting to note that all of this renders the U.S.-jihadist dynamic moot. If the Pentagon believes what it has written, then the question of Afghanistan, Iraq and the rest is now passé. Al Qaeda has failed to topple any Muslim regimes, and there is no threat of the caliphate being reborn. The only interesting question in the region is whether Iran will move into an alignment with Russia, China or both.
There is an old saw that generals prepare for the last war. The old saw is frequently true. There is a belief that the future of war is asymmetric warfare, terrorism and counterinsurgency. These will always be there, but it is hard to see, from its report on China, that the Pentagon believes this is the future of war. The Chinese challenge in the Pacific dwarfs the remote odds that an Islamic, land-based empire could pose a threat to U.S. interests. China cannot be dealt with through asymmetric warfare. The Pentagon is saying that the emerging threat is from a peer -- a nuclear power challenging U.S. command of the sea.
Each side is defensive at the moment. Each side sees a long-term possibility of a threat. Each side is moving to deflect that threat. This is the moment at which conflicts are incubated.

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