TAIPEI — In the house after the Pentagon released its annual report to the US Congress on China’s military and security developments on May 6, pundits and academic analysts pored over it looking for clues on how the Pentagon really sees China.
What is obvious is this report is a departure from tamer reports of past years, with claims that China’s government is directly responsible for cyber attacks on US defense and government computers.
It also directed more attention to China’s “no first use” policy on nuclear weapons, going so far as to question ambiguities over the conditions under which China’s no-use policy would apply.
“To be honest, China feels uncomfortable about this annual report,” said Su Xiaohui, deputy director, Department of International and Strategic Studies, China Institute of International Studies, Beijing. “It seems that the US has been misinterpreting China’s defense policies and trying to upgrade the ‘China threat.’
“Since the US has accepted China’s proposal for building up a new type of relationship, the actions such as releasing a report with the tone of questioning China’s intention and strategy is not helpful for building mutual trust.”
According to the report, China continues to pursue a long-term, comprehensive military modernization program designed to improve the capacity of its armed forces to fight and win short-duration, high-intensity regional military conflicts.
The Taiwan Strait remains the principle focus and primary driver of China’s military investment, but there are signs China is looking beyond a Taiwan scenario, including the South China Sea, East China Sea, Indian Ocean and critical sea lines of communication (SLOC).
To support the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), in 2012 China invested more in advanced short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, land-attack and anti-ship cruise missiles, counter-space weapons, and cyberspace “that appear designed to enable anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) missions.”
The PLA has increased the number of joint exercise and training events. In 2011 and 2012, the PLA held 21 events with foreign militaries, compared to 32 during 2006-2010.
China has become more aggressive over territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea. These include the Scarborough Shoal near the Philippines and the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands (China calls them the Diaoyu Islands).
The report indicates relations between China and Taiwan continue to improve with both sides signing 18 agreements for cross-Strait cooperation on economic, cultural and functional issues.
China and Taiwan held a combined maritime rescue exercise in August 2012 featuring two helicopters, 14 vessels and 300 personnel, with both sides equally represented.
“In my own opinion, a cross-Strait war is more and more remote,” said Zhuang Jianzhong, vice director, Center for National Strategy Studies, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai.
However, a cross-Strait peace agreement appears to be at least 10 years away, according to an October 2011 speech by Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou.
Despite better relations, China continues to base 500 combat aircraft within unrefueled range of Taiwan and has done nothing to reduce the 1,100 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), DF-11/15s, aimed at Taiwan.
China continues to pursue the acquisition of the 400-kilometer range Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, which will allow China complete air defense coverage of all of Taiwan for the first time. China’s SAM systems can only reach a small portion of the west coast of Taiwan.
Russian officials have indicated a possible sale could go forward in 2017. The S-400 can target cruise missiles, aircraft, and tactical and medium-range ballistic missiles.
The PLA is introducing new SRBM variants with improved ranges, accuracies and payloads.
Worrisome for the Japanese and US Navy is the fielding of a limited but growing number of conventionally armed, 1,500-kilometer range anti-ship ballistic missiles, dubbed the DF-21D, armed with maneuverable warheads.
The Second Artillery, responsible for ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, continues to modernize its nuclear forces by enhancing its silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and adding more survivable mobile delivery systems.
In recent years, road-mobile, solid-propellant 7,200-kilometer range DF-31 and new 11,200-kilometer DF-31A ICBMs have entered service. The DF-31A variant “can reach most locations within the continental United States” and China “may also be developing a new road-mobile ICBM, possibly capable of carrying a multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV).”
China’s official policy is “no first use” (NFU) of nuclear weapons and the next generation of mobile missiles with MIRV warheads will allow for sufficient counter-strike capabilities in the event of a nuclear war.
The Pentagon report notes there are ambiguities over the conditions under which China’s NFU policy would apply. This includes whether strikes on what China considers its own territory [Taiwan], demonstration strikes, or high-altitude bursts would constitute first use.
“Moreover, some PLA officers have written publicly of the need to spell out conditions under which China might need to use nuclear weapons first; for example, if an enemy’s conventional attack threatened the survival of China’s nuclear force or of the regime itself.”
To protect itself during a conventional or nuclear war, China has one of the most advanced underground facility (UGF) programs in the world for protecting its critical military forces, including nuclear weapons, missiles, naval ships, aircraft, and command-and-control nodes.
The driver for the UGF program followed China’s observations of the US air campaign in Operation Allied Force and the 1991 Gulf War. “These military campaigns convinced China it needed to build more survivable, deeply-buried facilities, resulting in the widespread UGF construction effort detected throughout China for the last decade.”
The PLA Navy (PLAN) has the largest force of major combatants, submarines and amphibious warfare ships in Asia: 79 principal surface combatants, 55 submarines, 55 medium/large amphibious ships and 85 missile-equipped small vessels.
China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning will continue integration testing and training with the Shenyang-built J-15 Flying Shark fighter (modeled on the Su-33), but it is not expected to embark an operational air wing until 2015. China will likely build multiple aircraft carriers over the next decade. “The first Chinese-built carrier will likely be operational sometime in the second half of this decade.”
Of particular concern is China’s new Type 094 Jin-class nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarine (SSBN). Three Type 094 SSBNs are operational, and up to five may enter service before China begins building the SSBN Type 096 over the next decade.
“The Jin-class SSBNs will carry the new JL-2 submarine launched ballistic missile with an estimated range of more than 4,000 nautical miles. The Jin-class and the JL-2 will give the PLA Navy its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent.”
China is expanding, according to the report, its force of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs). Two Type 093 Shang-class SSNs are already in service, and China is building four improved variants to the Type 093 to replace aging Type 091 Han-class SSNs.
“In the next decade, China will likely construct the Type 095 guided-missile attack submarines (SSGNs), which may enable a submarine-based land-attack capability.” The Type 095 will fulfill anti-ship requirements with the inclusion of both torpedoes and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs).
The report indicates construction of the Type 052C Luyang II-class destroyer continues, with one ship entering service in 2012, and an additional three ships under various stages of construction. This will bring the number of Type 052C to six by the end of 2013.
China has launched the lead ship in a follow-on class, the Type 052D Luyang III- class destroyer, expected to enter service in 2014. The Luyang III incorporates China’s first multipurpose vertical launch system capable of launching ASCMs, land attack cruise missiles and anti-submarine rockets. China is projected to build more than a dozen of these ships to replace its aging Luda-class destroyers.
China continues construction of the Type 054A Jiangkai II-class frigates, with 12 ships in the fleet and six under construction.
China will also begin building a new Type 081-class landing helicopter assault ship within the next five years.
The PLAN views long-range anti-ship cruise missiles as a key weapon. These platforms include conventional and nuclear-powered attack submarines, surface ships, and maritime strike aircraft, such as the Xian-built JH-7 fighter-bomber, H-6G medium-range bomber, and Su-30 fighter.
In 2012, China conducted 18 space launches and is expanding the number of its space-based intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, navigation, meteorological and communications satellites.
During 2012, China launched six Beidou navigation satellites, which completed the regional network as well as the in-orbit validation phase for the global network for completion in 2020. Also in 2012, China launched 11 new remote sensing satellites for both civilian and military missions.
“China will continue to increase its on-orbit constellation with the planned launch of 100 satellites through 2015,” the report said.
On the militarization of space, the report notes that in 2009 Air Force Commander General Xu Qiliang publicly retracted his earlier comments that the militarization of space was a “historic inevitability” after President Hu Jintao contradicted him. However, Xu is now a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission and now the second highest-ranking officer in the PLA.
“PLA writings emphasize the necessity of ‘destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy’s reconnaissance … and communications satellites,’ suggesting that such systems, as well as navigation and early warning satellites, could be among the targets of attacks designed to ‘blind and deafen the enemy,’ ” the report said.
China’s energy security needs are massive. So far, China has constructed or invested in energy projects in more than 50 countries. China is concerned about international energy markets and the projects “present a viable option for investing China’s vast foreign currency holdings.”
According to the report, in 2011, China imported 58 percent of its oil and estimates indicate it will import 66 percent of its oil in 2015 and 75 percent by 2030.
China’s efforts to become less dependent on SLOCs with oil pipeline projects with Russia and Kazakhstan appear desperate. “The sheer volume of oil and liquefied natural gas that is imported to China from the Middle East and Africa will make SLOCs increasingly important to Beijing.”