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China: a force fit for a superpower

China: a force fit for a superpower
The technology and firepower of the People’s Liberation Army are growing so fast that observers are no longer curious but concerned, says Malcolm Moore.
Chinese Navy training in the East China Sea

Malcolm Moore, The Telegraph
By Malcolm Moore 7:28PM GMT 10 Jan 2011

It has been a month to remember for the top brass of China’s People’s Liberation Army. While other armies fret about their funding, China’s generals have unveiled three major new weapons that could challenge the military supremacy of the United States and provide the firepower to underline China’s superpower status.

In a dry dock in the northern city of Dalian, smoke has begun to billow from the chimneys of the Shi Lang, a hulking Soviet-era ship that China bought from Russia and has refitted to become its first aircraft carrier. Named after a Qing dynasty admiral, the carrier is slated to make its maiden voyage later this year, four years ahead of schedule. Five more aircraft carriers could bolster the Chinese fleet further over the next decade.

Meanwhile, at an air base in the central city of Chengdu, China’s first stealth fighter jet has been spotted taxiing along a runway. It has yet to take off, but American plane-spotters have already begun speculating that it might be able to beat an F-22 in a dogfight. Finally, at a command bunker in the north of Beijing, the Chinese Second Artillery Corps controls the jewel in the crown – a new missile that could sink a US aircraft carrier, the first such weapon in the world. The Dong Feng (or East Wind) 21D missile is now “operational”, according to Admiral Robert Willard of the US Pacific Command, which will now have to think twice before committing a $20 billion (£12.8 billion) aircraft carrier and its 6,000 crew anywhere within 900 miles of the Chinese coast.

The unveiling of the new weapons could not have been better timed. Tomorrow, the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, is due to visit the tall white skyscraper that serves as the Second Artillery’s headquarters. Mr Gates, who has admitted that US intelligence has underestimated the speed of China’s progress, will be able to see the PLA’s array of nuclear and ballistic missile options for himself.

The transformation of the PLA, from Chairman Mao’s Red Army into a modern fighting force, began in the wake of the first Gulf War, when America’s precision missiles impressed upon Beijing that modern warfare no longer depended on having the biggest army. Ever since then, the PLA has been shedding troops, from some three million during the 1990s to 2.3 million currently. Xu Guangyu, a senior military analyst, predicted that troop numbers would keep falling, to 1.5 million – “Around the same size as the US and Russian armies,” he said.


But while troop numbers have fallen, the quality of the soldiers has risen, said Mr Xu. Almost 80 per cent of officers are now graduates, and a full two-thirds of China’s defence budget is spent on salaries and training. Meanwhile, a stinging submission at the hands of the US in 1996, when Bill Clinton sent two aircraft carrier strike groups into the East China Sea to support Taiwan during a regional spat, has provoked the PLA into upping its firepower. According to the Pentagon, China has the world’s “most active land-based ballistic and cruise missile programme”. A battery of more than 1,100 short-range missiles faces Taiwan, while medium and longer-range missiles, many bought from Russia, can carry nuclear or conventional warheads to anywhere within 4,000 miles of China, giving Beijing the ability to knock out every US air base in the Pacific.

China’s economic miracle has paid for the munitions, with the PLA’s official budget increasing more than fivefold from $14.6 billion in 2000 to $78.6 billion this year. Unofficially, the spending is thought to be far higher, at $150 billion, with China’s leaders keeping many of the PLA’s deals off the books in order to avoid alarming the rest of the world. And while the sum is still just a fraction of the US budget – Mr Gates has allocated $588 billion for “non-war” military spending this year, after trimming $78 billion of cuts – China has spent the money prudently, focusing on areas of US weakness.

China’s submarine fleet now boasts 65 vessels, and by 2030, according to the Kokoda Foundation, an Australian think tank, the total could rise to between 85 and 100, more than the US and enough to establish an edge in the Pacific. China has also integrated the skills of its military and civilian computer hackers, launched several reconnaissance and guidance satellites, and installed arrays of new radars and underwater sensors to ring its territory.

“There are a number of areas where the PLA has adopted approaches that differ significantly from the US’s approach,” said a Pentagon report to Congress last month. “Examples include the heavy reliance on ballistic and cruise missiles, rather than stealth aircraft, to attack ground targets inside heavily defended airspace; an array of systems to attack intelligence, communications and navigation satellites [and] an emphasis on offensive and defensive electronic warfare.”

While the PLA’s generals have been careful to tone down their nationalistic rhetoric in recent years, dropping the suggestion of an imminent invasion of Taiwan, the army is behaving with more swagger, at least in its own backyard. China insists its only goal is to safeguard “regional peace and stability”, but it has dramatically increased its penetrations of Japanese airspace, resulting in Japanese fighter jets being scrambled 44 times in the past year, double the total for 2006, according to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: “A gap as wide as what seems to be forming between China’s stated intent and its military programmes leaves me more than curious about the end result. Indeed, I have moved from being curious to being genuinely concerned.”

The PLA does, however, have a long list of fundamental weaknesses that have been pointed out by critics both in China and abroad. Its biggest failing is that it cannot, yet, produce the reliable jet engines it needs for its fighters, having to rely on Russia. That relationship was strained, in 2004, when Moscow discovered that China had copied one of the jets it had advance-ordered and put it into production. “China’s army should not have to rely on others or have to buy its equipment,” said Liang Guanglie, the defence minister, despairingly.

Meanwhile, the PLA’s Jin-class nuclear submarine is said, by the US Office of Naval Intelligence, to be noisier than the submarines built by the Soviets 30 years ago. China’s fighter pilots are no match for US Top Guns. A shortage of foreign naval bases makes it difficult for China to maintain ships on long missions. Sailors who took part in exercises against Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden were reported to have run short of water and fresh food.

And perhaps most reassuringly, the new Dong Feng “carrier killer” missile is impaired by China’s undeveloped missile guidance system. While Beijing can launch the deadly missile, it is not clear it can actually hit a ship. Since US satellites would detect the missile upon launch, an aircraft carrier would have enough warning to move several miles out of the way.

For now, Beijing wields enough power to keep the US in check in the Pacific and to discourage Taiwan from relying too heavily on American support. In the future, the Pentagon believes that the PLA could extend further into the Pacific, using its fleet to control shipping lines and oil concessions. The “pace and scale” of the PLA’s modernisation has been “broad and sweeping”, the Pentagon said. But, for now, China’s modern army “remains untested”.


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Added: Jan-11-2011 
By: ElegantDecline
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Tags: China, Rising, Superpower
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  • Comment of user 'panzerkilla' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
    • Good point, alright!
      The japanese have been defended by us long enough. And it's just a matter of 5, 10 or 20 years before the Chinamen actually USE all that military power they've been frantically building up.
      Historically, nations simply DO NOT go to the massive trouble and expense of creating a very powerful military - unless they intend to USE IT.

      Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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    • Comment of user 'panzerkilla' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
    • bad move, up until now chinese military growth hasnt had a direction to concentrate on other than the US. unleashing japan from its pacifist constitution would be seen by the chinese as being the equivalent of putting nazis back into germany in front of israel.

      in essence japan would be fucked, the factors that doomed it in WW2 such as its vulnerability to being blockaded, inadequate natural resources and lower population will doom it again against china.

      seeing as china missed out on the cha More..

      Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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    • Comment of user 'paratrooper5' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
    • I do believe that Japans military restrictions is in their constitution and there for it's up to them. I dont see what it would do in the long run though. Maybe you can educate me a little?

      Posted Jan-12-2011 By 

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  • American greed created 21st century China, if it wasn't for our leaders being such epic failures and cowards not willing to stand for our principals but rather corporate greed, the Chinese would still be shitting in the street gutters wondering where their bicycle was.

    The only way for America to fall is from within, and this is how it's done. We have allowed private interests dictate forgiven policy which has created nothing but problems for all of us and profit for a small few.

    Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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  • A little bit alarmist but not much. American Naval power is based as much on operational experience as on the number of battle groups. Growing Chinese economic power is the bigger issue.

    Happily, the U.S. and China are mutually dependent. If the U.S. government goes into fiscal default, the Chinese economic bubble will pop.

    Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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    • People keep holding on to that argument, but a student of history knows that inter-dependent economies often fight.
      A committed powerful State has the means to create a war economy quickly, and the Chinese fit that bill, just look at their recent history, Mao etc.

      In 1914, most European economies relied on exports to each other, but they still fought...some to the death

      Posted Jan-12-2011 By 

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  • I remember another communist country claiming to be our equal in technology and military strength some years ago, yet every time we face their tech on the battlefield its so one-sided.

    The point is: like Russia, China has made many claims about what they have compared to us yet only one of us have proved they have it.

    For example, China claims to have a missile that kills satellites yet they freaked out when we proved that we have one. Why do you think that is?

    Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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  • Wishful thinking from very gullible America haters. China's economy rests on our shoulders, and the shoulders of their billion slaves. And their military...

    Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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    • Comment of user 'nurdmyth' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
    • Yeah, 1/7 of all shipping containers that come in to American ports, are from China to Walmart.

      Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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  • bring back our factories back and let see what will happend those greedy companies put our people back to work not chinks

    Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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  • there is only one thing that matters and that is the NUKE super powers can never fight each other

    Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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  • It matters not that the Chinese are investing in their military. What matters is that we find shared values and interests and never put ourselves in a situation where one must lose face or fight.

    The problem I see is an outwardly expansive Chinese foreign policy that centers around controlling the earth's resources. This is what China has been doing in the background, i.e., buying oil companies, expanding their control naval over Asian shipping lanes, etc.

    I see ideology as being less of More..

    Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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    • Comment of user 'Neytiri' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
    • Sounds like globalization's less than savory side.

      Some Aussie made out like a bandit by selling out to the Chinese and now you're left holding the bag. The value of the nation along with its identity has been lessened as well.

      This happens here with China's US Agent -- Walmart -- who has made a nice living by killing off American businesses.

      China is screwing the world by keeping their currency artificially low. We're doing all we can (I think) to ensure it doesn't stay that way.

      Posted Jan-13-2011 By 

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  • superpower , superpower here we go !

    Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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  • I just had a great idea but no money to try it out. Open a store that only sells American products. Like a Target or Walmart and see how it did. Would people be willing to pay the higher price? I don't know but it would be interesting to see what would happen.

    Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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    • actually not a bad Idea but I think funding would be hard to come by I think I have seen this idea before but it never took off because the backers werent happy

      Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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    • You are right. This and other studies on this have been done. But each time it was done, it came to the same result. Now this is from memory and no, I dont have any links. It boiled down to the money. It made no difference where it was manufactured, but how much they had left over to spend that savings on something else.
      Even when there was a difference in quality, the almighty dollar, ruled. Big companies such as Walmart know this. That is why they rule the world now, ha ha, and your Older Mai More..

      Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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  • Canadia being a socialist country has had good relations with China for decades. We have a very large Asian population which now are happy with China's new direction as opposed to fearing it's communist past. This is awesome. We have ready made cultural links which will allow more immigration of the already plentiful wealthy Chinese.

    When the shit hits the fan we will have China as welcomed trading and political partners that are able to pay more for our plentiful oil and gas. We are already tr More..

    Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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    • Where are you going to get your well service tools? You can go lay down with China but they will never keep you warm.... sorry, you will feel warmth but it will be your own blood as it oozes down your chest when they slit your throat.

      Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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    • I think nurse Ratchet needs to adjust your meds again.

      Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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  • Economic ties trump military power. Wars are so economically damaging to both sides that it is avoided at all costs. China just wants to continue developing for the sake of its own population and be able to guarantee access to the world's resources it needs to dos so.

    Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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  • Any evils China does will be because of the economy American and European conglomerates have provided for them to exploit their oppressed people.

    Capitalism and Communism working together to bring out the worst of both systems.

    Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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    • I'm trying to figure out a situation having to do with China where someone like you could be satisfied.

      The US not dealing with China = No
      The US dealing with China = No
      The US going to war with China = No

      Nope, I couldn't figure a scenario that would work for you. It must be something else.

      Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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    • China is an evil oppressive communist dictatorship who shouldn't be delt with at all until they get thier shit together.

      The only reason they AREN'T treated like Iran or Cuba is because their government lets Western business exploit their workforce that doesn't have any real rights.

      They are doin well because OUR manufacturing base was shipped to China because workers here actually need more than 16 cents an hour, work safety standards and don't tolerate child labor.

      I notice conservatives do More..

      Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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    • Whew...it took me a minute to get over the shrill sound in my head.

      That is a fairly naive and unfair argument you propose there. And I assume you know better than that.

      Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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  • No worries,China is facing a near crisis as a result of their one child per couple rule and are aging much faster than they are propagating.

    http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2009/10/28/f-rfa-germain.html

    Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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  • We owe China so much money, they have us by the gonads.

    Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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  • China like Russia are more worried about their own people than anything else

    Posted Jan-12-2011 By 

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  • It doesn't really mater and I don't know why they would bother to build a fleet in the first place. But then again it does put even more people to work which they must do to keep peace from within.They have so much cash what else are they gonna spend it on. We are already destroying ourselves from withing. All they have to do is start shipping over cars and that will be the final nail in our collective coffin.

    We will in essence become the slaves of China and lack a industrial complex to comp More..

    Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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  • China the new world leader. US losts their lead, Because more than half of the country are wimps, or they would have won the war in Afghanistan, Irag long time ago. Further more cutbacks in military, even the commanche helicopter. Cars are not all made American anymore.

    Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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  • Sure am glad the LIBS made sure the whales and dolphins are not harmed now that the active sonar beacons are being restricted on the left coast

    Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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  • They can also hit the US with icbm's now thanks to Bill Clinton.
    When America has a Lib for a prez, it loses, every time.

    Posted Jan-11-2011 By 

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    • Comment of user 'ApotheosisOfMe' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!