The US vs China: Knowing the adversary well is half the battle won

September 18, 2020 2:22 PM

The year was 2019! People’s Republic of China was celebrating the 70th anniversary of its formation.

US china tension, People Republic of China, china 70th anniversary, hong kong, Republic of China, Chinese Communist Party, US Navy, defence newsThe PRC has more than 1,250 ground-launched ballistic missiles (GLBMs) and ground-launched cruise missiles(GLCMs) with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km. (Representational image: Reuters)

By Aziz Haider

The year was 2019! People’s Republic of China was celebrating the 70th anniversary of its formation. On October 1, 2019, during the National Day Ceremony being organized from the Havel Peace gate, facing thousands of people which included bigwigs of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and dignitaries from several countries, Xi Jinping not only took salute of a military parade depicting the latest technological and military developments but also said in his address that 70 years back, it was the same place from where Mao Zedong had announced the formation of People’s Republic of China (PRC), which led to the end of centuries of oppression and humiliation that Chinese people were subjected to. Xi Jinping had said that during the 70 years since then, the Chinese people not only stood on their feet but also gave a new life and new spirit to the nation. So far so good! But Xi Jinping went on to say that today, socialist China stands in the east of the world and no power in the world is powerful enough to shake the foundations of this nation.

Was it this statement that jolted the US from slumber and led to the attempts to corner China? No! Even when Xi Jinping had not openly proclaimed its new aggressive policy to control the world’s resources and power, the US intelligence knew China’s plans and was fully gearing up to cope with them. One proof of our claim is the annual report that the office of the Secretary of Defence in the United States has been submitting to the Congress for the past 20 years. The new report for the year 2020 has been submitted and it is now available to the public.

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000, Section 1202, Public Law 106-65, provides that the Secretary of Defense shall submit a report “in both classified and unclassified form, on military and security developments involving the People’s Republic of China.” The report addresses current and probable future course of military-technological development of the People’s Liberation Army and the tenets and probable development of Chinese security strategy and military strategy, and of the military organizations and operational concepts supporting such development over the next 20 years. It also aims to address United States-China engagement and cooperation on security matters during the period covered by the report, including through United States-China military-to-military contacts, and the United States strategy for such engagement and cooperation in the future.

2020 marks an important year for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as it works to achieve important modernization milestones ahead of the CCP’s broader goal to transform China into a “moderately prosperous society” by the CCP’s centenary in 2021.

Remarkable to note is that when Department of Defense’s (DoD) first annual report to Congress was submitted in 2000, even though China had started moving on developing itself in the economic arena at a fast pace, its assessment of the PRC’s armed forces at that time was that of a sizable but mostly archaic military that was poorly suited to the CCP’s long-term ambitions. Back then, the report mentioned that even though the CCP’s objective was for the PRC to become a “strong, modernized, unified, and wealthy nation,” despite these great power aspirations, the PLA lacked the capabilities, organization, and readiness for modern warfare. It said that the PLA was slowly and unevenly adapting to the trends in modern warfare and the PLA’s force structure and capabilities focused largely on waging large-scale land warfare along China’s borders. It even said that PLA’s ground, air, and naval forces were sizeable but mostly obsolete. Its conventional missiles were generally of short range and modest accuracy. The PLA’s emergent cyber capabilities were rudimentary; its use of information technology was well behind the curve, and its nominal space capabilities were based on outdated technologies for the day. Further, China’s defence industry struggled to produce high-quality systems. Even if the PRC could produce or acquire modern weapons, the PLA lacked the joint organizations and training needed to field them effectively. The report assessed that the PLA’s organizational obstacles were severe enough that if left unaddressed they would “inhibit the PLA’s maturation into a world-class military force.”

It is apparent that the CCP understood these deficiencies and set long-term goals to strengthen and transform its armed forces in a manner commensurate with its aspirations to strengthen and transform China. Today, if we are to take lessons from the enemy, we will have to admit that if China could become a force to reckon within a short span of 20 years, it was only due to a focussed determined foreign policy, devoid of corruption and vested elements within the country blurring the focus and setting aside the political games that our parties and politicians play within the country, which remove the focus from development and reform.

Two decades later, as per the same Pentagon report, the PRC has the largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines including over 130 major surface combatants. In comparison, the U.S. Navy’s battle force is approximately 293 ships as of early 2020.

The PRC has more than 1,250 ground-launched ballistic missiles (GLBMs) and ground-launched cruise missiles(GLCMs) with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km. The U.S. currently fields one type of conventional GLBM with a range of 70 to 300 kms and no GLCMs.

The PRC has one of the world’s largest forces of advanced long-range surface-to-air systems – including Russian-built S-400s, S-300s, and domestically produced systems – constitute part of its robust and redundant integrated air defence system architectures.

And the report says: “More striking than the PLA’s staggering amounts of new military hardware are the recent sweeping efforts taken by CCP leaders that include completely restructuring the PLA into a force better suited for joint operations, improving the PLA’s overall combat readiness, encouraging the PLA to embrace new operational concepts, and expanding the PRC’s overseas military footprint.

China aims to become a “world-class” military by the end of 2049. Though it is not clarified what is meant by the term “world-class”, it is clear that China’s strategy envisions 30 more years of modernisation and reform. And the U.S. is bound to feel threatened; its authority over the world eroded. The report says: “What is certain is that the CCP has a strategic end state that it is working towards, which if achieved and its accompanying military modernization left unaddressed, will have serious implications for U.S. national interests and the security of the international rules-based order.”

Taking a cue from this report perhaps, Germany and France have also started talking of an “international rules-based order,” so as to throttle China in its attempts to gain world supremacy.

The report goes on in its attempt to understand China’s strategy, studies PLA’s modernization and reform plans for PLA’s different wings, including the army, navy, air force, shipbuilding, rocket force, it’s strategic command level operations, the PRC’s space enterprise and space program, its military readiness and deployment, capabilities for counter intervention and power projection, its nuclear deterrence as well as future plans for setting up naval bases, it’s planning in the arctic region and so on. It also talks about future plans to capture the world economy.

It is a detailed 200-page report and it is not possible to talk of all that it contains in the limited space here. It will serve well for the planners in the defence, military, external affairs and commerce industries, and perhaps the home department as well, to study the report in-depth and see whether certain lessons can be learnt from the enemy… because knowing the enemy well is half the battle won.

(The author is an Independent Analyst. Views are personal.)

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