FOREIGN AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
China's military build-up threatens Taiwan
, September 18, 2010
A Pentagon report has documented a build-up of Chinese military forces opposite Taiwan since 2008 when Taiwan elected a new government committed to improving relations with Beijing.
The build-up comes at a time when China has been extending a diplomatic olive-branch to Taiwan in a number of areas, including the establishment of direct sea and air links across the Taiwan Strait, an economic co-operation agreement, and other moves to reduce tensions between democratic Taiwan and mainland China.
The contrast between Beijing's unadvertised military build-up and its diplomatic offensive is worrying not only to Taipei and Washington, but to other regional capitals, including Tokyo, Hanoi and New Delhi.
China's growing economic power is bankrolling its expanding naval, air and missile projection into the South China Sea.
The Pentagon report, titled Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China 2010,
documented a number of new initiatives, including a 10-vessel flotilla of China's East Sea Fleet passing between Okinawa and the Japanese home islands to reach the Pacific Ocean. During this, a Chinese helicopter swooped low over a Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force destroyer.
Additionally, Chinese naval vessels constantly cruise the South China Sea on the pretext of protecting the country's fishing vessels.
Interestingly, 30 per cent of China's People's Liberation Army ground forces are deployed opposite Taiwan.
Further, some 490 combat-fighters and bombers are based in this region, and an additional 100 military aircraft can be deployed there at short notice. And opposite Taiwan, China has between 1,050 and 1,150 short-range ballistic missiles deployed, and is introducing "variants of these missiles with improved ranges, accuracies and payloads", the Pentagon report said.
A particular concern to the US is China's development of an anti-ship ballistic-missile with a projected range of about 1,500 km, potentially giving the PLA the capacity to attack ships in the western Pacific.
Some experts see this as directed at challenging the US Pacific Fleet's domination of the seas. The Pentagon report described the new missile program as part of "the most active land-based ballistic and cruise missile program in the world".
The missile program is a particular threat to the US carrier forces which are the centrepiece of US power projection in the Pacific. Further, China has expanded its own research and development program into construction of its own aircraft-carrier. As it is, China now has the largest naval force in Asia, larger than Japan's and South Korea's.
The Pentagon estimated that China will commence constructing its own carriers by the end of 2010. These will have fixed-wing aircraft and a capacity to expand China's military capability throughout the South China Sea.
Another aspect of China's growing military capability is in electronic warfare. These include electronic espionage directed at stealing military secrets. "These intrusions focused on information which could be of strategic or military utility," the report said.
In response to the Chinese build-up, the US has agreed to sell advanced fighter aircraft to Taiwan, prompting reprisals from China in the form of suspension of defence talks. The sale of defence equipment to Taiwan does not, however, counter the Chinese missile build-up.
The US, however, has shown its concern by stepping up military co-operation with countries, including communist Vietnam, a long-term rival of Beijing.
However, with the United States' growing economic dependence on China, the outcome of this struggle between the two great powers is still to be determined.
With the United States deeply committed militarily in Afghanistan and Iraq, and committed to anti-insurgency and counter-terrorism measures, there is a real danger that America's conventional forces will decline to the point where they will be outclassed in the Pacific.
Peter Brookes of the Heritage Foundation wrote, "We have 11 aircraft-carriers [in] total. But due to at-sea rotations and maintenance, only seven or eight of them are ready for duty at a time - and getting that many to sea could take 90 days.
"In a theatre like the Pacific - known for its 'tyranny of distance' - 90,000 tonnes of floating US airfield is pretty darn important for looking after your interests. Worse, that 11 may shrink to 10 in the coming years. (We had 15 carriers during the Reagan years.)
"We're also running low on the number of ships and subs the Navy needs to do the job. For our aviators, the planes are getting old. The newest fighter, the F-22, was [abandoned] after a limited production run; its follow-on, the F-35, won't be in service till 2014; and the Air Force's bomber fleet averages 32 years in age - older than many of its pilots.
"Overall, the US military has enormous capital-spending needs. Our strategic nuclear forces need modernisation; more missile defence is critical, and some worry our defence-oriented tech edge is slipping, too. Plus, the Army and Marines have to replace vast numbers of fighting vehicles and other equipment being used up in Iraq and Afghanistan."