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China’s Military in 2007

Based on published Chinese language media reports and website articles, this article attempts to give an overview of the Chinese military in 2007 from three perspectives: the Sino-US military relationship, geo-strategic development, and enhanced weapons systems. In summary, 2007 saw a cooperative yet prickly military relationship between the US and China. At the same time, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has conducted joint military exercises with countries in Asia and Europe. Advanced military weapons systems and technologies expand the PLA’s ability to attack around the globe, in outer space, and in cyberspace.

The Sino-US Military Relationship

The military relationship between US and China in 2007 was one of abrasive cooperation. On the one hand, army commanders exchanged multiple visits and a hotline mechanism is under discussion. On the other, several incidents drew serious concerns from the US side.

On March 22, 2007, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff US Marine General Peter Pace visited China soon after taking office. Two weeks later, on April 3, Chinese Navy Commander Wu Shengli made a trip to Washington. On May 10, Admiral and Commander of US Forces in the Pacific Timothy Keating arrived in Beijing to develop an “open and candid” relationship with China. On November 5, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with his Chinese counter part, Cao Gangchuan, during his first Asia trip after his swearing in. A month later, Lt. Gen. Ma Xiaotian, Deputy Chief of Staff for Foreign Affairs, led a Chinese delegation to participate in a strategic nuclear dialog in Washington, DC.

In early June, at the sixth Asia Security Summit, also known as Shangri-La Dialogue, Secretary Gates and Major General Zhang Qinsheng, Assistant Chief of Staff of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), discussed setting up a military hotline to prevent possible misjudgments. On September 6, US President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao further confirmed the military hotline at the APEC meeting in Sydney.

However, the bilateral military exchanges were overshadowed by several unpleasant incidents.

On January 11, 2007, Beijing sent a ballistic missile to destroy an aged meteorological satellite positioned 537 miles above earth. The United States logged a formal diplomatic protest and fretted over China’s anti-satellite technology.

In November, Beijing blocked the US aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk from making a long-scheduled port visit to Hong Kong. The Pentagon issued an official protest over the incident. The US military also criticized China for blocking a port visit days earlier by the two minesweepers that had sought to avoid a storm but were turned away in violation of long-standing naval tradition.
It was also reported by the media that the Chinese military hacked into the US Defense Secretary’s computer system in June and regularly penetrated computers in at least 10 Whitehall departments in Great Britain, including military files, in 2007.

The US continued to pay close attention to China’s military power.

In a press briefing a day before the publication of the “2007 China Military Power Report,” Defense Secretary Gates said that “it (the report) paints a picture of a country (China) that is devoting substantial resources to the military and developing, as I say, some very sophisticated capabilities. We wish that there were greater transparency, that they would talk more about what their intentions are, what their strategies are.” [1]

In the FY08 National Defense Authorization Act passed by the US House, Section 1263 stated “inclusion of information on asymmetric capabilities in annual report on military power of the people’s republic of China.” One amended sentence is “developments in China’s asymmetric capabilities, including efforts to acquire, develop, and deploy cyberwarfare capabilities.” [2]

China maintains that the biggest obstacle hindering US-China military exchanges and cooperation is the lack of mutual trust at the strategic level, and that if the United States does not trust China, the potential for a crisis will remain. [3] On the other hand, the US is highly critical of the PRC’s non-transparency with regard to its military development. The bilateral military relationship remains overshadowed by caution.

Geo-Strategic Development

In addition to the US, China also cultivates military ties with a number of Asian and European countries of strategic significance.

In May 2007, the PLA navy Frigate No. 567 Xiangfan participated in the Western Pacific Forum exercises at the same time as Singapore’s IMDEX (International Maritime Defense Exhibition) Naval Technology Show. [4]

On August 11, The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) initiated phase two of “Peace Mission 2007,” a military exercise comprised of troops from Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Six SCO members participated in the 2007 exercise, up from the two (Russia and China) in the 2005 Peace Mission. According to Asia Times Online, Iran, India, Mongolia, and Pakistan were elevated from observer status to full members of the SCO in April, 2007 and the US was not happy about its military observers being denied the opportunity to observe the exercise. [5] {mospagebreak}
With the rising influence of China, Asian countries pursued a containment-like strategy to form regional alliances. Notably, the March 2007 Japan-Australia Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation (or JADSC) is symbolic of this type of alliance. In his three-day visit to India in August 2007, Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe’s suggestion in New Delhi to have a “broader Asia” partnership involving India, the US, Australia, and his country—while leaving out China—earned sharp criticism from Beijing, which claimed the suggestion resurrected a “Cold War mentality” and was not conducive to regional peace. [6] Abe’s initiative is seen to be the “fifth” bilateral link in this emerging scenario, whereas the US-Australia, US-Japan, Japan-Australia, and US-India links are already established. A sixth link—India-Australia—is said to be the logical corollary in an attempt to create a new quadrilateral of military co-operation which China has labeled the “Asian Nato.”

At the same time, China’s official Xinhua News Agency claimed that Australia and India were engaging a more precautionary balanced diplomacy with China, making Japan’s strategic quadruple unsuccessful. [7]

On December 20, China and India launched a landmark joint military exercise in China’s south-western province of Yunnan. [8] “The joint training is aimed at enhancing understanding and mutual trust between Chinese and Indian armies and strengthening their exchanges in the area of anti-terrorism,” a statement issued by the foreign office of the Chinese Ministry of National Defense said.

In Europe, the PLA navy conducted a joint exercise with the Spain and French navies in September. According to the People’s Daily, the “‘China-France Friendship 2007’ drill in the Mediterranean Sea off the southern French port city of Toulon was the first of its kind between the two navies in the Mediterranean.” [9] The exercise with the Spanish navy had a similar name, “China-Spain Friendship 2007.” [10] One month earlier, the same PLA navy fleet visited St. Petersburg, Russia. [11]

Enhanced Weapons Systems

At a Congressional hearing in June 2007, Richard P. Lawless, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Asia-Pacific Affairs, mentioned that China “is investing heavily in a broad range of military and dual-use space programs including reconnaissance, navigation and timing, and communication satellites, as well as its manned space program. At the same time, China is developing the ability to deny others access to space through its pursuit of a robust and multi-dimensional counter-space capability featuring direct ascent anti-satellite weapons, ground-based lasers, and satellite communication jammers.” [12] {mospagebreak}
The growth of China’s aerospace military in 2007 was astonishing, and, at the same time, worrisome to some countries. Last year, Beijing sent ballistic missiles to destroy an aged meteorological satellite and launched China’s first lunar probe, the Chang’e 1. At the same time, China was planning to link up with Russia to explore Mars. Recently, the Commission of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (COSTIND) has released news that China plans to launch 15 rockets, 17 satellites, and one manned spaceflight in 2008.

Western governments have also worried about the PLA’s capacity to wage attacks in cyberspace. January 14, 2008, [13] Xinhua published a report titled “The PLA’s Drill Enters the Cyber Battlefield, ‘Trojan Virus’ Modified Ammunition Supply,” which mentioned both the PLA’s practice of cyber attacks as well as its practice of electromagnetic interference.

“In a training center for Dividend officers, a multi-level equipment command tactical exercise under complex electromagnetic environment began.

Suddenly, the ordnance group reported to the commander: ‘The planned demand for mortar shells was unexpectedly changed to howitzer shells.’ Inspections showed that a Trojan program had been installed in the computer system by the ‘Blue Army,’ resulting in a number of data revisions. The operator immediately cleaned the virus and the Trojan program.

After a while, the Dividend operator’s computer screens were blacked out. Immediately, several computers froze. After inspection, a surge of electricity burned the chip on the computer motherboard. The technical team immediately used reserve computers to replace the console.”

On the development of a nuclear-powered, ballistic nuclear missile-carrying submarine, the PLA navy’s Type-094 or JINclass SSBN is capable of long range, strategic nuclear weapons. When it enters service, Type-094 SSBN will provide the PLA navy with the capability to strike anywhere within the entire continents of Asia-Europe, Australia, and North America.

At the same time, the Chinese media recently reported that the tough technical issue of “submarine propellant battery recovery technology” was solved by China Navy Equipment Technology Research Institute (NETRI). According to Science and Technology Daily, the new technology breakthrough made by NETRI realized the complete recharge of a submarine without surfacing. [14]

China also made substantial progress in fielding solid propellant DF-31A intercontinental range ballistic missile (ICBMs) with a deployed missile force.
On military aircraft, the air force has been increasingly equipped with the new generation J-10 fighters. In April 2007, Chinese media released the PLA’s plan to develop a new generation bomber, the FBC-3, to supersede the Su-34. [15] Compared with the Su-30 and Su-34, the FBC-3 has a longer range and larger bomb loads, with the capacity to carry bombs inside the plane.

[1] Press Briefing, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace, May 24, 2007
[2] House Resolution 1585, United States House of Representatives
[3] Xinhua, February 7, 2008
[4] Xinhua, May 18, 2007
[5] People’s Daily, August 20, 2007
[6] Reuters, September 8, 2007
[7] Xinhua, August 5, 2007
[8] BBC News, December 20, 2007
[9] People’s Daily, September 26, 2007
[10] Xinhua, September 19, 2007
[11] Xinhua, August 27, 2007
[12] United States House Armed Services Committee Hearing, June 13, 2007
[13] Xinhua, January 14, 2007
[14] Science and Technology Daily, carried by Xinhua, April 29, 2007
[15], April 16, 2007