Stabilising bids for regional power balance

Sadeq Khan

In its annual report to US Congress on military and security developments involving the People’s Republic of China, 2013, the US Secretary of State summarised the qualified cooperation of USA with China as follows: “THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA (PRC) 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 conflict. Preparing for potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait appears to remain the principal focus and primary driver of China’s military investment.
However, as China’s interests have grown and as it has gained greater influence in the international system, its military modernization has also become increasingly focused on investments in military capabilities to conduct a wider range of missions beyond its immediate territorial concerns, including counter-piracy, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, and regional military operations. Some of these missions and capabilities can address international security challenges, while others could serve more narrowly-defined PRC interests and objectives, including advancing territorial claims and building influence abroad.
“To support the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) expanding set of roles and missions, China’s leaders in 2012 sustained investment in advanced short- and medium range conventional ballistic missiles, land attack and anti-ship cruise missiles, counter space weapons, and military cyberspace capabilities that appear designed to enable anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) missions (what PLA strategists refer to as “counter intervention operations”). The PLA also continued to improve capabilities in nuclear deterrence and long-range conventional strike; advanced fighter aircraft; limited regional power projection, with the commissioning of China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning; integrated air defenses; undersea warfare; improved command and control; and more sophisticated training and exercises across China’s air, naval, and land forces.
“During their January 2011 summit, U.S. President Barack Obama and then-PRC President Hu Jintao jointly affirmed that a healthy, stable, and reliable military-to-military relationship is an essential part of [their] shared vision for a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive U.S.-China relationship.
“Within that framework, the U.S. Department of Defense seeks to build a military-to-military relationship with China that is sustained and substantive, while encouraging China to cooperate with the United States, our allies and partners, and the greater international community in the delivery of public goods. As the United States builds a stronger foundation for a military-to-military relationship with China, it also will continue to monitor China’s evolving military strategy, doctrine, and force development and encourage China to be more transparent about its military modernisation programme.”
White paper
China’s State Council, under which China’s Ministry of National Defence operates, published a white paper on the status of PLA on April 16, 2013. The white paper emphasised on the Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces and their peacemaking intent: “It is China’s unshakable national commitment and strategic choice to take the road of peaceful development. China unswervingly pursues an independent foreign policy of peace and a national defence policy that is defensive in nature. China opposes any form of hegemonism or power politics, and does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. China will never seek hegemony or behave in a hegemonic manner, nor will it engage in military expansion. China advocates a new security concept featuring mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination, and pursues comprehensive security, common security and cooperative security. It is a strategic task of China’s modernization drive as well as a strong guarantee for China’s peaceful development to build a strong national defence and powerful armed forces which are commensurate with China’s international standing and meet the needs of its security and development interests. China’s armed forces act to meet the new requirements of China’s national development and security strategies, follow the theoretical guidance of the Scientific Outlook on Development, speed up the transformation of the generating mode of combat effectiveness, build a system of modern military forces with Chinese characteristics, enhance military strategic guidance and diversify the ways of employing armed forces as the times require. China’s armed forces provide a security guarantee and strategic support for national development, and make due contributions to the maintenance of world peace and regional stability.
“Formulating the concept of comprehensive security and effectively conducting military operations other than war (MOOTW), China’s armed forces adapt themselves to the new changes of security threats, and emphasize the employment of armed forces in peacetime.
“With the gradual integration of China’s economy into the world economic system, overseas interests have become an integral component of China’s national interests. Security issues are increasingly prominent, involving overseas energy and resources, strategic sea lines of communication (SLOCs), and Chinese nationals and legal persons overseas. Vessel protection at sea, evacuation of Chinese nationals overseas, and emergency rescue have become important ways and means for the PLA to safeguard national interests and fulfill China’s international obligations.
“At this new historical starting point, China’s armed forces are undertaking missions which are noble and lofty, and assuming responsibilities which are paramount and honourable. They will constantly place above all else the protection of national sovereignty and security as well as the interests of the Chinese people. They will persistently regard maintaining world peace and promoting common development as their important missions, and accelerate the modernization of national defence and the armed forces. They will continue to actively participate in international security cooperation, and endeavour to foster, together with the armed forces of other countries, an international security environment of peace, stability, equality, mutual trust and win-win cooperation.”
Mutual cooperation
Both policy statements categorically express intent of and interest in fostering mutual cooperation for an international security environment of peace and stability. The difference is that the USA is somewhat abrasive in asserting its leadership role as global policeman, and “encouraging China to cooperate with the United States, our allies and partners, and the greater international community in the delivery of public goods,” which is sort of a Bush era “with us” demand without the “or against us” threat. China is not necessarily always obliging, and is engaged in building up its own pattern of bilateral engagement, both economic and military, with U.S. allies like India and Indonesia.
The US also acknowledges China’s “greater influence in the international system” and China’s “military capabilities to conduct a wider range of missions beyond its immediate territorial concerns, including counter-piracy, peace-keeping, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, and regional military operations,” capabilities that “can address international security challenges” beyond “advancing territorial claims.”
China’s armed forces, on the other hand, stress on the defensive nature of its military doctrine, primarily “to safeguard national unification, territorial integrity and development interests” including “maritime rights and interests” against “three forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism; and additionally, to safeguard “development interests” near and far (South and Southeast Asia, Africa and South America) “to diversify the ways of employing armed forces as the terms require,” Chinese military also avowedly “opposes any form of hegemonism” and reiterates its national commitment not to interfere in “the internal affairs of other countries.”
Implicit ‘arms race’ 
In the light of China’s opposition to hegemony, USA is expressly watchful over “China’s evolving military strategy, doctrine, and force development” as well as transparency of its military “modernisation program”. This is indicative of an implicit “arms race” in motion involving highly advanced military technology and exclusive improvisations thereof. China, on the other hand, considers U.S. “strategic turn” of marine power from Atlantic to Pacific to gradually reinforce its military presence in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, by deployment of up to 70% of its naval assets, as a potential threat to the People’s Republic prompting “profound changes” in the region.
The White Paper obliquely referred to “some country” strengthening Asia-Pacific military alliances and expanding military presence that frequently make the regional situation “tenser”, encourage “some neighbouring countries” to take “actions that complicate or exacerbate the situation” of status quo over disputed “territorial and maritime rights” of China, and in particular instigate Japan to make “trouble over the issue of Diaoyu islands.” To face this “complex and volatile situation,” the White Paper pointed out, the PLA aims at “winning local wars under the conditions of informationisation, make overall and coordinated plans to promote military preparedness in all strategic directions, intensify the joint employment of different services and arms, and enhance war-fighting capabilities based on information systems.” Simultaneously, PLA makes active planning for the use of armed forces in peacetime, deal effectively with various security threats and accomplish diversified military tasks.
Evidently, Sino-American strategic rivalry is pinned down to China’s neighbourhood, and so far, both sides have remained careful not to allow irritants to spill over or spoil cooperation or competition in the global milieu. The realism behind this mutual accommodation becomes manifest from the current comparisons of world military strength results along with reading of world trends “toward economic globalisation and multi-polarity” as well as “increasing hegemonism, power politics and neo-interventionism” in the context of “traditional and non-traditional security challenges.”
Realities of ‘MAD’
As Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) rules out nuclear arsenal as a factor of operative power index score beyond deterrence value, let us look at the current reality of some conventional military strength comparison results. Although China has the largest number of Active Military Personnel (2,285,000) followed by USA (1,477,896), and then by India (1,325,000), in Global Fire Power ranking, USA is number one followed by Russia as number two. China ranks third in global fire power and India is the fourth. The annual defence budget of USA is still more than five times bigger ($689,591,000,000) than that of China ($129,272,000,000), and when active military reserves are added to standing army, US numbers (+1,458,500) nearly equals those of China (+800,000).
In total aircraft strength, China (5048) is about a third of USA (15,293). In helicopter strength likewise, US numbers (6,665) are seven times more than China’s (901). In total tank strength, China (7,950) almost equals USA (8,325), and similar is the case in reverse with Armoured Fighting Vehicles (USA 18,539 and China 18,700). China has more in numbers of Self-Propelled Guns (2500) than USA (1934). China (25000) far exceeds USA (1791) in Towed Artillery Strength, but then USA has the Drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) with precision bombing capacity.
In total Multiple Launch Rocket System, China has 2,600 compared to USA’s 1330, total Mortar Strength 10,050 of China to 7,500 of USA, Anti-tank Weaponry Strength 31,250 of China to 28,000 of USA, Merchant Marine strength 2,032 of China to 465 of USA, and total Navy ship strength 972 of China to USA’s 290. But in Aircraft Carrier Strength, USA is superior to China by 10 to 1, in Submarine Fleet strength by 71 to 63, in Destroyer strength by 61 to 25. China however has more Frigates (47) compared to USA (24), and Coastal Patrol Crafts, 322 compared to 12 of USA.
China’s maritime capability 
The difference in weaponry pattern reflects in a sense the difference in defence outlook. Whereas China’s primary focus of defence preparedness and exercises are more around its coast-lines, USA projects its crucial defence interests far from its coasts in other continents, and now particularly in Asia. Ahead of its 86th PLA Day, China has launched on July 24 its improved and unified coast guard system, sending four paramilitary vessels, emblazoned with the new red, white and blue logo, to patrol waters off disputed islands in the nearby East China Sea. As the newly designated ships appeared in the waters off the mainland, China also sent a Y-8 turboprop early-warning aircraft through international airspace between the islands of Okinawa and Miyako, an area where, Japan said, Chinese planes had not flown before. The Japanese administer the disputed islands, called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.
The merger of four Chinese maritime units into one superagency was announced in March. The actual creation of the new force is seen as sign of China’s fast-growing maritime capability and its determination to enforce claims in the South China Sea, as well as the East China Sea. So far, the US looks upon the development as a stabilising measure.
At a conference on maritime safety in Beijing last week, US maritime experts met with Chinese officials to discuss the ramifications of the strengthened Chinese Coast Guard. The new coast guard is a “positive development,” said Susan L. Shirk, a former deputy assistant secretary of state, who organized the conference for the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation.
“It’s good for China’s neighbours and the United States because we know who is responsible and who we can hold responsible,” Ms. Shirk said. “As they develop a sense of professionalism in accordance with international law, it should make for lower risk of accidents. We should be realistic. The Chinese Coast Guard will model themselves on the United States, and the Japanese and the South Korean Coast Guards, all of which are more capable with equipment than the Chinese Coast Guard at the moment.”
Source: Weekly Holiday