Discover more from The PLA Bulletin
4th Taiwan Strait Crisis, India-China Border, PLA Modernisation, Theory of Strategic Substitution, China’s ADIZ Intrusions, PLA RF Nuclear Survivability, Space, Lop Nur, Military Vocabulary
Issue No 6
您好 from Taiwan. I hope all of you are doing well and are fit and fine!
I am happy to share the latest edition of the PLA Bulletin: A monthly newsletter on news, analysis, updates and academic writing about the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
Before we start, please note that it’s a 6500 + words newsletter and might be folded in the email. So it’s best to open it on the browser by clicking on the logo.
As always, a sincere thank you for reading the newsletter. I hope you enjoy reading it and find it insightful.
Please take care and stay safe,
Suyash Ashok Desai.
4th Taiwan Strait Crisis
Research: Theory of Strategic Substitution, China’s ADIZ Intrusion, PLA RF Nuclear Survivability
News and Update: Space, Lop Nur
I. The 4th Taiwan Strait Crisis?
So much has happened in and around Taiwan in the past 45 days that there is no other place to start this newsletter. I am sure everyone has read a lot about Taiwan, so I will try to keep it brief. But before we start, let me also take this opportunity to share my 2 cents – my explainer for the Indian Express on the ongoing crisis.
Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, travelled to Taiwan on August 2-3. She became the highest-ranking American official to set foot in Taiwan in a quarter century, prompting furious reactions from China. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) responded with coercive military, economic, diplomatic and information warfare measures. There is still a debate whether to term the recent events as the 4th Taiwan Strait Crisis, as the situation in the Strait was dire and could have easily resulted in an unintended escalation. This section is divided into three parts:
A brief timeline: Events and Chinese military response, major takeaways and restrain
How has the world reacted to Chinese aggression?
Don’t miss these articles
Brief timeline (For details, you can always check the amazing work done by CSIS’ ChinaPower group).
- Tensions started building up from the last week of July 2022 on Pelosi’s visit.
- Before Pelosi’s visit: China began sending unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over Taiwan’s Dongying Island and placed its Eastern Theater Command – responsible for military operations against Taiwan - on high alert. Followed by the alert, the PLA postured aggression by moving its two aircraft carriers into the waters around China.
- Pelosi’s visit.
- Just before the visit, when the plane was due to arrive in Taipei, China announced military exercises and live fire drills in the South China Sea and some areas around Taiwan.
- After Pelosi’s arrival, China announced military exercises from August 4 to 7 in six zones around Taiwan – in the Taiwan Strait and on the east of Taiwan. However, the exercises continued for a few days after August 7. These exercises included a series of joint military operations, joint air and sea exercises in the sea and airspace of the northern, southwestern, and southeastern Taiwan Islands, long-range live ammunition firing in the Taiwan Strait and test firing of conventional missiles in the waters east of Taiwan. Notably, during these exercises, China conducted ballistic missile tests with 16 missiles. They landed in three closure areas to Taiwan’s northeast, east and southeast. It looks like China used short-range DF-15 missiles. The map below pins the landing spots.
However, Taiwan MOD’s statement highlights that 11 missiles were fired, and Japan MOD’s statement shows that nine missiles were fired. Irrespective of the number, a few missiles landed in Japan’s EEZ. “The missiles landing in the eastern closure area almost certainly overfly the island of Taiwan, which is unprecedented in PLA exercises targeting the island and highly provocative,” tweeted Prof M Taylor Fravel.
China MOD’s statement post the missile tests claims that the purpose was to test precision strike + area denial capabilities (Very Important point).
- Besides missile tests, China continued breaching Taiwan’s ADIZ, more importantly, crossed the median line on several occasions, practised mobilising the forces at night time, joint blockade situation and sea assault and land attack exercises. The PLA also practised saturation strike exercises with various types of precision munitions, with the bombers flying across the Taiwan Straits from north to south and from south to north simultaneously, carrying out a deterrence mission around the island.
- After declaring the end of exercises, the PLA continued the drills and practised joint anti-submarine warfare and sea assault operations.
Some important highlights from these exercises:
The PLA aimed to normalise the crossing of the median line. The median line was first crossed in 1999 and then directly crossed in 2019. However, the median line was crossed multiple times during the recent crisis, normalising a very escalatory posture.
PLA used J-20s, Su-30s, Y-8 EW and ASW, drones, J-16s, KJ-500 AWE&C, Z-9 helicopters, Y-20 Air refuelling aircraft, and submarines and warships to display force and intent in the Taiwan Strait. Studying these aircraft and vessels’ operations and patterns could perhaps reveal the kind of campaigns the PRC will opt for if and when it indulges in forceful reunification.
It is also essential to study the kind of deterrence at play here. The economic and diplomatic measures highlight that the PRC is attempting to deter Taiwan from indulging in such activities again by punishing it. The military measures highlight a combination of denial and punishment attempts. For instance, by firing missiles over Taiwan in Japan’s ADIZ, the PRC displayed its capabilities and intent to the US and Japan in case they decided to interfere during the reunification campaign. Similarly, the use of helicopters to cross the median line was indicative of the kind of operations that China could conduct to land behind the enemy lines. Finally, using naval vessels to conduct a naval blockade displays China’s capabilities to punish Taiwan and deter attempts to repeat the incident.
However, it is also important to note how restraint was maintained to avoid any unintended escalation.
China has not 1) yet violated 12 Nautical Mile Sea and air space (territorial waters) around Taiwan – Main Island. 2) Overflown the island with aircraft. 3) Otherwise compelled Taiwan to consider shooting first. 4) Mobilised Coast Guard or Maritime Militia, which would be key for the actual blockade. 5) Marshaled major amphibious lift. 6) PLA did multiple ops over Strait centerline, but all seem north & south, not in the centre. As John Culver tweets, “This could be viewed as restraint on China’s part, but also are escalation steps they’ve reserved to show even great threat/seriousness *next time*. These exercises likely have been an intelligence bonanza for all concerned, and a status check on PLA joint Ness, or lack of it.”
Meanwhile, China also published a White Paper on Taiwan. It is an important document because it is the first since Xi Jinping came to power and the third of its kind ever released. The most important highlight of this document is that it urges Taiwan to adopt the “one country, two systems” principle used in Hong Kong and Macau. Read this insightful thread by Amanda Hsiao on the white paper.
How has the world reacted?
- Three opinion polls released in the first two weeks of August — by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation, the Chinese Association of Public Opinion Research and online media Convergence Media — highlighted that 60 to 78 per cent of the respondents were not worried about large-scale live-fire military drills. I can vouch for this myself, as life went on as normal as possible. One of my friends went to Xiaoliuqu for holidays, and the other went to Kinmen in the middle of the crisis. So life within the country was not impacted at all. For example, check this NYT piece titled I am Taiwanese, and I want to thank Nancy Pelosi.
- During the Chinese drills, Taiwanese defence officials said China’s “high intensity” military patrols near Taiwan continued, and Beijing’s intention of making the Taiwan Strait separating the two sides its “inner sea” would become the root of instability in the region. Taiwan also fired warning shots at a Chinese drone shortly after President Tsai Ing-wen ordered her military to take “strong countermeasures” against Chinese provocations. “For aircraft and ships that entered our sea and air territory of 12 nautical miles, the national army will exercise its right to self-defense and counter-attack without exception,” said Lin Wen-Huang, deputy chief of the general staff for operations and planning. President Tsai Ing-wen also gave a speech on the 4th of August, claiming, “I want to emphasize that we will neither escalate conflict nor instigate disputes. But we will resolutely defend our nation’s sovereignty and security as a bulwark of democracy and freedom. We are also in close contact with our allies, working together to halt further escalation of the regional security situation.” The president also warned the Taiwanese public about the information warfare initiated by China through cyber-attacks and the spreading of false information. Full speech. However, Taiwan maintained utmost restraint to avoid any unwanted accidents or escalations.
-President Joe Biden stated on August 8th that he is “not worried” about China’s aggression. “I’m concerned that they’re moving as much as they are,” said Biden. “But I don’t think they’re going to do anything more.” During Chinese exercises surrounding Taiwan, the US publicly held back, saying very little about the exercises while keeping its Japan-based USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group in the region but not close to Taiwan. The amphibious ship USS Tripoli was near Okinawa, and the amphibious USS America was in the East China Sea - both carried F-35 fighters. However, very recently, in the last week of August, two US warships - cruisers Chancellorsville and Antietam - sailed through the international waters of the Taiwan Strait.
Here is an updated table of all Taiwan Strait transits by the US Naval warships, compiled by @CollinSLKoh. Interestingly, he reminds us that this isn’t the first time two ships have transited the strait, it’s the first for two Ticonderoga class cruisers, at least in the recent four years.
Furthermore, the Biden administration is also preparing to sell $1.1 billion in missiles and radar support to Taiwan, in what would be the largest such transfer in almost two years. The package would include as much as $650 million in continued support for a surveillance radar sold earlier, about $90 million for roughly 100 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, as well as about 60 additional anti-ship Harpoon missiles. Both weapons have been sold to Taiwan previously. Meanwhile, Seventh Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Karl Thomas said that China’s firing missiles must be contested. “It’s very important that we contest this type of thing. I know that the gorilla in the room is launching missiles over Taiwan. If we just allow that to happen, and we don’t contest that, that’ll be the next norm. It’s irresponsible to launch missiles over Taiwan into international waters, where the shipping lanes, where free shipping operates.” I am only highlighting a select US response, as I am sure we have read a lot in the past month. But do check this CFR timeline on US-China relations, it is informative.
China’s military actions surrounding Taiwan have brought a new sense of urgency to heighten Japan’s defence capabilities, substantially raising the defence budget, and, potentially, institute new rules that would, for the first time, allow preemptive military steps if Japan is at risk. Japanese media reported that the Defence Ministry would seek a record 5.5 trillion yen (€40.34 billion, $41 billion) budget for the next fiscal year, with much of the new spending earmarked for space projects and cyberspace security. There are also plans to develop and deploy new generations of anti-aircraft and anti-shipping missiles in the islands of Okinawa, just a couple of hundred kilometres from Taiwan. The Japanese military is also investing heavily in developing next-generation drones, which have proved their value on the battlefield in Ukraine.
Furthermore, other focus areas for the MoD include:
Securing its munitions and ammunition supply.
Research and development of military technology.
Strengthening the defence production and technological base and addressing public concerns on the reorganisation and activities of US military forces.
It will also further strengthen the deterrence and response capabilities of the Japan-United States alliance by expanding, and deepening security and defence cooperation between the two countries, Japan’s defence minister said, adding the need stems from the increasing severity of the regional security situation.
In line with the goal of strengthening defence in the southwest region, Japan has so far deployed units to Yonaguni Island, Amami Oshima Island, and Miyako Island and will also deploy units to Ishigaki Island within this fiscal year. The defence minister has deployed four anti-aircraft units operating the Patriot system to the southwest region, mainly in Naha, to respond to airborne threats, including ballistic missiles.
India has accused China of “militarisation of the Taiwan Strait” in an escalating war of words triggered by a Chinese military ship docking at the Sri Lankan port. Earlier, ten days after Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, India called for an “exercise of restraint” and to avoid “unilateral actions to change (the) status quo” over Taiwan. India didn’t spell out the One-China policy and instead said that the government’s “relevant” policies are “well-known and consistent” and “do not require reiteration”.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin also broke his silence on Pelosi’s Taiwan trip. He called her “an irresponsible politician” and her trip “a planned provocation.” In his opening speech at the Moscow Conference on International Security, he denounced her as “another deliberate attempt to fuel the flames and stir up trouble in the Asia-Pacific” and claimed that “The US escapade towards Taiwan is not just a voyage by an irresponsible politician, but part of the purpose-oriented and deliberate US strategy designed to destabilise the situation and sow chaos in the region and the world.”
Elsewhere, two CODELS Visits (US Congressional delegations) have happened since Pelosi’s visit in early August. CODELS visits to Taiwan are a normal course of business. China always criticised CODELS, but after Pelosi’s visit, things changed, and we could expect stronger reactions from the PRC.
Visit One: Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) leads a delegation to Taiwan
Visit Two: Senator Marsha Blackburn leads a delegation to Taiwan.
More Important Reads on the Ongoing Crisis:
- NSA Jake Sullivan’s Interview on Taiwan
- Military Dimension of 4th Taiwan Strait Crisis: Prof M. Taylor Fravel, Ms. Cristina Garafola, Ms. Kathrin Hille, Dr Mr. Roderick Lee and Dr Christopher Twomey.
- The Upside of Pelosi’s Visit: Foreign Affairs
- Taiwan, Thucydides, and US-China War: The National Interest
- China’s New Vassal: Foreign Affairs
- China’s Taiwan Policy in the New Era
- 4th Taiwan Strait Crisis
- China’s Exercises were a rehearsal, not signal
- Learning from the First Phase of the Crisis
- When serious, careful management of China Taiwan policy
- Lessons from Ukraine
- Podcast: Another Taiwan Strait Crisis: John Culver: Sinica
Since we are on the topic of Taiwan, please feel free to read my recent non-military, non-foreign policy stuff on Taiwan. A tale of two Taiwanese Cities: Taipei and Kaohsiung: So similar yet so different.
II. India-China Border Problems
India and China held the 16th round of corps commander-level meetings at the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point on the Indian side on July 17, 2022. However, there were no concrete outcomes from this meeting, and the stand-off continues at three-four points on the border.
This week, Chinese soldiers stopped some Indian villagers from taking their livestock to their traditional grazing grounds in the Demchok area. This has led to talks between division-level commanders to resolve the issue. Meanwhile, India and China also held routine talks to understand and manage airspace and airspace violations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). This was discussed during the routine Confidence Building Measures (CBM) talks on the ground in eastern Ladakh. These talks were held after the recent airspace violations on the disputed border. India raised strong objections to repeated attempts by PLA AF to probe defences by flying close to the border in violation of an agreement that fighters should not operate within a ten-kilometre distance of LAC. This is the first time dedicated talks on air violations were held between the two sides on the border since tensions escalated in May 2020.
Meanwhile, as India raised objections to China’s airspace violation, the PLA opposed the India-US military exercises in the state of Uttarakhand near the border. The exercises are to be held in October this year and will focus on high-altitude warfare training. India dismissed China’s objections claiming that there was no third-party interference in the dispute. “I don’t understand the reference to third-party interference. The India-US exercise is totally different and I don’t know what colour has been given to that. It is targeted and a violation of agreements,” said the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, India. Earlier, a PLA spokesperson had said that “We firmly oppose any third party to meddle in the China-India border issue in any form,” when being asked about his comments on the US-India joint military exercises near the China-India border.
Elsewhere, China also tested its surface-to-air defence missile system in the Karakorum plateau region near the India-China border. Xinjiang Military Command carried out the testing. The South China Military Post reports that the footage of the tests, in a high altitude region above 4,500 m, was broadcast on August 15 and "appeared to be HQ-17A air defence missiles, part of an integrated system that can fit in a single vehicle."
Moving on, Beijing's new highway plan from Lunzhe county in Tibet to Mazha in Xinjiang, which runs dangerously close to the LAC and may go near Depsang Plains, Galwan Valley and Hotsprings, would spark tension going ahead in India and China. Elsewhere, the residents of Arunachal Pradesh's Anjaw district have also recorded videos showing PLA personnel and machinery carrying out construction work near Hadigara-Delta 6 in Chaglagam. Sources confirmed that it generally takes four days for an individual to reach the sport, and Chaglagam is the last administrative post in the district near LAC. All these recent developments indicate that the LAC is far from being stable, and the tensions between the two sides continue.
On the Indian side, the Indian Army is aiming for light tanks and swarm drones to improve its high-altitude warfare capabilities. It also conducted Skylight exercises to check the operational readiness and robustness of hi-tech satellite communication systems in the event of an attack by an adversary.
China’s satellite tracking vessel Yuan Wang 5 arrived at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port on August 16, despite US and India voicing concerns with Colombo. Hours after the vessel reached the Sri Lankan port; China claimed the “marine scientific research” activities of the vessel were “consistent with international law” and did not impact “any other country’s security interests”. Although the vessel’s arrival was deferred by a few days after Colombo’s request, the ship was docked at Hambantota for a week. The ship left the port on August 22.
The US Defense Department claims that the ship was commanded by the PLA and can track satellites and missile launches, despite China’s claims that it is employed for scientific research.
Elsewhere, China blocked the India-US bid to sanction JEM leader Abdul Rauf Azhar as a global terrorist at the UN Security Council, the second time Beijing has resorted to such a step in less than two months. Azhar is the younger brother of JeM founder Masood Azhar and the deputy leader of the terrorist group that has its main base at Bahawalpur in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Azhar was designated as a terrorist by the US treasury department in December 2010. China blocked the joint bid by India and the US to designate Azhar at the UN Security Council on Wednesday by placing a “technical hold” on the proposal on the ground that more time is required to study the matter.
Meanwhile, despite all bilateral problems, India and China are set to take part in military exercises in Russia, the first such major exercises hosted by Russia since its invasion of Ukraine.
Playing Chinese Checker: Amb Gautam Bambawale
Xi’s Mobilisation, Months of Planning
China to Issue Visas to Indian Students
III. PLA Modernisation
According to photos of new destroyers circulating on the Chinese social media, the Chinese navy appears to be continuing its shipbuilding spree amid military tensions in the region. Images posted on Weibo show five large ships under construction at the same dry dock, which appears to be at the state-owned Dalian Shipyard in Liaoning province. At least two of the hulls look like those of guided-missile destroyers. With extended helicopter decks in the back, the pair resemble 052DL ships – the “stretched” variant of the Chinese navy’s Type 052D destroyers. Type 052D was first introduced in 2014, and 25 of the vessels are now in service. In addition to the ships under construction in Dalian, at least one other Type 052D is being built at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai.
Furthermore, two of China’s newly commissioned Type 055 10,000 ton-class large destroyers/cruisers, the Anshan and the Wuxi, recently carried out a series of drills involving a wide variety of training objectives, prompting analysts to suggest that the powerful warships are expected to achieve proper combat capability by the end of the year and join their sister ships in island chain-breaking far sea operations.
China's domestically developed FH-95 electronic warfare unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) passed a test that examined the aircraft's performance. Independently developed by the Aerospace Times Feihong Technology Co (ATFTC) under the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the medium-range, electronic warfare armed reconnaissance drone FH-95 successfully completed a performance test at an undisclosed test base, Beijing-based magazine Unmanned Vehicles reported. The FH-95 series drone has a ton-class takeoff weight, can carry more than 250 kilograms of a wide selection of mission payloads, and has an endurance of more than 24 hours, allowing the operator to conduct complex combat missions, including comprehensive reconnaissance in highly contested battlefield environments, as well as electronic warfare and pinpoint elimination, claims the report.
Reports indicate that Z-10 attack helicopters participated in a recent patrol exercise organised by the PLA Hong Kong Garrison for the first time, indicating that the garrison has commissioned this type of helicopter to provide escort and air support to other helicopters, vessels and ground troops in joint operations. The PLA Hong Kong Garrison recently conducted a scheduled joint maritime and air patrol for the second season of the year, featuring training courses including not only patrol but also search and rescue, reports the PLA Daily. A video attached to the PLA Daily report shows that a number of Z-10 attack helicopters participated in the patrol. The Z-10s are painted with jungle camouflage colours instead of a pure deep green colour, indicating that they are likely of the Z-10K variant affiliated with the Air Force rather than the Army Aviation Force.
-Also, read PLA Enlisted Force and Related Matters by Marcus Clay, Dennis J. Blasko and Roderick Lee
-Also, read SCMP article on who will command the PLA after 2024.
IV. Research Articles
Theory of Strategic Substitution
Dr Fiona Cunningham’s latest paper for International Security on China’s Search for Coercive Leverage in the Information Age is a must-read. It is inspired by her work at MIT, as she develops a theory of strategic substitution to explain why states might substitute space, cyber, and conventional missile weapons for nuclear weapons as sources of strategic leverage in limited wars and how they select force postures for each of these weapons (Do read the chapter 1 from her PhD dissertation - Maximizing Leverage: Explaining China’s Strategic Force Postures in Limited Wars – to understand the theory of strategic substitution in great detail). In this paper, Dr Cunningham uses her theory to explain why China’s search for coercive leverage in the post–Cold War era led it to pursue information-age weapons. She argues that China combines information age strategic attacks with a retaliatory nuclear posture to compensate for its conventional military inferiority. This combination threatens to increase the intensity of a conventional war right up to the threshold of nuclear weapons use but places the burden of crossing that threshold on the adversary.
She explains that China’s choice of posture for its offensive cyber capabilities was shaped by its vulnerability to cyberattacks. The theory of strategic substitution explains why China pursued information-age weapons in the post–Cold War era to gain coercive leverage against a nuclear-armed adversary. According to her, the existence of a leverage deficit (the independent variable) explains the decision to pursue a coercive counter space, cyberattack, or precision conventional missile capability (the dependent variable) and the subsequent choice of force postures. The theory assumes that China could have changed its nuclear posture but explains why that option could not address the strategic problem that it faced in the post–Cold War era.
She also explains that China’s approach to gaining coercive leverage in limited wars with nuclear-armed adversaries differs from the choices of other nuclear-armed states. When its threat environment changed, and China confronted a leverage deficit, its search for coercive leverage was constrained by doubts that nuclear threats would be credible and an inability to quickly build up war-winning conventional forces. Instead, China searched for substitutes and found information-age weapons, which it postured as slippery slopes or ladders between conventional and nuclear war. But she also claims that strategic substitution has been a gamble rather than a silver bullet for China.
Finally, she argues that the theory has limited cross-national applications because no other nuclear-armed state has faced constraints as severe as China when confronted with a leverage deficit. However, and very interestingly, India might face those constraints in its long-standing border dispute with China, given its nuclear no-first-use policy and conventional inferiority, she claims.
China’s ADIZ Intrusion
Mercedes Trent’s paper for the Federation for American Scientists (FAS) studies China’s intrusion in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea’s ADIZs and examines how China has used ADIZ intrusions to protect its territorial claims and regional credibility in response to perceived threats. Her paper also explores the long-term implications of China’s air harassment and degradation of ADIZ norms in Northeast Asia. She claims that the PLA’s operations in and around the ADIZs of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are distinct to each country and bear individual examination. However, some broad generalisations can be drawn from the three cases. For example, ADIZ intrusions occur at higher rates around the end of the month, suggesting they have become part of a standardised training schedule. Aircraft from both the PLAAF and the PLANAF commit ADIZ intrusions, but the PLAAF conducts most operations into ADIZs. The PLANAF has been known to primarily conduct operations around the Senkakus. An increase in the PLA’s use of more combative flight groups, such as those including fighters and bombers, over single aircraft such as Y-8s or Y-8s to intrude into a country’s ADIZ tend to coincide with exacerbated bilateral tensions.
After studying individual cases, the paper highlights that China’s continued ADIZ intrusion has several negative implications. First, an accidental collision is more a matter of when not if. Second, because some intrusions may span multiple ADIZs, namely the route that enters both Japan’s and South Korea’s ADIZ and the route between the Bashi Channel and the Miyako Strait than can span Taiwan’s and Japan’s ADIZs, there are more opportunities for countries to miscommunicate over jurisdictional issues or response methods that may create or aggravate tensions between the responding countries. Third, scrambles will inevitably affect force readiness, training opportunities, and the lifespan of fighter fleets. Japan is already at risk of wearing down its fighter force by near-daily scrambles. Fourth, the inability of any country to deter China’s ADIZ intrusions may contribute to internal pressure for leaders of affected countries to take a harder line against China. Fifth, China has successfully used the creation of its own ADIZ to degrade the norms governing unofficial airspace in Northeast Asia gradually. And finally, once China develops competent aerial refuelling capabilities and its next-generation long-range aircraft enter service, the PLA may increase their training and probing activities into the ADIZs around Guam and Hawaii.
PLA Nuclear Survivability
Skill Training - Multi-skill training for members of PLARF units is not new but is growing in importance as the PLARF works on implementing a high standard of competency in which sergeants are expected to handle multiple roles effectively. In a PLA Daily article titled, “Rocket Force Taps into the Potential of Existing Forces”, they delve into the idea of “role switch” in their training. Each day of training, NCOs are expected to take on both their main role as well as a different role they can switch to if needed. Examples given include a driver that also knows how to launch, a measurement and control specialist who can also command or a launcher who also has expertise in geodesy.
The paper highlights that the PLARF has conducted multiple training exercises in the past few months in which there was a surprise attack where some units were either killed or incapacitated. In one scenario that this paper describes as “Rocket Force’s Starry Night Training to Sharpen the Sword”, the main person in charge of launching was killed, and another person had to take on the role quickly. In this instance, the unit was unable to adapt quickly enough and missed the launch window. In another training exercise, the unit was actually making its way back to camp from a different training exercise when they were informed they were under attack by the enemy. Some were injured, and the soldiers had to react quickly, some taking on secondary roles. In the end, the unit managed a successful launch after taking damage to both personnel and equipment. Finally, in the most recent launch drill, a unit was suddenly attacked by enemy chemical weapons.
These types of exercises are described in the Science of Military Strategy (SMS) 2020 as core capability requirements to identify and improve “survival protection ability”. SMS defines survival protection ability as “the ability to guide troops to perform combat missions even after being attacked by the enemy”. Important elements include the defensive capabilities of the position, the degree of concealment and the manoeuvrability of the troops. As the PLA still claims no first use of nuclear weapons, the focus is on a credible counterattack. The authors write, “In a war, whether a nuclear counterattack can be carried out even after being hit by an enemy’s nuclear attack, the survival and protection capability of nuclear forces is paramount.”
V. News and Updates
PLA and Space
China added a new experiment module to its space station following a high-profile launch from the country’s coastal spaceport. The Wentian experiment module launched atop of a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang spaceport on the southern Chinese island of Hainan, with crowds watching on from nearby public beach areas. Wentian used its own propulsion system to match orbit with Tianhe, the core module of China’s under-construction space station and completed rendezvous and docking with a forward docking port on July 24. The Wentian module had a mass at takeoff of 23,000 kilograms and is designed to host a range of science cabinets for on-orbit experiments. It also provides backup life support and propulsion for Tianhe, which launched in April 2021, and provides new working and living quarters and an EVA hatch for astronauts.
The country is planning to launch a large space telescope next year to fly alongside the Tiangong space station. The academy said a Long March 5B heavy-lift carrier rocket would deploy the Xuntian space telescope in a low-Earth orbit similar to the track of the Tiangong station as they both circle Earth. The telescope will carry out deep-space observation and research in the frontier fields of science. The academy is the designer and builder of the Long March 5B, one of the most powerful Chinese rockets when it comes to carrying capacity for low-Earth orbit. The China Space Station Telescope, or Xuntian, is now being developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Finally, China’s new-generation manned rocket, which is currently under development, will be able to send taikonauts to the Moon by around 2030, reports Global Times. The country’s super heavy-lift launch vehicle, which is also under development, will receive further strengthening to become capable of sending payloads of 50 tons to the Earth-Moon transfer orbit on completion in order to support future lunar activity, the report highlights. China is also working on a series of reusable space launches and transport systems, which will greatly boost the country’s space shuttle capability, lowering costs and empowering future development in this domain.
South China Sea
Beijing has stationed permanent rescue forces and maritime administrations on its artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea. A new flying squadron and maritime rescue and administration staff will be stationed on the Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief reefs, China’s three biggest man-made islands in the Spratlys. This boosts a regular on-call rescue ship deployment into a permanent institutional presence that could greatly improve the coverage of the southern area of the South China Sea, reports the South China Military Post. The forward-stationed Chinese departments will “undertake maritime emergency rescue tasks, perform maritime traffic safety supervision and prevention of ship pollution and other duties in the Nansha (Spratly) waters, provide strong protection for the safety of ship navigation and daily production activities at sea for the people of coastal countries”, state news agency Xinhua reported.
Meanwhile, The Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong and its battle group were training in the South China Sea last week. A WeChat post by the PLA South Sea Fleet said the training was intended to test troops’ combat strength in conditions simulating a battle. The Shandong is China’s second aircraft carrier and the first to be built domestically, even though it was modified from the Soviet-era design of the Liaoning, the country’s first carrier. It was commissioned for service into the South Sea Fleet in 2019 and is stationed in Sanya in the southern island province of Hainan. The WeChat post and the video embedded in it highlighted J-15 fighter jets taking off with the Shandong’s ski-jump ramp and landing on the deck aided by arrestor wires.
Xi Jinping and the PLA
While presiding over a group study session of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee-the Party's core leadership-on further implementing the strategy of strengthening the military by training, Xi has called on the PLA to cultivate more high-quality personnel.
He emphasised that it is necessary to better understand the characteristics of military careers and talent development in order to enhance qualified personnel cultivation for a stronger army and highlighted several points that should be firmly ensured in terms of the cultivation of military talents. He also stressed the high importance of upholding the absolute leadership of the Party over the military in the whole process and all aspects of talent-related work in order to ensure that "guns" are always grasped by those who are loyal and reliable to the Party. He noted that the military should closely follow the evolving trends in modern warfare patterns, as strengthening capabilities to fight and win wars should be the primary goal of military talent cultivation. He urged intensified study of modern science and technology, especially high-tech military knowledge.
Meanwhile, a book illustrating his thinking on strengthening the armed forces has been jointly published by the People's Liberation Army Publishing House and the People's Publishing House. The book, which illustrates thinking in Q&A form, consists of 63 questions on 16 topics. “It provides readers with a panoramic and systemic view of the significance, scientific system, rich connotations and practical requirements of the thinking,” reports Xinhua.
Nuclear Test Site at Xinjiang
Newer images indicate that China is expanding its nuclear facilities in Xinjiang. A satellite 450 kilometres above Lop Nur has detected new construction in the area. Lop Nur is a dried salt lake in the heart of the Xinjiang region and remains one of the most barren areas in China. Satellite images now show new coverings erected and rocks piled up in the mountainous region, according to the Nikkei Asia report. This is broadly believed to be evidence of a new tunnel for testing hidden under the coverings. Further, power transmission cables and a possible facility to store high-explosives have recently been installed, while “unpaved white roads lead from a command post in various directions”, according to the report. According to Nikkei Asia, in April this year, “An official Chinese procurement website invited bids for 10 radiation dose alarms, 12 protective suits, and one detector of wound site taints”. This was ostensibly part of “a project for emergency monitoring of nuclear and radiation accidents.” Beijing became a nuclear-capable country in 1964. It conducted all its 45 nuclear tests between 1964 and July 1996 in Lop Nur in the Xinjiang province before signing the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996. Out of these, five were conducted underground, and grounds for a sixth possible test now seem afoot.
NATO calls China a Systemic Challenge
NATO has issued its updated “strategic concept.” It calls China a systemic challenge – a remarkable shift from the past. The document aimed at China’s relationship with Moscow. Beijing has yet to condemn Russia for its war against Ukraine and has offered rhetorical backing for its regional claims. It accused Beijing of employing “a broad range of political, economic and military tools to increase its global footprint and project power, while remaining opaque about its strategy, intentions and military build-up.”
The policy document said China’s “malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational rhetoric and disinformation target allies and harm alliance security”. It said that China sought to “control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, and strategic materials and supply chains. It uses its economic leverage to create strategic dependencies”. China was not mentioned in previous strategic concepts, and the latest one comes after 12 years after the previous one.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacted to this, “NATO has publicly stated on many occasions that it will remain a regional alliance, it does not seek a geopolitical breakthrough and it does not seek to expand to other regions. However, in recent years, NATO has repeatedly made forays into the Asia-Pacific region. Some NATO member states keep sending aircraft and warships to carry out military exercises in China’s nearby waters, creating tensions and fanning up disputes. NATO has sought to make advances into new areas and domains and clamored for bloc confrontation. The world needs to keep its vigilance and firmly reject it. NATO should stop drawing ideological lines, stoking political confrontation, or seeking to start a new Cold War. It should discard the Cold War mentality and zero-sum game mindset and stop making enemies. NATO has already disrupted Europe. It should not seek to destabilise Asia and the world.”
VI. Military Vocabulary
12) 连 lián Company
13）营 yíng Battalion
14）团 tuán Regiment
15）旅 lǚ Brigade
16）师 shī Division
17）领导 lǐngdǎo Lead, Leadership, Leader. Ling means outline/mainpoint; dao is lead/guide/transmit/conduct.
VII. Additional Readings
- PRC-Nepal rail line can get back on track
- What to expect from bolder Xi Jinping: Yun Sun
- The China Trap: Jessica Chen Weiss
- GMF Podcast on Global Security Initiative: Manoj Kewalramani
- Sea Control Podcast: How Foreign Companies are Subsidising Chinese Navy
- Taiwan brings Down a Drone over Tiny Island near Mainland
Suyash Desai is a research scholar studying China’s defence and foreign policies. He is currently studying Mandarin at National Sun Yat-Sen University, Kaohsiung, Taiwan. He can be reached at @suyash_desai.