Discover more from The PLA Bulletin
India-China Border Dispute, Taiwan and China, PLA Modernisation, Cyber and Space, Naval Base, South Pacific, Joint Talent, Top-level Design, Military Vocabulary
Issue No 3
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.
I. India-China Border Problems
II. Taiwan and China
III. PLA Modernisation (Also, 关于加快军队研究生教育改革发展的意见)
IV. New Technologies
V. Cambodia Naval Base
VI. China and South Pacific
VII. Research Papers
VIII. Rimpac, Canada-Australia-China
IX. Six Military Words (Military Vocabulary)
Before we start, please note that it’s a 7000 words newsletter and might be folded in the email. So it’s best to open it on the browser by clicking on the logo. Happy reading!
I. India-China Border Dispute
It’s been three years since the clash between Chinese and Indian troops at the Galwan Valley resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and at least 4 Chinese soldiers. In the past three years, the two sides have held over 14 Corps Commander-level meetings, 24 Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination Meetings (not all WMCC meetings were held in the past three years – some were held before) and multiple interactions between foreign, defence and national security leadership of the two countries. However, despite these meetings, the two sides have only managed to achieve disengagement in three of the six areas. The Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) remain deployed in forward positions across the disputed border with a tripwire waiting to trigger.
Recent reports highlight that China has completed the construction of the first bridge over Pangong Tso. It is now constructing a second bridge capable of carrying armoured columns. The report highlights that the first bridge — whose construction started at the end of 2021 and finished last month — is being used as a service bridge for the second construction. The new bridge is being built from both sides of the lake simultaneously. The first bridge was aimed at cutting down a 180-km loop from Khurnak to the southern banks through Rudok. Reports highlight that the route from Khurnak to Rudok would come down to 40-50 km. In addition, the induction of troops from the G219 highway would come down by 130 km due to this bridge. On the north bank, there is a PLA garrison at Kurnak fort and another on the south bank at Moldo. The distance between the two is around 200 km, and the bridge was between the closest points on the two banks, which is about 500m. Reports highlight that the bridge will reduce the movement time between the two sectors from around 12 to four hours.
For the granular study using satellite imagery on the border, you can refer to this article by detresfa and Sim Tack. You could also read my Occasional Paper on Tibet and Military Developments to understand military and civilian construction patterns in Tibet and South Xinjiang.
Elsewhere, India Today reports that China has increased the deployment of fighter aircraft near the Indian Territory. “The Chinese Air Force is operating from its main base in Hotan during the conflict. They are now maintaining around 25 fighter aircraft there. This is much higher than what they used to keep earlier,” claims the report. Furthermore, the report also highlights that China is developing a new fighter aircraft base in Shakche, which is expected to strengthen the Chinese Air Force along the LAC with India. The PLA AF has recently upgraded several bases in Tibet and South Xinjiang in recent times. These updates include hardened shelters, the extension of runway lengths, and deploying additional manpower.
Meanwhile, General Charles A Flynn, Commanding General, United States Army Pacific, who is on a four-day visit to India, said, “The [Chinese] activity level is eye-opening. Some of the infrastructure being created in the PLA’s Western Theatre Command is alarming. One has to ask the question ‘why’, and get a response as to what are their intentions.” He met India’s Army Chief, Gen Manoj Pande, on Thursday to discuss issues related to bilateral defence cooperation. US Defense Secretary Lloyd James Austin also made similar statements at the Shangri-La Dialogue when he said, “Beijing continues to harden its position along the borders with India.”
Meanwhile, the Indian Army has signed an MoU with the Sikkim University to conduct a Tibetology Cadre for its officers and men to acquire knowledge about the strategic mountainous region before they deal with the PLA threat along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Do read an extremely insightful Occasional Paper by Ms Antara Ghoshal Singh on China’s Evolving Strategic Discourse on India. Also, do check all the references, as she has used a lot of Chinese reportage to understand how China thinks of India. She highlights that the debates and discussions on India within China in the years preceding the Galwan clash and thereafter provide a clear and comprehensive understanding of the circumstances that might have led to the border crisis and also offers clues on the way forward. She argues that: first, the border standoff in Ladakh is likely the outcome of an intensifying conflict between two Chinese strategies towards India— it is Major Power Diplomacy (of wooing India to hedge against the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy and making it a key partner in the Belt and Road Initiative) and its Neighborhood Strategy (of securing a China-centered regional order with Beijing as the sole leader or rule-maker in the region). Second, the standoff reveals China’s policy dilemma over India — on the one hand, Beijing wants to effectively check a rising New Delhi by asserting its strength and psychological advantage in bilateral ties. But on the other hand, China is anxious about the impact of the current crisis on the realisation of its various regional and global objectives in the Indian Ocean Region that necessitates cordial ties with India.
She also writes that China seeks India's cooperation to weaken the United States' Indo-Pacific strategy because, in the Chinese assessment, India is the "key variable" ( 关键变量) determining the success or failure of the strategy. On the other hand, Beijing's Western Development Strategy, it's BRI or Two Oceans Strategy, that is, China's own version of Indo-Pacific, aimed at connecting the Pacific and the Indian Ocean economies under Chinese leadership and opening up a dedicated Indian Ocean exit for China, rests heavily on India. Not to mention, good relations with India give China peace and stability on its western frontier and allow Beijing to keep its entire strategic focus and concentrate its resources on the intensifying rivalry with the United States and its allies. But to solicit this Indian cooperation, China is unwilling to pay a strategic cost or make any real tradeoff, such as accommodating India's concerns or aspirations on the disputed border or South Asia or concerning its membership in international organizations. That is likely because deep down, China recognises India as a key threat that can intercept its energy lifelines, has the potential to replace it in global supply chains, and can compete with China in various international bodies, thereby challenging China's ability to achieve an "overwhelming power advantage in Asia." To break the deadlock, China seems to be exploring a new India strategy that rests on exhibiting its strength advantage (by normalising border conflicts like the Galwan Valley clash) alongside tactical cooperation (by ensuring that there isn't a complete breakdown in bilateral ties and keeping the door open for working together when it is in Chinese interest), she argues. Don't miss this paper; it is a must-read!
USCC Testimonies on China’s Influence on the continental South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region
Dr Tanvi Madan’s testimony to the USCC highlights that China is not a newcomer in South Asia. It has engaged with this subregion since the founding of the People’s Republic, with the nature and extent of its interest and interactions varying over time and across countries. Today, this engagement is broader and deeper than ever before, with greater Chinese attention as it sees South Asia in terms of its broader economic and strategic interests. This engagement precedes the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but that initiative reflects and has driven an acceleration in Chinese activities and desire to seek increased influence—and curb that of the US and India—in the subregion. There are three dynamics to this interaction: 1) Rivalry with India 2) Partnering with Pakistan 3) Engagement with Non-aligned smaller South Asian states.
On the China challenge to India, she argues that India worries less about the ideological dimensions of the China challenge, unlike the US. New Delhi does not dismiss the impact of the nature of the Chinese regime—Beijing’s handling of COVID-19 and the lack of clarity about its motivations for the 2020 boundary crisis have made the adverse effects evident to Delhi. However, if one considers the spectrum of objectives debated in the US, Delhi would be more aligned with those arguing that the goal should be to shape the environment in which China is operating to deter it from adverse actions rather than regime change in Beijing. They are also more reluctant to frame the competition as one of the democracies versus autocracies, in part because they believe that will exclude potential partners in the Indo-Pacific, including in South Asia. In addition, there have been differences between the US and India on the question of how far and fast to compete with China, though these have narrowed somewhat recently. And while India remains less willing than the US to call China out by name, in some cases, India has gone further than the US. For instance, imposing restrictions on Chinese investment in the country and banning Chinese apps.
But she highlights that Beijing’s intensifying competition with India and the US has affected its engagement in the South Asian region. While the primary area of Sino-US competition will remain in East Asia and the western Pacific, Beijing largely sees Washington, and particularly its ties with Delhi, as part of its challenge in South Asia. And it seems most American actions, alone and in conjunction with other major and middle powers, are complicating the landscape and Chinese interests.
In the case of the IOR, Dr Christopher Colley argues that the modern Chinese navy’s (PLAN) entry into the IOR is a very new phenomenon dating back to the turn of the century. Chinese security scholars and strategists have only recently started to discuss the region as a theatre of operations. The primary reason for this was the absence of naval hardware that could sustain constant and long-term patrols in the region. For example, in 2000, only 20 per cent of China’s destroyers (DDGs) and 25 per cent of its frigates were classified as “modern.” Over the past decade-and-a-half and, in particular, since Chinese President Xi came to power in 2012, China has quickly shed its traditional aversion to foreign military bases, with some government scholars stating that such a stance was not in China’s current interests. He highlights Prof Hu Bo’s arguments (the Director of both the Center for Maritime Strategy Studies and the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative at Beijing University). He has argued that the northern Indian Ocean is a boundary for China’s naval strategy. “China must tirelessly strive to maintain an aircraft carrier combat group as well as reconnaissance support and early warning positions in each of these two major regions in order to realise effective power presence. The main future zone for the PLAN will be the northern Indian Ocean from the Middle East and the coast of Africa to the Malacca Strait.”
He also highlights the arguments by several authors from the Chinese Naval Academy of Military Science, who claim that the port of Gwadar in Pakistan can serve as a strategic “fulcrum/strong point” and that other bases can be developed in the Seychelles, Hambantota and Tanzania. Overall, a Chinese Indian Ocean fleet is emerging out of the rapid modernization of the Chinese navy. From a security perspective, over the past two decades, the PLAN has gone from being an almost non-existent actor in the Indian Ocean to having a constant presence with at least 6 to 8 warships in the northern Indian Ocean at any one time. The American Naval War College estimates that the PLAN now possesses over 100 warships capable of operating in the Indian Ocean and can maintain a constant presence of 18 warships in the IOR if necessary.
However, it is essential to note that the PLAN lacks any reliable air cover in this region. Even though China has two operating aircraft carriers, these are best viewed as training vessels that lack the requisite requirements for meaningful air cover. Chief among these is the inability to master catapult take-offs for the carriers’ air wings. In the absence of this, the J-15, which is China’s principal carrier-based fighter, is forced to use a “ski jump” take-off that does not allow it to be fully fueled or carry extensive ordinance. In the absence of meaningful air cover, any PLAN flotilla that engaged India or the American navy would be at a tremendous disadvantage.
More testimonies by Dr Jagannath Panda, Akhil Berry, Samantha Custer… read it here.
II. Taiwan and China
Since I wrote the last issue, multiple things related to Taiwan have happened in the past month. First, during President Joe Biden’s visit to Japan, he said that the US would be willing to use force to defend Taiwan against Chinese aggression. This comment looked like it stretched the limits of strategic ambiguity. However, after President Biden made the remark at a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, an aide said the President’s statement represented no change in the long-standing American stance on the island that China claims as its own. The US State Department also published a factsheet on relations with Taiwan, adding this sentence in it: “We oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side; we do not support Taiwan independence, and we expect cross-Strait differences to be resolved by peaceful means.” Earlier in May, the State department’s update on the factsheet posted on its website that the State Department has removed a portion of the first paragraph stating that in the Joint Communique signed with Beijing in 1979, “the US recognised the government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China, acknowledging the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is a part of China”. It also deleted a statement from the second paragraph of the 2018 fact sheet declaring its long-time position that the US “does not support Taiwan independence”. These developments have sparked further speculations that the US government is hollowing out its one-China policy to counter Beijing.
Meanwhile, at the Shangri-La Dialogue, China’s Defence Minister Gen Wei Fenghe said that China would fight at all costs any efforts to make Taiwan independent. He also added that Beijing was trying its best to “peacefully reunify” the self-ruled island with the mainland. Wei said that fighting to the very end when independence is pursued is China’s only option as he set out Beijing’s vision for regional order in a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue. “We will fight at all costs, and we will fight to the very end,” Wei said. “This is the only choice for China.”
Earlier, Wei Fenghe and Lloyd Austin squared off in their first face-to-face meeting at the Shangri-La Dialogue. “The two ministers exchanged views on bilateral military ties, Taiwan, the South China Sea, the Ukraine crisis and other issues, which could be seen as a candid and constructive strategic dialogue,” Chinese defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian said after the talks. “No one can divide Taiwan from mainland China. The PLA will fight at all costs to defend the country’s territorial sovereignty and integrity,” Wei said. “We will take countermeasures if someone wants to make an issue out of the Ukraine war by linking the Taiwan issue to the ongoing crisis because it would undermine China’s interests.” Wei also said the latest proposed US arms sale to Taiwan, worth US$120 million, was a violation of China’s sovereignty and security interests. Last week, the US approved the possible sale of US$120 million (NT$3.54 billion) in spare parts and technical assistance for Taiwan’s Navy. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense announced the US$120 million arms sale for “naval ship spare parts and related technical support.” The ministry said that the sale is meant to help Taiwan keep its naval vessels properly equipped and replenished and that the deal is expected to take effect next month.
Earlier in the month, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had a telephonic conversation with the CCP Politburo Member and Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission Yang Jiechi. Although the main topic of discussion was North Korea’s nuclear or missile test, the two sides also discussed Taiwan and the US’ recent action on Taiwan after it supported the island country’s membership in the World Health Organisation. “The recent actions taken by the US on Taiwan-related matters have been a huge contrast from their pronouncements. If the US continues to play the Taiwan card and head further on the wrong path, this will certainly lead to dangerous situations,” said Yang.
Meanwhile, the US trade representative’s office unveiled a new pact with Taipei to promote bilateral trade in digital trade, clean energy and labour rights. The two countries will also collaborate to address non market practices and policies, including those conducted by state-owned enterprises, an issue representing Washington’s leading complaint about China’s trade policy. Separately, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is launching a separate dialogue with Taiwan to address technology trade and investments, citing the importance of Taiwan as a leading supplier of advanced semiconductors. Export controls of sensitive technologies will also be addressed by this initiative, senior administration officials said.
China has, of course, reacted very sharply to all these activities. After President Biden suggested that the US would get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if China attacked it, China organised combat drills in the seas and airspace around Taiwan. China has increased its incursions near Taiwan over the past year. On the day that Mr Biden arrived in Asia, China sent 14 aircraft into the island’s air defence zone.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration is also pressing the Taiwan government to buy more American-made weapons that would help its small military to deter China and repel a seaborne invasion rather than buying weapons designed for conventional set-piece warfare, claimed current and former US and Taiwanese officials to the New York Times. For instance, check this article in the Politico, which claims that the Army told Taiwan in a March letter that it should buy an upgraded version of a mobile artillery system Taipei had requested years ago. In a separate March letter, the State Department told Taiwan that it would not respond to a request for a pricey helicopter designed for hunting submarines. Taiwan has made clear its interest in larger American-made weapons such as the MH-60R Seahawk helicopter. But the Biden administration is trying to convince Taipei that these expensive items, while fine for peacetime operations, would not survive an all-out assault from the mainland.
Very interestingly, I was in Taipei last week talking to a few people working within and outside of Taiwan’s national security architecture. They repeatedly said that no country could dictate what weapons we should buy or what our strategy would be to deter China. The same comments were made by Taiwan’s defence minister when he said that Taiwan would buy weapons based on its needs and that individual sellers ‘cannot influence our plans’.
Elsewhere, Taiwan has started testing the second generation of its unmanned aerial vehicle after noting the success of similar weapons on the battlefield in Ukraine. The National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology, the island’s top weapon maker, has been testing the medium and long-range flight capabilities of the Teng Yun 2 (Cloudrider) for the past two weeks. “Test items include how far the prototype of the second-generation drone can go and how long it can last,” SCMP reports. The report adds that the drone took off from the air force’s Chiashan base in the eastern county of Hualien and flew over the sea for close to three hours, meeting the basic flight capability requirements of the defence ministry.
Do read this paper by Lt Col Julian Thomas, USAF, on Building a US-Taiwan Defence Strategy in the Strait of Taiwan and the South China Sea. He argues that through revised national policy, the United States should enforce an explicit security guarantee for Taiwan, leverage Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) capabilities, and employ a counter anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) strategy to curtail China’s aggressive overtures within the South China Sea (SCS). The article highlights the impact of the US’ current “strategic ambiguity” policy language upon the backdrop of China’s ambitions to reclaim Taiwan and discusses how Taiwan can leverage US joint force capabilities such as IAMD to inject uncertainty, fear, and high cost into China’s calculus to seize and hold Taiwan. It concludes that IAMD could lead to greater regional interoperability to curtail China’s aggressive overtures within the SCS.
III. PLA Modernisation
All the expected pomp and pageantry about the Type 003 has to wait as China delayed the launch of its second indigenous aircraft carrier. China was expected to launch the Type 003A, its third aircraft carrier, at the dragon boat festival. However, SCMP reports that due to some technical issues, the launch got delayed. However, satellite images and analysis published by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington indicated that the dry dock where the warship is positioned had been cleared of other shipbuilding projects, leaving an open path to the Yangtze River.
Meanwhile, before Type 003’s launch, we are already discussing China’s fourth aircraft carrier, it's third indigenously made carrier. Whether work has started on Type 004 is not yet clear. However, satellite images spotted two FC-31 Gyrfalcon stealth fighters lined up alongside several J-15 carrier-based fighter jets at the PLA flight training facility in Liaoning province. Like Liaoning and Shandong, the Type 003 aircraft carrier is still a conventional diesel-powered platform, while its successor is likely to be equipped with nuclear reactors. The PLA Naval Aviation Testing and Training Complex where the jets were photographed has been dubbed China’s own “Nitka” – after the Soviet-era training range in the Crimea that was the model for the Chinese base. Satellite images showed the PLA naval pilot training site to be equipped with Soviet-designed ski-jump simulating ramps and catapult systems suited to the flat-top flight decks seen on American aircraft carriers. This has led to speculations about China’s fourth AC.
Elsewhere, a research team led by Yang Xiaogang from the PLA Rocket Force University of Engineering in Xian said that “important progress” had been made towards solving the main problem of how to pinpoint a moving target at extreme speeds. China is developing a heat-seeking hypersonic weapon that will be able to hit a moving car at five times the speed of sound, according to scientists involved in the project. Because a superfast missile can travel long distances in a split second, a tiny error in the positioning and guidance system can lead to a huge miss, they explained in a paper published in a Chinese peer-reviewed journal Infrared and Laser Engineering. But, with the new heat-seeking technology, the Chinese military will be able to eliminate high-value targets from long distances with unprecedented speed, to “significantly expand the scope of application of hypersonic weapons in a regional war”, said Yang in the paper, part of a series published by the journal.
Similarly, China’s first AI-operated drone vessel has met all expectations in its initial sea trial, with some of its technological specifications described as “world-leading” by developers Beikun Intelligence. The 200-tonne unmanned surface vessel (USV) – which looks like a hybrid of the US Zumwalt-class destroyer and the Sea Hunter drone ship – completed its three-hour maiden sea voyage offshore of Zhoushan, in the eastern province of Zhejiang.
Finally, the Central Military Commission (CMC), in a broader effort to modernise China’s armed forces for combat readiness, issued a new document titled “Opinions on accelerating the reform and development of military postgraduate education” (关于加快军队研究生教育改革发展的意见). It focuses on the training of joint combat command talents, new combat force talents, high-level scientific and technological innovation talents, and high-level strategic management talents. Reform measures such as strengthening the construction of a team of tutors who are knowledgeable in actual combat and improving the evaluation standards for postgraduate education quality. It also highlights that military postgraduate education plays an important role in cultivating high-level military personnel, innovating military theory and national defence science and technology, and serving the combat effectiveness of troops.
Furthermore, it looks like the plan is to enroll more and more military postgraduates in new-type combat forces. “While enrolment numbers would remain stable, the report said the number enrolled in traditional force majors would drop while the number for majors related to new types of combat capability would increase, and there would be plans to train personnel in military intelligence and aerospace.”
IV. New Technologies: Space-Cyber
China will launch six primary missions before the end of the year to complete its Tiangong space station, which space officials say could soon link up with a powerful telescope and host commercial activities and international astronauts. The details were revealed during an April 17 press conference, which was held a day after the return of the Shenzhou 13 astronauts after their national record-setting 182-day mission aboard Tiangong's core module Tianhe. The six crucial missions started in May with a resupply mission, followed by the six-month-long Shenzhou 14 crewed flight in June, according to Hao Chun, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO).
The Shenzhou-14 crewed spaceship will be launched at around 10:44 a.m. Sunday (Beijing Time) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. After entering orbit, the spaceship will adopt fast, automated rendezvous and docking with the radial port of the space station core module Tianhe, forming a complex with Tianhe as well as the cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-3 and Tianzhou-4, said Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the CMSA, at a press conference held at the launch centre. At present, the complex of Tianhe, Tianzhou-3 and Tianzhou-4 works in normal condition and is ready for rendezvous, docking and the astronauts' entry, Lin said.
A second module, Wentian ("Asking the Heavens"), will join Tianhe in orbit in July, followed by the third and final module, Mengtian ("Dreaming of the Heavens"), scheduled to launch in October. The Tianzhou 5 cargo and Shenzhou 15 crewed missions will launch late in the year when the Tiangong station will host its first crew rotation with the Shenzhou 14 astronauts welcoming the newcomers aboard, thanks to extra living quarters in the Wentian module. Once fully assembled, Tiangong will host six-month-long crewed missions during which astronauts will conduct an array of experiments and outreach activities. The experiments will focus mainly on life sciences, microgravity research, astronomy, Earth science and new materials and space technology, Chinese space officials have said.
Meanwhile, check this article in the Diplomat on the potential military implications of China’s space-ground integrated information network (SGIIN):
1) Provides satellite navigation and remote sensing services for both military and civilian use.
2) SGIIN would improve all-domain situational awareness by connecting terrestrial and non-terrestrial (airborne, space) sensor networks, command networks and tactical information distribution networks. Although the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has existing C4ISR networks such as “Qu Dian” and the “Joint Information Distribution System,” its satellite resources from existing remote sensing, navigation, and communications satellites are underutilised and have not been effectively leveraged for joint operations.
3) Through its space-based network, the SGIIN could overcome data stovepipes between different space systems to enhance battlefield data sharing and compress the military decision cycle. The ground information ports commissioned by the CETC could consolidate data from land, sea, space, and air domains to improve joint operations and enhance space situational awareness.
4) Additionally, the Tianxiang satellites’ capabilities portend that future LEO satellites in the SGIIN’s space-based access network would also carry payloads with applications such as navigation enhancements and remote sensing.
5) It could also be used in reconnaissance and surveillance satellites, early-warning satellites, communications satellites, positioning and navigation satellites, and meteorological satellites in all orbits, with the capacity to process and transmit all types of satellite data.
Also, check this article by Alex Stephenson and Ryan Fedasiuk on How AI would — and wouldn’t — Factor into a US-Chinese War.
V. China’s Cambodia Naval Base?
China will help Cambodia expand and upgrade a naval base in the Southeast Asian country, officials from both sides said, heightening concerns for the US and other Indo-Pacific actors. The comments came at a ceremony marking the start of new China-funded construction at Ream Naval Base that was attended by senior Cambodian military and defence officials as well as China’s ambassador to Cambodia. Over two years, Chinese firms and technical experts from China’s military will build and renovate a number of structures, including a maintenance workshop, slipway and dry dock for repairing vessels, a warehouse, two new piers, and electrical, water and sewage infrastructure, said Gen. Chau Phirun, director-general of the Cambodian Defense Ministry’s material and technical-services department. The upgrades will be funded by a Chinese grant, Cambodian Defense Minister Gen. Tea Banh said in a speech. He also added that the project was aimed at modernising Cambodia’s military and strengthening its capabilities and denied the facility would be used by Chinese forces as a naval base.
The nature of China’s involvement has always been questionable. I remember, sometime in 2019, there was a report that Beijing had signed a clandestine agreement allowing its armed forces to use exclusively a part of Ream Naval Base, which is located on Cambodia’s southern coast facing the Gulf of Thailand. If converted into a naval base, it would serve as Beijing’s second overseas naval outpost after Djibouti.
Check this recent article by Dr Isaac B. Kardon and Dr Wendy Leutert in International Security on China’s Power Positioning in Global Ports. The mapped every ocean port outside of China reveals that Chinese firms own or operate terminal assets and highlight that there are ninety-six such ports in fifty-three countries. This is from an original dataset of Chinese firms’ overseas port holdings that documents the geographic distribution, ownership, and operational characteristics of these ports. On investigation, they highlight that Chinese firms’ ties to the Party-state reveal multiple mechanisms by which the Chinese leadership may direct the use of commercial port assets for strategic purposes. International port terminals that Chinese firms own and operate already provide dual-use capabilities to the PLA during peacetime, establishing logistics and intelligence networks that materially enable China to project power into critical regions worldwide. But this form of networked state power is limited in wartime because it depends on commercial facilities in non-allied states. By providing evidence that overseas bases are not the sole index of global power projection capabilities, findings advance research on the identification and measurement of sources of national power. China’s leveraging of PRC firms’ transnational commercial port network constitutes an underappreciated but consequential form of state power projection, they argue.
VI. China and the South Pacific
Source: Financial Times
The map highlights Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit Pacific Island nations.
China aimed to pursue a regional agreement with Pacific island nations that would expand Beijing’s role in policing, maritime cooperation and cybersecurity while offering scholarships for more than 2,000 workers and young diplomats. Drafts of the deal were sent to 10 Pacific countries last month before China’s foreign minister, foreign minister Wang Yi’s meetings. China wanted ten small Pacific nations to endorse a sweeping agreement covering everything from security to fisheries, which could have been a “game-changing” initiative for the PRC. During Mr Wang’s tour, his first stop was at the Solomon Islands. China also issued its “Position Paper on Mutual Respect and Common Development with Pacific Island Countries” during Wang’s visit. Prof M Taylor Fravel highlights important points from this paper:
He tweeted 15 “visions and proposals,” such as linking the PIC to BRI, the Global Development Initiative, and so on (though no mention of the Global Security Initiative).
The 15th includes 24 actions China will propose/take:
1. Hold regular meetings of foreign ministers
2. Appoint a special PRC envoy for PIC affairs
3. Create disaster management mechanisms
4. Create a China-PIC poverty reduction center
5. Host training programs for PIC diplomats
6. Host seminars on governance/development planning
7. Hold a high-level maritime forum, etc.
Most imp: All told, on paper, a comprehensive engagement plan. Almost no mention of security and no mention of policing.
VII. Research Papers
Cultivating Joint Talent: Education and Training Reforms
Kevin McCauley’s recent Occasional Paper is a must-read for the PLA’s recent reforms and its move towards integrated joint operations capabilities. He highlights that the PLA is moving towards cultivating joint command talent and promoting realistic and complex joint training at the campaign and tactical levels, which is extremely critical to the successful implementation of integrated joint operations, transformation efforts, and enhancing the PLA’s overall combat capabilities. President Xi Jinping has stated that the shortage of talent was becoming increasingly prominent, leading to the development of joint operations command personnel as a top priority. In this regard, the concept of multi-domain integrated joint operations is placing new and complex requirements on commanders and staff as well as on unit training and exercises. He underlined that the PLA is implementing a “Triad” military education program to reform military educational institutions to better develop quality joint operations talent. The Triad incorporates three components: “military academy education,” “military professional education;” and “unit training practice.” The three components are not new, but the Triad reform is updating and fusing the elements into a holistic system of systems creating a synergistic effect between the components to better cultivate the talent required for the PLA’s transformation.
He also notes that the PLA is increasingly conducting joint campaigns and tactical training under realistic confrontation and actual combat conditions to compensate for lack of combat experience. The unit training assessments and evaluations are undergoing reforms to improve combat capabilities. The document highlights that it is difficult to gauge the quality and extent of implementation of military education and training reforms. Similarly, it is difficult to assess how well and to what extent the PLA has overcome problems and impediments to these reforms. However, the PLA has attempted reforming military education throughout the past two decades, with added emphasis over the past decade, and yet the PLA reports continuing systemic problems.
The report concludes that the implications for the PLA of successful implementation of joint talent cultivation and improving joint training are significant for reaching its goal of an advanced military. While the PLA’s transformation will likely be a lengthy process, it can still present a lethal opponent with its precision long-range strike and information warfare capabilities. Don’t miss this paper!
China’s Top-level Design and Enlarged Diplomacy
This is another very insightful paper published recently in the Journal of Contemporary China. Dr Suisheng Zhao highlights that Xi Jinping has centralised foreign policymaking authorities by setting up new central coordination organisations with himself as the head to bypass entrenched interests and cut through bureaucratic roadblocks. Staking his claim to power on the party and demanding personal loyalty of Chinese bureaucrats to him in a way that none of his recent predecessors could, Xi has introduced a top-level design to develop strategic visions, conduct strategic planning, and make tough decisions. The top-level design has advanced the enlarged diplomacy far beyond the sphere of professional diplomats. But Xi’s personalisation of Chinese foreign and security policymaking has increased the possibility of intended and unintended consequences of foreign adventure and actions. Do take a read; I enjoyed reading this article!
SIPRI World Military Expenditure Report
SIPRI’s World Military Expenditure Report for 2021 highlights that the World’s military expenditure crossed $ 2 Trillion for the first time.
China, the World’s second-largest spender, allocated an estimated $293 billion to its military in 2021, an increase of 4.7 per cent compared with 2020. China’s military spending has grown for 27 consecutive years. The 2021 Chinese budget was the first under the 14th Five-Year Plan, which runs until 2025.
Similarly, India’s military spending of $76.6 billion ranked third highest in the World. This was up by 0.9 per cent from 2020 and by 33 per cent from 2012. In a push to strengthen the indigenous arms industry, 64 per cent of capital outlays in the military budget of 2021 were earmarked for acquisitions of domestically produced arms.
Russian-Ukraine Case Study
Russia increased its military expenditure by 2.9 per cent in 2021, to $65.9 billion, when it was building up its forces along the Ukrainian border. This was the third consecutive year of growth, and Russia’s military spending reached 4.1 per cent of GDP in 2021. The ‘national defence’ budget line, which accounts for around three-quarters of Russia’s total military spending and includes funding for operational costs as well as arms procurement, was revised upwards over the course of the year. The final figure was $48.4 billion, 14 per cent higher than had been budgeted at the end of 2020.
As it has strengthened its defences against Russia, Ukraine’s military spending has risen by 72 per cent since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Spending fell in 2021 to $5.9 billion but still accounted for 3.2 per cent of the country’s GDP.
- PRC state and defence laboratory System: CASI
- Home versus abroad: China’s differing sovereignty concepts in the South China Sea and the Arctic
VIII. Others Stories
The US military will be joined by units from 25 countries – including the other Quad members and five Southeast Asian nations – for the world’s biggest naval war games at the end of this month. Thirty-eight surface ships, four submarines and more than 170 aircraft will take part in the biennial Rim of the Pacific (Rimpac) exercises from June 29 to August 4, the US Navy said in a statement on Tuesday. It will also involve land forces from nine countries, and a total of 25,000 personnel will take part. The drills – first held in 1971 – will take place in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.
Australia and Canada have accused China of conducting dangerous intercepts of maritime patrol aircraft performing routine surveillance and sanctions-monitoring missions over the East and South China seas. Australia said Sunday that a Royal Australian Air Force P-8A Poseidon was intercepted by a PLA Air Force Shenyang J-16 fighter over the South China Sea while the former was conducting a “routine maritime surveillance” mission on May 26. The intercept subsequently led to a “dangerous manoeuvre.” Similarly, a Canadian news portal Global News reported that Chinese jets are regularly flying as close as 20-100 feet from a Royal Canadian Air Force CP-140 Aurora while monitoring activity around North Korea. The CP-140 is monitoring illegal ship-to-ship transfers of material making its way into and out of North Korea in defiance of United Nations sanctions set up in response to the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The Canadian aircraft operates from Kadena Air Base on the Japanese island of Okinawa as part of Operation Neon.
IX. Military Vocabulary
1) 军队 Jūn duì (Armed Forces). Jun means army/military; dui is squadron/ team/ group.
2) 外交 Wàijiāo (Diplomacy, Foreign Affairs). Wai is outside/foreign/external, Jiao is to deliver/ to hand over/ make friends
3) 中国 人民解放军 Zhōngguó rénmín jiěfàngjūn (Chinese People’s Liberation Army). Renmin is the people; One meaning of Jie is to liberate or emancipate; Fang is to let go/ release/ to free.
4) 海军 Hǎijūn (Navy). Hai is an ocean/sea/big lake.
5) 陆军 Lùjūn (Army). Lu is land/continent.
6) 空军 Kōngjūn (Air force). Kong is sky/air.
Suyash Desai is a research scholar studying China’s defence and foreign policies. He is currently studying the traditional Chinese language at National Sun Yat-Sen University, Kaohsiung, Taiwan.