Sunday, December 19, 2010

China and Its Blue Water Fleet

China presents an interesting challenge, aka "threat", to the United States. The PLA is well over three times the size of the US military and the PLAN, its Navy has been building the elements of a full fledged blue water navy, except it started with a littoral fleet and subs.

The Financial Times announces China's plans for its first full fledged element of true blue water, namely a carrier. The FT states:

China has launched an ambitious plan to build an aircraft carrier, the country has revealed for the first time, in a move that will heighten international scrutiny of the rapid expansion of its naval power....The decision, which has far-reaching implications for China’s defense strategy and diplomatic relations, was disclosed in a single sentence buried at the end of a lengthy book published by a government agency earlier this year.

For almost fifty years the United States Foreign policy was dominated by the existence of the Soviet Union. It was a focusing factor which created camps whose approaches differed significantly. However the threat was real, quantifiable and focused. In the wake of 9/11 the focus shifted somewhat to Muslim Terrorism, with the Afghan war and the expansion into Iraq. However it was clear that countries such as Iran and North Korea presented well-articulated threats to the United States and that their threat levels were exacerbated by nuclear intentions and capabilities.

However as the USSR had taken a strong role for half a century that role in many ways has been replaced by China, but with substantial differences.

1. China has a massive land army and the Chinese military has its hands in many commercial enterprises as well. The Chinese Army has over the sixty years since Korea, mastered the art of war over large land masses.

2. China has been dramatically expanding its Navy, the PLAN,  and turning it from a littoral fleet to a world class “blue water” fleet. While the United States has downsized its fleet to less than 130 ships at sea worldwide at any time, and no more than 350 in its total arsenal, China has several times the number. Now with the introduction of a carrier fleet it moves the equation significantly.

3. China has recently shown its capabilities in space, from its well outfitted nuclear missile arsenals, to its clear moves on colonizing the moon and beyond. China has the financial, intellectual, and technical resources to excel in this area.

4. China has been behind the scenes and most likely an active manipulator of both Iran and North Korea. China is a supplier in direct and indirect ways of the technical components and know how required for the development and deployment of nuclear capabilities in these countries. These actions are at the core of the destabilizing influences that China has taken.

5. China has taken strong investment positions across the African continent securing raw materials and mineral interests, as well as assuring political support if and when required.

6. A large number of Chinese students come to the United States for graduate training and then due to both US and Chinese policies return to China. There are examples of some Chinese students being funded for doctoral programs in the US by US Military agency funds, ARPA for example, and then returning back to China to play significant roles in the same Chinese agencies.

7. China has developed a most sophisticated capability in cyber warfare, whether it is the ability to access highly sensitive systems and networks to the extreme ability or restructuring and reconfiguring overall global Internet traffic for its own purposes. As the US for years had hubbed its traffic on MAE East and West, China is clearly seeking such a hubbing for Asian and most likely global traffic. This will give China the ability to have significant control over global networks, commercial, financial, and otherwise.

8. The Chinese PLA has amassed a massive nuclear stockpile of both tactical and strategic weapons, and in many ways it surpasses what was presenting the United States during the Cold War period.

These issues are related primarily to the ability of China as a military force, as a threat to the United States as a military power. In many ways this is akin to the issues that we saw for fifty years with the Soviet Union. However, and this is a highly significant difference, and it is the economic and technological power that China also holds over the United States.

1. As is well known China is a major holder of US Public debt, well in excess of $ trillion.

2. Due to outsourcing, and off-shore manufacturing and assembly, China has become the dominant manufacturer of sophisticate high tech equipment, and its proximity to the most sensitive electronic equipment in the world. China as a maker of chips and an assembler of integrated systems can readily adapt those systems for its own purposes and as such when shipped internationally, China may then have control over many of the most sensitive commercial, financial and possibly military systems and networks.

3. China is the largest exporter of goods imported into the United States. With the ability to control its currency, China can and most likely will remain in that position and as such will get US currency flows to China for the good that China exports. China has complained that the reason it fails to import more is that there are restrictions on certain high tech imports. While that is true in part, another reason is the controlled Chinese economy.

As such, China is a more strategic threat to the United States than the old Soviet Union ever was. Yet the current Administration focuses on a Start Treaty which is between the United States and Russia, leaving the most significant player globally, China out of the mix. The current Administration and past Democratic Administrations have opened the doors to China to the transfer of technologies, directly and via the licensing of manufacturing capabilities in strategic areas, such a chip manufacturing and nano-technology.

The current Administration must take a look closely at the implications of these issue. The FT concludes with:

Beijing has recently silenced several military officers who had raised hackles earlier this year with belligerent comments and has resumed military-to-military dialogue with the US ahead of official exchanges including a visit by Hu Jintao, China’s president, to Washington next month....The US navy complained last year that its vessels had been harassed by Chinese ships in international waters. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said earlier this year he had “gone from being curious about where China is headed to being concerned about it”.

The current downsizing of the Defense budget, the current strategy of the US Navy to be providers of humanitarian care, and the general dislike of the military by the current Administration, plays into China's hand. Curious to concerned is an understatement.