November 7, 2005
by Mary C. FitzGerald
Early this year, Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan called on the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to harness cutting-edge military technologies, to enhance strategic and basic research, and to make breakthroughs in key technologies in a bid to "leap forward in the armaments development drive." Comrade Cao also was announcing to the world that China's economy had advanced sufficiently in technological sophistication to ensure that it could focus on 21st-century weaponry. We are now on notice, as Russian military officials have warned, that China's ultimate objective is to achieve global military-economic dominance by 2050. This must be reflected in the current U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review.
China's gross domestic product is expected to double between 2000 and 2010. The defense budget continues to increase annually by double-digit margins. In his new book "The Emerging Chinese Advanced Technology Superstate," Ernest Preeg has forecast that China will become "an advanced technology superstate: A fundamental restructuring of Chinese defense industry in 1997 to 1999 shifted control of defense enterprises from the military to the civilian government, and integrated their operations with commercial advanced technology enterprises…. The result has been a more rapid rate of military system modernization, particularly for the navy and defense electronic systems."
This is the linchpin of China's prospects for emerging as America's "peer competitor" in high-tech warfare.
In the late 1990s, China revamped its military research and development program. The PLA is currently pursuing-by both the Sino-Russian multi-billion dollar arms pact and incorporating other critical foreign technologies-systems of its own.
Besides modernizing its conventional armed forces, today's China focuses on three military priorities:
The central principle driving the modernization of national defense is reliance on science and technology to strengthen the armed forces.
The ultimate objective of this particular revolution in military affairs, say the Chinese, is to build a capacity to win the future "information war"- which can only be won by achieving space dominance. The core of ongoing Chinese military reforms thus consists in developing those specific symmetrical and asymmetrical systems designed to neutralize today's U.S. technological superiority in the space-information continuum.
China already is striving to offset the military advantages of America's existing aerospace systems, seeking especially to challenge the air dominance that the United States must continue to maintain over the Taiwan Strait if it wants to deter and, if need be, counter any major Chinese attack against Taiwan.
Chinese military thinkers have offered their notions of how to deal with Taiwan's "independence elements." Beijing is said to have earmarked an annual military budget of 500 billion yuan ($61.9 billion) to accelerate production of the required armaments. PLA leaders, who have pledged that they can capture Taiwan within seven days, appear bent on conducting an anti-carrier campaign against the United States if it comes to that. As Chinese President Hu Jintao has boasted, this war "will not obstruct the holding of the 2008 Olympic games."
China foresees a time when it can push back American air power, first, farther away from its own coasts, and then even farther out from critical areas like the South China Sea. Russian officials concur with this assessment. They warn that a Chinese "Monroe doctrine" is quietly at work: "All of Asia belongs to the Chinese-and not only Asia."
Since 2001, we have been challenged by the need to transform our forces to deal with a cunning, soulless, but essentially low-tech predator-the terrorist. Yet those other realms of warfare that occupied us prior to 9/11-information, naval, and above all aerospace-still constitute the nucleus of the new revolution in military affairs. If we neglect the timely development of weaponry in these arenas, then China could catch America like a deer in the proverbial headlights, precisely where we caught them after the 1991 victory in Desert Storm.
History has taught all generations that maintaining technological superiority, not to mention a nation itself, requires a policy, persistence, and (sadly) a price. But at least two recent U.S. technological initiatives, "Air-Land Battle" and "Star Wars," have already helped smash the bloody cement of the Berlin Wall.
The Quadrennial Defense Review is due next year. It must address the evolving Chinese military, economic, and-lest we all forget-totalitarian juggernaut.
This article appeared in Defense News on November 7, 2005.
Mary C. FitzGerald was a research fellow at Hudson Institute and co-author of a forthcoming report on advanced technology and Chinese military power.
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