20.08.2019 Author: Valery Kulikov

Chinese Army Modernization a Huge Pain for Washington

The hegemony that the United States enjoyed during the transition period in the wake of the Cold War has ended. The bipolar world is on its way back and China is beginning to play an increasingly distinct role of a superpower in it.

The aforementioned fact pains Washington a great deal, especially the ongoing strengthening of the Chinese Armed Forces, which, despite the constantly increasing US military budget expenditures, are trying “not to lag behind” the development of the US Armed Forces.

The military expenses of the two countries already exceed those of the other states. By 2023, the US defense budget may reach $800 billion, with the Chinese one possibly exceeding $300 billion, while no other world power will spend more than $80 billion a year for its armed forces.

The People’s Republic of China’s defense expenditures exceeded $200 billion in 2018, showing a triple growth since 2002. China redirected the financing and effort in order to receive military technologies at all costs. The Chinese Armed Forces will own the cutting-edge offensive and defensive systems in the near future. The world’s second largest economy achieved this landmark as a result of the boisterous modernization of the recent years, whose strategic objective is a qualitative increase in the fighting capacity of the Chinese army. It is stated in the report of the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) published on January 15.

Therefore, scrupulous tracking of Beijing’s progress in the improvement of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) has been the focus of attention of the US military intelligence lately, so that the US does not miss any novelties in the equipment and activities of the CPLA, and there has been a lot to note in recent months alone.

Thus, Washington paid special attention to the recent CPLA statement about the large structural changes aimed at transforming the Chinese army into a modern fighting force. They are caused by the fact that, in modern conditions, the role of land fighting, which used to define the outcome of any conflict throughout most of the twentieth century since World War II, is declining. At the same time, the Navy, the Air Force and new strategic divisions dealing with the reflection of hi-tech threats, such as cyber war, are becoming critical. For this reason, the number of the Chinese land forces was reduced in favor of other types of military forces, within the framework of the so-called strategic structural shift. The changes in question are so considerable that the number of the Navy, the Air Force, the missile troops and strategic support forces responsible for such spheres as cyber war exceeded 50% of the total number of the CPLA.

In this light, the US is deeply concerned with the possibility of China to counteract the US in space and wage war there. In this regard, in January 2019, the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) published the report Challenges to Security in Space and estimated the possibilities of the Celestial Empire. The report acknowledges, in particular, that Beijing’s current priority issue is that of transforming China into a space superpower in all its aspects. China has the second place after the US by number of actively operating satellites. The Beijing space programme includes civil and military components. The CPLA Command understands space superiority as an ability to control the information space and to prevent the opponent from getting similar data, which is the key element of modern warfare. The Chinese military leaders consider defensive space operations as a form of containing the US Armed Forces and countering their possible offensive operations in the regional military conflicts during which the Americans, by destroying and capturing the Chinese satellites and other space facilities, significantly hinder the use of controlled weapons.

In its recent reports on the strategic military intentions of Beijing, the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)  comes to some shocking and disturbing conclusions regarding the rather rapid progress of China in the field of advanced military technologies, in particular, in the field of creating hypersonic weapons, where the US has fallen behind a great deal.

Besides, the US military experts gave a high estimate of the tests of the new Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile which showed that the US aircraft carriers are in real danger as reported by Washington Free Beacon at the beginning of July. The tests took place in the South China Sea, where, in particular, the US Navy ships are deployed. It is specified that the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM) requires hi-tech surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting systems. According to the Pentagon, China has already deployed all of those. The US has no missile systems of the kind, and the possibilities to counteract them are limited, according to the website.

What hurts Washington even more is the fact that the US Administration has not yet managed to eliminate the serious vulnerability of the US Army as far as China in concerned. And the latter has a great leverage on its strategic opponent thanks to the control over the supply of critical materials. It is acknowledged that the whole arsenal of the US modern weapons, from Tomahawk missiles to F-35 fighters, completely depends on the production of components which are made with the use of rare-earth elements and almost exclusively manufactured in China. At the same time, the Chinese threats about the termination of rare-earth element shipments for the first time voiced by Beijing at the end of May have not ceased yet. Therefore, Washington is forced to acknowledge that the military opportunities of the US are to a great extent in hands of the country which is now considered by the US national security agencies as a strategic rival. So far, the US does not know how to resolve its rare-earth dilemma.

In this regard, against the backdrop of the recent exacerbation of the US-Chinese relations fueled by Washington, many experts rightly consider that the US  realized this too late after having deciding to force China to kneel, since, in order to vanquish Beijing, it would have to not only begin a total economic war, but also resort to combat action. Even the US hawks lack courage to implement the second scenario today. Both countries are nuclear superpowers with sufficient economic and military resources, and any military collision between them will lead to the assured destruction not only of these two countries, but of the whole world.

Valery Kulikov, expert politologist, exclusively for the online magazine ‘New Eastern Outlook’

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