Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still

PLAN Type 054A Jiangkai II frigate (FFG-529 Zhoushan).

Randy Schriver, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, East Asia, and senior country director for China in OSD notes China’s steady progress toward a first-rate military.  It is not yet a titan of hard power, but neither is it a bumbling gang of incompetents.  There are observable trend lines, and those trend lines lead toward a shift in the present strategic balance.

…It is a priority for China to acquire capabilities specifically oriented toward countering U.S. military strengths. China’s aerospace programs in anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) and anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons are potential “game-changers” for U.S. operations. A successful ASBM program could expand the threat envelope for U.S. aircraft carriers to a distance where traditional carrier-based flight operations become impractical. Likewise, the ASAT program threatens satellites that the U.S. military relies on for intelligence, communication and navigation.

…Yet of even greater concern is China’s ambition to acquire the capability to lethally cripple civilian and military information infrastructures, and to weave such capabilities into PLA doctrine for war fighting.

…China’s advancing defense industrial capabilities has put a new tool in its political-military tool kit — use of foreign military sales and provision of defense technologies to support broader strategic and military goals.

And China is making policy choices that present growing challenges to U.S. interests. Despite formal commitments, China supplies missiles to Iran and conventional weapons and small arms to Sudan. A U.N. investigation in 2006 found China to be the primary supplier of ammunitions used in Darfur. China’s military sales increasingly complicate U.S. interests.

— Schriver, Randy.  “People’s Army not standing still.”  Washington Times, 12 August 2009.

Let’s not be coy, by “complicate” he means “subvert and supplant”.  Any honest diplomat or soldier should tell you that, indeed, their duty is to be the instruments by which their nation (whether it be China, Canada or anywhere else) can—subtly or unsubtly—alter the strategic balance in its favour.  And to do so is not a gross violation of the international order but the natural inclination of nation-states; so we should not be surprised when China (or, say, France) does so.

Given that the hard-charging Chinese government will, within our lifetime, establish just such a first-rate military, the questions that we should be asking are:

  1. Can we trust a totalitarian government with that sort of capability?   (The short answer is “no”)
  2. What steps are we prepared to take to either subvert it; or, once established, to contain it?

JUST FOR FUN: From militaryphotos.net, an illustration-rich comparison of guided-missile frigates from Southeast Asian nations.  The PLAN Type 054A places in the top three.

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