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West Ignores Strategic Changes in Chinese Military Strategy

by David Yee, published

Since the Korean War, Western powers have relied on China’s limited technological and naval abilities as a buffer against their vast troop reserves. The basic strategy has been one of containment, the Himalayas to the West, Pacific Ocean to the East, and pro-China neighbors to the North and South. The Chinese inability to retake the island of Taiwan highlights past military weaknesses and has given a false sense of security to the West— the litmus test has always been whether new military developments threaten Taiwan. This paradigm is no longer true.


Many grumblings of fear began last year when the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning put to sea for trials. While America scrambles to cut $14 billion from naval expenses, the mainstream media has created the appearance that the Chinese are catching up with their ever expanding defense budgets.

Countless military analysts have conclusively shown that the threat of this new carrier is mainly one of

status. This new carrier might be a major contender in a smaller regional conflict, but with limited aircraft availability, susceptibility to submarine attack, and almost no far-reaching combat support, the threat to the United States is almost nonexistent.

The launching of China’s first two carriers represents a continuation of their green-water strategy. This is adherence to long established Chinese military doctrine — and not a radical departure. Considering that the United States operates twenty of the world's thirty-eight commissioned carriers (with allies operating ten others), fears of China gaining ground on naval parity are completely unfounded.


Estimates predict that over This is a useful underdog strategy, but one that will typically only improve their own control over existing spheres of influence.

On a larger scale, experts are beginning to warn of suspicious deployment of Chinese satellites in arrangements that suggest anti-satellite technology. The 2007 test that destroyed a Chinese weather satellite signaled intentions that space could be a new battleground. With the enlargement of the Beidou Navigational Satellite System in 2011, China's regional answer to global positioning, GPS satellites are natural targets for attack.

Tests of hypersonic missile technology this January further point toward an improved ability to neutralize naval threats. Head-to-head naval battles are unnecessary if a nearly impossible to shoot down missile technology is completely developed.

This past week, what should have been treated as a major intelligence break through was handled in the press as a humanitarian human interest story. The high-tech search for the missing Malaysian airliner was the world's first open access to the capabilities of Chinese spy satellites. Judging from the clarity and resolution, they can probably boast capabilities similar to our own Cold War claims of being able to tell what Khrushchev was cooking for dinner on his outdoor grill.

Most of the above trends are highly publicized, yet still important changes in the overall Chinese military strategy. Each of them are a component of the changing military strategy. The more subtle changes come in the form of a departure from Maoist strategy -- changes that will have even larger regional impacts.

Maoist military strategy relied on vast troop reserves that could be fielded in the event of invasion. With overwhelming numbers, a war of attrition is always won by the larger side. A large navy and air force are not needed under this strategy -- a moderately equipped army could fully defend the country. This doctrine essentially conceded Taiwan, but it also protected the Mainland from invasion or occupation since World War II.

State-sponsored propaganda is actually an invaluable source for information -- as long as you scrape away the bellicose saber-rattling and scripted rhetoric. When it is important enough to make it into the party's official news, it's probably important enough for the world to take notice. Yet, that is exactly where the major media outlets are failing.

In the last two months, there has been at least 20 separate articles in the People's Daily News about the People's Liberation Army's training exercises in parachute assaults, cold-weather amphibious landings, para-military and special forces training. This past week, another article highlighted the new Y-20 heavy lift aircraft which boasts an impressive 66-ton payload capacity. The focus of China's military training is on highly-trained special forces that can be deployed anywhere within their sphere of influence.

The problem with this new paradigm is that it does not fit any strategy on Taiwan -- and we are so used to measuring the Chinese military by their ability to capture Taiwan that we don't know how to rationalize any other standard. From a strategic standpoint, it is unlikely that this would be part of an overall strategy on capturing Taiwan. A sleek, fast, and technologically savvy force is unlikely to capture an island with over 5 million soldiers under arms.

The real threat, the one that is almost completely ignored, is that China can now make good on its territorial threats with Japan, the Philippians, Vietnam, and India. There has even been increased saber-rattling with China giving overt warnings that it intends to defend its territorial claims. The West needs to rethink how it views the Chinese military -- changing the paradigm from soldiers armed with pitch forks running in a human wave to a modern army with a significant special forces threat.

The rapid growth of China's economy, coupled with its increasing hunger for natural resources, makes China's willingness to go to war to protect territorial claims an inevitability.  Diplomacy will probably be the long-term answer in Taiwan, but brute force will most likely resolve most of China's smaller territorial claims. Right now, all eyes in the Chinese government are on the Crimea, because the price of future conquests in the court of world politics is being determined right now.

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