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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Expert urges sustained efforts to understand China's military

Central News Agency

2009/10/01 20:32:42

By Stanley Cheung and Bear Lee

Hong Kong, Oct. 1 (CNA) China showcased its military hardware in a parade in Beijing Thursday to celebrate its 60th national day, but a U.S. expert said sustained efforts are needed to detect and understand China's military approach.

The wide range of home-developed weaponry on display in the largest-ever parade included nuclear-capable missiles, fighter jets, aerial drones and other advanced arms.

Dean Chang, a research fellow with the U.S.-based Heritage Foundation, said in an article delivered to the CNA that in some respects, the big guns displayed were a distraction.

Lower-profile command, control and communications systems, such as airborne early-warning and control aircraft and satellite- communications devices, more accurately reflect the comprehensive challenge of China's expanding military capabilities, he said.

These systems might not look particularly special in a parade, but they evince the increasing sophistication of China's strategic thinking and technology, he added.

China is not aiming to match the U.S. weapon-for-weapon. Instead, China is pursuing an "asymmetric" approach. It is a view of future warfare, expounded in PLA analyses, that focuses more on enabling the PLA to gather, transmit and exploit information while denying an opponent that same ability, Chang said.

Less noticeable, but arguably even more important and worrisome, Chang continued, is a coherent doctrine and improved training regimens. PLA training efforts include extensive exercising of command-and-control capabilities, employing forces that cross military region boundaries, and "conducting training in complex electromagnetic environments," a reference to both electronic warfare and cyberwarfare.

He said the U.S. needs long-term, in-depth analyses of Chinese capabilities that go beyond the "bean counting" of new systems to look at logistical capabilities and training regimens.

This will require extensive examination of Chinese-language materials such as PLA reference volumes, textbooks and other official publications, because much of this will involve reshaped doctrine and adjusted metrics rather than physical systems, and this entails expanding the ranks of analysts familiar with Chinese military publications and capable of assessing their authoritativeness.

Addressing changes to Chinese strategy will also require maintaining a substantial U.S. force in the East Asian region, and conventional capabilities in the area -- long the American strong suit -- must be maintained, both to reassure American allies and to signal to China that the U.S. has continued commitment to the region, he added.

The most difficult challenge for U.S. policy makers, however, will be interacting with members of the PLA itself. There is arguably no better means of learning about changes within a military than by talking with its members, observing its exercises, and even going to its academies and institutions of higher military education.

He said the U.S. is clearly the dominant military power in the Asia-Pacific region today, but China is gaining fast, and China's expanding range of national interests and military capabilities suggest there will be greater likelihood of brushing up against the U.S., both inside and outside Asia. Chang said it is important that the two sides reduce the opportunity for misunderstanding or miscalculation -- be it of capability or intention. This is impossible unless U.S. analysts can get focus on China's growing operational capabilities, he concluded.

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