Some Quiet Sabre Rattling
Some analysis of largely-unreported recent PLAN exercises and the connection with the Kitty Hawk incident, in which a USN CVBG was turned away from a scheduled visit to Hong Kong.
The author notes the influence of certain Taiwan-orientated officers within the governing set-up, and also some possible lack of co-ordination between the PLA and the civilian executive, for example the ministry of foreign affairs.
His main point, however, is that China is tentatively trying to demonstrate its power projection capability. Notable that also this week there was a friendly naval visit to Japan, intended to 'reassure' the Japanese. AP notes the irony of both the US and Chinese vessels being in port at the same time but under different circumstances.
Also in context was the Dalai Lama's masterstroke pronouncement on his succession. In a sense, he has to ensure that the next Dalai Lama doesn't suffer the fate of the hapless young Panchen Lama, who through no fault of his own remains missing and probably isn't enjoying the best of times.
But also what better way to highlight Beijing's lack of democratic credentials to the international community than by demonstrating your own willingness to shed the feudalism you've been accused of in favour of a modern referendum? Incredibly, Beijing had the cheek to criticise him for rejecting religious traditions. As if razing hundreds of monasteries to the ground during the Cultural Revolution was an act of respect.
Finally, China's meeting with the EU illustrated the other side of China's power projection through economic means. All in all, this week has been quite significant in China's positioning of itself on the world stage.
The two most powerful bodies in the polity—the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) and the CMC—are filled with cadres and generals with long-standing expertise on Taiwan. Three PSC members have served as either governor or party secretary of Fujian, the “frontline province” just opposite Taiwan. They are Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Jia Qinglin, Secretary of the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection He Guoqiang, and Fifth-Generation rising star Xi Jinping, the front-ranked secretary of the Central Committee Secretariat. The CMC is replete with Taiwan Strait specialists. This include Defense Minister designate General Liang Guanglie, a veteran commander of war games off the Taiwan coast; the newly promoted Chief of the General Staff, General Chen Bingde, a former commander of the Nanjing Military Region; Air Force Commander General Xu Qiliang, who was once based in Fujian; and Naval Commander Admiral Wu Shengli, a former vice-chief of the East Sea Fleet. Since becoming CMC chief in late 2004, Hu has promoted a large number of alumni of the Nanjing Military Region, which has “jurisdiction” over the Strait.
On a larger-scale, last week’s provocative exercises tally with the overall pattern of power projection that began early this year with the destruction of an old weather satellite by state-of-the-art PLA missiles. The feat, which apparently signaled Beijing’s readiness to join the militarization of space, was followed by the country’s successful effort late last month to put a Chinese-made satellite into the moon’s orbit. Moreover, the PLA has for the past year deviated from its past practice of keeping newly developed weapons under wraps. Semi-official military websites regularly run stories and pictures that showcase the prototypes or just-completed versions of soon-to-be-deployed hardware ranging from the Jin-class submarine—which is capable of carrying nuclear-tipped cruise missiles—to the nation’s first aircraft carrier.
Apart from telling Taiwan independence forces—and their sympathizers in the United States and Japan—that Beijing has the wherewithal to maintain national unity, Beijing is flexing its military muscle in a fashion befitting an emerging quasi-superpower. Referring to the 17th Congress, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) strategist Hong Yuan pointed out that “the [defense] concerns of the new leadership and the force projection of China’s military have gone way beyond the Taiwan Strait.” Hong sees the coming five years as “a period of rapid development in areas ranging from the PLA’s establishment, institutions and hardware to the extent and means of force projection” (Wen Wei Po, October 19).