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Inside The 2018 Pentagon China Report

August 23, 2018

Via South China Morning Post.

This year’s Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, also known as the 2018 China Military Power Report, may have arrived later than usual but the wait was well worth it. The contents of the 145 page document authored by Pentagon researchers are packed with useful insights about China’s growing military strength. In previous decades this annual report was supposed to inform US legislators about how Taiwan was faring against its belligerent neighbor–this time it’s different.

Anyone who follows military affairs in China may not be too surprised about the contents of the report. But there’s now a clear difference in tone when the authors acknowledge Beijing’s ambitions. With its swollen defense budget and investment projects running unchecked across four continents, the US is witnessing the emergence of a genuine peer competitor.

The PLAAF’s H-6K bombers are capable of reaching three vital bodies of water and their payloads of YJ-12 cruise missiles can strike Guam. Map above is on page 120.

The bulk of the report spans an executive summary followed by six chapters that each deal with the PLA’s modernization during the previous year. Towards the end, however, are essays marked “Special Topic” about specific changes in Beijing’s strategic moves. The essay on page 118 titled Overwater Bomber Operations has attracted some controversy because of its findings. Based on the Pentagon’s own assessment the pattern of PLAAF long-range bomber flights reveals these can target all major US bases in the “first island chain” should war break out.

On page 119 is a chart listing every instance of PLAAF bomber exercises from 2013 until late 2017.

The Pentagon has always obsessed over China’s energy footprint. Based on its own research, Beijing intends to diversify its sources and ensure these are cost-effective and reliable. The Strait of Malacca remains a choke point where 80% of its crude oil needs pass through. Overland routes are the solution and pipelines across Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Russia, and Turkmenistan are now in place to deliver oil and natural gas without a hitch.

The special topics on China’s Expanding Global Influence (page 111) and Xi Jinping’s Innovation-Driven Development Strategy (121) are immensely valuable to readers as forecasts on what can happen by the 2020s. In the former essay, the authors conclude the scale of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will be accompanied by foreign military bases in more countries. The latter special topic reads like a cheat sheet on an adversary’s intentions. It carefully explains how the “Made in China 2025” is just one step in a 30-year plan for establishing the People’s Republic as a global leader in science and technology.

To achieve this far-fetched goal, the authors list 10 industries China plans on dominating by the year 2025. These are:

  1. New generation IT
  2. Machine tooling and robotics
  3. Aerospace equipment
  4. Marine engineering
  5. Rail transport
  6. New energy automobiles
  7. Electric power equipment
  8. Agricultural equipment
  9. New materials
  10. Biomedicine

An extremely detailed list of the PLA’s missile arsenal is found on pp. 63-64. The “major systems” seen above are followed by anti-ship cruise missiles, ground attack munitions, anti-radiation munitions, and artillery-delivered high precision munitions.

Of course, true to the report’s original purpose, detailed appendices are provided charting the military balance between China and Taiwan. The better reference is still the chapter Force Modernization For A Taiwan Contingency on page 92 where the present state of the China-Taiwan soft war is given a broad overview. It isn’t surprising to learn Beijing’s options are far more varied today than at any point in the latter half of the 20th century. According to the Pentagon, should there be sufficient cause for action, the PLA can wage an air and maritime blockade; use limited force “to induce fear in Taiwan”; rely on an air and missile campaign; launch a large-scale amphibious invasion.

Tabulation of increases in defense spending over a 10-year period. Seen on page 82.

Taiwan, on the other hand, is bedeviled by its share of worrisome problems. As the report notes, its advantages are in decline compared to the rapidly modernizing PLA; its “all-volunteer force” is a tiny army that costs too much for too little; the island nation has embraced “asymmetric warfare” because it can no longer afford a long war.

What this year’s report ultimately drives home is China’s commitment to achieving superpower status, it’s determination to build an expeditionary PLA prepared to wage high tech wars, and its preparedness to settle the Taiwan on its own terms. Although the Pentagon insists on a regular schedule of military-to-military visits with the PLA’s leadership, there is no longer any common ground between Beijing and Washington, DC at this point.

Blessed with abundant graphics and plain language, readers are encouraged to read the newest 2018 China Military Power Report in its entirety by downloading it straight from the source.

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