China is expanding its military capabilities, shifting its role from coastal defense to protecting the country's interests on a global scale. In 'The Dragon Extends its Reach: Chinese Military Power Goes Global,' Larry M. Wortzel, a specialist in Asian defense and counterintelligence issues, assesses China's strategic objectives and military capabilities -- as well as the policy challenges for the U.S.
China Real Time spoke with the author, a commissioner of the congressionally appointed U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, former director of the Asian Studies Center of the Heritage Foundation, and a 32-year veteran of the U.S. military. Edited excerpts:
The main theme of your book is China is trying to project power well beyond its borders. What is driving this expanding view of national interests?
China has expanded its military orientation from a focus primarily on the immediate periphery in response to changes in national interest. China has developed economic interests in other regions, including Africa, South Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Strategists in China realized these expanded interests may require a capacity to defend them, as well as the sea and air lines of communication vital to China's trade and need for raw materials and energy resources.
The major shift in orientation is reflected in a December 2004 speech by [former Communist Party chief] Hu Jintao. Hu charged the PLA with 'reinforcing the armed forces' loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party; helping to ensure China's sovereignty, territorial integrity and domestic security to continue national development; helping to safeguard China's expanding national interests; and promoting world peace and development.' The recognition that the PLA must be prepared to defend expanding national interests opened the door for military planners to develop strategies and field equipment that could operate globally.
Your book describes the transformation of the Chinese military -- from naval power and ground warfare to ballistic missiles as well as space and cyber capabilities. What are China's successes in this drive and where is it still lagging behind?
The People's Liberation Army has been very successful in building its ballistic and cruise missile forces, and the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) architecture to ensure these missiles can be accurately targeted in precision strikes. This also has translated into success in space systems, including tracking and data relay satellites and an indigenous global positioning and timing system, Beidou (Compass). The PLA has shown itself to be fast and good at producing new naval combat ships and submarines. A decade or so ago, they depended on foreign purchases for targeting technology and fire control. Today, because of reverse-engineering and espionage (including cyber espionage), Chinese industries are producing their own fire control systems. The PLA is very good at electronic warfare and cyber operations. Its major weaknesses are still in designing and fielding new combat aircraft and bombers, and especially in producing jet engines for those aircraft.
What objectives do you see for China's military planners in the event of conflict? What does that mean for the U.S?
China's military planners believe they need a strategy that will allow the PLA to counter any attempts by other countries at intervening in any conflict that may develop in the East China Sea, South China Sea or over Taiwan. This 'counter-intervention strategy' (fan jieru ) has been called by the United States an 'anti-access/area denial strategy.' The U.S. term accounts for both the PLA's goal of maintaining sea control inside the 'first island chain,' as the PLA has termed it. This first island chain includes the area from southern Japan, the east side of Taiwan, the west side of the Philippines, and the 'nine-dotted-line' that Beijing claims in the South China Sea. Basically, it is comprised of the East China Sea and the South China Sea.
Inside what the PLA calls a 'second island chain,' they want to deny another military the ability to operate freely in time of conflict. The second island chain as envisioned by the Chinese runs from the area around Tokyo Bay through the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau to West Papua in Indonesia. China's Navy has increased in size and now includes combat logistics forces to support naval task forces at sea. Also, the Air Force has bombers equipped with cruise missiles that can help deny that area of the sea to foreign forces, and the PLA has developed an anti-ship ballistic missile that can attack moving large ships, like aircraft carriers.
The resulting U.S. strategy and operating concept to address the counter-intervention strategy is the 'AirSea Battle Concept.' From a strategic standpoint, this means encouraging and assisting where possible the nations around the South and East China seas to work together and to build their own defense forces to meet any challenges from China and counter aggressive behavior by the PLA. From an operational standpoint, AirSea Battle envisions U.S. forces striking the places in China that enable the C4ISR system used for targeting enemy forces in time of conflict. In this sense, should it come to a conflict, AirSea Battle as an operating concept could lead to escalation.
How does the potential flash point of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands fit into this volatile mix?
China understands that the U.S. position on the Senkakus, which Beijing calls the Diaoyu Islands, is different from the position the U.S. takes on conflicting island claims in the South China Sea. The U.S. has made it clear that the defense treaty with Japan extends to the Senkaku Islands, administration over which the U.S. gave to Japan. In the South China Sea, the U.S. takes no position on conflicting territorial claims, but holds the position that disputes should be settled peacefully and that conflict would endanger the use of those waters for commerce.
While the U.S. and China enjoy significant ties in economic and political arenas, there has been only modest progress in military-to-military contacts. Are such ties useful and what prospects are there for deepening them?
I do not believe economic ties alone are sufficient to deter conflict. Nor do I believe China would avoid conflict because of substantial foreign investment there, or its investments in the U.S., if the Communist Party leadership believed there was a significant threat to what it defines as China's sovereignty. Military contacts are useful as confidence- and security-building measures. Also they facilitate the exchange of views on what actions by one side may create a conflict by the other. Still, the U.S. and China differ considerably on interpretations of the Law of the Sea related to military activities in Exclusive Economic Zones, and thus far, military-to-military conflicts have done nothing to resolve these differences. There have been no direct substantive exchanges on strategic nuclear doctrine and strategic warning, on warfare in space, or on cyber-attacks. These are potential flash points. Finally, I believe basic U.S. policy should be to avoid any military contacts that would strengthen the PLA, improve the PLA's ability to further repress the Chinese populace, or improve the PLA's capacity to threaten U.S. friends and allies.
Your book discusses media warfare. Who is tasked with this in the Chinese military and what are the objectives?
The General Political Department of the PLA seeks to shape messages to foreigners and to manage perceptions of China in foreign countries. Some messages are directed at Taiwan, while others argue that one-party rule is best for China and other countries should accept this. Some activities focus on domestic attitudes in China, while others are designed to counter the influence of Western media in China. The PLA and the Party Propaganda Department also put messages intended to influence foreign opinion or actions into international media, suggesting for instance, that the Ryukyu Island chain, part of Japan, historically belonged to China. One media action that seemed to backfire was a suggestion that the ancient Koryo Kingdom, which encompassed part of Manchuria and part of North Korea, is Chinese territory. This effort led to strong reactions in North and South Korea.
Your book was published before former U.S. defense contractor Edward Snowden went public with explosive accusations. Do you see this as changing the U.S.-China debate over surveillance and cyber warfare?
All nations conduct espionage, and the conduct of espionage -- alone -- is not a cause for war. The fact that Edward Snowden apparently revealed some elements of U.S. electronic and cyber monitoring does not affect the U.S.-China debate over surveillance and cyber warfare. China's cyber espionage has focused on stealing intellectual property and industrial technology, as well as business intelligence.
The report by the Mandiant Corporation, two reports for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, and statements by senior U.S. officials make it clear the PLA and other Chinese government agencies are taking information obtained through espionage and turning it over to Chinese industries. The United States does not engage in these practices. So the focus of any discussion between the U.S. and China are on the theft of intellectual property.
Another use of cyber espionage is to reconnoiter computer networks to facilitate attack in time of conflict. This could be a very escalatory practice because Chinese military doctrine calls for attacks on the enemy's critical infrastructure at the start of a conflict or immediately before one breaks out. With respect to discussions on cyber-attacks, the U.S. has focused on penetrations by China designed to gather information on religious or political groups in the U.S. and on the theft of intellectual property, while the PRC side has tried to focus discussions on controlling and restricting access to the Internet.
China has pledged not to make a first nuclear strike, but your book says this pledge ultimately could be abandoned under pressure from Chinese military planners. Could you elaborate?
China's military doctrine emphasizes the importance of surprise, seizing the initiative in war, and striking first. Yet there are contradictory elements that suggest 'absorbing a first strike and then retaliating.' I have watched the PLA build its nuclear and missile capacity for over three decades. PLA nuclear forces and posture are still essentially a defensive and retaliatory force. China has not built the sort of first-strike, offensive forces that characterized the Soviet Union. But there is a debate in China on the idea of no-first-use. Some younger military officers and scholars argue China should not be bound by this policy. The PLA doctrinal book, 'The Science of Second Artillery Campaigns,' is ambiguous about the policy. It says in one place that 'in general cases' China adheres to a no-first-use policy; but it does not say what might cause the Central Military Commission to depart from these 'general cases.'
I think Chinese military and political leaders calculate that the U.S. is far more averse to nuclear attacks on its soil than is China. I fear, however, that they may well miscalculate U.S. will, and may miscalculate how the U.S. might react to China's use of tactical nuclear weapons at sea, or against American allies.
On the U.S. side, we really don't know how China might react to strikes by the U.S. on the Chinese mainland, which is one of the features of AirSea Battle. In my view, the U.S. and China really should be engaged in direct strategic talks, such as those we had with the former Soviet Union. These exchanges fostered strategic stability.
中国正在扩张军力，将军队的角色从海岸防卫转向保护中国在全球范围内的利益。亚洲防务及反间谍事务专家沃策尔(Larry M. Wortzel)在其新书《巨龙延伸：中国军力走向全球化》(The Dragon Extends Its Reach: Chinese Military Power Goes Global)中评估了中国的战略目标和军事能力，以及对美国形成的政策挑战。
Courtesy Larry M. Wortzel图为1989年，当时的美国陆军少校、美国驻华大使馆副武官沃策尔（中）参加解放军空军在开封的一次跳伞。1989年天安门事件后，两国间此类军事接触中断。《中国实时报》记者采访了沃策尔。他是由美国国会任命的美中经济和安全审议委员会(U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission)委员，曾任美国传统基金会(Heritage Foundation)亚洲研究中心(Asian Studies Center)主任，同时还是在美国军队服役32年的老兵。以下为经过编辑的采访内容：
我不认为仅凭经济联系就足以阻止冲突，我也不认为如果共产党领导层认为其所定义的中国主权受到了重大威胁的话，中国会因为外国在中国有大量投资，或中国在美国有大量投资而回避冲突。作为增进互信、加强安全的手段，军事接触是有用的。而且，军事接触还能促进双方交流观点，对于一方的哪些行动会被另一方认为将造成冲突有所了解。不过，美国和中国在对《联合国海洋法公约》(Law of the Sea)有关在专属经济区内的军事行动的规定存在不同的解读，而且截至目前，军事接触对于解决这些分歧丝毫没有起到作用。在战略核武器原则和战略警报方面，在空间战争方面，或是在网络攻击方面，双方并没有大量的直接交流。这些都是潜在的引爆点。最后，我认为美国最基本的政策应该是，对于任何可能增强解放军的实力、提高解放军进一步压制中国民众的能力、或是增强解放军威胁美国朋友和盟友的实力的接触，美国都要尽量避免。