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China and the Crisis

ChinaThe sea incident involving the USNS Impeccable was suspicious from the start. It has now become a little clearer, in that the US has admitted that its vessel was sub-hunting and was intercepted, probably because China was fully aware of what the Impeccable was up to. This raises anew the question of what exactly is China’s military capability at the present time and just how worried is the United States about this. Being no expert in these matters, I had a dig around and tried to summarize what knowledge is readily available in the public arena. The question has become more important now, as trade based friendship between China and the United States appears to be coming to an end:

Chinese exports slumped 25.7 per cent in February as the collapse in global demand caught up with the country’s exporters and overshadowed a sharp rise in domestic investment.

Will China look for a military solution to its internal social problems? Will it put its unemployed to work in a new military industrial push, in order to avoid revolution?

China’s military capability was previously assessed from the point of view of a possible invasion of Taiwan in addition to otherwise defensive or deterrent capabilities against more distant foes. As such, it has been known for quite some time that China has land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads to targets 13,000km away, plus hundreds of mobile weapons mounted on aircraft, ships, submarines and so on.

China’s submarine fleet had previously been assessed as limited, due to technical problems with its existing nuclear powered subs. However, over the past decade, China’s spending on military projects has risen sharply and it is quite possible that China now has what could be termed “full submarine capability”, meaning that it may have enough submarines in continuous operation and armed sufficiently to take out any of the major military powers worldwide, although I could not find confirmation of this. The point being that submerged craft are, most of the time, not targets and can be relied upon to deliver an unstoppable volley of missiles to annihilate any nation, including the United States. Once China enters the club of nations capable of promising “mutually assured destruction”, things are set to change substantially with regards to political and military posturing.

As for China’s invasive capability, it has over 2 million active personnel in its formal military forces, with roughly half that number in reserve, plus an unknown number of paramilitary personnel. It’s a very large force, which has been criticized in the past for being unwieldy and armed with low technology weaponry, but should a Chinese invasion (of Taiwan) occur, the massive numbers of available troops makes the probability of success very real. Modernization of China’s military continues, but in comparison it is thought to be far behind Western forces in technological prowess. The current trend is towards automation of weaponry and vehicles, especially with unmanned aircraft (which can eliminate the dead leg of a bombing mission) and tanks, but it is unlikely if human fighters will ever become obsolete, especially in urban combat and the “regime change” phase of invasion. One can even envisage a role for displaced, unemployed or otherwise condemned civilians used to colonize cities which have been cleared of inhabitants by military forces.

However, in assessments made roughly five years ago, a sea-based invasion of Taiwan by China did not appear to be a real threat in the medium term (until around 2015), especially since Taiwan would probably receive defensive assistance from the United States. However, in 2007, it was reported that China has been advancing more rapidly than expected in sea-based invasive capability and could be ready for a Taiwanese invasion by 2010. Other, more sensational reports, suggest that China will soon be second only to the United States in overall military capability.

Is it a coincidence that the plug would be pulled on the world economy at the end of 2008, just a year or two before the estimated time that China would be ready to take on its neighbors militarily? Could there have been a method to the economic madness? It’s difficult to say, but given that, in American circles, there is increasing talk of China’s threat both economically and militarily, one cannot discount such a possibility. The fear of war with Iran has been placed at forefront of the paid news media’s attention over the past year or two, however Iran’s economic significance, or its ability and likelihood to invade its neighbors, is probably much less than that of China’s.

As suggested previously, the world economic crisis cannot have merely monetary consequences. No nation wants to be poor, yet the game appears to be up for the United States as an economic superpower. The United States still has the world’s most advanced military outfit, but it has still shown an inability to overcome even the comparatively low-tech resistance mounted against it in Afghanistan. It is therefore vulnerable to being bogged down in other regional conflicts which could prompt China to carry out some of its long term strategic aims in Asia.

With its main export base vanishing, China may also be tempted to pump its excess productive capacity into its own military, which could see an extremely rapid and unpredictable build-up of its military capability. This would be a logical approach to managing its massive working population which has suddenly been rendered idle (a dangerous scenario if left unchecked). The alternative is to wait for the world to consume again, which could take a decade, or to face massive civil unrest and, potentially, the fall of the Chinese Government.

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