China Caucus Blog

Posted by Alex Gray | January 26, 2016

Taiwan Stages Military Drills On Island Off Chinese Coast. “Taiwan held small-scale military drills on an island it controls just off the Chinese coast Tuesday, in a renewed signal of its determination to defend itself from Chinese threats. The head of Kinmen's defense command said the beach landing exercise and simulated attack by the navy's elite "frogman" commandos were to show the ability of the armed forces to provide security in the Taiwan Strait ahead of next month's Lunar New Year holiday. The drills follow live-fire exercises held by China in the area just days after Taiwanese voters elected independence-leaning Tsai Ing-wen as president on Jan. 16. The unit involved in those exercises, the 31st Group Army, is charged with responding to contingencies involving Taiwan and is based in the city of Xiamen, directly across a narrow waterway from Kinmen. China claims Taiwan as its own territory and threatens to use force to bring the island under its control. The Kinmen commander, Hau Yi-he, said no unusual Chinese military movements had been detected since the election and Taiwan's forces would continue with routine drills. "We have been monitoring their (China's) military movements. So far, it has remained normal," Hau told The Associated Press during a visit to the island organized by Taiwan's Defense Ministry. Taiwan retained Kinmen and the Matsu island group to the north as frontline defense outposts for Nationalist forces that retreated to Taiwan following the Communists' 1949 sweep to power in China's civil war. Reporters were later flown to an air base in the southern county of Chiayi that is home to some of the air force's F-16A/B fighter jets, along with an air rescue group. Taiwan has sought to purchase the more advanced F-16C/D version of the plane from the U.S., a bid that, if successful, would be sure to elicit a furious response from Beijing. While China in recent years has promoted the concept of peaceful unification rather than outright invasion, it has refused to drop its military threat and passed a law in 2005 laying out the conditions under which it would attack. While not setting a timetable, President Xi Jinping has told visitors he doesn't wish the issue of independence to be put off for future generations. Writing Monday in the Communist Party newspaper Global Times, commentator and retired general Luo Yuan said China would never bend in its determination to realize unification, regardless of developments on Taiwan. "As long as 'peace' has not died, we will give 100 percent," wrote Luo, whose views reflect a popular strain of thinking among nationalist Chinese. "But if the 'Taiwan independence' elements force us into a corner, then we have no other choice but 'unification by force.'"

China To Launch The World’s Most Powerful Hyperspectral Satellite. “While SEAL Team 6 descended upon Osama Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2011, they used hyperspectral imaging to gain an edge in nighttime urban combat. But China is soon bringing that advantage to space, preparing to launch the world's most powerful hyperspectral imaging satellite. Electro-optical devices like cameras and infrared sensors generally observe only one band in the electromagnetic spectrum, i.e. cameras observe the band visible to human eyesight and infrared cameras view the infrared band. Hyperspectral cameras and sensors, on the other hand, can simultaneously view hundreds of electromagnetic bands for a single image, building a layered 'cube' of the image in different electromagnetic wavelengths. The use of such a wide range of wavelengths provides the ability to observe objects which conceal their emissions in one part of the spectrum (i.e. stealth aircraft and thermally suppressed engines) or are hidden (such as underground bunkers). Since the 1970s, China has a strong history of scientific and civilian utilization of hyperspectral imaging. Space-based platforms include the Chang'e lunar missions and Earth-observation from the Tiangong space station and HJ-1 small satellite. Aircraft-mounted hyperspectral imagers are used for tasks such as environmental surveys, oil prospecting, disaster relief and crop measurement. As computer processing power improves and hyperspectral sensors get smaller, Chinese civilian and military applications are likely to expand. A key in this program is the China Commercial Remote-sensing Satellite System (CCRSS), to be launched later this year. It can collect data on 328 electromagnetic bands, offering very high resolution of up to 15 meters, according to the researchers from the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth in Beijing. In comparison, the U.S. TacSat 3, launched in 2010, collects only 300 electromagnetic bands, at a lower resolution. While it is being launched for commercial users, like most other Chinese earth-observation satellites, it would also be available for military use. Notably, on January 8, 2016, hyperspectral expert Professor Xiang Libin of the Shanghai Engineering Center for Microsatellites received an award from President Xi Jinping during the 2016 national science and technology awards ceremony, for an unspecified project. Interestingly, Professor Xiang's non-mention on the awards program mirrors the scrubbing of a 2015 Feng Ru aeronautic award handed out to Professor Wang Zhengguo for developing China's first scramjet hypersonic engine. Broader Chinese advances in hyperspectral imaging can be expected to have a variety of military uses. Hyperspectral imaging can be a valuable tool for finding submarines and underwater mines in shallow waters. On land, they can determine the actual composition of objects to distinguish decoys (hyperspectral imaging can capture the differences in EM signature of a wooden decoy versus an actual missile launcher). In the air, hyperspectral sensors can passively detect even thermally shielded stealth aircraft. For counter-WMD missions, hyperspectral imaging can be used to detect nuclear and chemical weapons production, as well as locating the underground tunnels and bunkers that would house those strategic assets. For China, hyperspectral imaging is opening up a whole new world.”

STRATCOM: China Moving Rapidly To Deploy New Hypersonic Glider. “China conducted six successful tests of a new high-speed hypersonic glide vehicle, the most recent in November, and also recently tested an anti-satellite missile, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command said Friday. Adm. Cecil D. Haney, the commander in charge of nuclear forces, said the tests are part of a worrying military buildup by China, which also includes China’s aggressive activities in the South China Sea. “China continues to make significant military investments in their nuclear and conventional capabilities, with their stated goal being that of defending Chinese sovereignty,” Haney said during a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It recently conducted its sixth successful test of a hypersonic glide vehicle, and as we saw in September last year, is parading missiles clearly displaying their modernization and capability advancements,” he added. The six tests of the hypersonic glide vehicle, regarded by U.S. intelligence agencies as a nuclear delivery system designed to defeat missile defenses, were first reported by the Washington Free Beacon. Defense officials said the hypersonic glide vehicle tested on Nov. 23, known as DF-ZF, was launched atop a ballistic missile fired from China’s Wuzhai missile test center in central China. The glider separated from the booster and flew at extremely high speed—between Mach 5 and Mach 10—along the edge of space. Haney confirmed all six tests were successful, indicating the weapon program is proceeding. Prior to the November test, the DF-ZF was flight tested Aug. 19. The earlier tests were carried out on June 7, and on Jan. 9, 2014; Aug. 7, 2014; and Dec. 2, 2014. Haney described the hypersonic threat as a challenge to U.S. strategic deterrence. The congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission stated in its latest annual report that the hypersonic glide vehicle program is “progressing rapidly” and the weapon could be deployed by 2020. China also is building a powered version of the high-speed vehicle that could be fielded by 2025. “The very high speeds of these weapons, combined with their maneuverability and ability to travel at lower, radar-evading altitudes, would make them far less vulnerable than existing missiles to current missile defenses,” the commission stated. In a second speech to another think tank on Friday, Haney also confirmed that China recently conducted a test of an anti-satellite missile. Defense officials said the Dong Neng-3 exoatmospheric strike vehicle was flight-tested Oct. 30 from China’s Korla Missile Test Complex in western China. The test was also first reported by the Free Beacon, and officials said the missile threatens U.S. satellites. Chinese Internet posts of pictures from the area showed what appeared to be contrails from the missile test. A Chinese military official later confirmed the anti-satellite test in a state-run press report. Zhou Derong, a professor at the People’s Liberation Army Logistics Academy, described the development of anti-satellite weapons as part of China’s national defense. “It is perfectly legitimate for China to carry out normal missile launch tests,” Zhou was quoted as saying. “Besides, even if China were developing anti-satellite weapons, these would be no more than self-defense measures taken to protect its own space resources.” The official criticized the United States for what he said were efforts to oppose and exaggerate anti-satellite tests. The DN-3 is the third known anti-satellite missile operational or under development by China. Earlier tests involved anti-satellite missiles known as the DN-1 and DN-2. The DN-1 has also been labeled the SC-19. Rick Fisher, a China military analyst at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said Adm. Haney has advanced details of China’s nuclear and strategic developments. “Adm. Haney is the first U.S. official to call attention to China’s pursuit of prompt global strike capabilities, or non-nuclear missile strike systems,” Fisher said. “The United States has been talking about Prompt Global Strike for nearly 20 years but has not built any such system.” Also, China’s lack of transparency on nuclear forces is undermining Beijing’s often-stated policy of not being the first to use nuclear arms in a conflict. “China’s development of two and possibly up to two more MIRV-equipped intercontinental missiles could indicate China seeks a nuclear first strike capability,” he said. China also appears to be seeking to “sprint to parity” with the United States in warhead numbers along with growing space warfare capabilities poses “a much greater danger to U.S. strategic forces,” Fisher said, and should prompt a buildup of U.S. nuclear forces.”

Unplanned Encounters In The South China Sea: Under Control? “U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson and his Chinese counterpart Admiral Wu Shengli regularly confer via teleconference to share their views on how the U.S. and Chinese navies are progressing in their military-to-military contacts. Last week, both officials held a two hour conference in which they expressed their satisfaction with a mechanism their two countries established in spring 2014 to prevent miscalculations and unanticipated escalations of encounters at sea. The so-called Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) between the United States and China governs communications protocols for U.S. and Chinese naval crews and is a proving to be a useful mechanism between the two navies – certainly in the South China Sea. Wu had originally called CUES a “milestone document” when it was concluded, at the end of the biennial Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS) in Qingdao, China in 2014. CUES was unanimously approved by the 25 participating countries in the 2014 WPNS after having been originally proposed in the early 2000s. (China had originally shown some trepidation over the use of the word “code” in the document’s title, suggesting legal force.) As my colleague Shannon Tiezzi explained at the time, CUES “is a non-binding, voluntary agreement to follow certain set procedures for communicating with other military forces encountered at sea or in the air.” In retrospect, the timing of the conclusion of CUES was fortuitous. In the months after the 2014 WPNS, the world learned of China’s unilateral artificial island construction activities in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, leading to growing tensions in the region over the dispute. This process ultimately culminated with the October 2015 U.S. freedom of navigation patrol in the vicinity of Subi Reef, among other disputed features in the Spratlys. It’s worth noting that despite these tense times in the South China Sea, a major misunderstanding between U.S. and Chinese forces has not taken place. With CUES in place, short of a few dangerous aerial maneuvers by Chinese fighters, we haven’t quite seen incidents at sea similar to USS Cowpens encounter with a People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) amphibious dock ship. Regarding the issue of unsafe aerial intercepts, the United States and China finalized bilateral rules for aerial encounters as well, building on CUES’ communication protocols. CUES, of course, is a fairly modest stabilizing mechanism in Asia’s disputed waters. It encourages communication between competing navies, ensuring that intent isn’t misinterpreted. For a look into how the U.S. and Chinese navies interact under CUES, one recalls the USS Lassen‘s Commander Robert Francis’ account to Reuters. Instead of a provocative pass within 500 meters, PLAN crews reached out with a simple inquiry: “‘Hey, you are in Chinese waters. What is your intention?’” Francis continues, revealing the down-to-earth communication taking place between at least some U.S. Navy and PLAN crews: A few weeks ago we were talking to one of the ships that was accompanying us, a Chinese vessel ... [We] picked up the phone and just talked to him like, “Hey, what are you guys doing this Saturday? Oh, we got pizza and wings. What are you guys eating? Oh, we’re doing this. Hey, we’re planning for Halloween as well.” The intent of all this is valuable both tactically and strategically. On a tactical level, it creates a safer environment for sailors. Francis told Reuters in November 2015 that for his crew, this was a way of showing the PLAN “that we’re normal sailors, just like them, have families, just like them.” On a strategic level, it’s stabilizing to have open channels and established protocols for communications at a time of record-high tensions in the South China Sea. In particular, for the United States, the existence of CUES makes the prospect of increasingly frequent freedom of navigation patrols a more palatable policy option. Asia’s disputed waters grow all the more crowded with time and several states continue to expand their collection of naval assets. Despite high tensions, cordial and clear communication should reduce the odds of miscalculated and unintentional escalation.”

Turnbull Weighs South China Sea Exercises. “The Turnbull government is considering formal freedom of navigation exercises to dispute Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea. The national security committee of cabinet has, over a period of months, been briefed on all the available options and combinations possible for such an exercise by Australian planes or ships. The Turnbull government has not decided whether to conduct such an exercise, and if it did so, when and exactly what form such an exercise would take. Sources have told The Australian that freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea were discussed by Malcolm Turnbull in his recent trip to the U.S. Both the Americans, and a number of Southeast Asian nations, have communicated to Canberra their support for a separate Australian freedom of navigation exercise. According to sources, the Japanese have offered to participate in such an exercise in partnership with U.S. naval vessels, but Washington’s judgment, at this stage, is that any circumstance that brings Chinese and Japanese vessels into potential unfriendly contact is best avoided. Washington, Tokyo, Canberra and a number of Southeast Asian capitals have called for freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, and have criticised Beijing’s massive land reclamation activities and installation of potentially military bases in the disputed region. A freedom of navigation exercise would involve sailing or flying within the 12-nautical-mile territorial waters zone of a disputed territory. Under international law, an artificial island cannot generate territorial waters. Therefore, even if Beijing’s broad territorial claims in the South China Sea were valid, the artificial islands they built do not legally generate a 12n/m territorial waters limit. Beijing has created several such artificial islands in the South China Sea. Under its “nine dash line” maps, Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea as Chinese territory. In October, Washington sent the USS Lassen into a claimed Chinese 12n/m zone as part of a formal FON exercise. The U.S. also sent vessels through the territorial waters of land-reclamation structures created by The Philippines and Vietnam to demonstrate that it was not objecting only to China’s activities, although China’s land reclamation efforts dwarf all activities of other regional nations. In November, an Australian air force plane flew over disputed waters in the South China Sea and was challenged by the Chinese navy, which advised the RAAF plane it was “threatening the security of our station” and told it to “leave immediately”. The RAAF pilot involved radioed to the Chinese: “We are an Australian aircraft exercising freedom-of-navigation rights in international airspace.” The RAAF plane was not flying directly within the 12 n/m territorial water zone. Depending on the altitude of a plane involved, it can be difficult to triangulate its exact position in terms of territorial waters. The lower the altitude of the plane, the easier it is to make such calculations. The Chinese are known to challenge planes and ships well outside the 12n/m limit of any of their claimed territories. Nonetheless, sources say both the number of RAAF patrols and their tendency to fly within areas where the Chinese don’t want them to fly has increased markedly over the past 12 to 18 months. The Australian military routinely patrols in the South China Sea, under Operation Gateway. The flights typically take place from Butterworth base in Malaysia, and are normally undertaken by P3-Orion aircraft. Although these planes have a role in anti-submarine warfare, the primary purpose of their patrols over the South China Sea is intelligence-gathering as part of the “five eyes” intelligence and surveillance operations. The tempo of these operations had declined in recent years because so much of Australia’s military effort was devoted to the Middle East. This has been reversed in part to respond to Chinese activities in the South China Sea. If the Turnbull government decides to conduct a formal freedom of navigation exercise, the Orions would be a likely way to do it.”

China’s Media: Xi A Diplomatic Powerhouse In The Middle East. “China's state-owned news outlets used President Xi Jinping's first tour of the Middle East, which kicked off in Saudi Arabia last week and also included visits to Egypt and Iran, as an opportunity to espouse the merits of ‘Xi-style diplomacy’.  While the reality may be that China will remain primarily an economic partner in the region, as opposed to a diplomatic mediator, at home China's growing influence in the region was enthusiastically feted. One editorial praised Beijing’s balanced approach, claiming that ‘China is perhaps the only great power that can still receive a red carpet welcome in both Saudi Arabia and Iran.’ State-owned news outlets sought to highlight the positive role China is playing in the region. A commentary published in People’s Daily on Tuesday, the day China's leader arrived in Saudi Arabia, praised Xi’s tour for ‘injecting positive energy into the peaceful development of the Middle East.’ China’s position as both a member of the UN Security Council and as a responsible great power was cited to explain its increasing influence. An opinion piece by the former Chinese ambassador to Iran argued that Beijing’s deepening engagement with the Middle East was ‘commensurate with China’s expanding role in international platforms, where Beijing will and should assume more responsibilities.’ Foreign concerns about potential Chinese expansion were given short shrift. An editorial in the state-aligned Global Times stated that China did not aim to either convert its growing influence into a geopolitical hedge against the US, or compete for regional hegemony with other great powers. Instead, ‘China aims only to construct harmony, resolve differences, and build peace and stability.’ A few days later, another report claimed concerns about China replacing the US in the region were overstated. Nevertheless, state media has sought to portray Beijing as an attractive alternative to Washington for future economic cooperation and strategic partnership. China’s policy of ‘involvement, not interference’ was juxtaposed against the ‘selfish interests’ of the US and the West. An article published in Xinhua claimed that ‘Western countries have exported arms and unrest to the Middle East in order to seize its oil; only China has brought the economic development initiatives that we all desire.’ China’s first ‘Arab Policy Paper’ released earlier this month asserted that China respects the right of Arab countries to ‘develop along lines according to their own national circumstances.’ In contrast to the West, perceived to have tried and failed  to impose liberal democracy in the region, the paper stated: ‘China does not seek to impose its own values on the Middle East.’ Instead, China’s role as a responsible great power is primarily presented through economic and energy cooperation. In April last year, China overtook the US as the world’s biggest importer of crude oil. Saudi Arabia is Beijing’s largest provider of oil imports, and Iran’s location at the crossroads of the ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative is critical to China’s economic ambitions. According to Beijing’s narrative, the peace and stability desired in the Middle East will be established through economic development. As vice foreign minister Zhang Ming said earlier this week at a press conference, economic development remains the ‘ultimate way out’ of conflict in the region. State media reports have hinted at increased diplomatic involvement in conflict resolution but details remain vague. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday that China is looking to ‘promote peace talks in Yemen.’ China’s constructive role during the Iran nuclear negotiations have also been lauded. But the underlying message is that China should avoid falling into the trap of regional turmoil and conflict. As a result, the issues of counter-terrorism and security have also been largely overlooked. An opinion piece published in Global Times late last week argued that Iranian cooperation is vital to containing the spread of religious extremism into the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. This was a a rare foray into the subject of security cooperation. State-owned news outlets used Xi’s tour to send a strong message to domestic audiences: China’s diplomatic influence is increasing and this is welcomed by the international community. According to state media, China’s principle of mutually beneficial cooperation is transforming the international system. A commentary piece in People’s Daily argued that ‘today, China’s diplomacy has a global perspective, an enterprising consciousness, and a pioneering spirit. It has injected positive energy into the system of international relations.’ Such claims aim to reassure audiences that China’s process of national rejuvenation is progressing steadily. Allusions to the historical Silk Road are ubiquitous in state media reports. The Silk Road serves not only as a metaphor for friendly exchange between China and the Arab world, but also as a symbol of China’s past glory and prosperity. The Chinese public has been reminded that Xi and the CCP leadership are gradually steering the nation back to its rightful place on the world stage as a strong and respected global power.”

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

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Posted by Alex Gray | January 22, 2016

Don’t Read Too Much Into Military Drills, China Says After Taiwan Alarm. “China's Defence Ministry said on Friday people shouldn't read too much into a state media broadcast of live-fire military and landing drills, just days after a landslide election win by an independence-leaning opposition party in Taiwan. The self-ruled island expressed serious concern on Thursday over the mainland's broadcast. Its defense ministry confirmed China recently carried out "winter exercises,” but said that the pictures in the video were archive clips spliced together of drills conducted in 2015. China considers Taiwan a wayward province, to be brought under its control by force if necessary. Defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 after the Chinese civil war. "The relevant media report is a summary of training maneuvers organized last year by troops. There is no need to over-interpret them," China's Defence Ministry said in a two-sentence statement faxed to Reuters. Late on Wednesday, Chinese state television said the 31st Group Army, based in China's southeastern city of Xiamen, opposite Taiwan, had carried out the drills in "recent days,” but it did not give an exact location. The channel broadcast images of amphibious armored vehicles ploughing through the sea towards a landing site, helicopters firing missiles at shore locations and soldiers parachuting down from helicopters. The report made no direct mention of the Taiwan election, but a Taiwanese military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the broadcast may be "psychological warfare" warning the new Taiwan government to tread carefully. Since Saturday's landslide win by Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan's presidential and parliamentary elections, China has warned against any moves towards independence and said it will defend the country's sovereignty. The United States has expressed concerns about the danger of worsening China-Taiwan ties, at a time when China's navy is increasingly flexing its muscles in the South China and East China Seas and expanding territorial claims. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken met the mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office Minister, Zhang Zhijun, in Beijing on Thursday and "reiterated the United States' abiding interest in continued cross-Strait peace and stability‎,” the State Department said in an email. Taiwan's military has warned that China has practised attacks on targets modeled on places in Taiwan. Taiwan also estimates China aims hundreds of missiles at the island.”

China Reaches Deal To Build Military Outpost In Djibouti. “Cementing a deal that has been hinted at for months, China is moving forward to build what's believed to be its first overseas military facility, in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti. The outpost is meant to bolster the Chinese navy's efforts to prevent piracy. At least three other countries — the U.S., France and Japan — have military bases in Djibouti, drawn to the country's strategic location and stability. The presence of military ships from those countries and China has been credited with reducing piracy in the region. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said Thursday that the new facility will give logistical support to China's fleet that performs escort duties in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast. Those escort missions have been going on for some years now; Hong said China has "encountered real difficulties in replenishing soldiers and resupplying fuel and food, and found it really necessary to have nearby and efficient logistical support." He added that China and Djibouti have "reached consensus" on building the facilities, a plan that Chinese officials spoke about publicly last fall. Earlier this week, Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh announced his country and China had reached several economic agreements. One of those deals establishes a free trade zone; another clears the way for Chinese banks to operate in Djibouti.”

Australia Calls On South China Sea Claimants To Stop Reclamation, Militarization. “Australia called on all nations with overlapping claims in the South China Sea to stop building artificial islands and avoid militarization in the region. "We urge all parties, not just China, to refrain from further construction on those islands or reefs, and to refrain from militarization," Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a speech during the Martin Luther King Day in the United States. Turnbull clarified that Australia does not have claims in the disputed sea and does not make any judgment on the legitimacy of any of the competing claims. The Australian leader noted that the competing claims are a threat to the peace and good order in the region. He said that the differences among claimant states should be resolved by international law. "That is why Australia attended, as observers, the merits hearing in The Hague last November, in the case brought by the Philippines under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea," Turnbull said. Turnbull stressed that the legitimacy of claims to the reefs and shoals in the South China Sea should be a secondary consideration on the objective of preserving international order. "So central is the Asia Pacific to the world economy, to global stability, that the preservation of the international order and the peace that it brings has been a consistent and absolutely central objective of both the United States and Australia," the Australian leader said. Turnbull admitted that all nations would agree that the world has benefited from China's rise but the disruption and instability in the region is a threat. "We would hope that China’s actions would be carefully calculated to make conflict less likely, not more, and would seek to reassure neighbours of and build their confidence in China’s intention," Turnbull said. The Australian Prime Minister said that he is looking forward to the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands on the case of the Philippines against China's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea. Turnbull also said that he is looking forward to the US ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. "The US already observes the treaty, which is a product of American leadership and crucial for resolving potential flashpoints in many parts of the globe.  Non-ratification diminishes American leadership where it is most needed," the Australian Prime Minister said.”

Xi Jinping’s New Plans For China’s Cyber Soldiers. “China’s military reforms, which have sped up since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, are making steady progress and the latest change in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was a big one. On December 31, 2015, the Central Military Commission formally overhauled the organizational structure of thePLA, establishing three new organizations: the Army Leading Organ, the Rocket Force, and the Strategic Support Force. The big takeaway: the Third Department of the PLA, the home of China’s cyber operations and commonly known as 3PLA, may be moving to a different command. The Army Leading Organ appears to be a centralized command hub, aiming to coordinate joint operations between different PLA branches, which has long been a goal of China’s military reforms. The Rocket Force, which has been covered extensively elsewhere, is an upgraded version of the PLA’s strategic nuclear missile force, the 2nd Artillery Corps, and seems to be an official recognition of the branch-level role the corps has long played. The new Strategic Support Force (SSF), on the other hand, has gotten scant attention in the foreign press, and is arguably the most interesting development in this round of reforms. In his speech at the founding ceremony, Xi said that “the Strategic Support Force is a new-type combat force to maintain national security and an important growth point of the PLA’s combat capabilities.” Many news outlets have reported that the SSF is focused on cyber operations, but Chinese press reports suggest that the new force has a wider range of responsibilities. A report by an official news outlet compared the SSF to the armed forces of the U.S., Russia, and “other developed countries,” saying that its organization is more advanced, because it involves operations that do not fit well into any existing military force, but touch on all of them. Another report emphasized that it’s “even ahead of the United States conceptually,” which still separates support functions among all the branches of the military so that “they are constantly fighting with each other for resources.” The SSF won’t be on the front lines of combat, but rather provide “information support and safeguards.” However, unlike other support forces such as logistics, it “can use its own power to damage the enemy.” According to the same report, the SSF’s responsibilities will include the “five domains” of intelligence, technical reconnaissance, electronic warfare, cyber offense and defense, and psychological warfare. According to SSF Commander Gao Jin, a lieutenant general with an engineering background and three decades of service in the 2nd Artillery Corps, the SSF aims to help integrate all the other PLA branches and “raise up the ‘information umbrella’ for the whole PLA system.” It will work to integrate “planning, mechanisms, resources, programs, operations and human resources,” run strategic research projects, and be the “cloud think tank” for the PLA. Chinese reports state that the SSF was created partially as a response to “space combat forces” of other nations, suggesting that this may also be part of its operations. That’s about the extent of what we know right now about the SSF from publicly-available Chinese-language sources. However, there is some speculation about the more concrete details of the SSF. A Zhejiang Evening News article reposted by the Global Times quotes retired 2nd Artillery Corps officer Song Zhongping as saying that the SSF is not a unified branch, but three independent branches. The first is the “cyber force,” which is made of “hacker troops” responsible for cyber offense and defense. The second is the “space force,” responsible for surveillance and satellites. The final is the “electronic force,” responsible for interfering with and misleading enemy radar and communications. According to a Russian military expert, the SSF oversees the former PLA General Staff Headquarters Third and Fourth Departments, which were responsible for technical reconnaissance, cyber intelligence, electronic warfare and offensive cyber operations, as well as the Foreign Affairs Bureau of the former PLA General Political Department, which oversees propaganda efforts targeting adversary military forces and populations. It will be responsible for “military intelligence at large and for the psychological operations in particular,” which suggests that it may also include the former Second Department which was responsible for military human intelligence. The SSF may also be given command of special operations units.”

How China’s New Russian Air Defense System Could Change Asia. “The Russian S-400 TRIUMF (NATO designation SA-21) surface to air missile (SAM) entered the global media spotlight late in 2015 when Moscow deployed the system after Turkey’s shoot-down of a Russian Su-24 FENCER airplane near the Syria border on Thanksgiving Day. The Russian deployment compelled Turkey to pause its air operations and reportedly impacted the execution of U.S. and coalition air operations in the region, demonstrating the considerable reach and influence of this advanced air defense system. This episode demonstrated the S-400’s potential as a weapon with strategic effects, a role that China, the first export recipient of the system, may seek to exploit in future crises. In April 2015, Russia announced the sale of four to six S-400 battalions to China. It remains unclear where China will deploy the assets. However, deployment of the system could influence the regional security order and dramatically impact the ability of the United States and its allies to respond to crises related to Taiwan, the Koreas, and the East and South China Seas. The S-400 is the most dangerous operationally deployed modern long-range SAM in the world. Its maximum effective range is up to 400km (215 nautical miles). The system reportedly can track 100 airborne targets and engage six of them simultaneously. The S-400 reportedly has the capability to counter low-observable aircraft and precision-guided munitions, and is also reportedly extremely mobile. The SAM is an excellent example of an anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) system. The idea of A2/AD is to prevent an opposing force from entering an area and limit an opposing force’s freedom of action in an operational area. As Robert Haddick recently emphasized at War on the Rocks, A2/AD systems pose a unique problem to U.S. power projection and the ability of the U.S. military to maintain its technological edge over adversaries. Yet Russia’s deployment of the S-400 reveals that such systems can have even broader strategic effects. Though not the first SAM to threaten aircraft at hundreds of miles in range — SA-5, deployed since 1966, has a range of 150 nautical miles — the S-400’s capabilities render it far more dangerous than a traditional defense-oriented SAM system. It can engage a wide range of targets, including stealth aircraft and cruise missiles. Its range against aircraft operating at medium or high altitudes is so great that it can threaten aircraft in neighboring countries within their own air space. This capability alone raises the risk of operating such expensive aircraft anywhere near a deployed S-400 system. A single S-400 missile that costs a few million dollars could bring down an asset worth hundreds of millions of dollars, such as the RQ-4 unmanned intelligence aircraft, F-22 or F-35 fighters, or worse, a B-2 bomber worth over $2 billion per plane. And it could do so from farther away than any adversary SAM has yet been capable of. The S-400 thus offers a favorable cost ratio that could influence decision-making at strategic levels. Fielded in sufficient numbers and in combination with other advanced air defense systems, the S-400 can strengthen and extend China’s already robust network of A2/AD capabilities. These include the S-300PMU and HQ-9 (range 200km) SAM systems and the DF-21D (range 1,500km) anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM). The exponential system-of-systems effect of these weapons continues to pose a serious threat to the credibility of U.S. security assurances to allies and partners that have disputes with China. The S-400 system could enable Chinese forces to deter or influence the behavior of aircraft and the application of airpower in peacetime. Russia’s deployment in Syria has already illustrated this possibility. While Russia has shown no intention of using the S-400 to engage U.S. or coalition aircraft (except perhaps those belonging to Turkey), air operations planners in the theater have likely developed new procedures to guide manned and unmanned aircraft flying within range of the S-400. If Russia chose to do so, it could have effectively neutralized the effectiveness of U.S., French, or NATO aviation based in the Mediterranean. A subsequent coalition turn to standoff munitions would significantly increase the per-shot cost, possibly dissuading more vulnerable allies from participating in the U.S.-led high-end conflict.”

Prospects For Extended Deterrence In Space And Cyber: The Case Of The PRC. “While there has been discussion about whether today’s security environment constitutes a “neo-Cold War,” the reality is that it is actually more complex than the Cold War. For most of the period between 1947 and 1992, the situation was largely marked by a bipolar balance, where the two major players created somewhat symmetrical blocs of allies, friends, and client states. Consequently, there was a potential for symmetric responses and signaling. As important, there was a perceived continuum of security that spanned conventional and nuclear thinking, linking the use of force in the former to the potential for escalation into the latter. It is within this context that “extended deterrence” took shape. Today’s world, however, is much more multipolar, so most states, including increasingly the U.S., have to consider more than just a single, highest priority contingency. Consequently, signaling is also more difficult, especially because there is no symmetry of relations and alliance networks. This is exacerbated by the spread of military operations to outer space and the cyber realm. That various activities are more open to consideration in space and cyber erodes the conceptual firebreak that marked the Cold War. It is important to begin with some definitions of key concepts. First, what is deterrence? From the American perspective, deterrence is the combination of actual capability and will to employ that capability to influence an adversary, typically to not do something. As Alexander George and Richard Smoke wrote in 1974, deterrence “in its most general form…[is] simply the persuasion of one’s opponent that the costs and/or risks of a given course of action he might take outweigh its benefits.” Thus, deterrence is typically seen by American decision-makers as a goal. Although there is nothing in this formulation that presupposes deterrence as being dissuasive versus coercive, in the Western conception, deterrence is almost wholly associated with the idea of dissuasion. This focus on dissuasion and defense, especially when it comes to space and cyber, is reflected in the array of U.S. government strategic documents including the National Security Space Strategy, the National Space Policy, the U.S. National Security Strategy, and the U.S. National Military Strategy. The American focus seems to be on deterrence in space—in particular, on deterring an opponent from attacking our own space assets. The same sort of logic appears to be developing regarding cyber, as reflected in the recent Department of Defense Cyber Strategy and the earlier Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative. In each of these respects, the People’s Republic of China has a very different perspective. Whereas for the United States the very act of deterring an opponent or multiple opponents from acting in certain ways is seen as serving U.S. interests, deterrence in the Chinese view is a means rather than an end. This is because the Chinese concept of weishe, which is typically translated as “deterrence,” embodies both “dissuasion” and “coercion.” Coercion, in turn, is typically in the service of some other goal: One does not simply coerce an adversary; one coerces an adversary to get them to do something that one wants. Thus, the Chinese would employ weishe as the means, whether dissuasive or coercive, to persuade an opponent to follow a course of action that accords with larger Chinese strategic objectives. Within such a framework, the Chinese are not necessarily interested so much in deterrence in the space or cyber environments, but rather are interested in the use of space and/or cyber as means to effect deterrence, including coercion. Thus, in Chinese writings, space operations are characterized as contributing to an effort to achieve overall goals, whether in conjunction with conventional and/or nuclear operations or on their own, either through weishe (i.e., dissuasion and coercion) or in actual combat. There is little discussion of deterring actions in space. The realm of cyber would seem to be even more complex. Operations in the cyber domain are part of the larger portfolio of information operations, which includes not only what the U.S. has typically termed computer network exploitation, computer network attack, and computer network defense, but also electronic warfare; psychological operations; camouflage, concealment, and deception; and kinetic attacks against sensors, information and communications networks, and command and control facilities. While Chinese analysts have discussed “information deterrence,” there appears to have been little discussion of “network deterrence” or “cyber deterrence.” This, again, would seem consistent with the Chinese focus on deterring, including coercing, an adversary through actions in the information domain but not deterring actions in that domain in the first place.”

Xi Jinping Goes Back To The Future. “If history is a mirror of today’s global affairs, then Chinese President Xi Jinping’s whirlwind trip this week to Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt is a modern-day mission of his nation’s exploration of Central and West Asia. Xi’s visit to the Middle East, his first since he came to office three years ago, was aimed to carry on his initiated Silk Road programme – a network of trade routes, formally established during the Han dynasty (206BC-AD220), which linked the regions of the ancient world in commerce. His diplomatic aim is to seek energy security, export markets and economic ties. It is also a mission to forge closer political, diplomatic and military ties with countries and to promote China’s image and influence as a global power, resembling what the Middle Kingdom was 2,000 years ago. China has good reasons to attach importance to the Middle East because the world’s second-largest economy and leading manufacturer relies on more than half of its oil imports from the Persian Gulf to fuel its growth. Moreover, Beijing worries about extremist elements in the region providing training and inspiration to China’s Muslim separatists in western China, which has a Muslim population is about 40 million. Xi has chosen the Middle East as his first foreign destination in 2016 – a status generally used to indicate China’s focus on a particular region or country. By comparison, Xi’s first trips abroad in 2013 and 2014 were both to Russia, and to Pakistan in 2015, China’s probably only all-weather friend in Asia. Xi’s two predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao both visited Egypt, Jiang in 2000 and Hu in 2004. Zhiqun Zhu, a professor of international relations and director of China Institute at Bucknell University in the United States, said that Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt were China’s most important partners economically and diplomatically in the region, pointing out that Egypt was the first African/Middle Eastern country to recognise communist China in 1956. China and Egypt are also key members of the non-aligned movement, while Saudi Arabia and Iran have been the top oil providers to China in the past two decades. “The visits are meant to consolidate China’s long-standing relations with these countries,” Zhu said. As part of Xi’s stated aim for the “revitalisation of the Chinese nation”, Beijing has rationally put more emphasis on its relationship with the region. To help achieve this Xi has advocated the Silk Road programme, also called “One Road, One Belt”, under which China wants to create an economic land belt that includes countries along the original Silk Road through Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The plan also includes a maritime route that links China’s coast with port facilities in African, pushing up through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean. During the Han dynasty the Silk Road acted as central Asia’s main trading route, which in turn established a cross-cultural mix of religions, civilisations, and people from across the Northern Hemisphere, ranging from Russia to the Mediterranean and throughout Asia. After that Chinese envoys embarked in missions for the Chinese exploration of the Central and West Asian markets and exchanges among different people, cultures and religions. The ancient Silk Road played a significant role in helping the flourishing of some of China’s most magnificent cities. The terrain along the Silk Road route is also home to many of the world’s largest rivers, which nurtured the some of the world’s greatest civilisations. These cities hold the ties that helped to knit together various cultures from before the time of Alexander the Great (356-322BC) up to the advent of the Industrial Age in the late 18th century. At its height, in the mid-8th century, the Tang dynasty (618-907) ruled most of the regions of the Silk Road as the influence of Chinese emperor grew from an increase in population, which in turn produced a much larger market for profitable trading than ever before. On Wednesday, China issued the “Arab Policy Paper”, which – tracing the history of China-Arab relations, from exchanges via the ancient Silk Road to the founding of the Sino-Arab State Cooperation Forum in 2004 – suggests that such past successes can be repeated. Historians said the most valuable legacy of the ancient Silk Road was the exchange of cultures, ideologies and religions between different nations. However, Benjamin Herscovitch, a research manager at China Policy, a Beijing-based policy analysis and advisory firm, said that culturally and ideologically, China and Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia were at best estranged and more likely to sit in opposing camps. Herscovitch said China’s Communist Party was not only atheist, but positively anti-religious. Beijing’s repressive policies in Xinjiang, its suppression of Christian groups, and its aggressive campaigns against quasi-religious groups such as Falun Gong were testament to China’s hostility towards religion in not just word but also deed. In contrast, religion in Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia was integral to not only the nations’ culture and everyday life, but also politics and the institutions of state. However, Herscovitch said China was able to bridge the vast cultural and ideological gulf with Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia because of their shared strategic and economic interests. The three Middle East countries are active supporters of Xi’s Silk Road initiative and his trip will highlight a new incentive for bilateral transport and communications interconnectivity and indicate a new direction for bilateral cooperation along the ancient routes.”

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

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Posted by Alex Gray | January 21, 2016

Taiwan Says China Drills Days After Election ‘Very Bad News.’ “Taiwan expressed serious concern on Thursday over a Chinese state media broadcast of military live fire exercises and landing drills, just days after a landslide election win by an independence-leaning opposition party in Taiwan. Taiwan's defense ministry confirmed China's military recently carried out "winter exercises", but said that the pictures that accompanied the broadcast were archive video clips spliced together of drills conducted in 2015. "It exaggerates false reporting," the island's defense ministry said on its website. China considers Taiwan a wayward province, to be brought under its control by force if necessary. Defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 after the Chinese civil war. Late on Wednesday, Chinese state television said the 31st Group Army, based in China's southeastern city of Xiamen, opposite Taiwan, had carried out the drills in "recent days". It did not give an exact location. The channel broadcast images of amphibious armored vehicles plowing through the sea toward a landing site, helicopters firing missiles at shore locations and soldiers parachuting down from helicopters. The report made no direct mention of the Taiwan election. China's Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. "This is very bad news," said Steve Lin, first deputy minister of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, the ministry in charge of China affairs. "...We'll raise our military deployment, and at the same time we'll deal with it via reasonable dialogue with the Chinese side. After all, it's both sides' responsibility to maintain peace across the Taiwan Strait." A Taiwanese military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the broadcast may be "psychological warfare" warning the new Taiwan government to tread carefully. Right off Xiamen's coast is Kimnen, an island controlled by Taiwan since 1949 and until the late 1970s a place regularly shelled by China. Since Saturday's landslide win by Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan's presidential and parliamentary elections, China has warned against any moves toward independence and said it will defend the country's sovereignty. Tsai has said she will maintain peace with China, and Chinese state-run media have also noted her pledges to maintain the "status quo" with China. The past eight years had been marked by calm between China and Taiwan, after the election of the China-friendly Ma Ying-jeou as president in 2008, and his subsequent re-election. Ma signed a series of key economic deals with Beijing and held a landmark meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in November in neutral Singapore. Taiwan is one of China's most sensitive political issues, and a core concern for the Communist Party, trumping even Beijing's claims in the South China Sea. China's military, the world's largest, held live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait in September, though Taiwan's Defense Ministry described them at the time as routine. Taiwan's military has warned that China has practiced attacks on targets modeled on places in Taiwan. Taiwan also estimates China aims hundreds of missiles at the island.

China To Get Russia’s Lethal Su-35 Fighter This Year. “China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) will start receiving its first Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E fighters from Russia later this year. "Supplies of fighter jets will start in the 4th quarter of this year. For now, everything goes according to plan," a Russian military-diplomatic source told the TASS late last week. Russia signed a contract to deliver twenty-four Su-35 fighters worth more than $2 billion to China late last year. The contract will be filled within three years according to TASS’s source. Production of a modernized S-108 communications system – which was part of Beijing’s requirements – has already started. While the addition of the Su-35 will boost Chinese capabilities while the PLAAF waits for its fifth-generation J-20 to enter service. The Su-35S is the most potent version of the Flanker built to date. The powerful twin-engine fighter is high flying, fast and carries an enormous payload. Combined with its advanced suite of avionics, that makes the Su-35 an extremely dangerous foe to any Western fighter with the sole exception of the stealthy Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. “It’s a great airplane and very dangerous, especially if they make a lot of them,” one senior U.S. military official with extensive experience on fifth-generation fighters told me some time ago. “I think even an AESA [active electronically scanned array-radar equipped F-15C] Eagle and [Boeing F/A-18E/F] Super Hornet would both have their hands full.” One Air Force official with experience on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has told me that the Su-35 would also pose a serious challenge for the stealthy new American jet. The F-35 was built primarily as a strike fighter and does not have the sheer speed or altitude capability of the Su-35 or F-22. “The Su's ability to go high and fast is a big concern, including for F-35,” the Air Force official explained me. The sale of the Su-35 to China is in many ways a reflection of Russia’s weakened bargaining position. The Russians had initially insisted that the Chinese buy a minimum of forty-eight jets because of fears that Beijing simply wanted to harvest the Su-35 for its technology – particularly, the radar, electronic warfare systems and engines. The new deal does not allow for China to license build the Su-35 – but that shouldn't stop Beijing from mining the Su-35 for its technology. With access to a working aircraft, Chinese engineers will be able to learn more about the jet’s AL-41F1S engine, Ibris-E radar and electronic warfare suite. While in recent years China has have made huge technological advances of its own, Russian military technology – particularly for jet engines – is light-years ahead. Once the Su-35 is delivered, the jets are almost certainly to be reverse engineered and copied. One can initially expect advanced derivatives of the J-11 Flanker clone, but an entirely new Su-35 clone might follow as well.”

Vietnam Assails China In Sea Dispute. “The Vietnamese government has lashed out against the presence of a Chinese oil rig in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, the latest in what Vietnam says are a series of provocative actions by Beijing this month. While the dispute raised tensions between the Communist neighbors, there were no signs yet of the heated escalation that characterized a similar episode in 2014, when relations between the two countries plummeted and anti-Chinese demonstrations spiraled into deadly riots. Late on Tuesday, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry said that Haiyang Shiyou 981, the same rig that was at the center of the 2014 feud, had entered disputed waters in the South China Sea on Saturday, according to a statement on the ministry’s website. The rig was still 25 miles from an “assumed median line” between the two countries, the statement said, but it was in “an overlapping area between the two continental shelves” of Vietnam and Hainan Island, China, which “has not yet been delimited.” A Vietnamese official met with a Chinese Embassy official on Monday to register Vietnam’s “concern,” the statement said. It added that China should remove the rig from the disputed waters in accordance with international law. China insisted that the rig was still in its territorial waters. “To our knowledge, China’s Haiyang Shiyou 981 drilling platform is working in totally indisputable waters under China’s jurisdiction,” said Hong Lei, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, at a news conference on Wednesday. “It is hoped that the Vietnamese side can view it calmly, work with China in the same direction and make joint efforts to properly handle the maritime issue.” The dispute came as Vietnam’s top leaders convened here on Wednesday for the start of a Communist Party national congress, which will choose the country’s leaders for the next five years. Analysts said the dispute was unlikely to affect those decisions, and the party appeared to be taking pains not to alienate China. But the presence of the oil rig has raised anxiety here, and it comes after several other diplomatic scrapes. Vietnam asked China to investigate the ramming of a Vietnamese fishing vessel this month by a boat that the captain said was marked with Chinese characters. In recent weeks, Vietnam has also complained about several unannounced, state-sponsored Chinese flights through Vietnamese-administered airspace in the South China Sea. Also this month, Vietnam formally accused China of violating its sovereignty, as well as a recent confidence-building pact, after Beijing landed a plane on an artificial island built by China. “Speculation as to whether and how the timing of these actions might affect Vietnam’s leadership succession misses the more glaring point that Beijing appears not to care about international norms or Vietnamese claims and sensibilities,” Jonathan London, a Vietnam expert in the Department of Asian and International Studies at the City University of Hong Kong, said in an email. Le Hong Hiep, a visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said the timing of the oil rig’s movements – at the moment when Vietnam begins a twice-a-decade power transfer – may be a coincidence. But whatever the reason, he added, Vietnam is unlikely to immediately “take strong actions that will cause tension,” such as sending Coast Guard ships to the area to challenge the oil rig, as it did in 2014. “The party wants to make sure the party congress is a success,” he said. The oil rig, China’s first domestically built mobile-drilling platform, is 449 feet tall and the covers an area the size of a football field. It is owned by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, a state-owned oil giant that handles most of China’s offshore drilling, according to a report last month in Global Times, a state-run Chinese newspaper. Starting in May 2014, the rig lingered for weeks in disputed waters close to the disputed Paracel Islands and the central Vietnamese coast. The discord led to daily clashes at sea between Chinese vessels and Vietnamese boats, with larger Chinese vessels ramming smaller Vietnamese boats and using powerful water cannons. In Vietnam, anti-Chinese demonstrations turned violent as two Chinese workers were killed and factories run by companies from Taiwan and South Korea were destroyed. China ultimately withdrew the rig, a month earlier than its announced plan, saying its work had been completed. Vietnam and China have been attempting to mend their relations ever since, but the episode generated a heated national debate among Vietnamese about the country’s political and economic dependence on its giant northern neighbor. Analysts say it also accelerated Vietnam’s long-running effort to improve relations with the United States and other global powers.”

The Impact Of China’s Economic Frailty On Its Military Priorities. “It is often said that “when China sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold” to describe the economic impact of China on the rest of the world. After all, China is the world’s second-largest economy, boasts growing financial ties around the world, and is a major driver of global economic growth. Therefore, China’s stock market fluctuation and economic slowdown merit global attention. While many analysts, pundits, and China-watchers offer competing opinions about China’s stock market and economic slowdown, one aspect of the conversation has been largely ignored: Can China’s adverse economic situation have serious consequences for its strategic and military capabilities? Furthermore, if China’s military is impacted by the recent economic trends, how will that impact U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific? In a recent journal article published in the Washington Quarterly, entitled China’s Economic Slowdown: What are the Strategic Implications?” John Lee assesses that “the capacity of Beijing to allocate [monetary resources] to building its military power is diminishing…” According to the author, there are three disparate, yet intrinsically linked, factors hampering China’s ability to distribute national wealth towards its military: 1) a real estate bubble; 2) a growing shadow banking system; and, 3) local-central government expenditure imbalances. The real estate sector claims nearly half of China’s total national debt, the Chinese banking system provides backdoor credit to borrowers unable to secure credit from commercial banks, and as local government expenditures increase (e.g., healthcare, education, pensions, infrastructure, and other social and public goods), growth in land revenues  for local governments decline. The combination of these three forces, in effect, make it exceedingly difficult to continue enhancing national power and security near the pace of the past decade. Like many other countries (the U.S., Japan, and Australia included), China may likely be forced to accept a fiscal reality and wind back growth in its military—assuming other policy responses like reforms that widen the tax base fail. If China chooses not to roll back military expenditures, it is likely that other social and public goods could be impacted then. Such trends might give further reason for the Chinese public to call into question the legitimacy of the ruling leadership. With modest resources ahead, strategic and military priorities could be contested, especially between the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), PLA Navy, even domestic public security apparatus that administers China’s rogue “provinces,” Xinjiang and Tibet. Core missions such as monitoring China’s coast, Air Defense Identification Zone, and borders could undercut one another. A shift in China’s military expenditures is significant because such trends complicate claims in Washington advocating for an increased, robust military presence in the Asia-Pacific. If China’s military presence in the South China Sea is expanding, then, as proponents of a strong military in the Asia-Pacific argue, the U.S. should strengthen its security guarantee for threatened allies (e.g., the Philippines).  In 2015, China increased its military expenditure by 10 percent, a double-digit percentage trend that has continued since 1997. China is one of the biggest spenders on its military, only second to the U.S. Combined with the terra-forming of islands in dispute waters of the South China Sea, and increasingly forward leaning posture,  it follows then that the U.S. maintain a robust military presence to respond to China. Yet, the aforementioned logic assumes China’s military expenditures will remain the same. Given the recent economic slowdown, if resources are limited moving forward, then this calls into question the demand for a strong military presence in the Asia-Pacific. In fact, as the U.S. military still copes with the effects of sequestration, manages crisis’ spreading horizontally around the globe as a result of renewed Russian expansionism, percolating terrorist networks, and other international threats, such trends bolster alliterative approached beyond a military response to China’s rise. Therefore, U.S. lawmakers should be paying close attention to China’s economic slowdown and stock market fluctuations, not only because of its potential impact on global emerging markets, but also, and more importantly, its potential to impact China’s military priorities, and U.S. foreign policy as a consequence.”

Malcolm Turnbull Talks South China Sea Tensions With U.S. Navy. “Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has capped off his visit to the United States with a stopover in Hawaii to discuss rising tensions in the South China Sea with the top U.S. defence official overseeing the Pacific. Over breakfast during a fuel stop-over at Pearl Harbour en route home to Australia, Mr. Turnbull met the head of U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, to talk about the maritime disputes between Asian neighbours to Australia's north. Since late 2013, China has dredged and built facilities on reefs and rocks, in a land reclamation covering about 2,900 acres (1,170 hectares), according to a Pentagon report last year. Admiral Harris has led Washington challenging Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea through so-called "freedom of navigation" exercises. He is on the front line if tensions flare and elevated the South China Sea fracas into the international media in Canberra last year, accusing China of building a "great wall of sand.” Almost 30 per cent of the $US19 trillion in global trade passes through the South China Sea. It is the vital link between the Pacific and Indian oceans, including for Australian mining commodities, agriculture and other goods. In November, the U.S. dispatched the USS Lassen, a destroyer, within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, an artificial island constructed by China. The sail by, which Beijing condemned, was designed to show the U.S. does not recognise Chinese claims to the seas. Japanese-born Admiral Harris, who grew up in America, controls five aircraft carrier battle groups, several hundred ships, thousands of aeroplanes and focuses on China in the region. "Over breakfast, the leaders discussed the alliance, regional security issues, and Australia's key role in the U.S. strategic rebalance to the Indo-Asia-Pacific," U.S. Pacific Command said in a statement about the meeting with Mr. Turnbull. " "They also discussed ways to deepen cooperation in maintaining the rules-based order in which all countries can prosper and pursue their interests peacefully according to international law." Mr. Turnbull used a speech in Washington this week to warn that China must stop construction on the islands and reefs and "refrain from militarisation.” "We do so because unilateral actions are in nobody's interest," he told a Washington think tank. "They are a threat to the peace and good order of the region on which the economic growth and national security of all our neighbours depend." The Pentagon says that Beijing has reclaimed 17 times as much land in two years than other claimants Vietnam, The Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei over the previous 40 years. Australia and the U.S. take no sides over which Asian countries have sovereignty of the artificial islands, but want the claims to be settled by international law. Shadow defence minister Stephen Conroy reportedly called on the Turnbull government to conduct a freedom of navigation exercise in territorial waters claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea, according to The Australian on Thursday. When Mr. Turnbull was in Washington meeting President Barack Obama and Pentagon officials, it is understood he did not receive a request for Australia to physically participate in future freedom of navigation exercise. A range of possible other tactics were broached. The Turnbull government plans to continue to speak out publicly against China's aggressive reclamation efforts. It is reluctant to confront Beijing directly in a freedom of navigation exercise, partly because China is Australia's largest trading partner.”

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

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Posted by Alex Gray | January 19, 2016

South China Sea? For Beijing, Taiwan Is The No. 1 Security Issue. “For China, whose President Xi Jinping is already taking an increasingly muscular approach to claims in the East and South China Sea, the question of Taiwan trumps any other of its territorial assertions in terms of sensitivity and importance. After eight years of calm in what had been one of Asia's powder kegs, the landslide election of an independence-leaning opposition leader, President-elect Tsai Ing-wen, has thrust Taiwan back into the spotlight as one of the region's most sensitive security issues. Defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory, is estimated by Taiwan to aim hundreds of missiles at the island over a narrow stretch of water and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under its control. China carried out rare live-fire drills in the sensitive strait that separates the two sides in September, though Taiwan's defense ministry described them at the time as routine. "She (Tsai) is going to deal with a very tough-minded leader in Beijing," said Chu Yun-han, a professor at the National Taiwan University. But Tsai will also have to be accountable to her own constituency, especially the more radical, pro-independence younger generation, Chu added. "That doesn't give her too much room for maneuver." The election in 2008 of the China-friendly Ma Ying-jeou, and then re-election four years later, ushered in an unprecedented period of calm with China, with landmark trade and tourism deals signed. Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is at pains to stress its election will not cause a return to tensions. She addressed the issue of China almost immediately upon claiming victory, saying she would strive to maintain the peace, but added she would defend Taiwan's interests and its sovereignty. While China has been relatively measured in its response, repeating its standard line about opposing independence, great uncertainty lies ahead. China's official Xinhua news agency warned any moves toward independence were like a "poison" that would cause Taiwan to perish. In an online commentary on Sunday, Wang Hongguang, a lieutenant general and former deputy commander of China's Nanjing military region, said the People's Liberation Army was now better prepared than ever for operations against Taiwan. "The front line forces are like a tiger who has grown wings," he wrote. "Tsai Ing-wen and her Taiwan independence forces shouldn't think they'll get away with it. The mainland will not swallow the bitter fruit of Taiwan independence." The outside world should not underestimate the continued importance of Taiwan to the Chinese leadership, said a senior Western diplomat, citing recent conversations with Chinese policymakers on Taiwan. "Nothing is more important than Taiwan to Beijing." Beijing will have to bear in mind the opinion of a Chinese public that has always been brought up never to question Taiwan's status as an inherent part of China. On Weibo, China's answer to Twitter, the popularity of the phrase "use force to unify Taiwan" soared. "We are just waiting for you to say the phrase 'Taiwanese independence'," said one Weibo user. In the United States, which has no formal ties with Taiwan but is its most important diplomatic and military supporter, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said the election was "a beacon of light to their neighbors yearning to be free.” "Now more than ever, we must stand with Taiwan and reaffirm our commitment to their security," he said in a statement. Taiwan is a key fault line in the Beijing-Washington relationship. A month before the election, the Obama administration formally notified Congress of a $1.83 billion arms sale package for Taiwan, prompting anger in Beijing which said it would put sanctions on U.S. firms involved. A Beijing-based Chinese source, with ties to the People's Liberation Army and who meets regularly with senior officers, told Reuters the election would have "far-reaching" consequences for China's ties with Taiwan, and Sino-U.S. relations. "I'm very worried about what is going to happen now," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Things have become much darker." Tsai's election is also an embarrassment to Xi, who held a historic meeting last year in Singapore with Ma, and used the occasion to call for both sides not to let proponents of Taiwan's independence split them. China and Taiwan have nearly gone to war three times since 1949, most recently ahead of the 1996 presidential election. Then, China carried out missile tests in waters close to the island hoping to prevent people voting for Lee Teng-hui, who China suspected of harboring pro-independence views. Lee won by a landslide. Ties were also badly strained when the DPP's Chen Shui-bian was Taiwan president from 2000-2008 because of his independence rhetoric, even as he tried to maintain positive relations with Beijing.”

China Dismisses Japan’s Call To Stay Away From Disputed Islands. “Chinese officials have brushed off Japan’s calls to stay out of its territorial waters in the East China Sea as tensions between the historical adversaries appear to be ramping up again. Speaking Friday to reporters in Beijing, a spokesman for China’s Defense Ministry reiterated previous government assertions that China does not recognize Japan’s claims to the disputed Senkaku Islands – called Diaoyu by the Chinese – and would continue to traverse the waters. China’s response came just days after Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force could be dispatched to patrol the territory surrounding the islands if China’s repeated incursions did not cease. China entered the Japanese-controlled waters with armed vessels for the first time Dec. 26 and again Jan. 8. “The Chinese People’s Liberation Army will resolutely safeguard China’s national sovereignty and security interests,” a Defense Ministry spokesman said, according to China’s state media. “The Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islets are China’s inherent territory since ancient times. China’s navigation and patrol activities in the relevant waters near the Diaoyu Islands are completely legitimate, and we call on the Japanese side not to confuse the right and wrong on the issue of the Diaoyu Islands.” Nakatani had declined to speak of hypothetical situations and did not detail Japan’s exact response; however, Chinese state media reported that Japan plans to deploy naval warships to ask the Chinese to vacate the area if their vessels enter waters within 12 nautical miles of the disputed islands. Japanese defense officials declined to comment, and U.S. naval forces in Japan deferred comment to Pentagon officials who could not be immediately reached due to the Monday holiday. The U.S. has a mutual defense treaty with Japan and likely would be pulled into any dispute between the quarreling neighbors. Security experts said little would change because of the exchange, but it was a positive step for Japan. “China’s reaction is a good sign. It means that Japan’s message got across,” said Toshiyuki Shikata, a retired Japan Ground Self-Defense Force lieutenant general who works as a professor at Teikyo University. China cannot concede the issue because it would look weak in other territorial disputes, Shikata said. Meanwhile, Japan has to prevent China from establishing the islands as its own because they could be lost forever. The Senkaku islands are strategically important to Japan. They are rich is resources and serve as a protracted buffer to its much larger neighbor to the west. The Chinese have designs on the islands as they continue to swallow up Asia-Pacific territory to fuel what many experts say is unsustainable economic growth. This, in turn, has led in recent years to a dramatic modernization of their military. China has claimed disputed islands and waters throughout the region, creating potential threats to freedom of navigation along key trade routes.”

For U.S., Taiwan Vote Changes Calculus Over ‘One China.’ “No dogma is more important to Beijing than “One China,” the concept that Taiwan is a part of a single Chinese nation—just temporarily estranged. America and much of the rest of the world acquiesce to that position, denying the reality that Taiwan has set its course as an independent state. Last weekend’s vote, in which the Taiwanese electorate overwhelming endorsed a party that rejects Beijing’s “One China” formula, confirmed the direction in the most emphatic way to date. That not only puts China in a bind, but the U.S. too. Like it or not, the political equation has changed, forcing Washington to look at Taiwan in a different light. To be sure, an American challenge to the “One China” doctrine is unthinkable. It’s the one move that could realistically provoke a war between the world’s two strongest powers. Yet some diplomats and scholars think that a postelection Taiwan may get more sympathetic treatment in Washington. “Taiwan occupies a bit of a different space now,” says Donald Rodgers, a professor at Austin College in Texas, who was in Taiwan observing the elections. He predicts the U.S. will be somewhat less worried about offending China by opening more direct channels of communication with Taiwan on issues from security to the environment and health. Such dialogue must now be conducted in a cloak-and-dagger style lest it suggests state-to-state relations. U.S. arms sales to Taiwan routinely incur Beijing’s wrath. Even before the elections in which the Democratic Progressive Party captured the presidency and, for the first time, the legislature, the pretense of “One China” was getting harder to sustain. Taiwan has grown into a stable democracy. This was, after all, the sixth presidential election since the Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, lifted martial law that had been in force since 1949 when Chiang Kai-shek and his defeated armies arrived at the end of the Chinese civil war. The first was in 1996. More and more people on the island have become convinced they live in a sovereign state, not a “renegade province” of China. The last time the Democratic Progressive Party held the presidency, from 2000 to 2008, Washington didn’t face such a dilemma. Then-president Chen Shui-bian was a pro-independence firebrand who needlessly provoked China, creating endless headaches for Washington policy makers. Besides, his party didn’t control parliament. Tsai Ing-wen, the incoming president-elect, is a very different personality. She’s a cautious lawyer who has promised “no surprises” in relations with China, and that’s won her a degree of trust in Washington. Like the vast majority of Taiwanese, she’s in favor of the status quo, which essentially means shelving the whole vexed issue of independence. Why make a big fuss about it? Soon, she’ll be presiding over an island that fits almost any definition of a state. The final blow to “One China” may have been the electoral destruction of the Kuomintang, which once ruled all of China and for decades regarded Taiwan as a temporary exile. That governing mind-set has changed. Yet a belief in “One China” clings to life within its ranks, and China did everything it could to encourage the faith by signing more than 20 trade pacts with outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou in hopes that economic integration would lead to the realization of “One China.” The Kuomintang paid for these agreements with a crushing electoral defeat; ordinary Taiwanese saw them as a sellout. The party may never come back. If Washington, for pragmatic reasons, can’t simply dismiss “One China” as an anachronism, a relic of the days when cross-Strait relations were defined by the Kuomintang and Chinese Communist Party, it might not feel such a need to indulge Beijing on the matter either. (As a matter of policy, America opposes Taiwan independence).”

To Fight China’s Andaman And Nicobar Forays, India Deploys Submarine Hunters. “With Chinese nuclear and conventional submarines regularly popping up in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), India has now begun to deploy its latest long-range maritime patrol aircraft as well as spy drones at its forward military base in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Defence ministry sources on Monday said two of the country's most potent submarine hunters/killers, the naval Poseidon-8I aircraft, are just about to complete their first-ever two-week deployment to the strategically-located Andaman and Nicobar archipelago. "Navy and IAF are also deploying their (Israeli) Searcher-II unmanned aerial vehicles to the islands on a temporary basis," said a source. India has inducted eight P-8I aircraft, acquired under a $2.1 billion deal inked in January 2009 with U.S. aviation major Boeing, at its INS Rajali naval air station in Arakkonam (Tamil Nadu). With an operating range of over 1,200 nautical miles and a maximum speed of 907kmph, the radar-packed P-8Is are especially geared to gather intelligence and detect threats in the IOR as "intelligent hawk-eyes.” Armed as they are with deadly Harpoon Block-II missiles, MK-54 lightweight torpedoes, rockets and depth charges, the P-8Is can neutralize enemy submarines and warships if required. "The case for acquisition of another four P-8Is is in the final stages. P-8Is can operate from Port Blair (naval air station INS Utkrosh) to keep tabs on the entire region," said the source. But while this is a much-needed operational requirement, India's first and only theatre command in the shape of Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC) continues to suffer from relative neglect despite the Modi government making it a top priority. Much more needs to be done at a faster pace to ensure ANC, with requisite military force-levels and infrastructure, can effectively act as a pivot to counter China's strategic moves in IOR as well as ensure security of sea lanes converging towards the Malacca Strait. Sources said "not much progress" has been made in the overall plan to have enough infrastructure and maintenance support with more airstrips and jetties in the 572-island cluster, extending over 720km, to eventually deploy a division-level force (around 15,000 troops), a fighter squadron and some major warships there. As of now, amid turf wars among Army, Navy and IAF as well as fund crunches and environmental concerns, ANC has just over an infantry brigade (3,000 soldiers), 20 small warships and patrol vessels, and a few Mi-8 helicopters and Dornier-228 patrol aircraft. While the existing runways at Campbell Bay in the south, where naval air station INS Baaz is located, and Shibpur in North Andaman are yet to be extended, the airfields at Port Blair and Car Nicobar also need some serious upgrade work. "Similarly, only one of the four proposed operational turn-around bases for warships is so far in place," said a source.”

Philippine Plane Warned By ‘Chinese Navy’ In Disputed Sea. “Philippine officials said Monday they received two intimidating radio warnings identified as from the Chinese navy when they flew a Cessna plane close to a Chinese-constructed island in the South China Sea. Eric Apolonio said the incident happened Jan. 7 when he and other personnel of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines flew to a Philippine-occupied island for an engineering survey for the installation of civil aviation safety equipment on the island. The island, which the Philippines calls Pag-asa and is home to a small fishing community and Filipino troops, is close to Subi Reef, one of seven reefs in the disputed Spratly archipelago which China has transformed into islands in the last two years using dredged sand. Chinese officials say they have completed the island building and are now constructing buildings and runways to ensure safe civilian sea travel. They have acknowledged, though, that the islands could also be used militarily, adding that they have the right to build on what they say is Chinese territory. The United States and governments with rival claims with China in the disputed region, including the Philippines and Vietnam, have expressed alarm over the Chinese construction, saying it raises tensions and threatens regional stability and could violate freedom of navigation and overflight. As their Cessna approached Pag-asa to land, Apolonio said a message was received over an emergency radio channel warning: "Foreign military aircraft, this is the Chinese navy. You are threatening the security of our station." The Filipino pilots ignored the warning and continued with the trip since they were flying a civilian plane over what Apolonio said was Philippine territory. After finishing the survey on Pag-asa, known internationally as Thitu island, they left in the plane and later received the same warning message, he said. Asked if they felt threatened, Apolonio said they were apprehensive because "you'll never know, we can be fired upon." The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately reply when asked for comment. Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon, the leader of the community on Pag-asa who flew with Apolonio's team, said the radio warnings were an act of intimidation and illustrated the threat to freedom of flight in the region. He said other civilian and military planes have also been shooed away by the Chinese in the region. Despite the incident, Apolonio said the government will proceed with plans to install the aviation equipment, which is required by the International Civil Aviation Organization to help ensure the safety of commercial flights. Called the Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast, the equipment helps aircraft determine their positions via satellite navigation and enables them to be tracked. British Ambassador to Manila Asif Ahmad said Monday that his government would oppose any move that restricts freedom of navigation and overflight in the disputed waters. "If a British aircraft, civilian or military, was intercepted and not allowed to fly over a space which we regard as international, we will simply ignore it," he told reporters.”

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

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Posted by Alex Gray | January 15, 2016

Chinese Marines’ Desert Operations Point To Long-Range Ambitions. “Days after China passed a new law that for the first time permits its military to venture overseas on counter-terror operations, its marines began exercises in the western deserts of Xinjiang, more than 2,000 kilometers from the nearest ocean. The continuing drills are an indication, analysts say, that the marines, who have traditionally trained for amphibious assault missions, are being honed into an elite force capable of deploying on land far from mainland China. China's limited means to respond to threats abroad were highlighted by two incidents in November: when Islamic State executed a Chinese hostage, and the killing of three executives by Islamist militants who attacked a hotel in Mali. China's new counter-terrorism law, passed in late December, is aimed at protecting its expanding global commercial and diplomatic interests. But China's military commanders are also trying to create a military in the likeness of the world's most dominant power projection force, analysts say. "They study what the Americans have done very carefully and it's the mirror image effect," said Leszek Buszynski, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre. The cold weather training will improve the marines' ability to conduct "long-distance mobilization in unfamiliar regions,” the deputy chief of staff of the Navy's South Sea fleet Li Xiaoyan said in a Ministry of Defense statement earlier this month. During the drills, the marines will travel 5,900 kilometers via air, truck and rail beginning in the southern province of Guangdong, the longest range maneuvers ever conducted by the force, state media said. The exercises are the latest in recent years that show the efforts China is making to boost its expeditionary force capabilities. In 2014, the marines conducted their first training in the grasslands of the northern landlocked Inner Mongolia region. At the time, the exercise was seen as unusual for the south China-based force more proficient in beach landings. Since those drills, the roughly 15,000-strong marine corps, which operates under the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy's South Sea fleet, appears to be settling into a new niche. "They never really had a major strategic role, as force projection wasn't something the PLA was willing, or able, to think about even ten years ago," said Gary Li, an independent security analyst in Beijing. With amphibious divisions in the PLA Army also capable of extending China's reach into the South China Sea and Taiwan, Li said the marines are a good fit for a budding Chinese expeditionary force. "The main advantage of playing around with the marines is that they have a higher concentration of specialists, act well as light infantry, have good esprit de corps, and are nimble enough to be deployed over long distances if needed," he said. Along with President Xi Jinping's vows to build a more modern military, the global profile of China's armed forces is on the rise. Already, the South Sea fleet, which is based on the mainland coast near the island of Hainan, has been used on operations far from the South China Sea. The fleet's vessels have ventured to the Middle East and Mediterranean after deployments on international anti-piracy patrols around the Horn of Africa. Chinese officials announced in November they were in talks with Djibouti to build permanent "support facilities" to further boost Chinese naval operations, in what would be China's first such off-shore military base. The African port, sitting on the edge of the Red and Arabian seas, is home to several foreign military bases, including U.S., French and Japanese naval facilities. China is also expanding its peacekeeping role, with Xi pledging in September to contribute 8,000 troops for a U.N. stand-by force that could provide logistical and operational experience the PLA would need to operate farther abroad.”

China Seeks Investment For Disputed Islands, To Launch Flights. “China will invite private investment to build infrastructure on islands it controls in the disputed South China Sea and will this year start regular flights to one of them, state media said on Friday, moves likely to anger other claimants. China claims almost all of the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of maritime trade passes each year. The Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims. In 2012 China set up what it calls Sansha city, based on Woody Island in the Paracels, to administer its islands there. Though China calls it a city, its permanent population is no more than a few thousand, and many of the disputed islets and reefs in the sea are uninhabited. Sansha's deputy mayor, Feng Wenhai, said they will welcome private investment and "will initiate public-private-partnership program,” state news agency Xinhua said. "The city will also push forward the planning and construction of a maritime medical rescue center. Submarine optical cables will be laid and put into use this year, and WiFi will cover all inhabited islands and reefs," Feng said. The airport on Woody Island will also this year launch regular flights, Feng added, without elaborating. China took full control of the Paracels in 1974 after a naval showdown with Vietnam. Hundreds of Vietnamese demonstrated in Hanoi when China established Sansha city and invited oil firms to bid for blocks in offshore areas that Vietnam claims as its territory. Tensions between China and Vietnam have flared in recent weeks, after Chinese civilian aircraft conducted several test landings on the disputed Fiery Cross Reef, one of three runways China has been building for more than a year by dredging sand up onto reefs and atolls in the Spratly Islands. Vietnam says China's landings were on an "illegally" built reef, and has vowed to defend its sovereignty through peaceful measures. Chinese state media on Friday showed pictures of what it said was the first batch of civilian passengers to arrive by plane on Firey Cross Reef, family members of troops based there, though it only appeared to be two women and two young children. "Everyone rapturously looked around at the island's beautiful scenery," read a caption underneath one of the pictures carried on the website of Chinese news portal Sina, showing the four of them standing on the tarmac in front of two civilian aircraft. The United States has criticized Beijing's building of artificial islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago, south of the Paracels, and has conducted sea and air patrols near them. The Philippines has challenged Beijing at the arbitration court in The Hague, a case Beijing has not recognized.”

Meet China’s Killer Drones. “Iraqi officials revealed last weekend that one of their armed drones carried out an airstrike which mistakenly killed nine members of a Shiite militia near Tikrit in a friendly fire incident. The news came as a surprise, mostly because many people didn’t know Iraq had armed drones. Iraq, for the record, very much does. And so do a number of countries, especially in the Middle East, thanks to the rise of China as a prolific developer and no-questions-asked exporter of armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Chinese exports are now helping to loosen the door policy of the once-exclusive club of countries with drones capable of destroying targets on the ground. Unmanned Chinese aircraft like the armed Caihong, or “Rainbow,” series of drones are fast becoming the Kalashnikovs of the drone world – entry-level alternatives for countries eager to achieve a basic unmanned strike capability quickly and cheaply. Turns out there are a lot of eager buyers. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt have bought armed Chinese drones, as have Pakistan, Nigeria, and Iraq. Actually using the robotic aircraft hasn’t always gone smoothly: Nigeria’s armed CH-3, short for “Caihong-3,” drones first became public when one of them surfaced in photos of a crash in the northeastern part of the country, though it’s unclear whether the aircraft went down due to technical problems or ground fire. Two CH-4 drones also reportedly crashed in Algeria while undergoing testing by the Algerian military, which has been weighing a purchase. Those countries are turning to Chinese drones because they’re easier to buy – and much cheaper – than their American counterparts. Washington has strict limits on which countries can buy U.S.-made armed drones. China is willing to sell them to anyone with cash to spend. China’s drone marketing revolves around a three-pronged strategy of “price, privacy, and product,” according to Ian Easton, a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute, an Arlington, Virginia, think tank focused on Asian security issues. On the product side, armed drones had been the almost exclusive and rarely exported preserve of Western countries like the United States and Israel. But China has spent years working to develop its own UAV industry to catch up with the United States, in part to ensure it could keep pace with American military technology in the event of a future conflict between the two superpowers. “This is a sector they’ve been investing in heavily since just after 2000. There are anywhere between 75 [and] 100 UAV-related companies, both private and state-owned, building things out to meet demand,” says Richard Fisher Jr., a senior fellow on Asian military affairs at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, a think tank in Alexandria, Virginia, focused on international security issues. “The Chinese government gives them all lunch money, and they just work building new things. Sometimes the government will buy them. Sometimes they’ll let these companies export them.” That investment has helped the Chinese drone industry market cheaper, albeit somewhat less capable, versions of the iconic American Predator and Reaper drones to a wide international market – all without forcing buyers to jump through the political and regulatory hurdles that exist in the United States. In addition to U.S. national arms export regulations, the United States abides by the voluntary international Missile Technology Control Regime, which asks members to apply a “strong presumption of denial” to exports of drones that can carry a 1,100-pound payload more than 185 miles. Chinese drone companies also spare buyers some of the controversy associated with armed drones by making the actual transactions as opaque as possible. Easton says Chinese drone makers are protective of their clients’ privacy, revealing little about buyers or prices. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have reportedly bought the armed GJ-1 variant of the Wing Loong drone, developed by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group. But it’s the CH-3 and CH-4B armed drones, made by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) and marketed by Aerospace Long-March International Trade (ALIT), that appear to be the most popular models so far. A number of countries began adding those drones to their fleets in 2015. The Nigerian Air Force showed off its own CH-3 during a visit from its chief of air staff in July. Pakistan’s Burraq drone, reportedly based on the CH-3, carried out its first strike in September. Iraq revealed itself as a CH-4B customer in October, and in December IHS Jane’s published an analysis of satellite imagery which appeared to point to a CH-4B on the runway at Saudi Arabia’s Jizan Regional Airport. Thus far, though, Pakistan and Iraq are the only two countries with confirmed airstrikes carried out by Caihong drones, with Iraq launching its first reported CH-4B strike in December.”

Xi’s New Model Army. “China’S biggest military shake-up in a generation began with a deliberate echo of Mao Zedong. Late in 2014 President Xi Jinping went to Gutian, a small town in the south where, 85 years before, Mao had first laid down the doctrine that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the armed force not of the government or the country but of the Communist Party. Mr. Xi stressed the same law to the assembled brass: the PLA is still the party’s army; it must uphold its “revolutionary traditions” and maintain absolute loyalty to its political masters. His words were a prelude to sweeping reforms in the PLA that have unfolded in the past month, touching almost every military institution. The aim of these changes is twofold – to strengthen Mr. Xi’s grip on the 2.3m-strong armed forces, which are embarrassingly corrupt at the highest level, and to make the PLA a more effective fighting force, with a leadership structure capable of breaking down the barriers between rival commands that have long hampered its modernisation efforts. It has taken a long time since the meeting in Gutian for these reforms to unfold; but that reflects both their importance and their difficulty. The PLA itself has long admitted that it is lagging behind. It may have plenty of new weapons – it has just started to build a second aircraft-carrier, for instance – but it is failing to make effective use of them because of outdated systems of command and control. Before any substantial change in this area, however, Mr. Xi felt it necessary to strengthen the party’s control over the PLA, lest it resist his reforms and sink back into a morass of money-grubbing. The reforms therefore begin with the main instrument of party control, the Central Military Commission (CMC), which is chaired by Mr. Xi. On January 11th the CMC announced that the PLA’s four headquarters – the organisations responsible for recruiting troops, procuring weapons, providing logistics and ensuring political supervision – had been split up, slimmed down and absorbed into the commission. Once these were among the most powerful organisations in the PLA, operating almost as separate fiefs. Now they have become CMC departments. The political headquarters was the body through which the party kept an eye on the ranks and ensured they were up to speed on Maoist texts and the party’s latest demands. The loss of its autonomous status may suggest that the party’s role is being downgraded. Far from it. Now the party’s CMC (there is also a state one, which exists only in name) will be better able to keep watch. The body’s 15 new departments will include not only departments for politics but also for logistics, personnel management and fighting corruption. Mr. Xi has already turned his guns on graft, imprisoning dozens of generals. The second reform has been to put the various services on a more equal footing. The land forces have hitherto reigned supreme. That may have been fine when the PLA’s main job was to defend the country against an invasion across its land borders (until the 1980s the Soviet Union was considered the biggest threat). But now China has military ambitions in the South China Sea and beyond, and wants the ability to challenge American naval and air power in the western Pacific. A recent editorial in the Liberation Army Daily, a PLA mouthpiece, berated the armed forces for their “army-centric mindset.” In addition to those for the navy and air force, a separate command has now been created for the army, which had previously run everything. On December 31st the CMC also announced the formation of a command responsible for space and cyberwarfare, as well as one for ballistic and cruise missiles (previously known as the Second Artillery Force, part of the army). There is also a new joint command with overall control of the various services, a little like America’s joint chiefs of staff. Big changes are also afoot in regional command structures. China used to be divided into seven military regions. These were powerful and relatively self-contained; sharing or swapping troops and equipment was rare. Now, according to reports in the South China Morning Post, a newspaper in Hong Kong, the number will be reduced to five. Troops will be recruited and trained by the various services before regional deployment. This will ensure greater central control over the regions.”

A New Year Of Turmoil For China. “A year ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared to be living what he called the “Chinese Dream.” China’s economy seemed strong, its military power was growing and Xi was aggressively consolidating domestic political power. But Xi is off to a bad new year. The Chinese economy is slowing sharply, with actual gross domestic product growth last year now estimated by U.S. analysts at several points below the official rate of 6.5 percent. The Chinese stock market has fallen 15 percent this year, and the value of its currency has slipped. Capital flight continues, probably at the $1 trillion annual rate estimated for the second half of last year. But China’s economic woes are manageable compared with its domestic political difficulties. Xi’s anti-corruption drive has accelerated into a full-blown purge. The campaign has rocked the Chinese intelligence service, toppled some senior military commanders and frightened Communist Party leaders around the country. Jittery party officials are lying low, avoiding decisions that might get them in trouble; the resulting paralysis makes other problems worse. “Xi is in an unprecedentedly powerful position. But because he has dismantled the tools of collective leadership that had been built up over decades, he owns this crisis,” said Kurt Campbell, who was the Obama administration’s top Asia expert until 2013. He worries that Xi will “double down” on his nationalistic push for greater power in Asia, which is one of the few themes that can unite the country. “To scale back shows weakness, which Xi can ill afford now,” Campbell said. Chinese sometimes use historical parables to explain current domestic political issues. The talk recently among some members of the Chinese elite has been a comparison between Xi’s tenure and that of Yongzheng, the emperor who ruled China from 1722 to 1735. Yongzheng waged a harsh campaign against bribery, but he came to be seen by many Chinese as a despot who had gained power illegitimately. “A lot of historical events of that period are repeating in China today, from power conspiracy to corruption, from a deteriorating economy to an external hostility threat,” one Chinese observer said in an email. Xi’s political troubles illustrate the difficulty of trying to reform a one-party system from within. Much as Mikhail Gorbachev hoped in the 1980s that reforms could revitalize a decaying Soviet Communist Party, Xi began his presidency in 2013 by attacking Chinese party barons who had grown rich and comfortable on the spoils of China’s economic boom. Many of Xi’s rivals were protégés of former President Jiang Zemin, which meant that Xi made some powerful enemies. David Shambaugh, a China scholar at George Washington University, was an outlier when he argued in March that Xi’s reform campaign would backfire. “Despite appearances, China’s political system is badly broken, and nobody knows it better than the Communist Party itself,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “The endgame of Chinese communist rule has now begun.” This political obituary may prove premature. But there’s growing agreement among China analysts that Xi’s crackdown has fueled dissent within the party and beyond, leading to further repression. Xi is a decisive strongman, so he may fare better than Gorbachev, but the structure underneath him is fragile. China’s recent economic turmoil may be an inevitable result of the transition Xi is trying to steer. He wants to move China away from a debt-laden bubble economy, which depended on ever-growing exports, toward a more sustainable, consumer-driven model. His problem is that the Chinese system is bloated by inefficient, state-owned enterprises that survive on debt and subsidies. Xi has found it impossible to cut them loose. “It’s no easy thing to reboot a $10 trillion economy,” said a former U.S. official who knows the top Chinese leaders well. “Xi is trying to do it all himself” at a time when “everything is changing at once.” This month’s financial rout showed the dangers for a China caught between a truly free market and continuing government control. An ill-conceived “circuit breaker” that kicked in when the stock market fell 7 percent, and government orders to big investors not to sell, probably accelerated the sell-off and the flight of capital. Conflicting signals on whether the central bank wanted a stronger or weaker currency shook the market’s confidence. Xi has been pressing the free-market accelerator at the same time he pumps the political brake. For a China halfway pregnant with reform, the past month’s turbulence showed that these fundamental contradictions may not be sustainable.”

Musing On The South China Sea. “The U.S. Navy and the Australian Air Force have recently been at pains to proclaim certain activities in the South China Sea as pursuant to their right to international freedom of navigation. This new twist on familiar activities stems from China’s spectacular creation of seven new islands in this enclosed sea. The new islands undoubtedly symbolise China’s claim to exclusive privileges in this area, but they also invite a question: when was China’s Politburo persuaded that they needed a shock-and-awe event in the South China Sea to secure a positive outcome, that is, to finally suppress resistance to China’s ‘historical’ claim to the greater part of this sea? The features in the South China Sea – predominantly located in two clusters called the Paracel Islands in the north and the Spratly Islands in the southeast – are too insignificant to have ever naturally attracted permanent inhabitants. Indeed, most of them are below water, permanently or at high tide. As such, they’ve been of keen interest to fishermen and other mariners, especially from littoral communities, as hazards to avoid or take advantage of as circumstances required. China contends that the first of its imperial dynasties – the Han dynasty, roughly 2BC – 2AD – took note of those features and that a mindset of ownership toward the South China Sea emerged over the centuries. In other words, China progressively concluded (or confirmed) that its right to or need for ownership of those features (and/or the sea space they inhabited) surpassed that of the other littoral communities. That sounds like a rather precious posture, even from our present vantage point, although no evidence survives from those ancient times that China imposed its claim in a manner that made other communities aware that such a claim existed. The years haven’t been kind: the claim looks no more natural or understandable now than it would have two millennia ago. Today, China’s claim is expressed as a dashed line that made its debut in the late 1930s, slipped into circulation by the then Nationalist government. China had at last stepped away from the imperial system in 1911 but its first ‘modern’ government soon found itself in a civil war with the newly-established Chinese Communist Party, to which the Japanese invasion, starting in 1937, was added. This dashed line envelopes some 90% of the South China Sea and now takes away most of the exclusive economic zones granted to the other littoral states under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The status of the features within the sea in contemporary legal terms is rather obscure, and the relevance of an imperial attitude toward this body of water by the most distant of the littoral states is, at the very least, contestable. The People’s Republic of China has nonetheless progressively intensified its campaign to secure acceptance of its claim. It has alternated between phases of inducement and coercion as well as signalling, as it became wealthier, that its capacity to bring pressure to bear was, for all practical purposes, destined to become unlimited. Beijing has had ample opportunity – even since the end of the Cold War focussed more attention on those ‘regional’ issues – to assess the costs and risks of its policy settings on the South China Sea. We can infer that, for some considerable time, the occasional policy review concluded that the established instruments of policy implementation – both carrots and sticks, all of which were growing in weight and effectiveness – could be expected to suppress opposition to China’s objectives at an acceptable cost and in an acceptable timeframe. It seems, however, that something happened that shattered political confidence in getting that timely and cost-effective outcome. Something persuaded the Politburo that the parameters of the issue needed a profound shake-up to accelerate progress toward the desired outcome. The Politburo was attracted to a spectacular blizzard of island building as the transformative development. Planning was conducted in complete secrecy. One can assume that the Politburo had to decide what island-building program was neither too small nor too big to achieve its psychological, political and security objectives, and how quickly it had to be put in place to preclude countervailing action. It would also have had to choose which features to transform into islands; decisions that would have been informed by the feasibility of transforming particular features, prospective economic rewards, military considerations stemming from the location of features occupied by other claimants and the full scope of the rights and privileges within its dashed line that China intends, eventually, to claim (but which it has steadfastly declined to elaborate on thus far).

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

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Posted by Alex Gray | January 14, 2016

S. Korea, China To Hold Military Talks On N. Korea. “South Korea and China plan to discuss a joint response to North Korea's recent nuclear test during their regular working-level defense talks later this week, the Ministry of National Defense said Thursday. The annual director-level consultation to be held in Seoul on Friday will provide the militaries of the two countries with the opportunity for the first direct talks since the North conducted what it claims was a successful hydrogen bomb test on Jan. 6. "This year's meeting is intended to discuss bilateral cooperation and exchanges in the defense segment as before, but countermeasures to the North Korean nuclear test will also be dealt with," a ministry official said. South Korea has been scrambling to forge a united front with China in making the North pay the price for the defiant nuclear detonation test. But China has subtly deviated from the international community's efforts for stringent punishment, putting "peace, stability and dialogue" ahead of harsh punitive action. Those differences have slightly put them apart on the North Korean nuclear issue since the recent test, with Defense Minister Han Min-koo's request for a telephone conference with his Chinese counterpart remaining unanswered as of Friday. Against that backdrop, President Park Geun-hye called on China to play a "necessary role" in slapping stronger sanctions on North Korea during her televised national address Wednesday. Other salient issues to be discussed will include South Korea's repatriation of the remains of Chinese soldiers who fought in the 1950-53 Korean War. South Korea has sent home the remains of 505 Chinese soldiers, which were buried in South Korea's enemy cemetery, over the past two years, but the remains erroneously included those of North Korean soldiers. The neighbors were battlefield foes, with China fighting alongside North Korea against the South during the three-year war.”

Philippines Urges Patrols With U.S. Amid Sea Dispute With China. “The Philippines has asked the United States to hold joint naval patrols, a defense ministry spokesman said on Thursday, amid a territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea. Foreign and defense ministers from the United States and the Philippines met in Washington this week for the second time in more than three years to discuss trade and security, focusing on the South China Sea. "We are suggesting that we also patrol the area together," Peter Paul Galvez told reporters in Manila. "There is a need for more collaborative presence in the South China Sea." China claims almost all the South China Sea, which is believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, and has been building up facilities on islands it controls. Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines also have claims. Tension rose this month when China began test flights from Fiery Cross Reef, one of three artificial islands where Beijing has built airfields. The Philippines has challenged Beijing at the arbitration court in The Hague, a case Beijing has not recognized.”

Japan’s MSDF Will Help Guard Disputed Islands From Chinese Warships. “On Tuesday, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga clarified that Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces (MSDF) can engage in a “maritime policing operation” when a foreign warship enters Japan’s territorial waters and is not practicing “innocent passage” under international law. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that such seaborne patrolling actions would be undertaken should Chinese naval ships enter the territorial waters surrounding the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Defense Minister Gen Nakatani also confirmed, “If it becomes difficult for the police and Japan Coast Guard (JCG) to deal with the matter [in the East China Sea], there is the principle of having the SDF respond through maritime policing activities.” Per the Self-Defense Law, the MSDF could operate when the JCG is not sufficient to deal with the situation – such as when a foreign ship outguns the JCG. The Abe Cabinet decided last May that the defense minister could mobilize the MSDF following a phone conference should such a contingency arise. Such a policing operation would be conducted under domestic law, and hence is not an act of war. Nonetheless, it still heightens the risk of military-on-military conflict compared to a mobilization limited to the JCG. Since a “policing activity” is a not a “defense operation,” there are limitations on use of weapons. But the MSDF can take other measures to demand the intruding ships leave, such as firing warning shots. Furthermore, weapons may be used when needed, i.e. for justifiable defense. Japan has conducted seaborne patrolling actions three times in the past: against North Korean spy ships (1999), against a Chinese nuclear powered submarine (2004), and during antipiracy missions in waters off of Somalia (2009). In 1999, Japanese warships fired warning shots and military aircraft dropped explosives against two suspected North Korean spy ships. This incident was the first time Japan had fired warning shots since 1953 – and it fired 1,200 in total. The chase continued for more than 24 hours until the ships made it to North Korean territorial waters. In 2004, Japanese reconnaissance aircraft and naval destroyers followed a Chinese submarine for two days after it was originally spotted between Okinawa and Taiwan and then traveled north. Japanese police actions off the coast of Somalia in 2009 were intended to protect Japanese-owned ships and ships carrying Japanese goods or crew. “Innocent passage” under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea allows passage through territorial waters so long as it is not “prejudicial to the peace, good order or security” of the other state. Navigation for the purpose of using force, gathering information, and conducting propaganda activities does not fall under “innocent passage.” According to Yomiuri, the Japanese government will not grant the right of innocent passage to Chinese naval vessels traveling within Senkaku/Diaoyu’s territorial waters. Japanese sources also believe it is unlikely that China would even request innocent passage, because doing so would imply that China implicitly recognizes Japanese sovereignty. According to sources who spoke to Yomiuri, Beijing has been notified of this Japanese policy following activities by Chinese ships near the disputed islands last November. The defense ministry reported at the time that a Chinese navy intelligence ship engaged in information-gathering activities close to the Senkaku/Diaoyus, though the ship did not actually enter territorial waters at that time. The Chinese ship spent a day going back and forth between the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and Sakishima Island. This clarification of policy should be seen as a Japanese attempt to maintain the status quo in the East China Sea. The best-case outcome for Japan would be for China to believe Japanese policymakers when they say they have the capability and intention to police their territorial waters. If Japanese claims are seen as credible and China fears escalation should the MSDF get involved, deterrence would have succeeded.”

Vietnam’s Plan To Deter China With Western Jets. “Vietnam is negotiating with American and European manufacturers to purchase new warplanes—including fighters, maritime patrol aircraft and unmanned aircraft. The move comes as part of Hanoi’s strategy to lessen its dependence on Russian hardware and to counter China’s growing power. According to Reuter’s Siva Govindasamy, Vietnam has been in talks with contractors who build the Saab JAS-39E/F Gripen NG, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon and the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. It’s also taken a hard look at Korea’s F/A-50 lightweight fighter—which was developed in cooperation with Lockheed. Assuming Hanoi can reach a deal, Vietnam could buy up to a hundred combat aircraft to replace its antiquated fleet of 144 Mikoyan MiG-21 Fishbeds and thirty-eight Sukhoi Su-22 Fitter strike aircraft. The new aircraft would supplement Vietnam’s existing fleet of Russian-made Flanker air superiority fighters. Hanoi operates about a dozen original model Sukhoi Su-27 Flankers and thirty-two more modern Su-30MK2 Flankers with four more on order. While Washington and Hanoi have been on better terms in recent years, with the U.S. defense secretary visiting the nation as recently as last June, buying an American combat aircraft might still be a bridge too far for Vietnam. The memories of the Vietnam War—which was much more devastating for Vietnam than for the United States—might mean that Hanoi will have reservations about dealing with American contractors. As such, a European warplane might have an edge. Indeed, Vietnam is known to have held fairly advanced discussions to buy the Typhoon, according to Reuters. But Hanoi needs more than just fighters. Given its maritime disputes with Beijing, Vietnam needs maritime patrol aircraft and surveillance capabilities. The country has been talking to the Swedes about maritime patrol and airborne early warning variants of the Saab 340 or 2000 twin-engine turboprops, according to Reuters. Vietnam has also discussed purchasing a maritime patrol version of the Airbus C-295, Lockheed’s Sea Hercules variant of the C-130 transport and a Boeing offering of a business jet fitted with much of the surveillance suite from the P-8 Poseidon. The Boeing offering would not include anti-submarine warfare capabilities however. Hanoi is also looking for unmanned surveillance aircraft to help patrol its vast shoreline. However, no details are available on exactly what aircraft the country wants to buy. But as tensions with China look to continue unabated, Hanoi is almost certain to explore is options and, in doing so, start moving closer to Washington.”

Former U.S. Defense Chiefs Encourage More Military Exchanges Between U.S., China. “Four former U.S. defense secretaries on Monday encouraged their country and China to boost military exchanges to enhance mutual trust. Chuck Hagel, William Cohen, William Perry, and Harold Brown voiced this view at an event held by National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Cohen, who served as the Pentagon chief from 1997 to 2001, said the two militaries could conduct more joint exercises as "a way of trying to build more trust" between the two sides. Hagel, who was secretary of defense from 2013 to 2015, noted that the U.S. military is doing more military exercises with the People's Liberation Army (PLA) than before. In November, three Chinese naval ships made a port call at the United States' Naval Station Mayport during the PLA navy's first-ever goodwill visit to the U.S. East Coast. The two navies also conducted a joint military exercise after the visit. Perry, who was the Pentagon chief from 1994 to 1997, encouraged the two militaries to continue to promote minister-level dialogue, which all four defense chiefs did during their tenure. At the event, all the four former officials agreed that U.S. military academies should train PLA officers to boost mutual understanding. The National Committee on U.S.-China Relations is a nonprofit organization that encourages citizens of China and the United States to understand the two countries. It is holding a series of events to celebrate its 50th anniversary of this year.”

China Enables North Korean Mischief. “After North Korea's fourth nuclear detonation last week, the third on U.S. President Barack Obama's watch, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his frustration with China's unwillingness to rein in Pyongyang's reckless and dangerous provocations. As Kerry put it: "China had a particular approach that it wanted to make, that we agreed and respected to give them space to implement that. Today in my conversation with the Chinese I made it very clear that has not worked and we cannot continue business as usual." Kerry did not explain whether the "business as usual" reference applied only to relations between China and North Korea, or to the U.S.-China relationship as well. Beijing quickly made clear that it doesn't matter what the secretary meant: From China's perspective, nothing will change in either bilateral interaction. The Communist Party of China's official and quasi-official media organs flatly rebuffed the suggestion that China bears any special burden to curb Kim Jong Un's bizarre regime and defiantly turned the charge back on the United States and the West. The official People's Daily said Washington had "inescapable responsibilities for the current tension in the peninsula." An editorial in Global Times stated: "In no way will China bear the responsibilities that the U.S., South Korea and Japan should take. The hostilities between them and Pyongyang are actually the source of the nuclear problems. The China-North Korea relationship should not be dragged into antagonism." An official statement from China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs was equally brazen: "The origin and crux of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula has never been China. The key to solving the problem is not China." Kerry's personal annoyance is understandable. A year ago he was in Beijing pleading with Chinese leaders to use their economic clout with Pyongyang to curb its nuclear program. "China has a unique and critical role that it can play. No country has a greater potential to influence North Korea's behavior," Kerry said then. Though increasingly urgent with the passage of time, these U.S. remonstrations with China go back decades. As Richard Nixon declared in his 1994 memoir, "China is the only country that possesses the necessary leverage to rein in North Korea's ominous nuclear weapons program." The Obama presidency is the fifth administration, from both parties, to deal unsuccessfully with the North Korea-China nuclear challenge. In 1991, with Beijing's urging, President George H.W. Bush unilaterally withdrew all U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea to entice Pyongyang onto a non-nuclear path. That overture failed to persuade the regime, as did all the multilateral negotiations and economic blandishments over the quarter-century that has followed. Pyongyang simply pocketed them and proceeded inexorably with its nuclear and missile programs - all with China's indulgence and complicity. (Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress in 2012 that China has "clearly assisted" North Korea's missile program.) Nor did sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council or unilaterally by the United States dissuade the Kim family dictatorship from moving ahead - especially since Beijing ensured that they were always delayed, watered down, or less than vigorously implemented. Meanwhile, the flow of food, fuel, and technical assistance from China - Beijing's fallback economic lifeline to North Korea - never faltered. For years, Western governments and foreign policy experts assured us on a bipartisan basis that Beijing cared as much about a nuclear North Korea as the rest of the world does. Henry Kissinger asserted in 2004 that "eliminating North Korea's nuclear program is overwhelmingly in the Chinese interest. They don't want nuclear weapons on their borders." It is finally being acknowledged that China views a Kim regime with nuclear weapons and long-range missiles as less terrifying than the prospect of a unified, humane, democratic Korea. So the People's Republic refrains from seriously pressuring the Democratic People's Republic to abandon its nuclear program - indeed, China enables North Korea.”

 The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

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Posted by Alex Gray | January 08, 2016

Pressure Grows On China To Rein In North Korea; South Launches Propaganda Barrage. “South Korea unleashed a high-decibel propaganda barrage across its border with North Korea on Friday in retaliation for its nuclear test, while the United States called on China to end "business as usual" with its ally. The broadcasts, in rolling bursts from walls of loudspeakers at 11 locations along the heavily militarized border, blared rhetoric critical of the Pyongyang regime as well as "K-pop" music, ratcheting up tension between the rival Koreas. North Korea later responded with its own broadcasts. South Korea, which has grown increasingly close to China in recent years, also said its foreign minister would speak with his Chinese counterpart later on Friday. Wednesday's nuclear test angered both the United States and China, which was not given prior notice, although the U.S. government and weapons experts doubt Pyongyang's claim that the device it set off was a hydrogen bomb. China is North Korea's main economic and diplomatic backer, although relations between the Cold War allies have cooled in recent years. China's Foreign Ministry urged North Korea to stick to its decentralization pledges and avoid action that would make the situation worse, but also said China did not hold the key to resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. "Achieving decentralization of the Korean Peninsula and safeguarding the peninsula's peace and stability accords with all parties' mutual interests, is the responsibility of all parties, and requires all parties to put forth efforts," ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news briefing. The North agreed to end its nuclear program in international negotiations in 2005 but later walked away from the deal. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday he had made clear in a phone call with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that China's approach to North Korea had not succeeded. "China had a particular approach that it wanted to make, that we agreed and respected to give them space to implement that," Kerry told reporters. "Today, in my conversation with the Chinese, I made it very clear that has not worked and we cannot continue business as usual." South Korea's nuclear safety agency said it found a miniscule amount of xenon gas in a sample from off its east coast, which could be the first chemical evidence of a nuclear test, but said more analysis and samples were needed to determine if it came from a nuclear test. The presence of xenon would not indicate whether the blast was from a hydrogen device or not. Seismic waves created by the blast were almost identical to those generated in North Korea's last nuclear test in 2013, Jeffrey Park, a seismologist at Yale University, wrote in a post on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists website, adding to skepticism about the hydrogen bomb claim.”

China And Russia: The Partnership Deepens. “Relations between China and Russia became noticeably closer in the past year and, if the numerous agreements they have appended their signatures to come to fruition, they are apt to become still closer in 2016. Perhaps most startling has been the resumption of Russian arms sales to the PRC.  Robust sales that began after the demise of the Soviet Union and continued for fifteen years dropped sharply after 2006, with a major factor being Moscow’s annoyance at the Chinese penchant for copying Russian designs and selling the items to third countries at lower prices that undercut Russia’s.  There were as well concerns within the Russian military about selling China weapons that could someday be used against them. Whether because these misgivings had abated or, more likely,  because of desperation in Moscow due to deteriorating economic conditions, sales resumed in 2015 as abruptly as they had been reduced nearly a decade before.  In the spring, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved in principle the sale of S-400 air defense systems to China, making it the first foreign customer to acquire the S-400.  Once deployed, it will provide a significant upgrade for the PRC’s integrated air defense system. The deal will reportedly cost US$ 3 billion. In November, the two concluded a $ 2 billion deal for the purchase of 24 Su-35 fighter planes.  A number of smaller agreements involving joint work in defense projects and in dual-use technologies have also been reached.  Russia’s Kaspersky Labs has agreed to cooperate with the state-owned China Cyber Security Company for defense against an unnamed state actor which had mounted sophisticated attacks against both countries. In December, the two countries’ central banks signed a memorandum of understanding to expand cooperation to promote local currency settlements, bank card issuance, access to local currency bond markets, and credit-rating partnerships. Almost simultaneously, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Vnesheconombank (VEB), and the China-Eurasia Economic Fund (CEECF) announced the creation of a structure to finance Chinese exports to Russia and guide the flow of Chinese investment into projects in the Russian Far East and Trans-Baikal areas. Major foci were to be the transportation infrastructure and power generation sectors. VEB was said to be mulling yuan-denominated bond offerings in China on the Moscow Exchange. China’s Silk Road Fund agreed to provide 730 million euros (about $778 million) over a 15-year period for the Yamal liquid natural gas project. Russian agribusiness exports to China for the first eleven months of the year increased by over 14 percent, to $1.2 billion and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced their intention to increase total bilateral trade to $200 billion by 2020. At a meeting of the prime ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Premier Li announced six platforms for regional development: security, production capacity, connectivity, financial cooperation, regional trade cooperation, and cooperation to improve the lives of the people of the SCO’s six members and their dialogue partners. Li and Medvedev also released a statement vowing to play a “constructive role” in the resolution of Iran’s nuclear issue. Despite the PRC’s long-standing opposition to economic sanctions against countries, China’s largely still state-controlled press reported without comment on Russia’s decision to impose food embargoes on Ukraine in retaliation for Kyiv’s participation in a free-trade agreement with the European Union.”

Chinese Soldiers Have Laser Guns. “The official PLA Daily December 9th 2015 edition announced that Chinese soldiers are now in possession of laser guns. This was not a counter to the success of Star Wars: Force Awakens, but rather the revelation of new responses to the spread of new technology like unmanned systems. International conventions like the 1998 Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons ban the use of lasers and blinding weapons used against people; however the optical and thermal sensors on vehicles, aircraft and robots are still fair game. For example, the PY132A laser is one of the systems displayed at a domestic Chinese police expo, presumably for usage against rogue and terrorist drones. Chinese defense contractors are also marketing the Low Altitude Guard laser turret for shooting down small UAVs as a police and law enforcement tool (though it also has a more powerful military counterpart). This framing of laser weapons and armed robots in law enforcement situations suggests that in addition to traditional arms transfers, Chinese influence in these realms could also come in the form of paramilitary high tech weapons. In combat, laser rifles would be useful for a wide variety of situations; soldiers in urban combat could use the PY132A, WJG-202 and BBQ-905 laser rifles to destroy the sensitive thermal imagers of enemy tanks or blind slow flying UAVs. Special forces could use them to knock out enemy security cameras and sabotage sensors. Such uses meet the international protocols in definition, but there are still concerns. When used against the sensors of manned aircraft such as attack helicopters, the beam scattering effect of all lasers, blinding ones included, means that pilots' eyeballs could become "collateral" damage. While we probably won't see PLA troops carrying blasters or phasers on the battlefield any time soon, such advances in Chinese military technology point to another area where science fiction will become battlefield reality in the 21st century. Combined with an evident willingness to envision the use of use of laser weapons in tactical situations, the availability of such new weaponry makes it probable that Chinese soldiers, systems and vehicles could carry lasers for a wide range of missions in the future.”

China Building Submarine Base In Panganiban Reef. “China is reportedly building a submarine harbor at Panganiban (Mischief) Reef located in the West Philippine Sea near Palawan, the Kalayaan Atin Ito (KAI) movement said yesterday. KAI has just concluded its nationwide maritime and territorial campaign that was highlighted by the “Freedom Voyage” to the disputed Spratly Islands to protest China’s invasion of the country’s maritime domain. “Palawan is just 135 nautical miles away from the Panganiban Reef, which is being developed by China into a submarine harbor,” KAI’s student volunteers said in their report after the Freedom Voyage. Former Marine captain Nicanor Faeldon, who initiated a peaceful protest against China’s occupation of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in Zambales in 2012, led the student-volunteers during the trip to Pag-asa Island on Dec. 24. Located within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, Panganiban Reef was first occupied by Beijing in 1995, purportedly as a shelter for fishermen. China gradually developed the area and transformed it into a naval facility. “This evil project does not concern the Filipino alone but the entire humanity, including the peace-loving Chinese people,” KAI said, referring to China’s ongoing reclamation and construction activities on Panganiban Reef. The Philippine Navy (PN), tasked to secure and guard the country’s maritime domain, has yet to comment on KAI’s claims. Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon said the KAI report needs further validation, noting the route taken by the student-volunteers during the Freedom Voyage as well as their return trip to Palawan was nowhere near Panganiban Reef. Bito-onon said the only thing confirmed for now is that China is continuously fortifying its presence on Panganiban Reef. Panganiban Reef is not only located near Recto Bank where the Philippine government has oil exploration projects, but is also close to Ayungin Shoal, an area being guarded by Navymen (no longer the Marines) stationed on the grounded PN ship BRP Sierra Madre. Meanwhile, state media reported yesterday that China landed two more planes on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, despite international condem- nation of a landing at the same location days earlier. Vietnam also claims the reef. Two civilian aircraft landed during “test flights,” the of- ficial Xinhua news agency said. “This successful test flight proves that this airport is equipped with the capacity to ensure the safe operation of large civilian aircraft,” said Xinhua.

Sleepless In Seattle: Chinese Nukes At Sea. “China is rapidly developing the capability to strike American cities with warheads launched from nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.   This is no secret.  Simulations of such attacks – including an infamous one featuring a direct hit on the Statue of Liberty – have been repeatedly and patriotically broadcast on Chinese state media. Just what is America’s largest trading partner trying to signal with public media behavior that seems abhorrent from a Western point of view?  That’s a good question, and any answer must begin with this observation: The concept of nuclear deterrence rests, first and foremost, on the reliability of a country’s “second strike” capabilities.  To wit: If I can strike your major cities back with a devastating salvo of nuclear missiles after you strike my cities first, you will be far less inclined to launch that first strike to begin with. Consider first the American side of this nuclear deterrence ledger.  This is where radio talk show host and Republican loyalist Hugh Hewitt tried to ensnare the more moderate Donald Trump in a “gotcha moment” during the last GOP presidential debate.  In that debate, Hewitt made a jargoned reference to “the triad” – not the Chinese mafia in this case but rather the three-legged stool of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, long range bombers, and nuclear-powered submarines that America relies on for its second-strike capability. Of the three, it is America’s nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) that provide the most assured destruction in America’s deterrent triad.  This is because in today’s high tech Global Positioning Satellite world, America’s land-based missiles can now be far more easily destroyed in their fixed silos by precision strikes.  At the same time, America’s aging bomber fleet has become more and more vulnerable to increasingly sophisticated air defense systems. In contrast, America’s nuclear-powered submarine fleet suffers from no such vulnerabilities.  With their supreme stealth capabilities and concomitant ability to travel long distances without surfacing, America’s SSBNs are able to lurk in deep waters, well within range of any country that may think about sending a first nuclear strike America’s way. One looming problem, however, is that America’s SSBN fleet of Ohio-class subs are set to begin retiring within the next decade.  As Commander Bud Cole of National Defense University notes: The U.S. nuclear powered submarine feet as far as I know is far superior to the Chinese, anything the Chinese Navy can put to sea. On the other hand, the numbers within the U.S. nuclear powered submarine fleet are decreasing; and by 2020, we're only going to have forty or so submarines available, Navy-wide, not all of which of course will be in the Pacific fleet. So while a U.S. submarine is going to be far more capable than a Chinese submarine, numbers do count in the final analysis. While America’s second-strike sub capabilities may well soon be declining, China’s are on the distinct uptick.  This is not as it has always been. Historically, China has been unable to field a modern nuclear submarine fleet and thus has lacked a credible, sea-based second strike.  However, this strategic calculus radically changed in 2014 when China began deploying its new Jin-class ballistic missile submarine.  Longer than a football field, this Type 094 sub is capable of launching up to 16 Ju Lang-2 missiles with a range of up to 7,500 miles. China may have as many as five Jin-class submarines operational.  If each of their 16 Julang-2 missiles can deliver up to four warheads each as some analysts suggest, this would give China a combined ability to deliver over 300 nuclear warheads to American soil  – thus giving the phrase “sleepless in Seattle” a whole new twist.”

China Rises, America Stalls: The Year Ahead In Space. “Spaceflight is usually on the periphery of international affairs and is invisible in the US presidential campaigns. That's understandable. Most people are either not connected, or believe they are unconnected, to the space industry (never mind their communications, media, weather forecasts or GPS navigation). But turbulence is building on several fronts and some will become major issues in the year ahead. The most important international space project is the International Space Station (ISS). Humanity's only outpost beyond Earth has survived geopolitical tensions between its major partners, but it is entering its twilight years. The ISS will remain active until 2024. Beyond this, its future is questionable. America's space agency, NASA, is becoming comically inept in trying to define its next goal after ISS goes dormant. There's no chance of sending astronauts to the Moon or Mars any time soon. Americans seem indifferent to spaceflight. If NASA cannot recover its mojo soon, America's future as the world's predominant space power will be in question. The rising challenger is China. The Tiangong 2 space laboratory (essentially a miniature space station) will fly at some point this year. China is fast-tracking plans for its own major space station, which should launch around 2018. International partners are being invited to join the Chinese Space Station. At some point, the CSS could become the world's only operational space station. China recently launched a dark matter astronomy satellite and is building a massive radio telescope on the ground. This 500-metre diameter dish will be the largest antenna in the world. Russia's space program mostly rests on the legacy of Soviet-era technology and infrastructure. Its internal problems are even worse than those of NASA. Europe is moving steadily. Japan is also quietly gaining ground. So much for national programs. The real action will come from the rise of private enterprise. A bitter rivalry has emerged between two US-based companies. Blue Origin and SpaceX have both demonstrated the ability to recover their rockets. This could bring down the cost of space travel, but it will take years for this capability to truly mature. Rivalries are also brewing between these upstart space companies and 'old school' aerospace corporations who see their cozy relations with the US government threatened. Senator John McCain periodically erupts over the import of Russian rocket engines for US rockets by the 'old school', which saves money but inhibits US innovation. Space tourist companies are still trying but haven't demonstrated any operational vehicles. At some point, they have to deliver on their promises.”

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

Posted by Alex Gray | January 07, 2016

South China Sea Dispute: Vietnamese Subs Deployed As Deterrent To China. “The first of Vietnam's new advanced Kilo-class submarines have begun patrolling disputed waters of the South China Sea, as deterrents to China's 10 times-bigger navy, Vietnamese officials and diplomatic sources say. Vietnam is also expanding use of its strategically important Cam Ranh Bay deep-water harbour, where six of the submarines will be based by 2017. The arrival of the submarines from Russia is a key part of Vietnam's biggest arms build-up since the height of the Vietnam War, which could significantly change the balance of power in the flashpoint South China Sea, analysts say. As concern has increased about China's aggressive claims to almost all of the disputed water, Vietnam has been spending billions of dollars developing a submarine fleet, shore-based artillery and missile systems, multirole jet fighters and fast-attack ships, most of which have being bought from Russia and India. Vietnam was also seeking more Russian jet-fighter bombers and was in talks with European and US arms manufacturers to buy fighter and maritime patrol planes and unarmed surveillance drones, Reuters said, quoting unnamed sources. The country has also recently upgraded and expanded air defences, including obtaining early-warning surveillance radar from Israel and advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile batteries from Russia. Vietnam’s military spending had outstripped its south-east Asian neighbours over the past decade, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said. Carlyle Thayer, a professor from Australia's Defence Force Academy in Canberra, said when all six of Vietnam's submarines were operational they would provide a potent strike capability with Vietnam's anti-ship and land attack cruise missiles, adding greatly to the country's ability to confront an enemy in its waters. "These weapons systems should enable Vietnam to make it extremely costly for China to conduct maritime operations within a 200 to 300-nautical-mile band of water along Vietnam's coast, from the Vietnam-China border in the north-east to around Da Nang in central Vietnam, if not further south," Professor Thayer said in a Thayer Consultancy background briefing paper. Professor Thayer, an expert on Vietnam's military and the South China Sea dispute, said Vietnam's ability to deploy stealthily would be put at risk if China permanently stationed anti-submarine warfare aircraft on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands, where China has built a 3000-metre airstrip and some basic infrastructure. China landed a civilian plane on the strip on January 2, sparking a furious response from Vietnam, which labelled it a "serious infringement of the sovereignty of Vietnam". Analysts said it was difficult to gauge Vietnam's actual capabilities and how well they were integrating complex new weapons systems.”

China’s Nuclear Test: How Far Will Beijing Go To Curtail North Korea’s Atomic Provocations? “Faced with a third North Korean nuclear test in less than seven years, United Nations diplomats headed Wednesday into an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council wondering about the answer to a vital question: How far will China be willing to go to contain a provocative neighbor that has upped the ante in its nuclear brinkmanship? The answer, at least for now, is that Beijing is unlikely to go as far as the United States and its allies want. Following the closed-door meeting, the U.S. envoy to the U.N., Samantha Power, said Washington wants a “tough, comprehensive, and credible package of new sanctions” to punish North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s second nuclear test since he came to power in 2012. The explosion unleashed a barrage of international criticism, with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemning the move and warning that it threatens to undermine regional security as well as efforts to contain the spread of nuclear weapons around the globe. “I demand [North Korea] cease any further nuclear activities,” Ban added. Stern rhetoric aside, any effort to punish Pyongyang will need the blessing of Beijing, which wields veto power on the 15-nation Security Council. It’s unclear whether China will be willing to provide it. In the initial aftermath of the nuclear test, diplomats voiced confidence that China would ultimately agree to impose some costs on Pyongyang for defying its lone big-power protector. But it appeared unlikely later Wednesday that Beijing would agree to the crippling economic and diplomatic penalties that the United States, South Korea, and Japan have long sought. During Wednesday’s session, China joined with the rest of the Security Council in issuing a statement that “strongly condemned” the North Korean test and agreed to immediately begin negotiations on a resolution containing “further significant measures.” But China’s deputy envoy, Wang Min, provided few hints about how far Beijing is prepared to go, saying simply that any response should be “appropriate,” according to one Security Council diplomat who attended the meeting. “The fact was that they weren’t trying to drag the chain on this, and they accepted a pretty strong statement,” said a second Security Council diplomat, noting that it was Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin – and not China’s envoy – who urged the council to exercise caution in considering a “proportionate” reaction. “China was signaling they were prepared to consider further measures,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate negotiations. “The question will be, ‘How strong will those measures be?’ – and we have had no discussion of that yet.” The nuclear crisis in North Korea comes amid strains between Beijing and Pyongyang. Earlier in his administration, Chinese President Xi Jinping snubbed his North Korean counterpart by paying his first visit to the Korean Peninsula to South Korea, the North’s bitter enemy. Several months after becoming president in 2013, Xi joined the United States and other key powers in reinforcing sanctions on North Korea for its previous nuclear tests.”

North Korean H-Bomb? Unlikely. What Will China Do? “The hysteric delivery on North Korea’s official news channel about her country’s attempt to explode a hydrogen bomb doesn’t mean the crippled land south of China actually succeeded. The White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, said, “the initial analysis is not consistent with the North Korean claims.” It does mean that China, its most important neighbor and patron, must make decisions. How will it proceed when this matter comes before the UN Security Council. What will Chinese President Xi Jingping say to his erstwhile equal, Kim Jung Un, he of the enormous baby face. “The Chinese foreign ministry stated that they were not informed of the test in advance. A good, albeit lofty, outcome would be for China to embargo economic activity in response to the test, and temporarily close off airspace to North Korean flights,” said Victor Cha, a North Korean expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The Security Council meets sometime this week to discuss the test. The Pentagon issued a predictable statement describing the test: “ unacceptable and irresponsible provocation and is both a flagrant violation of international law and a threat to the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and the entire Asia-Pacific region.” The most interesting nugget in the statement was that, before Defense Secretary Ash Carter talked with his South Korean counterpart, he got what was described as “a situational update from Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander, U.S. Forces Korea.” I think we translate that as he learned that no North Korean troops were heading south for the border and, perhaps, he got a debrief about the types of radiation and isotopes collected by U-2s, which were almost certainly flying over the site during or immediately after the test. The most worrying thing about this test is that the North Koreans continue to spend enormous amounts of money on nuclear weapons development and continue to find places where they can buy equipment. While the U.S. and its allies may toughen sanctions, the test raises question as to just how effective they might be. Reaction on Capitol Hill was pretty standard, with members from both sides of the aisle condemning North Korea’s actions. Republicans used the test to blame the Obama administration. “Unfortunately, the view around the world is that U.S. leadership is in decline while the Administration’s inaction only fuels those concerns,” Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. Then he proposed some specifics about how to deal with test’s repercussions. “The U.S. must work with our South Korean allies to deploy missile defense systems, including THAAD, on the peninsula and work at home to strengthen our homeland missile defenses. We must also take immediate steps to strengthen our own nuclear deterrent, which is the foundation for our other defense capabilities.” Rep. Adam Smith, ranking member on the HASC, offered a much more cautious reaction, perhaps reflecting the lack of immediate information about just how successful the test was. “We should very carefully follow the facts as they are confirmed in the hours and days to come,” he said. “We must continue to evaluate all actions of the North Korean regime and appropriately coordinate a response from the international community. Maintaining a significant U.S. military capability advantage throughout this region is a top national security priority.”

China Lands More Civilian Planes On Fiery Cross Reef. “China has landed two civilian planes on an artificial island built in the disputed South China Sea, days after an earlier landing there prompted international concern. Xinhua state news agency released pictures of two commercial jets on the Fiery Cross Reef, which it called by its Chinese name Yongshu. Vietnam and the US protested China's 2 January landing of a plane on the reef. The resource-rich South China Sea is claimed by multiple countries. China claims nearly the whole sea and is locked in a territorial dispute with other Asian nations such as Vietnam and the Philippines, who also claim parts of it. Xinhua said that the China Southern and Hainan Airlines planes took off from Haikou airport on Wednesday morning and landed on Fiery Cross around 10:30am (02:30 GMT). They returned to mainland China in the afternoon. Pictures show the planes on a brand-new strip of tarmac at what Xinhua called "our country's most southern airport". The reef is part of the Spratly Islands chain which is claimed by China, Vietnam and the Philippines. Vietnam had earlier accused China of violating its sovereignty with Saturday's landing, while the US expressed concern. Beijing in return insisted it had "indisputable sovereignty" over the area, and said it conducted that flight to test whether airfield facilities met standards for civil aviation. In April last year satellite images released by IHS Jane's Defence Weekly showed China making progress with building an airstrip on that reef. China says it is building artificial islands and structures on reefs for civilian purposes, but other countries have expressed concern over the possibility of using the facilities for military purposes.”

Evaluating Taiwan’s National Power. “As the clock ticks down to Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections on January 16, cross-strait relations appear to be at a crossroads. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Tsai Ing-wen is widely expected to win the presidency, but unlike her Kuomintang (KMT) opponent Eric Chu she has not indicated acceptance of Beijing’s bottom line for smooth cross-strait ties, namely the vague principle open to different interpretations that there is only “one China.” Of course, Beijing continues to affirm that Taiwan must eventually unify with the mainland, and has never foresworn the use of force to see its imperative through. Given the Xi Jinping government’s pursuance of nationalistic goals with bold rhetoric and tactics despite serious issues at home, hopes that Beijing will not choose assertive cross-strait policies following a DPP victory may be in vain. In anticipation of possibly acute and protracted Chinese belligerence toward the Republic of China (ROC), a broad assessment of Taiwan’s foundations of national power can help identify areas of strength, weakness, and existential danger to the island democracy. Such an analysis conducted by the authors in a recently published NBR report finds that Taiwan has played a weak hand well in the face of a massive external threat, but its policies have not been optimal due to a lack of cooperation between Taiwan’s two main political parties. On the whole, Taiwan’s foundations of national power are strong, and the island of 23 million continues to punch above its weight in national performance. Taiwan’s GDP measured by purchasing power parity (PPP) is ranked 22nd in the world at $1.075 trillion (2014 estimate), and its GDP per capita (PPP) is $45,900, ranked 33rd (2014 estimate). Taiwan excels at innovation, bolstered by improved intellectual property rights protection, a skilled labor force, and respect for the rule of law. The Ma Ying-jeou administration has promoted research and development and new technologies to ensure that Taiwan maintains its central role in global information and communication technology supply chains, with R&D spending comprising around 3 percent of GDP each year. These factors have helped Taiwan reinforce its status as a major technology power; examples of success include Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. taking advantage of the consumer electronics market and becoming the world’s largest contract chipmaker, HTC Corp. becoming a global brand, and Apple Inc. utilizing Taiwan companies as suppliers. Forbes Global 2000, an annual list of the world’s 2,000 largest publicly listed companies, included 47 from Taiwan in 2015, with a strong presence of technology firms. In terms of national defense, Taiwan’s status as an island offers formidable barriers that, if properly exploited, can help keep China’s armies at bay. In order to take the island, an invading force would have to cross the Taiwan Strait, a shallow body of water more than 80 miles across at its narrowest point. The strait is characterized by high winds and seas with complex currents. Furthermore, there are few suitable landing beaches on either side of Taiwan’s coast: the east side has high cliffs and a steep ocean bottom gradient, and the west side has wide areas of mud flats. Fortunately for the ROC, Chinese forces possess no battlefield experience and continue to exhibit weaknesses in training, logistics, joint operations, and human capital. These shortcomings cast doubt on the current capability of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to successfully execute a large-scale amphibious assault – widely viewed as one of the most difficult military operations to carry out — across such treacherous natural obstacles.”

China Stocks Plunge, Triggering Another Market Halt. “China halted stock trading Thursday, its second daylong trading suspension this week, after prices plunged in the latest spasm of investor panic on its volatile markets. Chinese markets have lurched up and down as regulators gradually withdraw emergency measures imposed after the main stock index plunged in June following an explosive rise. A similar price plunge Monday triggered a sell-off on Wall Street and other global markets. On Thursday, trading was suspended after a market index, the CSI 300, nose-dived 7 percent a half-hour after markets opened, triggering a "circuit breaker" that was introduced Jan. 1. Financial analysts have warned Chinese markets are likely to see extreme volatility for a few more months as they seek a stable level following last year's rout. The "circuit breaker" requires a 15-minute pause in trading if the CSI 300 falls 5 percent within 30 minutes. Trading halted only 13 minutes into the morning session Thursday. Stocks plunged further after trading resumed 15 minutes later, triggering the daylong trading freeze. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index fell 7.3 percent to 3,115.89. The Shenzhen Composite Index for China's smaller second exchange slumped 8.3 percent to 1,955.88. Also Thursday, a six-month ban on sales by shareholders who own more than 5 percent of a company was due to expire. Regulators announced this week that to avoid fueling further volatility, such sales will be limited to private transactions. The Shanghai benchmark more than doubled between late 2014 and its June 12 peak as millions of novice investors bought shares. Prices plunged 30 percent after that, triggering a panicked response by Beijing. Regulators banned large sales, cut interest rates, canceled initial public stock offerings and ordered state companies to buy shares. Chinese leaders had encouraged the public to buy in hopes of raising money to overhaul state industry. The market rout alienated small investors who were left holding shares worth less than they paid. Authorities say shares bought by state companies will be transferred to China's sovereign wealth fund to avoid depressing prices by selling them in the open market. The ban on new IPOs was lifted in November.”

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

Posted by Alex Gray | January 06, 2016

N. Korea’s Bomb Test Further Imperils Relations With China. “China sees North Korea's claim to have conducted its first hydrogen bomb test as yet another act of defiance, and will likely retaliate by joining tougher United Nations sanctions and could possibly even impose its own trade restrictions. Wednesday's test was staged close enough to the border to send palpable tremors into northeastern China, prompting schools to be evacuated. The political reverberations in Beijing will likely be just as dramatic, boding ill for a relationship already under strain. "Relations will become colder than ever," said Lu Chao, director of the Border Studies Institute at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences in the northeastern province that borders North Korea. North Korea acted "willfully in disregard of the opposition of the international community, including China, and caused a real threat to the lives of the Chinese people living along the border," Lu said. China's Foreign Ministry said it would summon Pyongyang's ambassador to Beijing to lodge a formal protest, and said environmental officials were monitoring air quality near the border though they had found nothing abnormal so far. "China firmly opposes this nuclear bomb test by North Korea," ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a daily briefing. "North Korea should stop taking any actions which would worsen the situation on the Korean Peninsula." Despite its ally status, the North did not inform China of the test beforehand, South Korea's National Intelligence Service said. Lu said he expects China to strictly implement any new U.N. sanctions, as well as take a tougher line on economic cooperation projects in both the public and private sectors. He also expected Chinese companies to shy away from future business with the North, seeing it as an unsafe investment destination. "That will have a huge impact on North Korea's economy," Lu said. At the same time, China has an aversion to any action that might contribute to the collapse of the regime in Pyongyang, on whose behalf China fought in the 1950-53 Korean War. China fears a collapse could bring a wave of refugees and violence surging across the border, along with a possible U.S. military presence in the North. China has signed on to previous rounds of U.N. sanctions, and Chinese officials and scholars have typically said that the country has limited additional leverage to wield against North Korea. "China's attitude is tough, but the means at its disposal are limited," said Jin Qiang, a professor at Yanbian University's Institute of Northeast Asia Studies in Jilin province bordering North Korea. Chinese experts routinely state that Beijing's aid is not as substantial as some in the West imagine. Nor is North Korea's demand for Chinese oil big enough to serve as an effective tool, with other conduits available to Pyongyang, including smuggling on the high seas, Jin said.”

SECDEF Carter Clarifies South China Sea Freedom Of Navigation Operation In Letter To McCain. “After two months, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter provided a clear explanation of an U.S. Oct. 27 South China Sea freedom of navigation operation (FON op) that both enraged China and left domestic maritime observers with lingering questions on American intentions. In a Dec. 22 letter to Senate Armed Services Committee chair Sen. John McCain, Carter outlined the mission of USS Lassen (DDG-82) that tested territorial claims of not only China but Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam. Lassen transited “inside 12 nautical miles of five maritime features in the Spratly Islands – Subi Reef, Northeast Cay, Southwest Cay, South Reef, and Sandy Cay – which are claimed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines,” wrote Carter. “The FONOP involved a continuous and expeditious transit that is consistent with both the right of innocent passage, which only applies in a territorial sea, and with the high seas freedom of navigation that applies beyond any territorial sea.” Innocent passage is a type of transit in which – under maritime law – a warship can enter a territorial sea of another country without warning but must refrain from any military action like activating radars, firing weapons, transmitting propaganda or conduct drills. In particular, Carter explained why Lassen moved past Subi Reef – a Chinese-built artificial island in the Spratly Islands – in the manner of an innocent passage. “We believe that Subi Reef, before China turned it into an artificial island, was a low-tide elevation and that it therefore cannot generate its own entitlement to a territorial sea. However, if it is located within 12 nautical miles of another geographic feature that is entitled to a territorial sea – as might be the case with Sandy Cay – then the low-water line on Subi Reef could be used as the baseline for measuring Sandy Cay’s territorial sea,” wrote Carter. “In those circumstances, Subi Reef could be surrounded by a 12-nautical mile-territorial sea despite being submerged at high tide in its natural state. Given the factual uncertainty, we conducted the FONOP in a manner that is lawful under all possible scenarios to preserve U.S. options should the factual ambiguities be resolved, disputes settled, and clarity on maritime claims reached.” Carter’s description confirms the account constructed in the trade and popular press in the weeks following the operation but not officially confirmed by the Pentagon on orders from the White House leading to “confusion that was completely unnecessary,” Gregory Poling with the Center for Strategic and International Studies Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative told USNI News on Tuesday. “They should have released the statement a week after the operation not after two months of hand wringing.” Another expert was critical of the innocent passage by Subi Reef and the ambiguity it might create.

China Launches A New High-Tech Spy Ship. “The Chinese navy has just commissioned a new high-tech spy ship – at least its fourth since 1999. The Type 815 surveillance vessel Neptune, featuring sensitive electronic listening devices, could help Beijing further improve its already impressive ability to gather intelligence on its rivals, in particular the U.S. Navy. China’s state media announced the Neptune’s Dec. 26 commissioning two days after the ceremony, which reportedly took place at an undisclosed naval base on the South China Sea. Neptune “is able to conduct continuous all-weather reconnaissance of various targets within a certain range,” explained PLA Daily, the official publication of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Like her sister vessels – one older ship dating to 1999, two newer ones that entered service in 2009 and mid-2015, plus at least one more Type 815 still under construction – Neptune is roughly 400 feet long. The ship boasts several large domes arranged along the superstructure that apparently house antennae for intercepting radar and radio signals broadcast by the military forces of potential enemies. China’s intelligence analysts at sea and on land can then interpret the signals in order to determine the capabilities of other countries’ ships, planes, and military hardware. It’s vital work for an aspiring global power. And China has deployed its growing fleet of spy ships far and wide in recent years, paying particular attention to its geographically closest rival, Japan, and its most powerful potential enemy, the United States. In mid-November, a Japanese air force P-3 reconnaissance plane reportedly spotted a Type 815 vessel snooping near the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, midway between Japan and China. Tokyo administers the Senkakus, but Beijing also claims them under a different name, the Diaoyus. In recent years, both countries have sent patrol ships into the mineral-rich waters surrounding the islands, resulting in some tense moments at sea. Arguably more provocatively, in July 2014 Beijing sent a Type 815 to the waters off Hawaii, where more than 50 warships from the United States and other countries had assembled for the biennial RIMPAC exercise, the world’s biggest naval war game. The Pentagon had invited four Chinese vessels to play a small role in RIMPAC, but it had not invited the Type 815. The U.S. Navy’s exercise planners took care to keep the invited Chinese ships on the periphery of the war game, where they couldn’t directly observe the tactics and equipment of American and allied vessels. It was the Americans’ way of playing nice with the Chinese without also giving up military secrets. But the uninvited Chinese spy ship was bound by no rules or sense of decorum and apparently got close enough to the exercise’s main events to gather useful intelligence. Still, every country has the right to sail the open seas, even near other countries’ war games and within their “Exclusive Economic Zones,” which extend 200 miles from a country’s coast and delineate the territory where a government has the sole right to fish and drill for oil.”

China Defends Airstrip Construction In The South China Sea. “On January 2, China conducted the first-ever landing on the new airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea, drawing diplomatic protests from Vietnam and the Philippines. In the days since then, Chinese officials have been justifying Beijing’s decision to construct the new airstrip in the disputed Spratly Islands, to which Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam also having varying claims. At over 3,000 meters long, the runway at Fiery Cross Reef is large enough to be used by any Chinese military aircraft, from long-range bombers to fighter jets. According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, similarly sized airstrips are believed to be under construction at Subi Reef and Mischief Reef. Four of the other five rival claimants (Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam) also have airstrips in the Spratly Islands, but the Fiery Cross airstrip is over twice as long as the next largest (Malaysia’s 1,300 meter airstrip at Swallow Reef) and is the only one capable of accommodating bombers. Despite the clear military applications of China’s new runway(s) in the South China Sea, Beijing has been insistent that the primary purpose of its new facilities is civilian. Since the first detailed official explanation for the construction was provided in April 2015, Chinese officials have consistently claimed that the new facilities will be used to provide civilian services, including maritime search and rescue, navigation aid, marine research, and even weather observation. The landing on January 2 was pointedly conducted by a civilian aircraft; according to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, the purpose was to “test whether or not the facilities on it meet the standards for civil aviation.” Hua added that the test flight “falls completely within China’s sovereignty,” as “China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters” (Nansha is the Chinese term for the Spratlys). On Tuesday, another Chinese official similarly emphasized the civilian uses for the new airstrip. Pan Wei, chief engineer of China Rescue and Salvage in the Ministry of Transport, said that China’s new facilities will help ensure safety for airplanes and ships in the South China Sea. “The severe shortage of navigation safety facilities, emergency rescue forces, and equipment to deal with oil spills in the South China Sea has impeded the navigation security and economic and social development in the area,” Pan said, as quoted by Xinhua. Pan said new lighthouses constructed by China as well as the airstrip at Fiery Cross Reef would help improve navigation safety. The concern for other claimants, as well as the United States, however, is that ‘improving navigation safety’ is China’s code for preventing foreign vessels from transiting through international waters near Chinese-held features. Already, regional militaries have reported an increase in the number of times China has warned aircraft to move away from disputed areas, Reuters notes. Such incidents are expected to increase as China’s complete construction on other facilities.”

China’s Non-Kinetic ‘Three Warfares’ Against America. “Just as the pen can be mightier than the sword, China’s non-kinetic “Three Warfares” may prove to be far more effective at expanding China’s maritime and territorial boundaries than any arsenal of missiles or fleet of Chinese aircraft carriers. The Three Warfares were first officially recognized as an important warfighting capability by China’s Central Military Commission and Communist Party in 2003. They include everything from psychological and legal to media warfare. The goal of China’s psychological warfare is to deter, demoralize, or otherwise shock an opponent nation and its civilian population and thereby discourage the opponent from fighting back. As former White House advisor Stefan Halper starkly revealed in a watershed report to the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment in 2014: “It employs diplomatic pressure, rumor, false narratives, and harassment to express displeasure, assert hegemony and convey threats.” Thus, for example, when China imposes an economic boycott or bans Chinese tourism, it hopes to coerce a Japanese populace struggling with economic stagnation and hungry for prosperity into acquiescing to China’s territorial demands regarding the Senkaku Islands. As for China’s legal warfare, its goal is to effectively bend—or perhaps rewrite—the rules of the international order in China’s favor. A case in point is China’s campaign to restrict freedom of navigation within its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone as defined by the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty. In fact, this claim has no legal basis within the context of the actual Law of the Sea Treaty language. Yet China repeatedly and falsely asserts the opposite—in the spirit of the oft-repeated Orwellian axiom “if you say it enough, they will believe it.” China’s media warfare is, in many ways, the most pernicious. Its goal is to shape public opinion in a way that leads unwary viewers to accept China’s version of events. Heritage Foundation scholar Dean Cheng describes such warfare as a “constant, on-going activity aimed at long-term influence of perceptions and attitudes;” and its use follows Halper’s maxim that “it is not the best weapons that win today’s wars but rather the best narrative.” The tip of China’s media warfare spear is the Chinese Central Television Network (CCTV)—with a major facility in Washington, D.C. This is a faux twenty-four-hour news channel shrink-wraps China’s propaganda around healthy doses of CNN-style pure news while reaching over 40 million Americans along with hundreds of millions more viewers in the rest of the world.”  

Global Stocks Drop Amid North Korea, China Worries. “Concerns about the Chinese economy, news of a possible nuclear test in North Korea and a steep fall in oil prices combined to send global stocks lower on Wednesday, extending the shaky start to the year. Futures pointed to a 1.6% opening loss for the S&P 500. Changes in futures aren’t necessarily reflected in market moves after the opening bell. The Stoxx Europe 600 was down 1.7% midway through the session, led lower by the resources sector as Brent crude dipped below $35 a barrel for the first time since 2004 and the price of copper declined.  Investors shed risky assets and bought haven investments, spooked by lackluster Chinese services data released on Wednesday. China was partly responsible for oil’s decline, as mounting concerns over its economy spread across markets. “The slowdown in China and its effect more broadly on emerging markets will still be a major theme in the global equity market this year,” said David Lafferty, chief market strategist at Natixis Global Asset Management. Chinese authorities have tried to soothe investor jitters since a sharp selloff in mainland stocks on Monday that rippled across global markets. Regulators on Tuesday said a ban on selling stocks by large stakeholders due to expire on Friday won’t have the catastrophic effect that many in the market fear. The Shanghai Composite Index ended up 2.3% Wednesday, but its near 7% plunge at the start of the week has left investors on edge. Investors are also getting to grips with the implications of a weaker Chinese currency. China’s central bank guided the yuan to a fresh five-year low Wednesday. Elsewhere in Asian trade, Australia’s S&P ASX 200 fell 1.2%, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index fell 1%, deepening a week of losses for both indexes. Adding to investors’ concerns, North Korea on Wednesday said it successfully staged its first test of a more powerful form of nuclear weapon. “On the political front, confirmation of an apparently successful nuclear test by North Korea weighed on already fragile sentiment in the region,” economists at RBC Capital Markets wrote in a note.

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

Posted by Alex Gray | January 05, 2016

S. China Sea Tensions Surge As China Lands Plane On Artificial Island. “China's first landing of a plane on one of its new island runways in the South China Sea shows Beijing's facilities in the disputed region are being completed on schedule and military flights will inevitably follow, foreign officials and analysts said. China's increasing military presence in the disputed sea could effectively lead to a Beijing-controlled air defence zone, they said, ratcheting up tensions with other claimants and with the United States in one of the world's most volatile areas. China has confirmed that a test flight by a civilian plane landed on an artificial island built in the Spratlys, the first time Beijing has used a runway in the area. Vietnam said the plane landed on Jan 2 and launched a formal diplomatic protest, while Philippines Foreign Ministry spokesman Charles Jose said Manila was planning to do the same. Both have claims to the area that overlap with China. "That's the fear, that China will be able take control of the South China Sea and it will affect the freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight," Jose told reporters. In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said China's landing of the plane "raises tensions and threatens regional stability." Senator John McCain, the chairman of the influential U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, criticised the Obama administration for delaying further "freedom of navigation" patrols within 12 nautical miles of the islands built by China. China has been building runways on the artificial islands for over a year, and the plane's landing was not a surprise. The runway at the Fiery Cross Reef is 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) long and is one of three China was constructing on artificial islands built up from seven reefs and atolls in the Spratlys archipelago. The runways would be long enough to handle long-range bombers and transport craft as well as China's best jet fighters, giving them a presence deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia that they have lacked until now. Chinese officials have repeatedly stressed that the new islands would be mostly for civilian use, such as coast guard activity and fishing research. The airfield on Fiery Cross Reef will serve to "significantly" cut travel time between the Spratly islands and mainland China, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing a top engineer from the transport ministry. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at the weekend that the test flight was intended to check whether the runway met civilian aviation standards and fell "completely within China's sovereignty". Asked about McCain's remarks on Tuesday, she said: "We hope the U.S. can take an objective and fair attitude, and not make statements that confuse the situation and are harmful to regional peace and stability," she said.”

U.S. Pacific Fleet Shrinks Even As China Grows More Aggressive. “When the U.S. wanted to show the world it didn't recognize what it called China's "excessive" territorial claims in disputed waters of the South China Sea this fall, it sent a warship near one of Beijing's newly built artificial reefs. The move came amid a debate about whether the U.S. has enough ships to meet challenges posed by a fast-growing, increasingly assertive Chinese navy that is unsettling some of its neighbors. In its latest move, China announced last week that it would build its second aircraft carrier, this one with domestic technology. The Navy and its regional component, the U.S. Pacific Fleet, both have fewer ships now than in the mid-1990s. Navy officials say vastly improved technology on those vessels outweighs any disadvantage from a drop in numbers. Questions about whether the Pacific Fleet has enough resources are more of a reflection of regional anxieties than the Navy's actual capability, said its commander, Adm. Scott Swift. Even if the entire fleet was in the South China Sea, he said, he'd still get asked whether the U.S. was bringing more forces. "It's this sense of angst that I hear from those in the region, driven by the uncertainty and the rhetoric and, you know, the challenges that the region is facing right now," Swift said. "But I'm very comfortable with the resources I have." An expert at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank said the issue in peacetime is whether there are enough American vessels to reassure friends and allies and demonstrate U.S. capacity to use power when it needs to. In wartime, it comes down to whether enough platforms survive missile strikes to carry on their work, Peter Jennings said. "I think this is emerging as a serious long-term problem," he said. The Pacific Fleet currently has 182 vessels, including combat ships like aircraft carriers as well as auxiliary and logistics vessels, said spokesman Cmdr. Clay Doss. That compares to 192 nearly two decades ago. Around the world, the Navy has 272 ships usable in combat or to support ships in combat, nearly 20 percent less than 1998. The current total includes 10 aircraft carriers. Swift said he would rather have the Navy he has today - and its advanced technology - than the Navy of two decades ago. He pointed to the USS Benfold, a guided missile destroyer upgraded with new ballistic missile defenses, as well as three new stealth destroyers, the DDG-1000, in the pipeline, as examples. One consequence of a smaller fleet has been more time at sea. Retired Adm. Zap Zlatoper, who commanded Pacific Fleet in the 1990s, said six-month deployments used to be "sacrosanct" as anything longer made it harder for the Navy to retain sailors.”

McCain Blasts Lack Of U.S. Patrols In South China Sea. “The chairman of the influential U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on Monday criticized the Obama administration for delaying further "freedom of navigation" patrols within 12 nautical miles of islands built by China in the South China Sea. Senator John McCain said in a statement that the lack of U.S. action was allowing China to continue to "pursue its territorial ambitions" in the region, most recently by landing a plane on a man-made island in the Spratly Islands archipelago on Saturday. McCain said the lack of additional U.S. patrols last year was "disappointing yet hardly surprising." He said the Obama administration was "either unable to manage the complexities of interagency national security decision-making or simply too risk averse to do what is necessary to safeguard the rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific." Analysts say China's increasing military presence in the disputed sea could ultimately lead to a Beijing-controlled air defense zone, ratcheting up tensions with other claimants and the United States. U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby on Monday said China's first landing of a plane on an island in the disputed region "raises tensions and threatens regional stability." "We again call for all claimants to halt land reclamation and further development of new facilities and militarization on their outposts and instead focus on reaching agreement on acceptable behavior in disputed areas," he told reporters. U.S. officials remain committed to carrying out further "freedom of navigation" patrols near the dispute islands, but are still debating the timing of another patrol, said one U.S. defense official, who was not authorized to speak publicly. "The question is do we want to escalate the situation and ratchet it up?" said the official. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told McCain in a letter dated Dec. 21 that the Navy conducted a previous patrol in October to be "lawful under all possible scenarios" given ambiguities about whether certain islands in the region are entitled to a territorial sea. He said the United States would continue to "fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows." Carter said the Oct. 27 patrol included a continuous transit consistent with what is known as the "right of innocent passage," which applies only in a territorial sea, and with "freedom of navigation," which applies beyond those limits.

The New Military Force In Charge Of China’s Nuclear Weapons. “On December 31, China inaugurated three new military forces: a general command for the army, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Strategic Support Force, and the PLA Rocket Force. The latter, which replaces the Second Artillery Force, will be in charge of China’s nuclear arsenal. General Wei Fenghe was named the new force’s first commander. Wei has a long history with the Second Artillery Force; he served as its chief of staff from 2006-2012 and then as commander-in-chief from 2012 until the service was reconfigured as the Rocket Force. The creation of the Rocket Force is part of a larger move to restructure China’s military with a streamlined command under the direct control of the Central Military Commission. The new force is considered the fourth branch in China’s military, on equal footing with the PLA Army, Navy, and Air Force, according to Global Times. Unlike the Second Artillery Corps, the Rocket Force will command all three legs of China’s nuclear triad, rather than just controlling land-based nuclear missiles. The Rocket Force will also be in charge of conventional missiles. Global Times reported that the force has already held its first drills, practicing mobile combat operations and missile launches. In the inauguration ceremony on Thursday, President Xi Jinping (who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission) called the PLA Rocket Force the “core force of strategic deterrence, a strategic buttress to the country’s position as a major power, and an important building block in upholding national security.” He tasked the new force with enhancing China’s nuclear deterrence and counter-strike capabilities, and thus maintaining a strategic balance. He also urged the Rocket Force to improve China’s ability to conduct medium- and long-range precision strikes. Yang Yujun, spokesperson for China’s Defense Ministry, emphasized on Friday that China’s nuclear policy and strategy will not change under the PLA Rocket Force. China remains committed to its no-first-use policy on nuclear weapons, and will keep its “nuclear capability at the minimum level required for safeguarding its national security,” Xinhua paraphrased Yang as saying. According to the U.S. Department of Defense’s 2015 report on the Chinese military, the Second Artillery Force had 50 to 60 inter-continental ballistic missiles. Meanwhile, China was devoting more energy to developing sea-based nuclear platforms, such as the Jin-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs).”

The Caucus Brief is a daily publication for Members of Congress and Hill Staffers on China news and information compiled by the office of Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder of the Congressional China Caucus.  Email with tips, comments, or to subscribe/unsubscribe.

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