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China’s Military Power: An Assessment from Open Sources
Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee (as delivered)

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by Richard Fisher, Jr.
Published on July 27th, 2005

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice Chairman, distinguished Members of the Armed Services Committee; I thank you for the invitation to offer testimony today on the subject of China’s military power.  As a long-time analyst of China’s military modernization, I am grateful for this Committee’s leadership on this issue, especially its role in mandating  the Department of Defense’s Annual Report on the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA.  My ability to testify today is dependent on access to open information, which I pursue aggressively. If I am to leave you with one recommendation today, it is --- in recognition of the critical importance the Pentagon report plays in the public debate, both here and abroad,  regarding China and the larger issue of East Asian stability --  this Committee should consider requesting that the Department significantly expand this document to a formal illustrated publication to be made available in multiple languages, and to include a fuller explanation of the various regional scenarios which are briefly referred to.
In my testimony, which I submit for the Record, and will now, with the permission of the Chairman, proceed to summarize, I note that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, with his June 2 statements in Singapore, and the July 19 issue of the annual PLA Report, called attention to a fundamental contradiction in China’s behavior.  China faces no identifiable threat, yet it is building a powerful military which threatens Asian power balances, and provides incentives for China to employ force to settle a range of issues and challenges, ranging from the territorial and energy-related to the militarily strategic.

I suggest that the answer to this seeming-contradiction lies with the Communist Party government that controls China, which suffers from a narrow base of legitimacy, and thus, in historic communist fashion, relies on the twin pillars of military and police force to sustain its power position.  Unlike the former Soviet Union, China has sought widespread and beneficial global economic integration.  But consistent with a communist heritage extending back to Lenin, the Chinese Communist regime exhibits a profound hostility to democracy.  This, when combined with historic Chinese aspirations to regional dominance and a more recent drive to secure resources, leads to the regime’s desire for ever greater military power, with the growing chance it will use that power in ways that threaten the United States, Japan, Taiwan, India, Korea, Vietnam and others.  History suggests this dynamic can only end with a regime change to democracy. 

There are many, especially in China, who say this is impossible. But the people of Taiwan have proven that a Chinese society can build a real democracy.  For this reason, and many others, it is essential that the United States support Taiwan’s freedom. This is not only to demonstrate that Chinese peoples can live in peace with themselves and others, but also because strategically, it is in the interest of the United States, and all regional powers, that no major power -- let alone a nuclear-armed Communist nation, control Taiwan and its dominant position relative to the vital East Asian sealanes.

How China may evolve politically is an issue, perhaps for another Committee. However, I note that the relationship between the ruling party and the military is one of ‘fist and glove’ -- which is to say that the military is the force behind, or necessary to, the maintenance of Party power. Accordingly more attention should be paid to the political personalities and relationships if the Pentagon’s PLA Report is to provide a fully-rounded picture of the leadership dynamic informing Chinese military power. 

Today we must confront the reality of a China still led by a Communist Party that has been pursuing one of the most, if not the most aggressive military build-ups since the end of the Cold War.  While I do not comment on the precise size of China’s military expenditures, I believe that Department of Defense estimates are a reasonable baseline.  China’s significant military investment is now yielding results.  As recently as the early 1990s the PLA was mired in defensive doctrines and equipped largely with modified 1950s vintage Soviet technology.  Now, China is on the cusp of fielding a modern force capable of joint-service offensive operations that can exploit multiple new information and precision-strike technologies. 

It is my assessment that this force is currently being tailored to give the Chinese leadership increasing military capabilities and thus political-military options in three major political-military directions. 

First, the PLA is expanding its capabilities for strategic coercion and strategic denial.  Chinese General Zhu Chengdu’s recent comments indicate that China uses its nuclear weapons not just for deterrence, but also for political coercion.  General Zhu’s willingness to consider nuclear Armageddon came in response to a question about possible US defense of Taiwan. But now all countries that may have conflicts with China must consider that they too will be targets for nuclear coercion.  As my testimony indicates, China is expanding its number of land- and submarine-launched nuclear ballistic missiles. It is also gathering a range of anti-satellite; C4ISR, new attack submarines, two new types of fighter-bombers, the requisite missiles, and other systems to deny access to US air and naval forces in regions near China.

Second, the PLA is expanding all required military capabilities needed to coerce Taiwan into reunification dictated by Beijing, or to eventually attack and conquer the island.  Estimates are that by 2010, there could be over 2000 ballistic and cruise missiles aimed at the island, aided by 200 to 300 all-weather Sukhoi and Xian fighter bombers.  Missile and air strikes, combined with nuclear and non-nuclear radio frequency weapon strikes, Information Warfare strikes, intense Special Forces attacks, and effective Airborne and Amphibious assaults directed at the Taipei region – likely combined with political warfare and subversion efforts -- are intended to force a collapse or surrender on Taiwan within the US decision cycle timeframe.  While the PLA might not succeed in 2005, it is my assessment that the balance of power is now rapidly shifting against Taiwan, thus increasing the incentive for Beijing to seek an ultimate military solution, most likely in a quick-strike mode.

Third, as this year’s PLA report suggests, the PLA is looking at Taiwan as a base for more distant military operations.  We can expect these will be directed against Japan, India, Southeast Asia and Australia, as well as more distant US interests.  Many of the missile, air, and increasingly-mobile Army forces today directed at Taiwan can be deployed to multiple points on China’s periphery.  Very soon, non-nuclear land attack cruise missiles on new Chinese Type 093 SSNs will give China a limited but useful global power-projection capability.  Russia is now marketing Tu-22 Backfire and Tu-95 Bear bombers to the PLA, and the PLA retains an intense desire to build a future aircraft carrier fleet.  We must also consider that China will soon be offering an array of world-class weapon systems which can be used to arm not just the rogues of today, but the aspiring rogues, like Venezuela. 

The body of my testimony then examines ten trends in PLA modernization that should concern the United States. 

First, the PLA is succeeding in leveraging broad use of new information technologies to enable doctrinal and organizational reforms that are leading to its emerging capability to wage, offensive, joint and precision strike warfare.

Second, the PLA is investing heavily in next-generation weapon systems which it hopes to use with maximum surprise, called “Assassin’s Mace”, or magic-strike  weapons.  One possible Assassin’s Mace is identified in this year’s PLA report, a maneuverable ballistic missile designed to attack moving ships. We should expect many others. 

Third, the PLA is expanding its ability to both exploit and deny military use of outer space.  Russia is aiding new ISR capabilities while indigenous programs are yielding potential new ASAT capabilities in highly-advanced pico and nano satellites. Manned mil-space platforms are a future PLA option.

Fourth, we must consider the possibility that ICBM and SLBM numbers could well exceed 100 by 2010, and we must also consider the warnings of previous Pentagon PLA reports and the Cox Report that some of these will carry multiple warheads.  After all, General Zhu did threaten to incinerate “hundreds” of US cities.  Incidentally, the Major General is the head of China’s equivalent of the National Defense University, and the grandson of Mao Tse Tung’s longtime Chief of Staff, an important pedigree in the PLA. The launch of the first of their second-generation Type 094 SSBNs, and the first successful test of the new JL-2 SLBM, both within the last year, are major achievements for the PLA. 

Fifth, according to recent reporting from Taiwan, what I regard as a second generation Tomahawk-like land attack cruise missile will start deployment this year and next, with the possibility 1000 will be deployed by 2010. 

Sixth, the PLA is rapidly expanding its short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles. A new Pentagon high estimate of 120 a year could lead to a potential deployment of 1,300 SRBMs by 2010. 

Seven, the PLA is finally assembling an effective all-weather offense- and defense-capable Air Force.  Close to 300 Russian Sukhois are now being joined by modern indigenous fighters like the Chengdu J-10 and Xian JH-7A fighter bomber.  There are two AWACs programs underway, and indigenous precision-guided weapons programs also are underway.  Naval attack is a significant priority for PLA air forces.  Russia, and our European allies, unfortunately are helping in this area.

Eight, in my estimation, the PLA is on its way to acquiring 50 to 60 new to near-new nuclear and conventional attack submarines by 2010.  Their new Type 093 SSN, and YUAN class SSK represent remarkable indigenous achievements, which will be combined with at least 12 Russian Kilos, most of them armed with Club anti-ship missiles.

Nine, the PLA Navy is also now building modern warships that are stealthy, and armed with modern electronics, anti-air and anti-ship weapons.  Russia and the Ukraine are significant technology sources, but also German and French engines are being used.

And finally, I note that the PLA is significantly improving its Airborne, Amphibious and light Army forces designed for external intervention.  These forces are all receiving new families of light armor, and amphibious lift is being improved, while the PLA is also examining the acquisition of large air transports like the Antonov 124, which is more capable than our C-5.

I conclude my testimony by noting these developments pose a potential challenge to American security interests, but also to those of Japan, India, Australia and other regional and allied democracies.  China is now using the Taiwan issue and missile defense to try to divide US allies, but we must resist this.  We also must remain mindful that the shifting balance of power is being noticed by our allies and friends; they also know it is increasing China’s capabilities while undermining confidence in American capabilities. 

Historically, China has viewed itself as the dominant state in Asia, and it appears to be re-embracing this role via military means. This self-arrogated role will not be accepted by most neighbors, and has already raised concerns with a number of states to include Korea, Japan, India, Vietnam, Australia, and the Philippines, the majority of which have current territorial disputes with China.  The interests of these democratic countries, and of the United States, for stability in the region requires that a strengthening of alliances and commensurate joint training exercises should be considered urgently as a further effort to both deter and prepare against future Chinese aggressive actions.

I end by posing some questions:

1. Is the current arms package we are trying to sell to Taiwan now even sufficient for deterrence on the Taiwan Strait? 

2. Should we now consider that Taiwan deserves new offensive capabilities to, at a minimum, hold growing PLA invasion forces at risk, thus deterring or slowing Chinese attack?

3. Are American air forces in Asia sufficient to deter growing PLA air forces—will we require more F/A-22s—the only fighter that is decisively superior to China’s new fighters?

4. And finally, is this the right point in history to consider reductions in the US attack submarine fleet, given the great potential for Chinese submarine fleet expansion?

For the complete submitted testimony please see: Download file Full Testimony of Richard Fisher before the House Armed Services Committee (July 27, 2005)

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   Full Testimony of Richard Fisher before the House Armed Services Committee (July 27, 2005)  

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