Category Archives: China-Taiwan

Beijing Happier Than It Says About U.S. Arms Sale To Taiwan

Beijing does not come away badly from Washington’s sale of $5.3 billion-worth of arms to Taipei. Washington backed off including in the deal 66 new F16 C/D fighter jets that Taipei wanted. Taiwan will only get upgrades to its aging F16 A/B fleet, but not the 66 new F16 C/Ds it had requested. That was the price the Obama administration had to pay for keeping relations with Beijing on an even keel. Given the PLA’s modernization, Beijing will be just fine with that. Nor will it be too concerned about the rest of the deal, which includes air-to-air missiles, guided bombs, radar and training.

For all its bluster, Beijing never really thought it could scupper the whole deal. Keeping the military technology gap between the PLA and Taiwan’s armed forces as wide as possible was always its realistic goal in this case. Tick the achieved box. Similarly, possible retaliation, such as suspending military exchanges, as happened in January 2010 after Washington authorized the sale of $6.4 billion-worth of arms to Taiwan, will be hollow threats as doing so would remove the incentive for Washington to show restraint in future sales.

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China’s Military Modernization On Track But Still A Way To Go

There isn’t anything eye-openingly new in the U.S. Defense Dept.’s latest annual report to the U.S. Congress assessing the state of China’s military. Like many others outside China, Pentagon planners remain nervous and uncertain about the geopolitical and military implications of the steady modernization of the People’s Liberation Army. Yet, their overwhelming, and, we hazard, accurate assessment is that the modernization of the PLA remains a work in progress, but one that is progressing to plan as China closes its military technology gap with the U.S., Russia and Japan. This passage sums it up:

Over the past decade, China’s military has benefitted from robust investment in modern hardware and technology. Many modern systems have reached maturity and others will become operational in the next few years. Following this period of ambitious acquisition, the decade from 2011 through 2020 will prove critical to the PLA as it attempts to integrate many new and complex platforms, and to adopt modern operational concepts, including joint operations and network-centric warfare.

Beijing set the PLA an objective of turning itself into a modern, regionally focused military by 2020. As the Pentagon’s report notes, it is pretty much on track. This year has seen two high profile milestones passed, the unveiling of a stealth aircraft, the J-20, in January and the sea trials of China’s first aircraft carrier earlier this month. But the Pentagon believes it will be the end of this decade before China is able to project even a modest scale of long-distance force, which it defines as several battalions of ground forces or a naval battle group of up to a dozen ships, in even low-intensity operations.

This evolution will lay the foundation for a force able to accomplish a broader set of regional and global objectives. However, it is unlikely that China will be able to project and sustain large forces in high-intensity combat operations far from China prior to 2020.

The key question is how effectively the PLA will meld its emerging platforms and capabilities, such as its growing number of ballistic missiles, into an effective fighting force. This will take time. Training and integration are a crucial task for the PLA high command in the coming years. It may be getting new toys, but its human capital is only now being upgraded. The PLA is poor at inter-service command cooperation and lacks experience in both joint exercises and operations, one reason that China is becoming more engaged in international humanitarian, disaster-relief and anti-piracy missions as well as undertaking more bi- and multilateral joint military exercises.

Recent reshuffles of the PLA’s top brass and new appointments are bringing about generational change among the military leadership, raising professional standards and accelerating the modernization of its command-and-control structures. The Central Military Commission named six new full generals and 20 new lieutenant-generals in July; all of the latter group are members of the so-called fifth-generation leadership. This generational change is also, incidentally,  increasing the predominance of princelings, the offspring of the first generation of Mao’s revolutionary leaders and generals. That may mean the PLA gets even stronger support from civilian leaders (and vice versa as President assumptive Xi Jinping is himself a princeling); princelings are now the largest bloc within the military leadership. The CMC itself is likely to have a radical overhaul next year when many of its senior officers will have reached the age limit at which they have to stand down. The incoming leadership will be the most competent, best educated and professional the PLA has ever had, as well as being largely formed as individuals and officers in a China that has only been in the ascendant.

Taiwan contingency planning has largely dominated the PLA’s agenda throughout its modernization. Many of the PLA’s most advanced systems are based in its military regions opposite the island.

Although the PLA is contending with a growing array of missions, Taiwan remains its main strategic direction…The PLA seeks the capability to deter Taiwan independence and influence Taiwan to settle the dispute on Beijing’s terms. In pursuit of this objective, Beijing is developing capabilities intended to deter, delay, or deny possible U.S. support for the island in the event of conflict. The balance of cross-Strait military forces and capabilities continues to shift in the mainland’s favor.

China’s ability to sustain military power at a distance remains limited, if expanding, primarily through the PLA-Navy. A section of the report dealing with energy and security underlines the importance to China’s energy supply of securing sea lanes.

The report also flags up advances in China’s space and cyber operations, saying [Beijing] was “developing a multi-dimensional programme to improve its capabilities to limit or prevent the use of space-based assets by adversaries during times of crisis or conflict”. More importantly, China’s military strategists emphasize the importance of gaining the upper hand in electronic warfare early in a  war as being one of the primary tasks to ensure battlefield success. The report notes:

PLA theorists have coined the term “integrated network electronic warfare (wangdian yitizhan 网电体战)’ to describe the use of electronic warfare, computer network operations, and kinetic strikes to disrupt battlefield information systems that support an adversary’s warfighting and power projection capabilities. PLA writings identify integrated network electronic warfare as one of the basic forms of integrated joint operations,” suggesting the centrality of seizing and dominating the electromagnetic spectrum in PLA campaign theory.

However, the report also notes that, “In the case of cyber and space weapons, however, there is little evidence that China’s military and civilian leaders have fully thought through the global and systemic effects that would be associated with the employment of these strategic capabilities.”

As a footnote, this Bystander’s eye was caught by this sentence in the report, “For over a decade PRC leaders have identified the so called ‘China threat theory’ as a serious hazard to the country’s international standing and reputation.” True to form and theory, Beijing has denounced it. “The report does not hold water as it severely distorted the facts,” said defense ministry spokesman Yang Yujun.

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Taiwan’s 2012 Presidential Election May Test Beijing’s New Leaders

A timely reminder from Jacques de Lisle, the University of Pennsylvania law professor who directs the Asia program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Pennsylvania, that not only does China start the transition of its top leadership next year, but that Taiwan, too, will be holding a presidential election, as will the U.S. for that matter.

This three-legged electoral stool may, he suggests in a newly published interview with Knowledge@Wharton, provide an early test for Beijing’s new leaders.

At a moment of formal transition on the Mainland, which–for all the continuity–is a period of high tension when nobody wins points by being soft, and given what are pretty entrenched Chinese suspicions rooted in the pro-independence Chen Shui-bian era of what the [Democratic Progressive Party] in power means, there’s a real risk that China would react very badly to a DPP victory. That risk is particularly significant if it comes in the wake of Mainland-bashing or pro-independence electioneering in Taiwan, which is a real possibility.

Beyond Taiwan, deLisle also has thoughts on Hu Jintao’s legacy and the policy implications of what a princeling dominated new leadership might look like, and how the Youth League faction might balance its. All well worth the read.

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What Damage Does Taipei Spy Case Do To U.S.-Taiwan Military Cooperation?

The arrest of Taiwan’s Major-General Lo Hsien-che on charges of spying for Beijing pours cold water on the warming cross-Straits ties of the past couple of years. Lo was detained on January 27th on suspicion of passing on intelligence about U.S. arms sales and tactical military communications, according to the Ministry of National Defence in Taipei. Local media reports say that during raids on Lo’s home and office, investigators seized documents on the Po Sheng military communications system Taiwan is buying from U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin, a proposed purchase of Apache helicopters from Boeing and and maps of the army’s underground fiber-optic cables.

China and Taiwan have long spied on each other but the 51-year-old Lo is the highest-ranking Taiwanese officer to be allegedly involved in espionage on Beijing’s behalf since the 1960s. He was reportedly recruited by China in 2004 while stationed in Thailand as a military attache and has been under suspicion of being a spy since last year. He was most recently head of the military command’s communications and information office. The question now is less what damage this will do to Beijing-Taipei relations than what damage it has done to U.S.-Taiwanese military intelligence cooperation, given the access Lo had to classified information about command, control and communications systems development.

 

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Double Agent Arrests in Taipei May Sour Cross-Strait Relations

In contrast to the current frosty state of relations between Beijing and Tokyo, those between Beijing and Taipei have been good, arguably their best ever. The arrests of a senior Taiwanese military intelligence officer and a Taiwanese businessman on charges of being double agents for China threatens to undermine that. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry says the arrest of the officer occurred on Monday after a four-year investigation. Colonel Lo Chi-cheng who was in charge at the bureau of building Taiwan’s spy network in China, is accused of having passed names of members of the network to Chinese authorities, according to local press reports. The businessman was named as Lo Pin, a Taiwanese spy run by Lo Chi-cheng and who was said to have been turned by China after being uncovered and arrested in Fujian in 2004. Lo Pin is reported to have in turn turned Lo Chi-cheng in 2007. One factor in the effect on cross-strait relations will be the extent of the damage done to Taipei’s espionage network.

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China Rules (Beneath) The Waves

What catches this Bystander’s eye in the U.S. Defense Dept’s newly published assessment of China’s military capabilities is the expansion of the navy, particularly its submarine fleet. The People’s Liberation Army-Navy can now deploy the world’s largest number of conventionally powered submarines, the result of a decade-and-a-half long program of building and modernizing the fleet which has been putting three new boats a year into the water.

China’s newest Song-class submarines, of which it has at least 13, are capable of launching anti-ship cruise missiles with a range of 100 nautical miles while beneath the waves. It also has a dozen Russian Kilo-class subs with similar capabilities. The PLA-N has also being developing its newer Yang subs, capable of staying submerged for up to a fortnight, more than three times longer than its older subs.

It is also building a new generation of nuclear powered subs, including the new Jin-class, some of which will carry ballistic missiles with a range of 4,000 nautical miles, sufficient to reach western U.S. states, though the program is not going altogether smoothly by all accounts (more detail — and a more sanguine view of all this — a the FAS Strategic Security Blog) . If the problems can be ironed out, the Jin-class subs, which will be based at Hainan Island facing the strategically sensitive South China Sea, will give China a sea-going nuclear deterrent for the first time.

This all amounts to a clear challenge to America’s traditional naval dominance of the Western Pacific, and most immediately Washington’s ability to go to the aid of Taipei in the event of an armed conflict. But the capability of the navy being built by Beijing could support the conduct of military operations in Asia well beyond Taiwan. It potentially changes the regional security balance significantly. America’s Defense Dept. policymakers are rightly concerned by China’s military build-up, of which the submarine fleet is a leading edge.

It is conventionally held that to be considered a superpower, a nation needs to have economic, diplomatic and military power and the ability and appetite to project it around the world. Piece by piece, sub by sub, China is getting there.

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China-Taiwan Trade Pact Stirs More Protests

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have been on the streets of Taipei to protest again against a trade deal between China and Taiwan agreed late last week that will cut export tariffs and ease cross-Strait investment restrictions. The agreement is in line with Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou’s policy of pursuing closer ties with China and comes after several rounds of talks started last year.

Objectors say it will bind Taiwan and China too closely economically creating a relationship that would be like that between China and pre-reunification Hong Kong. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party wants a referendum held on the deal, formally known as the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement.

Taiwan gets more out the agreement as it stands than China. Chinese tariffs on more than 500 Taiwanese products, including car parts, petrochemicals and fruit, will be cut immediately and abolished within three years, roughly double the number of Chinese products that will get similar treatment from Taiwan. But the test for Beijing’s motives would be whether it will now let Taiwan pursue free-trade agreements with other countries.

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Taiwan’s Opposition DPP Recovers Ground

The gains made by the pro-independence opposition Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan’s local elections at the weekend were an eye-opener for President Ma Ying-jeou’s governing Kuomintang. Its policy of pursuing closer ties with Beijing were an issue with voters. They worry that it will make the island too dependent on China and that opening up to cross-Straits investment and trade risks local job losses, especially in small businesses. The KMT’s handling of Typhoon Morakot also harmed its vote.

Ma himself will face voters in the 2012 presidential election. The weekend’s results boost the DPP’s leader, Tsai Ing-wen, as an increasingly likely candidate to run against him and confirm her party has put its heavy defeats in the 2007 legislative and 2008 presidential elections under disgraced Chen Shui-ban behind it..

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China’s Automakers Likely To Cross Taiwan Strait For Parts

Taiwan’s three largest auto parts makers, Tong Yang Industry, TYC Brother Industrial and Depo Auto Parts Industrial, are open to investment from the mainland, Bloomberg reports. China’s car makers would get core design and manufacturing technologies they lack as assemblers and Taiwan’s parts makers would get access to on of the world’s still growing car markets. SAIC and Geely, who have acquired auto technologies in the U.K. and South Korea and Australia respectively, would be the most likely be in the vanguard of investors. Beijing lifted its ban on Taiwan investment on April 29 (see: “First Cross-Strait M&A Deals Struck“); for its part Taipei is considering opening 65 industries to mainland investment.

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First Cross-Strait M&A Deals Struck

An unsourced report in Taiwan’s Commercial Times (here via Bloomberg) says that some of the first companies on the island to offer to sell stakes in themselves to Chinese companies may include state-owned ones. Chinese companies will be able to take part ownership of Taiwanese companies, and vice versa, from the end of this week as part of the formal improvement of ties between Beijing and Taipei.

The first mainland investment in Taiwan we’ve heard of is China Mobile’s plans to take a $530 million 12% stake in Taiwan’s FarEasTone. The first known deal, however, was in the opposite direction. Taiwanese chip maker United Microelectronics says it will buy China’s He Jian Technology in a $285 million deal that will give it 85% of the company.

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