China's new strategy focuses on handling limited, short duration conflicts along Chinas periphery and in economically important maritime areas. Henry Kissinger has written: "China has always dealt with foreign dangers, with extraordinary tenacity. it-has survived 5000 years of turbulent history by making patience its weapon and time its ally." There is no reason to believe that China's behaviour in the 21st century will be any different.
The Chinese call their pursuit of information warfare and other hi-tech means to counter Washington’s overwhelmingly superior conventional military capabilities “acupuncture warfare”. Acupuncture warfare is described as “paralysing the enemy by attacking the weak link of his command, control, communications and information as if hitting his acupuncture point in kung fu combat”. Acupuncture warfare is another form of asymmetrical warfare dating back to the teachings of Sun Tzu, China’s pre-eminent military strategies from the 5th century BC. For quite some time now the PLA has been simulating computer Virus attacks in its military exercises.
The PLA is acquiring the technological capability to employ electronic counter measure techniques and high-powered microwave transmitters to disable the military and communications satellites of its adversaries. It is possible that in the future, the PLA may deploy a ground-based laser to disable satellites. The Communications Command Academy in Wuhan has emerged as a primary information warfare centre. Under Project-95, an information warfare simulation experiment centre has been set up at the Academy. A task force of 20 theorists and instructors from the Academy is working on PLA publications on information warfare. The Academy conducts 31 command and control courses with emphasis on information warfare. A fair amount of effort and time is being invested in researching method to insert computer viruses into the computer and communications networks of China’s adversaries.
Attention is also being paid to developing defensive measures to counter attacks against the PLA’s networks. According to a US Congressional Research Service report entitled “Cyberwarfare’, authored by Steve Hildreth, China is developing a strategic information warfare unit called “Net Force” to neutralise the military capabilities of technologically superior adversaries. This new information warfare unit will “wage combat through computer networks to manipulate enemy information systems spanning spare parts deliveries to fire control and guidance systems.” Though the PLAs research into the theoretical aspects of information warfare is fairly advanced, it does not appear to have developed a coordinated and integrated information warfare doctrine as yet.
According to Chong-Pin Lee, vice chairman of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, Beijing is re-directing its emphasis away from nuclear deterrence lo this new asymmetrical strategy and its “overarching purpose is to deter the United States from intervening around China’s peripheries and to seize Taiwan with minimum bloodshed and destruction.” In another five to 10 years China will develop depth and sophistication in its understanding and handling of information warfare techniques and information operations. With Indian society becoming increasingly dependent on automated data processing and vast computer networks, India is already extremely vulnerable to such information warfare techniques. The fact that it can be practiced from virtually any place on the earth even during peacetime makes acupuncture warfare even more diabolical. India can ill-afford to ignore this new challenge to its security.
A US government publication entitled “Chinese Views of Future Warfare’ sponsored by Andy Marshall, Pentagon’s Director of Net Assessment, reported that China is preparing its future military to wage “high-technology, five-dimensional warfare using long-range stealth, robotic infantry, radiation, cyber attacks, satellite weapons and other means of controlling not the air, land and sea, but outer space and the electromagnetic realm that connects them all”. The work is based on extensive quotes from many of China’s most respected military thinkers and deserves to be viewed with Seriousness. The Chinese scholars have recommended that China must acquire high-performance microwave weapons to destroy the opponent’s electronic equipment; robot sentries, engineers and infantrymen and unmanned smart tanks; arsenal ships and undersea mine laying robots; tactical laser weapons for anti-ship defence; submarine-launched air defence weapons; lasers, particle beams and microwave beams for precision strikes; and, plasma weaponry and electromagnetic pulse systems.
The PLA Army is still very largely a force that is rooted firmly in the “peoples war” mindset of the past. Its weapons and equipment are still primitive by modern standards and it Is decades away from becoming a truly capable force that can stand its ground against a modern military machine organised and equipped with genuine state-of-the-art RMA capabilities like the US army. Integrated joint operations and amphibious warfare are still alien concepts that will take years of painstaking effort to successfully absorb and implement. The mere acquisition of modern technology is never enough. It is much harder to develop and adapt the necessary doctrinal changes and implement new tactics, techniques and procedures for the optimum employment of technological advances in hardware.
At the same time, fields such as information warfare and command and control warfare are new and though the West has a head start, it is certainly not light years ahead. Also, these fields are dominated by software superiority rather than a hardware edge and software excellence is something that counties like China can hope to attain fairly quickly since it is not dependent so much on imports. Hence, it can be stated with a reasonable degree of assurance that China will soon begin to catch up with the West in these new military technologies and will close the overall gap. By about 2015-20, China may be expected to gain a formidable conventional military capability. This will assume even greater significance when the nuclear warheads of the US and Russia are reduced under START III and future disarmament treaties to levels close to the Chinese warheads.
The PLA Army has been actively engaged in downsizing, increasing the number of rapid deployment units and in improving mobility and logistics support capability, while simultaneously upgrading its ability to undertake all-weather operations, improve air defence capability and institute modern command and control systems. China’s simultaneous efforts to gradually upgrade the PLA Navy to a “Blue Water” status and to acquire mid-air refuelling capability, deep penetration strike and strategic lift transport aircraft for the PLA Air Force are also significant. All these endeavours aim to create a modern fighting force capable of undertaking swift offensive operations in areas away from China’s borders. China’s ultimate goal is clearly to gain “parity in economic, political and military strength with the world’s leading powers by the middle of the next (21st) century.
Beijing has often used force in the past, although primarily to counter perceived threats to territorial borders. China’s Communist rulers are well versed in the art of realpolitik and understand quite well that the use of force to achieve political objectives is always a conceivable option. This vital aspect cannot be ignored while carrying out a threat assessment for the first few decades of the 21st century. China’s new strategy focuses on handling limited, short duration conflicts along Chinas periphery and in economically important maritime areas. Such concerns call for a smaller, more versatile and mobile military, with a markedly improved yet limited capability to operate beyond China’s territorial boundaries.
India and China
A pragmatic threat assessment must take note of “capabilities” and not of “intentions” as the latter are subject to change. China has embarked upon the consolidation and development of her military capabilities and this fact needs to be vectored into India’s national security calculations. As against an inflation and Rupee-Dollar parity adjusted average annual decline of more than 10 per cent in the Indian defence budget over the last 10 years of the 20th century, the Chinese defence expenditure showed a net increase of 12 to 20 per cent per year over the same period. It is also significant that unlike India’s defence budget, which is maintenance intensive, the sub-allotment in China’s defence budget is fairly balanced between modernisation and maintenance. This is indicative of the growing military gap between India and China. While at present the gap is more quantitative rather than qualitative, unless immediate steps are taken to enhance the Indian armed forces technology base significantly, the present gap will soon spread to the qualitative field as well and will become unbridgeable.
Though mountain warfare is generally perceived to be less technology-dependent than war in the plains, India’s recent experience during the Kargil conflict bears witness to the force multiplier impact of hi-tech weapons and equipment even in the mountains. Though China’s military modernisation Is mainly for a hi-tech limited war against a perceived threat from the west, it will have a trickle down effect on its forces deployed in Tibet. As long as the territorial and boundary dispute between India and China is not resolved amicably, a border war, though improbable, cannot be ruled out.
Henry Kissinger has written: “China has always dealt with foreign dangers, with extraordinary tenacity. it-has survived 5000 years of turbulent history by making patience its weapon and time its ally.” There is no reason to believe that China’s behaviour in the 21st century will be any different. China is well aware that to achieve its grand strategy it must avoid conflict — particularly with the US — while it is still engaged in its military modernisation. China knows that the abiding lesson of history is that those who have challenged the current hegemons have always failed; those who have cooperated have succeeded. There is an old Chinese saying that a single mountain cannot accommodate two tigers. China will tread a cautious path in trying to dominate the Asian mountain.