Beijing continues to show signs of increasing military activity. Along with the high rates of economic development, military construction is extremely high here. What caused the increased attention of the country's leadership to the development of the People’s Liberation Army of China?
Recently, there have been increasing speculations about the possibility of a military conflict between China and Japan over the disputed Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu). It has the Celestial Empire and other territorial claims: it considers the island of Taiwan to be an integral part of it, which was illegally turned away from him, and claims to be part of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. In addition, the Chinese press discusses issues of “returning” Siberia and the Far East. Meeting these claims of China without the use of military force is unlikely.
At the same time, a number of domestic problems endanger further development, and under certain conditions, the very existence of China. Among them are overpopulation, and an insufficient amount of own raw materials reserves, primarily energy, and the task of further expanding sales markets, which will help maintain high rates of economic development.
The crises occurring in recent years in Western civilization have contributed to the weakening of its economic and military potential. The actual defeat of the United States and NATO in Iraq and Afghanistan, the failure of the Arab Spring operation show that the NATO military machine is not so effective. So, under favorable conditions, it can be successfully confronted.
This contributes to the formation in the Chinese establishment of the idea of the necessity and possibility of protecting their economic and other interests abroad with the help of military force. However, its successful use requires powerful and highly efficient armed forces.
The People’s Liberation Army of China (PLA) is today one of the largest in the world - about 2,3 million people, the reserve - about three million. Total mobilization resources suitable for military service of the population are about 200 million people.
The basis of the PLA - the ground forces are armed with military equipment mainly of their own design: from 8 to 10 thousand tanks (according to various sources), about six thousand armored fighting vehicles and 15 thousand towed and self-propelled field artillery guns, as well as about two thousand multiple launch rocket systems of various types and more than 15 thousand units of military air defense systems.
Nevertheless, the number of modern equipment in the ground forces of China is small and does not exceed 10 – 15 percent, depending on the type of weapon.
The weak point are the limited capabilities of the military air defense. In general, these troops are capable of carrying out operational regroupings in a very short time, successfully conducting large-scale offensive and defensive operations of a strategic scale.
With nearly 500 thousand people, the Chinese Air Force has a total of about 3500 aircraft of various classes. The most numerous kind of air force - fighter aviation (more than 30 percent of the total). The share of modern types of aircraft ranges from 10 to 25 percent.
Anti-aircraft missile forces are represented by 110 – 120 divisions of the air defense missile system. Of these, more than half of the obsolete types. In addition to the air defense system in the Air Force has a large number of anti-aircraft guns of various calibers.
In general, at present and in the near future, the Chinese Air Force can successfully withstand the air forces of individual regional states, even equipped with the most modern aircraft, such as the Japanese. However, for a successful struggle with the American aviation groups or a coalition of states led by the United States, their combat capabilities are not enough.
China’s naval forces comprise about 250 thousand people and have one medium-sized aircraft carrier (former Soviet “Varyag”), two nuclear submarines with ballistic missiles and five multi-purpose nuclear submarines. Also at the disposal of the Celestial Empire around 70 non-nuclear (diesel-electric) submarines and 60 destroyers and frigates, as well as more 160 mine-landing, landing ships and approximately 300 boats for various purposes.
Nuclear submarines of China are notable for high noise and in this regard have limited combat capabilities.
Sea-launched ballistic missiles have a firing range of less than 2000 kilometers, which, given the noise of their carriers, casts doubt on the ability of China’s marine nuclear system to create a threat to the United States. However, for regional countries, these ships are a source of serious nuclear threat.
Non-nuclear submarines are mostly obsolete types. Among the modern can be attributed only a few submarines project 877.
The share of modern units among ships and boats of other classes is small.
The absence on the absolute majority of surface ships of anti-aircraft missile systems makes their groups extremely vulnerable to the blows of modern means of air attack.
Naval aviation, despite its large number (about 700 aircraft of various classes and more 50 helicopters), has very limited ability to fight against high-tech adversary due to outdated aircraft and helicopter fleet.
Thus, it can be stated that at present the Chinese Navy is able to conduct effective operations only in the near-sea zone under the cover of ground defense aviation.
The nuclear missile forces of China have about 120 medium-range missiles and up to intercontinental 40 missiles. In addition, there are up to 200 tactical missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The total number of nuclear weapons in China is estimated at about 400 units.
The analysis of the military personnel and capabilities of the PLA indicates that at present and in the near future it is capable of mainly large-scale successful operations in continental theaters of military operations. At sea, the PLA can rely on success only in the waters of the seas adjacent to its territory and subject to reliable cover of its forces fleet from air strikes.
China’s nuclear potential poses a serious threat both to the states of the region and to the United States. However, America can ward off the Chinese nuclear threat from itself, destroying a few Chinese intercontinental missiles by a preemptive strike against strategic nuclear and non-nuclear weapons.
Destination - Russia
Based on the analysis of the geography of world resources, as well as areas attractive for living (taking into account historical grounds for the right to own them and the stability of the ruling regimes in the respective states), several hypothetical vectors of the possible application of military force by China can be identified. And the first of them is the northern one.
The occupation of the territory belonging to Russia of Siberia and the Far East, at first glance, promises Beijing to solve almost all of its problems. First of all, it concerns overpopulation and the provision of its economy with natural resources. The geopolitical position of the country, which is significantly closer to the Middle Eastern region and Europe, will also significantly improve.
China can also count on getting a part of the Russian nuclear potential, which will allow it to ensure full-fledged nuclear deterrence by the United States.
Mastering the part of the Russian defense-industrial complex with its specialists located in Siberia and the Far East will give the PRC the latest military technical technologies and scientific schools for their further development.
However, the implementation of this expansion option is fraught for the Chinese state not only with huge losses, but also with possible death. Russia is nothing but nuclear weapons Chinese aggression can not answer.
If, in the event of a large-scale military aggression by China, the Russian leadership decides to use strategic and tactical nuclear weapons (even on a limited scale), the losses of the Chinese population and economy will be such that the potential gain from the occupation of new territories will not cover the damage suffered from a nuclear strike. A full-scale nuclear response will lead to the death of the People's Republic of China.
Beijing will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, since it will strive to occupy territories in a habitable state, while possessing an absolute superiority in general-purpose forces. Russia will be forced to launch a nuclear strike in order to destroy Chinese nuclear weapons as much as possible. The main part of China’s medium-range missiles (more than 80 percent) is unable to hit targets in the European part of the Russian Federation. A retaliatory nuclear strike from China can be inflicted mainly on the territory of Siberia and the Far East, that is, on those territories and objects, for the sake of seizure of which a military operation will begin.
If the Russian leadership does not dare to strike at China, then the United States and its NATO allies, as well as Japan and other countries of the Asia-Pacific region, facing the threat of turning China into an indisputable world dominant, are very likely to enter the war on the Russian side .
At the same time, the United States, delivering a preemptive strike with nuclear and non-nuclear strategic means, is capable of destroying China’s few intercontinental missiles. In the future, the Americans with impunity can deliver nuclear strikes on Chinese territory, forcing Beijing to cease hostilities. As a result, the economic and military potential of the state will be completely crushed, and the United States, most likely, having torn away from Russia a part of the territory of the Far East and Siberia, will consolidate on the Eurasian continent.
Any scenario as China attempts to seize Russian Siberia and the Far East will lead to the loss of most of its foreign markets and foreign assets.
Thus, the military operation against Russia has no positive prospects for Beijing. While the development of friendly relations brings him significant benefits.
Strengthening of economic Russian-Chinese relations gives the PRC a guaranteed security of its economy with energy resources and other types of raw materials, and the development of military-technical cooperation gives access to the most modern military technologies. The position consolidated with Russia in the international arena, in particular in the UN, is also important for China. Finally, the friendly relations of the two countries give grounds for Beijing to count on Russian nuclear deterrence in the confrontation with the United States. And the strategic nuclear potential of our country is almost 20 times higher than that in China.
Even more advantageous to Beijing is the creation of a Russian-Chinese military-political union that would significantly expand the geography of Chinese interests. In addition, China could well count on the assistance of the Russian Armed Forces. This is especially true in the near and partly medium term - while the Chinese Navy is not ready for action in the seas and oceans that are far from its coast.
Cooperation with Moscow is much more profitable for Beijing than confrontation and the more direct confrontation. The likelihood of China’s military conflict with Russia, at least in the short term, is negligible.
Obviously, but unlikely
Another possible direction for Beijing’s use of military power is the southeast, that is, the regions of Southeast Asia, which are rich in energy resources, with a population ethnically close to China, and a significant Chinese diaspora.
The Chinese economic and demographic expansion in this direction has been going on for a long time and very successfully. Political consolidation of its results can be carried out in the course of the natural process or as a result of various coups.
The use of military force by China in these conditions may be required to support friendly political forces in the event of armed confrontation. The insular character of the region dictates the determining role in such fleet operations. However, the limited capabilities of the Chinese Navy will allow only local military actions and subject to the absence of opposition from the US Navy.
The most extensive use of military force by China can be expected in this direction in the struggle for the disputed Senkaku Islands and for Taiwan.
An escalation of a possible military conflict with Japan over Senkaku will inevitably lead to the US being drawn into it as an ally of Japan, which will force China to abandon the buildup of military confrontation. But given the great economic importance of these islands, the likelihood of such a conflict, even in the short term, is quite high.
Hostilities for the island of Taiwan may begin if a part of the island’s political groups oriented towards reunification with China are subjected to repression or gross violations of the political process infringing their rights are fixed.
The military operation against Taiwan can also begin as a result of a massive provocation on its part against China. In this case, given the proximity of the island to the Chinese coast, Beijing will undertake a landing operation of a strategic scale involving the main forces of its fleet and air force, as well as significant contingents of ground forces. The total number of troops in such an operation on the part of China is capable of reaching a million or more.
In addition, the view of China can be turned to the southwest - the zone of the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal. The reason for the use of military force here can serve as a territorial dispute with India over part of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.
The presence of nuclear weapons in China and India, as well as the geography of the area of possible hostilities, determine the limitation of this conflict by the scale of a local war using each side of groups of no more than 200 – 300 thousand, which will be based on the Air Force and ground forces. Given the limited value for China of these disputed territories, the likelihood of such a conflict, at least in the short term, can be considered low.
The intensive development of relations with Pakistan, the unstable domestic political situation in this country, as well as in Afghanistan, create favorable conditions for the spread of Chinese influence on these states, which promises China getting access to the Arabian Sea - the most important hub of oil communications.
Here China can use military force to support friendly domestic political forces in the event of political chaos in these countries or to help them repel external aggression.
In the first case, it is a peacekeeping operation under the auspices of the UN, in the second - a full-scale military operation, carried out either at the request of the country's leadership or under a UN mandate. In both cases, the ground forces of the Chinese group will be the ground forces, the Air Force and the Navy.
And the last, fourth direction is African. At present, China is very actively taking root in the economy of African states. However, the remoteness of this region from the territory of China and the weakness of the Chinese Navy practically exclude the possibility of military support for Chinese interests in it.
Thus, with the exception of a possible military operation against Taiwan of large-scale use of military force by China, there is no reason to expect. The main limiting factor is the weakness of the Chinese Navy. That is why the Chinese leadership today focuses on the development of its fleet.