China Looks To Modernize Its Military

March 10th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: China Looks To Modernize Its Military

Honolulu Advertiser
March 9, 2008 By Richard Halloran
Tacked on to the end of the Defense Department's new report on Chinese military power is an appraisal of the effort by the People's Liberation Army, or PLA, to transform itself "from a force dependent on mass to a streamlined, information-based military with highly qualified officers and soldiers."
Until now, most studies of Beijing's forces have focused, as does this report, on guns, planes, ships, rockets, nuclear weapons and other hardware the PLA has acquired as China's expanding economy has provided funds for a surge in military power.
As any old soldier will attest, however, it is trigger-pullers in the infantry and Marines, sailors with trained sonar ears aboard ships and submarines, and skilled mechanics on flight lines and aircraft carriers who win battles. And the old soldiers will point to the noncommissioned officers, or NCOs the sergeants and petty officers as the leaders who get it done.
China's PLA, having been an unschooled army that relied on human wave tactics in the Korean War of 1950-53 and later, is now seeking qualified officers and NCOs. Chinese leaders, the Pentagon report says, are concerned that "low education levels in the PLA negatively affect its operating capability and professionalism."
For officers, continuing education in civilian universities has started, with 1,000 officers studying for master's and doctorate degrees. The Pentagon's report notes that potential NCOs must have a high-school education, in contrast to their eighth-grade educations so far, and further training in NCO academies.
Training has become more demanding. The report says new PLA guidelines emphasize realism in training, requiring scenarios "to resemble actual combat conditions as closely as possible." Some are even designed to compel officers "to deviate from the scripted exercise plan."
When Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger visited China in 1983, he was shown a drill in which a platoon attacked a hill. The exercise showed unimpressive leadership, routine maneuvers and poor marksmanship.
In its overview, the Pentagon complains, as have U.S. leaders repeatedly, that "China's leaders have yet to explain in detail the purposes and objectives of the PLA's modernizing military capabilities." In particular, it asserts that "China continues to promulgate incomplete defense expenditures."
The Pentagon had hardly handed out the report when the Chinese, through their official news agency Xin Hua, contended that it "disseminates the China military threat theory, severely distorts the truth, interferes with China's internal affairs and violates norms of international relations."
In one dispute, the Pentagon estimated that Chinese military spending reached between $97 billion and $139 billion in 2007, after what the Chinese said was a 19.5 percent increase over the 2006 budget. At the same time, Xin Hua reported that China's military spending for 2008 would rise 17.6 percent to $57.2 billion.
The Pentagon says China's defense budget omits spending for nuclear forces, foreign acquisitions, research and development, and paramilitary troops. The authors assert that most experts arrive at the same conclusion: "Beijing significantly under-reports its defense expenditures."
In a news conference, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates contended there was a difference in the U.S. handling of the recent destruction of a crippled satellite and the Chinese conduct of an anti-satellite test in January 2007.
"We were very open from the very beginning about what we were going to try and do, the purpose of it, that it was a one-time effort to deal with what we regarded as a potential emergency. We did it in a way that minimized the amount of debris in space, and where much, if not all, of that debris would burn up in a very short period of time," Gates said.
"The Chinese didn't offer any information about their test, no advance notification," he continued. "It took place several hundred miles further into space than ours, significantly greater amount of debris and debris that will be up there for many years."
As an emblem, the U.S. and China have set up a hot line between Washington and Beijing that is supposed to help avert potential crises. The hot line took more than two years to negotiate, evidently because of Chinese reluctance to be seen tied too closely to the U.S.
Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of U.S. military forces in Asia and the Pacific, put it into this perspective: "We really don't need a hot line for better communications, technically. There's a broader point, meaning it will give us a better sense of communications even if it won't make it any easier or harder to communicate.
"It's a symbol."
Richard Halloran is a Honolulu-based journalist and former New York Times correspondent in Asia.

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