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Colonel FRASEP. I was asked three questions: Even with its recent economic successes, does China have the resources to mount a major threat to U.S. interests in Asia or elsewhere? A qualified yes. To field and support in combat, say, a quarter of a million men would eat seriously into the gains China has made since the Cultural Revolution. I can see only two conditions under which China would accept the risks involved in making a direct attack on a major U.S. interest: One is a perception on their part that they were seriously menaced by some physical American presence or act or, (2) the imminent prospect of the destruction of the government in Hanoi. Short of those two, I simply cannot see the Chinese undertaking a major attack on U.S. interests.
The second question: With the resources available, do China's priorities dictate attention to their security concerns over the Soviet border and the status of Taiwan, rather than other ventures concerning the U.S.? I would like to go further into that at some point but I think we can see very plainly the U.S. is moving away from hostility; Taiwan is pretty ineffective, and Japan is frozen in a military posture which, at the moment, has no menace. Russia, and Russia alone, has the power and will to inflict massive, indeed unacceptable, physical damage on China.
Finally, the last question: Are economic growth, consumer welfare, and other domestic priorities likely to override security programs in Chinese development?
One gets the general feeling from the economic assessment that the guns and butter necessary to maintain domestic stability and progress, while at the same time continuing the steady force improvement program that one discerns as developing further a major defensive capability, are not going to run into conflict. If they do, I think China's leadership has demonstrated its ability to inflict austerity and other measures of deprivation, and I cannot see the military program now in existence suffering in any way.
Thank you, sir.
PREPARED STATEMENT OF COL. ANGUS M. FRASER The purpose of this paper is twofold: first to comment on the "Economic Assessment” as it informs and guides thinging about the military condition of the People's Republic of China; second, to examine some broader questions whose answers are significantly affected by the study. This discussion addresses military conditions and prospects as they affect, or may be affected by, the conditions portrayed in the report. This will involve some regard for the Chinese strategic view as we may interpret it, granting that such interpretations are, to some degree, subjective. The specific functions of interior political considerations and of foreign policy in determining military programs and actions may safely be left to others. It will, however, be necessary to touch on Peking's interpretation of thə military threat she faces and the reaction of the leadership to it. It will be necessary, in the beginning, to describe briefly the forces actually in being in the PRC and the programs for their improvement, since these matters are the primary conditioners of the demands that the military make in the national resource allocation process. The facts and figures used here are drawn from open sources whose history demonstrates a good measure of reliability.
FORCES IN BEING-PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA Ground forces in the People's Liberation Army concentrate heavily on infantry and artillery divisions around 110 of the former and 20 (of various types) of the latter. There are also thought to be 5 armored divisions, 3 cavalry, and 2 airborne. Families of equipment tend to be earlier generations of Soviet items or, in some cases, home-produced items. These latter include a good tank, a range of basic weapons, and artillery. Mobility and firepower have been steadily improved, although they are still inferior to Soviet or US capabilities. The mobility of these troops within the boundaries of China has been enhanced by the increases in road and rail transport described in the “Assessment."
The ground army has always played multiple roles in the Chinese Communist system. Mao has often described it as a political force and a work force, in addition to its job as a defense force. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution involved much shifting of units in patterns that had nothing to do with strategic posture. It also diverted troops to tasks that previously were the province of party and government officials, leaving no time for training or basic military work. In a more permanent sense, there is a continuous division between forces that are essentially under the control of regional leaders and those commanded by the central authorities. This raises doubts about the effective use of some units in places or causes not acceptable to their commanders. Although there was some effort to keep selected strategic forces free of other involvements, it is possible that as much as one-third of the ground strength of the PLA may not be available for regular duties.
The naval forces of the PRC are clearly focused on the close-in defense of the homeland. There are thrity-odd submarines, all diesel-powered Soviet types. They were assembled in China, using Russian components, including one “G” class boat, built in Dairen in 1964. The “G” class (another of which has been under construction for some time) is configured to fire a Sovi.t-type cruise missile of 400 mile range. The navy mans 4 destroyers and about 20 smaller escort types. There are 10 or more milsile-firing craft of the “Osa” and “Komar” types and substantial numbers of patrol, attack, and mine force vessels. A mixed lot of landing ships and craft of US World War II vintage provides a very modest amphibious capability. Despite Chairman Mao's statement that "we will have a strong navy,” the force does not impress in anything beyond a modest defense role.
The air force of the PLA is a mixture of the old and the new, but it is not surprising that a great deal of attention focuses on its modernization. Although the program has produced Tu-16 (roughly equivalent in performance to the US B-47) emphasis has been given to high-performance air defense fighters. In January, 1972, the monthly magazine of the French Air Force reported the following strengths:
80 F-9 fighters (mach 2, Chinese design and manufacture); 1,700 Mig-17; 100 Mig-15; 1,000 Mig-19 (now being produced in China); 30 to 35 Mig-21 (supersonic; this number represents the original Soviet grant. The aircraft is now being produced in China and the number is probably much larger); 100 Tu-2 bombers; 300 Il-28 bombers; and 25 Tu-16 bombers (Tu-16 is now being made in China and the number could be much higher).
The air force also has modest transport and utility capabilities. It could lift and support an airborne force of about infantry brigade size.
The Nuclear Program.—China has detonated 14 nuclear devices of which one was never acknowledged and is generally thought to have been a failure or an accident. Of the remaining 13, one was underground, one was delivered by a 600-1000 mile Soviet-type rocket, and the rest were either tower shots or drops from the Tu-16. Five tests were in the 20 kiloton range, five were in the 20-500 range, and four were measured at three megatons. More explicit details have led analysts to believe that the PRC was experimenting variously with tactical weapons for battlefield use, aiming at early achievement of an MŘBM capability, or perfecting a warhead for ICBM. There are also cases that can be made for IŘBM development and for perfection of a bomb for delivery by the Tu-16. It is not impossible that all these concepts have been entertained. There have been a number of firings of rockets at various ranges, including at least one that may have been a reduced range test of an intercontinental vehicle. An instrumented ship has been fitted and it has been suggested that a test will soon be fired into the Indian Ocean. Meantime, the Tu-16 is in operation.
The Chinese have consistently avoided discussion of their program except in political terms. A typical statement followed the 12th test in November, 1971:
one of the necessary and limited nuclear tests conducted by China for the purpose of defense. The Chinese Government declares once again that at no time and under no circumstances will China be the first to use nuclear weapons. The Chinese Government and Chinese people will, as always, strive together with the other peoples and peace-loving countries in the world for the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons.”
Earlier, in July of that year, China had rejected the Soviet Union's proposal for a five-nation nuclear disarmament conference on the ground that all nations should participate. The PRC statement also repeated the usual Chinese claim that she was developing weapons only for defense and to break the imperialist monopoly. In the absence of any firm assurance, it is prudent to think that the PRC program has a high political content, but that it also has the ability to move in any of several directions.
FORCE IMPROVEMENT PLANS IN BEING
The "Assessment” notes that military programs command roughly one-tenth of China's GNP and that the military burden on the economy may rise sharply in response to escalating weapons costs in the nuclear program, force expansion, and modernization to meet perceived threats or for other policy reasons. It is conceivable that the leadership could raise the costs of arms programs past endurance, but experience cautions that the Chinese people can tolerate deprivations and a level of austerity that would be unacceptable in many other societies. Whatever the case at the moment may be, the press has recently reported that the PRC has delivered to Pakistan substantial quantities of new military equipment including 60 Mig-19 aircraft and 100 tanks as part of a new $300 million aid agreement. In addition, while we do not know the actual numbers, or be able to perceive variations in. flow, there does appear to be continuous progress in force modernization.
The ground forces have appeared to concentrate on steady and unspectacular improvement in combat effectiveness. They are producing an armored personnel carrier of their own design and have made a modest increase in truck inventory. Access to the larger number of trucks now operating in the civilian sector and the use of expanded railway capacity will further add to the tactical and strategic mobility, particularly within the borders of Mainland China. Firepower improvement proceeds along conventional lines, with attention to artillery and anti-tank weapons.
Programs in progress in the naval forces seem to aim at upgrading current capabilities rather than the acquisition of new ones. At least one squadron of hydrofoil patrol craft is in operation. One “G” class submarine has been under construction for some time. Recent intelligence reports indicate that as many as three nuclear-powered submarines may be on the way. It is likely that these vessels will be attack rather that missile-firing types, since the latter require technology beyond current Chinese ability. The general ship-building function has recently gotten more attention, with the result that home production has increased, but a 15 thousand ton tanker is the largest and most sophisticated vessel reported to date, with the prospect of an indigenous destroyer rumored.
In the air force, the production of the Tu-16 may be seen as the acquisition of a new attack capability, but more likely in the nuclear role rather than as a conventional bomber. With this exception, air force modernization focuses mainly on air defense. In addition to the home designed F-9, mentioned earlier, the next generation is being tested in the form of the F-9F, a faster, higher-flying version of its parent. Surface-to-air missile production seems to be settled on Soviet types, although the extensive rocket program and work on infra-red weapons is probably occupied with some forward-looking research. The air force has a large share in the product of the electronics industry, as will be seen.
We learn from the “Assessment” of impressive progress in the Chinese electronics industry. The list of new or improved items for military use is formidable: early warning radar; ground control intercept; missile guidance and control equipment; naval radars and sonar; laser range finders: electronic countermeasure devices; infra-red homing devices, and computer equipment. In addition the PRC produces field radio and communications gear of superior portability and durability. Air defense is being improved by the availability of radar to support all-weather flying. It is true that the PRC is now, and for some time will be, substantially behind the US and the Soviet Union in technology, but it is clear that the PLA has been able to maintain impressive progress in improving military functions that depend on electronics.
The Nuclear Program.-Improvements in nuclear capabilities are more difficult to gauge, since the whole program has been experimental or developmental. Some observers credit the PRC with an active, deployed force of 80–100 MRBM, with the movement toward IRBM being expedited as a major priority. The program continues to be varied and, for that reason as well as others, probably quite expensive. There have been two launchings of satellites that apparently used rockets suitable for delivering heavier warheads. Work on solid fuels has been reported, which would produce faster-response, more stable weapons. The present condition of the PRC nuclear weapons program may be described as still exploratory, still undecided as to the actual physical capability being sought.
A number of references have been made to the "steel-electronics” controversy in China, drawing on some internal Chinese documents as evidence of an internal struggle over the allocation of resources to military programs, particularly to nuclear weapons. A letter emanating from a group within the Ministry of Metallurgical Industry recalls Mao's inspired injunction to develop industry "with steel as the key link.” The mistaken notion that “electronics be taken as the center” is attributed to that all-purpose villain Liu Shao-chi. An involved argument supports the concept of heavy industry and associated extraction and service functions as the key to progress and then proceeds to repeat the classical Maoist point that "Compared with economy, politics cannot but take the first position.” Electronics is dismissed as a processing industry. This controversy has been interpreted as a policy statement repudiating those who seek a more sophisticated, accelerated nuclear program at too-great resource cost. Since we do see impressive progress in both steel and electronics industries, it is reasonable to believe that there are concealed signals and purposes in the letter. It could very well relate to a dispute over the general thrust of military development in the PRC; equally, it could be some expression of a difference between regional and central authorities, or between strategic and regional forces. However interpreted, there is still a convincing body of evidence that Chinese industry is, at least for now, performing well in support of military modernization.
SECURITY FUNCTIONS OF THE PEOPLE'S LIBERATION ARMY Quite apart from its performance of important interior duties, the PLA functions as a national defense entity with capabilities and weaknesses that may be assessed against military standards and requirements. From such an examination it should be possible to draw some logical inferences that help in understanding Peking's interpretation of the threats China faces and their view of the appropriate military responses. The military tasks facing the PLA may be categorized under three rubrics: defense of the realm; operations over continuous lines of communication beyond national borders; and operations over discontinuous lines, requiring seaborne or airborne forces. It is not suggested that the PRC contemplates and exterior undertakings; rather it is intended to attempt some judgment of the ability of the Chinese to meet certain challenges.
Any attempt to conquer China by conventional action with ground forces faces some formidable tasks. The size and population of the nation are impressive simply as numbers. The militia of China may number from one to ten million, depending on classification criteria, but there exists a substantial body of people with some ability to use firearms and explosives and to do sabotage. This is augmentation to the regular forces already described. These forces would be at their most efficient in general defense of the homeland, since the differenceswhatever they may be-between local garrison troops and strategic units would tend to be less important. Air and naval forces are, in general, under a greater degree of central control and their management somewhat easier. Airfield location and new construction relate only indifferently to and fixed preconception of the source of danger and can rather be seen as supportive to a wide range of operations. There have been some troop movements since the triggering events of March 1969 along the Ussuri River, but there does not appear to have been any massive positioning of troops immediately along the border. What is known now of Chinese dispositions suggests strongly a concept of defense in depth, passing the invader through zone after zone of conventional resistance, guerrilla harassment, and isolated attacks on any separated unit-in effect, an application of the classical Maoist strategy of Protracted War, updated by improved firepower and mobility and the ability to stand and fight more conventional battles when it is necessary to do so. Should an invader elect to enhance his odds by the use of nuclear weapons, the Chinese would not only suffer greater damage, but they could also very quickly become badly disorganized. Given the demonstrated nature of the Chinese, it is quite likely that a long and nasty period of partisan warfare would ensue.
Should the PRC elect to send her forces over her borders into adjacent territory, there would begin almost immediately some degradation of combat effectiveness. Logistics problems, serious enough to the Korean setting, would be greatly magnified by the demands of the modern weapons and vehicles of the improved forces. The important support of friendly and involved civilians would disappear at the border and, in some cases, be replaced by active hostility. The Chinese also face a difficult decision over the numbers of troops that they might want to deploy abroad in any particular venture. If, as many think, the regional forces are not immediately and completely at the disposal of the central command, some difficult choices and delicate balancing acts would be required. There is also the abiding 'possibility that a foe on one flank might see an opportunity to act while China was elsewhere occupied. In a number of possible situations the PRC might not enjoy the security of a sanctuary and interference with lines of communications would reach back into the homeland, inevitably influencing her ability to sustain sizeable forces for an extended time. Having said this, there is still the lesson of Korea. The Chinese maintained an army of almost one million men under increasingly adverse conditions. Given the conditions of today, it is reasonable to say that operations over the border by PLA forces are still possible, but their cost should give pause to all but the most desperate planners.
When the PRC comes to onsider operations over water or from the air, they face immediately the problem of adequate transport. It simply does not exist. The amphibious portion of the navy is hopelessly inadequate and obsolete. There is no indication of a significant building program. To attempt an invasion of, say, Taiwan would require the gathering and movement of a motley fleet of small commercial ships, junks, and a few merchant vessels of the 10-thousand ton range. It would then be necessary to establish air superiority and control of the sea. The first would be terribly expensive and, unless it were done, the second would be well-nigh impossible. Under such conditions it is difficult to imagine the PRC force crossing the 100 mile Taiwan Strait and landing against resistance. The cost of such a venture becomes completely prohibitive when the Seventh Fleet becomes involved under the terms of the US treaty with the Republic of China.
Airborne attack offers equally small prospects. Even by drafting the new additions to the civil air fleet, the PLA could not land and support a very light scale division for any length of time without opening a supplementary line of supply overland. The air defenses of any prospective target effectively forestall such an effort.
For purposes of measurement, Taiwan was examined as the target for amphibious assault, and the plain of Assam in India as a likely location for an airborne assault. There are other places, of course, but these examples make the point about the extremely limited capability of the PRC in these sort of ventures.
There is one more function of armed forces that is not purely that of fighting. Nor does it appear as the sort of political or social action that often associates with the PLA. This is the role of the "force in being." As the PRC moves more into a broader role in the affairs of a significant world system, it will develop and refine the part that armed forces play in negotiations, in arms control and disarmament, and in general creating the aura of power and influence appropriate to the nation's view of its place in the world. Since China is menaced most seriously by the one major nation with which it has a defense agreement, it is not likely that she will take the course of Japan. Any continuing assessment of the military goals of the PRC must include some evaluation of the role that exterior political factors and influences have in shaping the size and capabilities of her forces.
CHINESE PERCEPTIONS OF THE MILITARY SITUATION It is dangerous to assume that logic can adduce or explain the Peking view of the threats that menace her physical security. There is, nevertheless, some basis for speculation on this subject. Experience since taking power in 1949, the lessons of battle, and the intensity of their differences with others should combine to shape the actions that the rest of the powers see as embodying the Chinese view of the world. On this basis an attempt will be made to rank her foes as China sees them and then to relate these perceptions to what we know of her military programs.
The Soviet Union must now rank as the PRC's most immediate and dangerous foe. The differences go back far beyond the border disputes of 1969, but the physical encounters of that time provide a starting point for the current phase of relations. Earlier, Russian action against Czechoslovakia had made it starkly clear that the Soviet Union would not avoid physical action against a fraternal socialist state when the issue was important enough. The embodiment of this concept in the so-called Brezhnev Doctrine reinforced Chinese fears over Russia's behavior. Without attempting to fix the sequence of initiatives, the Soviet forces