Military Maneuvers in the Dark

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So China is to raise its official military spending by nearly 18 per cent. According to a spokesman at the National People’s Congress, the rubber stamp parliament whose annual session begins today, military spending in 2008 will reach 417.8 billion yuan ($57.2 billion). This comes on the heels of a Pentagon report which sounds the alarm about China’s growing military power–and by the way estimates the real expenditure is about triple the official figure. (For comparison, the US spends about $700 billion, depending on how you count, of course). At the same time the Pentagon also released its annual assessment of the Chinese military threat. Our own Mark Thompson wrote a piece on the report. Its headline –That Murky Threat From China–pretty much sums up the thrust of the report, which is actually not as scare mongering as you might expect from an organization that has often been accused by critics in the past of exaggerating threats for budgetary reasons. It does have a couple of gems such as pointing out that by 2010 China will have twice the number of submarines as the U.S. It also emphasizes that China is continuing to concentrate on so-called asymmetrical warfighting strategy in any confrontation with a technologically superior U.S. That means using any means to neutralize that advantage or even use American strength against itself by for example blinding it heavily satellite dependent command and control systems by shooting down critical communications satellites. It also underlines the threat from cyber warfare and hackers (as we wrote last year, the link between the People’s Liberation Army and hacker attacks on the U.S. and other countries is circumstantial but pretty convincing). The only real scenario–at the moment–under which there could be a clash involving all three of those elements of course (that is, submarines, satellite shoot downs, cyber war)
is over Taiwan, and that’s what much of China’s military planning seems to revolve around. There’s also the fact that China has been steadily adding to the number of missiles it has deployed in coastal areas aimed at Taiwan, anywhere up to 1000, again depending on whose counting. All of which makes me at least glad to hear the one other piece of news on this subject this week, that the U.S. and China had agreed to set up a hotline. Could prove very useful in case someone presses the wrong button down in Fujian province. Or for that matter if the referendum on whether Taiwan should apply for U.N. membership that is part of the Taiwan election being held on March 22 passes.

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