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China's scary asymmetry
Claude Arpi
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April 19, 2006

Part I: Indo-US ties: The China factor

Fifty years ago, China invaded Tibet [Images]. What was the first task of the 'Liberation's Army'? 'To defend the western borders', Mao stated.

On the ground, it meant building new roads leading to India (including the Aksai Chin road on Indian territory). The same roads were used 12 years later to invade India. The Chinese always plan years in advance.

The 'beyond Taiwan policy' [mentioned in the first part of this article] brings to my mind the railway line scheduled to reach Lhasa, the Tibetan capital in July 2006. In February 2001, the 1,118-kilometer railway stretch from Golmud (the current terminus of the Qinghai-Tibet railway) to Lhasa received the final approval from the Chinese State Council. Since then, work has been undertaken on a war-footing by the Chinese ministry of railways.

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The arrival of the train will open new vistas for the PLA. It will allow the Chinese generals to open a new ballistic missiles theater in a very short time and will facilitate a rapid redeployment in case of need. Firepower could be directed to India in a much more effective manner using the railway to transfer missiles to launching silos hidden in the Himalayan region.

In a China Brief of the Jamestown Institute a couple of years ago, William Triplett described some of the rail advantages for the tactical and strategic new potentialities of China defense program: 'With this railroad in place the PLA will have excellent hiding places for its new rail-mobile ICBM, the DF-31A. If the PLA follows the Russian lead and rail-bases its ICBMs, each missile train could carry up to thirty nuclear warheads capable of destroying any strategic target in Japan [Images] and many in Western United States.'

This is all the more true for the Medium Range and the Short Range missiles; the extension of the rail track to Lhasa can be seen as the most important change in the Himalayan region since the building of strategic roads in Tibet in the '50s.

The missile launch brigades based in Datong and Wulan near Xining (Qinghai Province) could then easily be transferred to the Lhasa region. India would suddenly become 1,000 km closer for the Medium and Short Range missiles.

These 'details' are not mentioned in the Pentagon report as Washington is not too much bothered about India's interests. One has to admit that Delhi itself does not seem bothered about the train reaching Lhasa. After all, the relationship between India and China is said to have improved so greatly since the UPA is in power and according to many, the time has come to think positively.

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While the 2005 report outlines '�China's national and military strategies, progress and trends in its military modernization, and their implications for regional security and stability', the grave threat caused by the train to India's security and the change of military balance brought by it to the Tibetan plateau is mentioned nowhere. The train is also not mentioned in the QDR, obviously it is not a security threat for the US.

In December 2004, an interesting White Paper on defense was published by the Chinese government. When reading it for the first time, I could not grasp a concept mentioned several times by its acronym RMA (Revolution in Military Affairs). This theory made full sense only after I read one of the most scary books on military affairs.

Unrestricted Warfare is written by two extraordinarily brilliant senior colonels belonging to the People's Liberation Army. The Literature and Arts Publishing House in Beijing [Images] published the research of Colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui.

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Qiao and Wang started their fascinating research with the US's success against Saddam Hussein's army during the Gulf War of 1990-1991. In fact, Unrestricted Warfare is a war manual detailing how a nation like China can face the technologically advanced US army, overcome this advantage and defeat the enemy.

The book came to the notice of the CIA after the September 11 attacks, because several times in Unrestricted Warfare China's military planners suggest ways in which terrorists (bin Laden is specifically mentioned), could wage a new, unrestricted war against America.

In their foreword, the editors of Unrestricted Warfare point out the authors' 'advocacy of a multitude of means, both military and particularly non-military, to strike at the United States during times of conflict.'

Blending ancient martial arts theory and the knowledge of the high-tech era, the authors explain how the strong can be defeated by the weak through merciless unconventional methods: 'the first rule of unrestricted warfare is that there are no rules, with nothing forbidden.'

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They say: 'Whether it be the intrusions of hackers, a major explosion at the World Trade Center [Images], or a bombing attack by bin Laden, all of these greatly exceed the frequency bandwidths understood by the American military� This is because they have never taken into consideration and have even refused to consider means that are contrary to tradition and to select measures of operation other than military means.'

The mention of bombing the WTC resulted in US security agencies translating the book and circulating it widely.

The Chinese White Paper on Defense put it thus: 'The forms of war are undergoing changes from mechanization to informationalization... Confrontation between systems has become the principal feature of confrontation on the battlefield. Asymmetrical, non-contiguous and non-linear operations have become important patterns of operations.'

After reading Unrestricted Warfare I understood the meaning of RMA, or asymmetric warfare.

One chapter speaks of 'Ten Thousand Methods Combined as One: Combinations That Transcend Boundaries'. It is the art of combining different elements of these various forms of warfare. What are these forms?

Terrorism is of course mentioned the most often, but it is just one of the many ways of unconventional warfare identified by Unrestricted Warfare. To cite a few others:

This last point reminds me of the recurrent floods of the Sutlej (and the breaching of the dam on the Pareechu river). Despite an official agreement with the PCR, Delhi has been unable to prevent or even monitor such recurrences.

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Another type of warfare (not mentioned by the authors) could be added: demographical warfare which has already been 'successfully' experimented by Beijing in Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Tibet (and by Bangladesh in Assam).

The authors send a spine-chilling warning: 'When people begin to rejoice in the reduced use of military force to resolve conflicts, war will be reborn in another form and in another arena'.

It is perhaps time for the Indian 'thinking' generals to reflect in a more asymmetrical way.

While keeping a friendly attitude towards its neighbours, they should start surveying ways to counter these new forms of war which are not different from the ones taught by Sun Tzu in his Art of War over 2000 years ago or by Mao Zedong more recently.

This book makes interesting reading in the newly perceived threat coming from China and the recent QDR. The main debate on the separation of the nuclear and civilian facilities will probably continue to rage in India and analysts as well as political parties will be divided on the extent of compromise to be offered to President Bush.

This will probably overshadow the second point of the US plan: to use Delhi to counter the rise of China. The QDR makes it clear that the US objective is to: 'dissuade any military competitor from developing disruptive or other capabilities that could enable regional hegemony or hostile action against the United States or other friendly countries and it will seek to deter aggression or coercion.'

It is where India is needed, because for Washington, 'Should deterrence fail, the United States would deny a hostile power its strategic and operational objectives.'

Washington will need a base and a 'strategic partner' to fight its proxy war. Delhi has to be cautious not to be enticed by the United States in the nuclear business: there is no free meal from the superpower, and though China might be the major threat for India in the years to come, Delhi does not have to fight on behalf of others.

In the meantime, China has strongly protested against the QDR for 'playing up the China military threat.'

A foreign ministry spokesman said that China has lodged a serious representation to the US: 'The QDR �irrationally criticized China's normal defense construction.' He added that the move 'interfered in China's internal affairs and could mislead public opinion'.

But this does not change the problem.


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