The Chinese politico-military system is purposely opaque.
For example, China has for years allowed the US Secretary of Defense to speak only with its Minister of National Defense, even though the person holding that position – currently General Wei Fenghe – has little operational control over it. Chinese army and is the counterpart of the head of the Pentagon. title only.
The Biden administration unsuccessfully attempted to arrange a discussion between Austin and General Xu Qiliang, the highest-ranking uniformed officer in the Communist Party’s military structure, which resulted in a communication stalemate of several months between the two armies. (Austin met Wei on Friday on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.)
Beijing wants Wei to be the military’s outside representative because he’s trained in propaganda points like other top generals aren’t, said Lyle Morris, who served at the Pentagon as country director for China. and now works at the RAND Corporation. Senior Chinese officials fear commanders may stray from the party line.
“They have a fence, a sort of wall around their operational commanders with external military leaders,” Morris said.
Meanwhile, in recent years, the Ministry of Defense has quietly reduced its Defense Attaché Service, removing senior military officers from embassies and downgrading the rank of defense attachés around the world. Attaches in African countries, where much of the withdrawal has taken place, provide key insights into Chinese and Russian activity in those countries.
“It meant fewer defense-focused eyes overseas in more conventional countries, examining current military capabilities,” said Ezra Cohen, a fellow at the Hudson Institute and former acting undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security in the Trump administration. “In the era of great power competition, the reduction of resources for the attaché service must be rectified.”
Another former Defense Ministry official sharply criticized what he described as a longstanding lack of emphasis on analyzing open-source information from and about China. This open source material includes speeches given by prominent Chinese personalities or documents on official Chinese doctrine.
US assessments of Beijing’s intentions have been flawed for years because they were based on intelligence findings that did not sufficiently take into account most of the communist government’s public announcements, the former official, who specializes in intelligence, said. Chinese politics.
“We were coming to analytical conclusions that were just fantasy,” the former official said. “We felt like they were shapeable and on the trajectory of democracy. Now [there is a] recognition that China has a plan – its own plan – and has had one for 40 years.
A House Intelligence Committee Report of September 2020, which concluded that US spy agencies are failing to meet the challenge of China, confirms the claim that the West incorrectly assumed that Beijing would become more democratic as it became more prosperous. He found that these assumptions “blinded observers to the Chinese Communist Party’s overarching goal of retaining and increasing its power.”
The House committee report raised other points that current and former analysts and officials echo today, including that the United States’ focus on counterterrorism has undermined what should have be more focused on rising state powers such as China.
“Absent a meaningful realignment of resources, the U.S. government and intelligence community will fail to achieve the results required to enable continued U.S. competition with China on the global stage for decades to come.” , says the report.
As agencies recruited Arabic speakers and trained terrorism experts, many Cold War hands were retiring, creating a critical gap in analytical knowledge, Cohen said.
“The intelligence community must be able to determine with a high degree of certainty what is merely posturing and what is true, and that can only be done by very experienced analysts,” he said. “You have to be able to tell from satellite imagery or intelligence reports… does it look real and operational, or is it something that’s just a prototype years from the field of battle?”
island of uncertainties
Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has consolidated his power within the communist apparatus to an unusual degree, Beijing has made it increasingly clear that it wants to bring Taiwan under mainland control by 2050, and that any threat to that goal could cause him to use Force.
“Taiwan is clearly part of their ambitions. … And I think the threat is evident in this decade, in fact, in the next six years,” Adm. Philip Davidson, then commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, told Congress last year.
Beijing’s statements suggest that China could intervene in Taiwan at any time, if it believes that the conditions are right. “It is dangerous to say that 2027 or 2030 or 2035 is an exacerbated date,” said the former Defense Ministry official. “You’re actually ignoring the risk that tomorrow something could happen.”
Analysts and former officials say an invasion of Taiwan would likely start with an air assault and an amphibious landing, but what happens next is a mystery.
How long can China continue to launch missiles and planes, for example? What capacity does Beijing have to maintain and repair equipment in combat? How will the Chinese military fare if the conflict turns into urban warfare? How will Beijing deal with mass casualties or displaced civilians?
Unlike Russia, which has fought in Ukraine and Syria for the past decade, there is less recent history to draw from China. Beijing has not fought a war since 1979 and its air force has not participated in a major conflict since 1958, Garafola noted.
“The hardest thing to measure, of course, is how they would fare in combat in a complex environment where things don’t quite go as planned,” said Randy Schriver, a senior policy official. Asian at the Pentagon under the Trump administration. “It is doubtful that, even if they have improved their training, whether or not they are training at sufficiently complex levels to be able to handle unforeseen or unknown developments.
The United States also has a limited idea of how the various weapons of China’s military apparatus would work together in a high-end campaign, analysts said. The US military long ago began emphasizing “jointness” in its training exercises and operations, which means integrating its air, sea, space, maritime and cyber capabilities. It’s not clear that Beijing can do the same in a real-world operation.
“There’s a lot of talk about cyber – we know how they use cyber for information and intelligence theft, but we know less about how they might use cyber embedded in a war plan,” Schriver said.
One area that current reviews of foreign military assessments are paying particular attention to is China’s supply lines if it attacks Taiwan, the Biden administration official said. Taiwan is an island, which makes supplying invading forces more difficult than what Russia faces in its land routes to Ukraine.
China’s economic and diplomatic initiatives across the Pacific also offer puzzles to US officials who wonder if the efforts have a military angle.
Chinese military officers and diplomats recently gathered alongside their Cambodian counterparts for a groundbreaking ceremony at Cambodia’s Ream naval base in the Gulf of Thailand. China has pledged to upgrade the base, which sits near the South China Sea, in exchange for the Chinese military’s access to part of it, a Chinese official confirmed at the Washington Post.
Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Wang Wentian said at the ceremony that the work “does not target any third parties and will promote even closer practical cooperation between the two armies.”
The deal recalls Beijing’s establishment in 2017 of a logistics port in Djibouti in East Africa, a leased facility near a US base in the tiny country at the mouth of the Red Sea. China has about 2,000 troops at the base, which is a logistics hub for wider Chinese interests on the mainland.
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