The annual ritual: pentagon's new report (updated)

I usually do not have much to say about these old whines repackaged in new bottles. But other than the rhetorics (figure inflation and 'intransparency' aka 'show me your underwears'), the summary and the China's Strategy sections are actually pretty good. The recognition of the '24 characters' and the translation of the added phrase shows that pentagon actually gets what China's objectives are. The number of pages it spent on strategy showed a genuine interest in understanding China. It is a good thing for both the US and China. Hopefully this would finally lead to true understanding and mutual trust. For this, I would praise the new report.

Anyway, since it is inevitable that someone would ask my view and I have talked so much about an abstract term called "strategy" (even though strategy does not neccessarily apply to military, and increasingly less so), I feel obliged to create a post, even if that means borrowing other people's good stuff.
I haven't finished the long-wnded report myself. Here are some notes in the more important chapters (0-3)
  • 0) Excutive summary: pretty standard, and quite a fair summary. Except the last 2 paragraphs where it raised the same rhetoric question of China's intention, despite the fact that the answer lies a few paragraphs above (Taiwan)
  • 1) Key dev/China' grand strategy: some pretty obvious inaccuracy (intentional biase?) here, on East Sea dispute with Japan. Chinese drilling was on undisputed area. Pentagon made a mistake in saying that the drilling in on the disputed area. The implication on who is stepping over the line is totally changed.
  • 2) Understanding China's Strategy: it is worth noting that despite the rhetoric on China's increase in military spending, it fairly noted that such increase "lagged behind the growth in overall government expenditure over the same time".
  • 3) China's doctrine: many inaccuracies here:
    • a) Korea: China did feel the threat.
    • b) India 1962: it was 100% self defense. The report irresponsibly confused active defense in the tactical sense with agressive offense.
    • It also tried to justify the "intransparency" accusation with ancient Chinese 'statecraft'. But it made a big mistake that these statecraft has always been part of China's culture and logically emphasized in military schools. In fact, they are also studied in almost every country, including West Point. -- the biggest mistake is the Pentagon naively equates Chinese statecraft with "deceptive trick" (probably based on Pillsbury's imagination). In reality, wars in China before Sun Zi were like the Incas before Pizzaro. Deception was not part of military tactics and was widely despised of. Chinese statecraft contains a lot more than deception, though 'deception' was widely exaggerated given such historical background
    • One regretable miss, for such an elaborated report, is the threat of terrorism China faces. It is not US that faces terrorism alone in the world. Next time US asks China to cooperate on Afghanistan (Iran!), China would probably ask for the Taliban Uyghur members it turned over to Albania
There are some very good comments from the blogosphere,
  • Joseph Wang (May 23 entry: no permalink?) is not sure whether it is confused or clueless (or pretending to be confused?). In additional, Joseph re-iterated Sun Tze's doctrine on strategy,
    • "China has realized for the last two thousand years that military matters, foreign policy, domestic policy, and economics are not separate realms"
  • Thomas Barnett graded the new insight it offers as he would have done to a new undergraduate term paper (do not miss Joseph's comments below)
  • (Update) China hand discussed about the 'second island chain'. I have a different interpretation. I, like Joseph, believe everything has to do with Taiwan. China does not have the luxury to deal with too many objectives or ambitions. China does not intend to sue force if such situation can at all be avoided (even if the Anti-secession Law is triggered, provided independence is not declared). However, China must want to maintain a credible threat to secession, so that ASL will not be triggered. Therefore, it needs to make any US involvement as costly as possible, so as to tell DPP in Taiwan that you cannot fully rely on US if you go down that path. Extending the naval capability a couple hundred miles beyond the east side of Taiwan will help such objective. I do not believe the second island line defines China's "sphere of influence" at all. Given the Tao Guang Yang Hui ("Lay low and nourish in obscurity") strategy devised by Deng and closely followed by Jiang and Hu. China's sphere of influence is defined by its own claimed border. This would be the case for at least another 30-50 years. Before that China is only interested in economic cooperation with its neighbors. On the ocean, this means South China Sea and as far as its continental shelf stretches to. The so called second island chain does not fall into the domain of China's military ambition, and would not even exist if no support to DPP in Taiwan is expected to come from the east.
  • (update May 31) Slate's Fred Kaplan's commentary. He noticed the fine prints or "lagged the growth in overall government expenditures" as well. He also talked about the budget estimate and refuted the 2x/3x myth in here.
  • (update June 2) Arms Control Wonk on China NFU (Nuke policy and promise)
  • Arm Chair Generalist (via ACW) is struck at DoD's tone and he commented on LA Times and WP's editorials. Don't miss the exchange with Bobby in the comment field, especially the Sun Tzu "long view" comments. These are the people who got the essence of Sun Tzu
  • (Hat tips Billsdue) COuncil on Foreign Relations has a more sensible view on "The Scope of China's Military Threat"
Unrelated: Why JW is angry at NED (Mar 25 entry - use edit/find to search the page)

Updated link: comments from a PLA officer (in Chinese)


Sun Bin said...

on the '2nd island line', i think the pentagon's paragraph in page one offers a pretty accurate description.
"in the near term, china's military build-up appears focused on preparing for taiwan strait contingencies, including the possibility of US intervention..."

Anonymous said...

First mistake in the report - translating 人民解放军 as "the People’s Liberation Army" [sic]. Hiring someone who acutally understands Chinese instead of a so-called "China Hand" should help.

Joshua Shen said...

Everyone should read David Shambaugh's seminal work China's Modernizing Military. His insights and inside sources covered in 2000 a comprehensively what current policy makers continue to parrot. In my experiences meeting some of the major China military watchers in the Pentagon, they seem to parrot Shambaugh pretty well.

bobby fletcher said...

Hi Sunbin, just want to comment that it's ironic we continue to talk about transparency, when our own military budget includes sizable "black budget" that's not even opaque.

Our "black budget" alone is more than what China spends it's entire military.

- bobby fletcher