New Delhi: China’s aggressive tactics at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and its ramping up of nuclear stockpile along with massive scaling up of naval and missile technology has been flagged by the US in its latest military report.
Talking about the India-China tensions, the US Department of Defense (DoD) has said negotiations between the two neighbours made “minimal progress as both sides resisted losing perceived advantages on the border”, it said in ‘key takeaways’.
The report, ‘Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China’, said the Chinese had also deployed its special forces along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh.
“In 2022, China continued to develop military infrastructure along the LAC. These improvements include underground storage facilities near Doklam, new roads in all three sectors of the LAC, new villages in disputed areas in neighboring Bhutan, a second bridge over Pangong Lake, a dual-purpose airport near the center sector, and multiple helipads,” said the report released Thursday night India time.
“China deployed one border regiment, supported by two divisions of Xinjiang and Tibet Military Districts with four combined arms brigades (CAB) in reserve in the western sector of the LAC. China also deployed as many as three light-to-medium CABs in the eastern sector from other theater commands and an additional three CABs in the central sector of the LAC. Although some elements of a light CAB eventually withdrew, a majority of the deployed forces remain in place along the LAC,” it added.
Earlier this month, the two neighbours held the 20th round of Corps Commander-level talks where they agreed to carry on with winter deployment, which will see reduction in troops, and aim to work out a plan ahead of the summer so that there is no surge in soldiers and equipment then.
Growing nuclear arsenal
The DoD mentioned that Beijing will probably have over 1,000 operational nuclear warheads by 2030.
It added that many of these warheads will be deployed at higher readiness levels and will continue growing to 2035 in line with the goal of ensuring PLA modernisation is “basically complete” that year, serving as an important milestone in Xi’s goal of a “world class” military by 2049.
China is expanding the number of land, sea, and air-based nuclear delivery platforms while investing in and constructing the infrastructure necessary to support further expansion of its nuclear forces.
Beijing continued its rapid nuclear expansion last year, and the DoD estimates China’s stockpile had more than 500 operational nuclear warheads as of May 2023.
The report further states that China characterises its view of strategic competition in terms of a rivalry among powerful nation states, as well as a clash of opposing ideological systems.
Regarding the national strategy of Beijing, the report said: “The PRC (People’s Republic of China) characterises its view of strategic competition in terms of a rivalry among powerful nation states, as well as a clash of opposing ideological systems. PRC leaders believe that structural changes in the international system and a confrontational United States are the root causes of intensifying strategic competition between the PRC and the United States.”
The PRC’s national strategy is to achieve “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049, the DoD said.
“The PRC views the United States as deploying a whole-of-government effort meant to contain the PRC’s rise, which presents obstacles to its national strategy,” it added.
The report highlighted President Xi Jinping’s address to the delegates in March 2023 to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in this regard. “Western countries led by the US have implemented comprehensive containment, encirclement and suppression against us, bringing unprecedented severe challenges to our development,” Xi had said.
The report notes that Beijing has made advancements in its defence industrial capabilities. “China’s hypersonic missile technologies have greatly advanced during the past 20 years and many of the PRC’s missile programs are comparable to other international top-tier producers,” it said.
The report states that China is the world’s top ship-producing nation by tonnage and is capable of producing a wide range of naval combatants, gas turbine and diesel engines, and shipboard weapons and electronic systems, which makes it nearly self-sufficient for all shipbuilding needs.
China is developing beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles and exploring missile capabilities that improve target-selection and make the missiles more resistant to countermeasures, it said.
“In 2022, China launched its first domestically designed and manufactured aircraft carrier, featuring an electromagnetic catapult launch and arresting devices,” the report said.
In 2022, the PLA largely denied, cancelled, and ignored recurring bilateral engagements and US’ Department of Defense’s (DoD) requests for communication. The PLA’s refusal to engage with the DoD has largely continued in 2023, the report said.
The PLA’s refusal to engage in military-to-military communications with the US, combined with its increasingly coercive and risky operational behaviour, “raises the risk of an operational incident or miscalculation spiraling into crisis or conflict,” it said.
The report added that the DoD was committed to re-opening lines of communication with China.
Belt and Road Initiative
Regarding Beijing’s flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative, the report said that China uses BRI to support its strategy of national rejuvenation by seeking to expand global transportation and trade linkages to support its development and deepen its economic integration with various nations.
In 2022, BRI projects saw mixed economic outcomes, experiencing both growth and decline. “However, overall spending on projects remained consistent with the previous year and Beijing continued to prioritise public health, digital infrastructure, and green energy opportunities,” it stated.
On lessons learnt from the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, the DoD’s assessment says that China almost certainly is learning lessons that are most applicable to its goal of strengthening its approach to countering a perceived US-led containment strategy. Western sanctions against Moscow almost certainly have amplified PRC’s push for defence and technological self-sufficiency and financial resilience, it said.
Regarding China’s belligerence towards Taiwan, the report stated, “In August 2022, the PLA carried out large-scale joint military exercises aimed at pressuring Taiwan. The exercises included firing ballistic missiles over Taiwan’s main island, over a dozen naval patrols, and hundreds of flights into Taiwan’s claimed air defense identification zone.”
Calling it the “largest unplanned event of the year”, the DoD stated that in August 2022, the PLA conducted live-fire drills—including firing ballistic missiles over Taiwan — in response to a bipartisan Congressional Delegation (CODEL) visit in August 2022.
The PLA’s centreline crossings have continued since August as it maintains a heightened readiness level. Such activity reflects ongoing PLA attempts to normalise median line crossings, it added.
(Edited by Tony Rai)