Chinese Military Expands Its Influence
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI, Taiwan —China continued to surprise its neighbors and the international community in 2007 with an anti-satellite test (ASAT); sent military troops to Africa; penetrated Pentagon computers; raised the defense budget; and expanded military-to-military cooperation with a variety of nations from Africa, Asia and Europe.
The United States continues to waver on China’s military buildup. Sources in Washington say the U.S. military is largely distracted by mission commitments in the Middle East.
Draining men and material from the Pacific Command to Central Command has given many of America’s allies in Asia the impression of abandonment.
“Not only are we [America] not being seen in Asia, but we are not seeing what’s going on in Asia,” a former Pentagon official said.
In 2007, China sent war ships to Australia, Japan, Russia, Singapore and Western Europe for port visits and exercises. In September and October, Chinese Defense Minster Cao Gangchuan met with international leaders.
In 2007, China increased its defense budget to $44.9 billion, up $6.79 billion, or 17.8 percent, over 2006. Critics argued the budget is actually three times the official number and U.S. government officials insisted on more transparency. However, Chinese officials quickly point to a U.S. defense budget of more than $645 billion as evidence the Americans have nothing to complain about.
“For the past 20 years or so, Chinese policy-makers have been deferring military expenditures in order to build up the national economy,” said Thomas Kane, author of “Chinese Grand Strategy and Maritime Power.”
“Chinese leaders of that period made statements that suggest that they valued economic development, at least partially as a means to achieve larger and more enduring military gains over the long run. The fact that the Chinese are now openly spending more on defense suggests that they believe that the long run has arrived.”
Space and Cyberspace
China’s ASAT test in January sent shock waves through Japan, the United States and the region. China destroyed an aging weather satellite with a modified medium-range missile from a distance of 530 miles on Jan. 11. China was unapologetic and demonstrated its determination to blind U.S. intelligence during an attack on Taiwan or Japan.
The year brought more accusations that China was engaged in systematic widespread espionage using the Internet.
In June, Chinese hackers penetrated the Pentagon’s Non-classified Internet Protocol Router Network used for internal unclassified e-mails and general data. The internal e-mail system would be critical to organizing U.S. forces to respond to an attack by China on Taiwan.
China was also accused of attacks on the German government’s computer network that were traced back to Lanzhou and Beijing, and cities in Guangdong, the origin of numerous past attacks.
Though China has a long history of spying, it has largely been ignored by the U.S. government. John Tkacik, while serving in the American Consul, issued tens of thousands of student visas to Chinese the first year after the U.S. Embassy in Beijing opened in 1979. Tkacik, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, noted Chinese students “freely admitted they had been briefed by school or work unit security bureaus on their duties to the motherland after arriving in the United States.”
He has no doubt Chinese students and academics in the United States are still expected to assist the “motherland” even now, yet the United States continues to encourage Chinese students to flood academic institutions.
Africa and Oil
In 2007, China sent an engineering battalion to Sudan to help secure oil and guard Chinese petroleum production facilities.
“This is the first real deployment of a Chinese unit abroad,” said Larry Wortzel, commissioner of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
It is certainly the first officially acknowledged such mission. China had hundreds of thousands of troops deployed to Vietnam and Laos during the U.S.-Vietnam War, but never acknowledged their existence. Chinese military forces in the Korean War were called the Chinese People’s Volunteers.
“But now the West will have to wrestle with the fact that China will send military units abroad. It will be interesting to see how they sustain those forces and conduct their control communications,” Wortzel said.