China Adopts Russian Anti-BMD Rhetoric
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI — China has followed Russia’s lead in recent broad statements about missile defense efforts by “relevant countries.”
On Nov. 5, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke in Tokyo on Russia’s Asia-Pacific foreign policy. He said Moscow was “closely watching the intensive deployment of a theater missile defense system in the region.”
At a regular press conference the following day, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said China “always believes that setting up a global missile defense system, including deploying such a system in some regions of the world or conducting cooperation in this field, is detrimental to global strategic balance and stability, undermines mutual trust among countries and affects regional stability.”
“The recent development of the situation makes it evident that relevant countries should take other countries’ concerns seriously,” Qin said.
The statement suggests China means to “drive a wedge” between the United States and its Asian allies, said Yoichiro Sato of the AsiaPacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu.
But Sato noted that compared with Russia, China’s opposition to regional missile defense has been moderate.
“Even there, China refrains from using an overt threat,” he said. “Thus, China’s broader diplomatic course of maintaining the currently favorable relationship with the United States is toning down its criticism of missile defense.”
The same day that Lavrov spoke in Tokyo, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced plans to deploy short-range Iskander missiles in the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad near Poland in response to U.S. efforts to expand ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems in Europe.
Said Lavrov, “A number of countries of the [Asian-Pacific] region view these plans as nothing but a threat to their national security, let alone global strategic stability being jeopardized — for it is an open secret that the anti-missile system in the APR [Asia Pacific Region] is a part of the global missile defenses being set up by our American colleagues.” Lavrov did not single out China as a country that shared its view.
“China often enough these days supports Russian criticism of U.S. policy,” said Peter Woolley, author of “Japan’s Navy: Politics and Paradox.” “It saves the leadership the onus of pointing directly at U.S. support for Taiwan or calling attention to its own insouciance over North Korea,” he said. “But a regional [anti-missile] system including Japan and Korea is hard to envision given recurring, agitated differences of opinion between the two.”
Woolley said recent Chinese complaints about regional BMD upgrades remind him of the Cold War. “Some things change so slowly or not at all. Hearing the arguments about ballistic missile defense and new deployments of ballistic missiles is time travel back to the ’70s and ’80s. Realpolitik was in. And deterrence theory was an academically respectable field,” he said.
“The recent Chinese statement that missile defense is potentially destabilizing and may simply provoke arms deployments are a point of view that goes back to the NixonKissinger White House years,” Woolley said. “Of course, Nixon and Kissinger came to that conclusion based on the assumption that leadership of the Soviet Union was stable and rational.”
Japan and Taiwan have been moving quickly to expand BMD capabilities, while South Korea has been slower to react. In response to North Korean efforts to develop more ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, Japan and the United States have fielded new Patriot Advanced Capability3 (PAC-3) missile defense systems, Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) missile defense systems on ships, and new early warning radar systems in and around Japan.
“Japan and its ally see an opponent, in North Korea that is potentially either unstable or irrational or both,” Woolley said. “Consequently, missile defense has strong support in Japan.”
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency will conduct a missile interception exercise with the Japanese Navy off Hawaii later this month or in early December. A Kongo-class destroyer, the DDG-176 Chokai, will intercept one missile fired from the Pacific Range Missile Facility, Kauai.
Combined Japan-U.S. BMD tests have raised debates in Japan over the concept of “collective defense,” where Japan and U.S. military forces create an overall BMD that protects both forces. However, the concept faces Japanese constitutional restrictions.
“Related legal questions about ‘collective defense,’ especially on the use of SM-3 and data exchanges, were considered by the [former Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe Cabinet, but later shelved by the [Yasuo] Fukuda Cabinet,” Sato said. “The answers to the ‘collective defense’ questions will have implications on the scope of integration between the Japanese assets and U.S. missile defense system.”
It appears unlikely that South Korea would participate in a regional missile defense system, Sato said.
“Korea’s participation beyond ground deployment of PAC-3s for its own defense will likely face two main obstacles: cost and politics,” he said. “The Korean Navy lacks platforms to install SM-3s, and building such a Navy would be a major undertaking and possibly complicate the regional power balance by alerting Japan.
“Domestically, Korea’s preference to be a ‘balancer’ in Northeast Asia and a degree of anti-Americanism would keep Korea from getting deeply involved in missile defense.”
But if South Korea’s participation looks unlikely, it seems impossible for Taiwan. Though Washington supports Taipei with arms and training, neither it nor Tokyo nor Seoul recognize Taiwan as a nation-state.
U.S. officials recently announced a Taiwanese purchase of PAC-3 missile defense systems and upgrades for the self-governing island’s PAC-2 Plus systems. The United States also is helping Taiwan build a phased array radar system for early warning.
China has about 1,300 Dong Feng 11/15 short-range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan. Taiwan has no ballistic missiles aimed at China, but is preparing to produce the 600kilometer Hsiung Feng 2E cruise missile.