Defense Minister Touts China's Progress in Arms
By Wendell Minnick
Taipei - Comments made by Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie in a rare interview posted on the Ministry of Defense Web site Sept. 22 have been misinterpreted by many as saber-rattling.
"Our capabilities in waging defensive combat under modern conditions have taken a quantum leap," Liang said. "It could be said that China has basically all the kinds of equipment possessed by Western countries, much of which reaches or approaches advanced world standards."
Liang pointed to China's third-generation main battle tank, indigenous third-generation fighter aircraft, early warning aircraft, cruise missiles, destroyers and ballistic missiles.
However, Larry Wortzel, vice chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said Liang's comments were most likely hype leading up to the Oct. 1 parade in Beijing for the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China.
"My sense is that they are feeling pretty good in preparation for the 60th anniversary parade," he said. "And they may be getting ready to sell more conventional weapons," suggesting the parade will also be a showcase of arms for sale in the foreign market.
Dennis Blasko, a former U.S. Army attaché based in Beijing, said Liang's comments were in the "context of six achievements in national defense and Army building.”
"Granted, the reporter started off asking a question about equipment, but Liang soon put equipment in its proper place in Chinese military modernization," he said. "Also, be careful about what he said; China now has 'most of the sophisticated weapon systems' - not all the systems necessary for modern combat, but most."
The Oct. 1 parade will involve 5,000 personnel, tanks, road-mobile ballistic and cruise missiles and more than 150 aircraft. The parade is expected to be an intelligence windfall for many. New missile systems such as the Dong Hai-10 (DH-10) cruise missile, the Dong Feng-21 medium-range ballistic missile and the DF-31 long-range ballistic missile are expected to be on parade.
However, not everyone agrees the parade will be anything new.
"From what I've seen in parade rehearsals, I don't know if there will be anything that we haven't been following for many years," said Blasko, author of the book "The Chinese Army Today."
"Granted, this may be the first time the DH-10 land-attack cruise missile or a few other systems are on display officially, but governments and analysts have been monitoring their development for years."
Blasko said the parade really says "absolutely nothing about whether the armed forces can plan for the employment, operate, or sustain in the field in combat conditions the equipment on display."
Ironically, troops and units involved have been conducting parade training for five months, including "driving and marching in large formations, which have absolutely no tactical relevance, and will miss an entire season of field training with their units."
LONG HISTORY OF UNDERESTIMATION
Although the parade will not be a surprise to many, there are tales of caution out of Taiwan. Lin Chong Pin, Taiwan's former deputy minister of defense, said the U.S. has a long history of underestimating China's defense capabilities.
"Since Oct. 16, 1964, when China detonated its first nuclear device, the West has continuously more underestimated than overestimated the technological advancement of the [People's Liberation Army]," Lin said.
Lin said the West has repeatedly been "surprised by PLA breakthroughs before forgetting" and re-experiencing the same, again and again.
"Most Western analysts, in assessing PLA capabilities, have tended to look at the past and are reluctant to view the future," he said. There is a tendency to compare the PLA directly with the U.S. military, "without counting Beijing's extra-military magnifiers - psychological, demographical and geographical.
"When addressing its military capabilities, China's behavior is characterized by massive concealment peppered occasionally with selective revelations or exaggeration," Lin said. This has "compounded the difficulties for the West to accurately assess the PLA technological capabilities."