China is ready to spring military surprises

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China is sending six members of its police force, plus anti-riot equipment, to the Solomon Islands to “equip and train” local police in the wake of destructive riots in the capital Honiara….reports Asian Lite News

Many are alarmed by China’s growing military ambitions, with heated tensions in places like the East China Sea, South China Sea, near Taiwan and the Indian border. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has benefitted greatly from a deluge of cash and copious amounts of cutting-edge equipment being added to its inventory.

Last year was full of disconcerting surprises, including the discovery of massive silo fields for intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the testing of a fractional orbital bombardment system. However, more surprises await in 2022.

Kurt Campbell, the US National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, warned last week of a “strategic surprise” in the region. He told the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC: “If you look and if you ask me, where are the places where we are most likely to see certain kinds of strategic surprise – basing or certain kinds of agreements or arrangements – it may well be in the Pacific.”

The American official said the issue was the one he was “most concerned about over the next year or two”. Expressing urgency, Campbell said, “And we have a very short amount of time, working with partners like Australia, like New Zealand, like Japan, like France, who have an interest in the Pacific, to step up our game across the board.”

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Campbell did not elaborate on what he meant by “strategic surprise”, but in context his comments hint that China may be brewing up a significant basing agreement somewhere in the region. It could be that he was hinting at a specific development of which he is aware, or perhaps that he expects Beijing to throw its economic and military weight round in genuinely unexpected ways.

However, such comments do not bode well. The USA should have been preparing for China’s rise for the past decade or two. The American intelligence community should be on top of how China is muscling in on other countries.

Unfortunately, the USA has dropped the ball by ignoring friends and refusing opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region. Indeed, Campbell admitted that the USA has not done enough to assist countries in the Indo-Pacific region despite “enormous moral, strategic, historical interests”.

When Donald Trump pulled out of the trade deal known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, disappointment in the USA was palpable. In its place, many smaller Pacific countries list China as their largest trading partner and have become dependent on this Asian giant.

China is sending six members of its police force, plus anti-riot equipment, to the Solomon Islands to “equip and train” local police in the wake of destructive riots in the capital Honiara.

Other concerns center upon Vanuatu and Kiribati. Regarding the latter, last year it emerged that China had drawn up plans to upgrade an airstrip and bridge on the island of Kanton. The Kiribati authorities insisted the Chinese plan was a non-military one that would improve transport links and tourism.

This location is approximately 3,000km southwest of the strategically important state of Hawaii.

China has a major presence all across the Pacific, whether it be diplomatic, commercial, infrastructure or citizens in residence. China’s hooks are already in the region, almost enabling China to leapfrog American defenses along the so-called First Island Chain.

It seems only a matter of time before Beijing creates some kind of military presence in the Pacific, and this will make it harder for the US military to operate. It would be like having the enemy in your rear. Indeed, the US Marine Corps (USMC) has totally restructured for a potential fight against China in the Pacific, creating smaller, dispersed units that can fight independently from islands but with interlocking fields of fire with anti-ship missiles and long-range rockets. The USMC has also given away all its tanks, bridging equipment and other assets to support this warfighting plan. However, if China can operate freely from multiple Pacific islands in the rear of US forces, the plan will be a flop even before it starts.

“Dual-use” (commercial with the potential to support military) Chinese bases are not without challenges. The PLA is not particularly strong in long-range logistics and command and control, but China might also be interested in denying access to the USA and its allies.

Furthermore, quite apart from war scenarios, dispersed outposts would allow the PLA to refuel ships and to resupply in peacetime. Beijing’s vicious rhetoric about AUKUS shows that this new-founded Australia-UK-USA alliance rankles. Any time that regional countries group together causes China consternation, whether it be Australia, India, Japan or some other.

Interestingly, at the end of December 2021, the Philippines issued a notice of award to India for three batteries’ worth of BrahMos supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles. This acquisition has been in the works for several years, and reflects Philippine mistrust of China’s intentions in the South China (/topic/china) Sea. If they are sited somewhere like Palawan, they would control a large swathe of territory extending towards the Spratly Islands.

Beijing did well in manipulating President Rodrigo Duterte into maintaining a pro-China stance, even if the Armed Forces of the Philippines never subscribed to Duterte’s misplaced optimism. The fact that Manila went ahead with this acquisition reflects the level of mistrust towards China.

The South China (/topic/china) Sea is certainly a place where China could unleash a “strategic surprise” too, whether it be constructing a military installation on Scarborough Shoal or fomenting some other kind of trouble.

In 2021, the USA was joined by other countries like Canada, France, Germany and the UK in conducting naval passages through places like the South China Sea or Taiwan Strait. They are perfectly entitled to do so under international law, but Beijing kicks up a stink every time.

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