A Ring of Fire Around China (II)


BERLIN/BEIJING (Own report) - Berlin's main think tank for military policy has announced "war game exercises" for military confrontations with China. This year's "Trier China-Dialogue," to be convened in Berlin at the beginning of June by the Federal College for Security Studies, will focus on analyzing the "combat capabilities" of the Chinese armed forces. The forum will be concluded with two "hypothetical practical tests," to learn whether the Peoples Republic of China's military can "take over" and "hold onto" Taiwan or islands in the South China Sea. The conflict with Taiwan, as well as that over various islands in the South China Sea, impinges upon China's vital interests. In both cases, the USA has adopted the position of China's adversary as its own, therefore, in the case of armed conflict, NATO - and therefore, the rest of the West - could become directly involved. A supplementary objective for the "war game exercises" is the West's rapidly expanding military presence in east and Southeast Asia. In the wake of the stationing of US troops, Germany is also strengthening its military cooperation with China's potential adversaries in Southeast Asia and intensifying arms exports into the region.

China's Fighting Power

The Federal College for Security Studies (BAKS) has announced its next "Trier China-Dialogue" to be held June 6. This will be the third time - following 2009 and 2011. The name is derived from cooperation between BAKS and the former junior political science professor at the University of Trier, Martin Wagener, who, last October, has transferred to the Federal University of Applied Administrative Sciences in Munich. Wagener is considered an East Asia specialist and will participate also this year in the symposium, which is co-parented by the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation and Trier University's Political Science Alumni Association. The theme of the symposium is: "Fighting Power: How Capable is China's Armed Forces?"

Arming Its Rivals

According to BAKS, the constant growth of the Chinese defense budget is the reason for selecting this theme. As a matter of fact, for years, the People's Republic of China has been increasing the rate of military expenditures, corresponding approximately to the country's economic growth. BAKS writes that China plans a further increase of its 2013 defense budget to US $114.3 billion. However, for the foreseeable future, the country will not keep pace with western expenditures. NATO countries spend just under US $1 trillion per year - not counting NATO's allies, including those in eastern Asia and the Pacific realm. Yet, according to BAKS, it can be seen that, over the past few years, the Chinese armed forces have accomplished a remarkable modernization. In January 2007, for example, they shot down their own weather satellite. This means, according to BAKS, that "in the event of war" China is the only country, other than the USA and Russia, that can "neutralize the adversary's satellite supported intelligence and navigation systems."[1] In addition, Beijing has "radically modernized" its naval forces and now even has an aircraft carrier. Since some time, China's naval units have been participating "in anti-piracy missions at the Horn of Africa." This provides the military leadership with important experience in covering great distances, allowing an optimization of perseverance."

China's Objectives

Back in 2010, the East Asia specialist Martin Wagener described the main features of the Chinese military strategy, wherein the function of the Chinese armed forces is to protect the "vital interests" of the People's Republic - above all, its territorial integrity. This concerns particularly its regions, such as Tibet or the West Chinese Xinjiang province. The military must also be able to ward off eventual aggression against them, as against the former European colonies of Hong Kong and Macao. For Beijing, the question of territorial defense is at issue in the Taiwan question, as well as in disputes over islands in the South and East China Seas, being claimed by various other countries. In 2010, Wagener also explained that Beijing places emphasis on being able to "protect and maintain the autonomy of China's maritime routes," including passage via the Straits of Malacca, through which a large portion of its trade with Europe, the Middle East and Africa transits.[2] For years, observers have pointed out that the People's Republic of China has been promoting the construction of ports along the Indian Ocean coastline (the "String of Pearls Strategy" [3]) to protect its maritime routes. According to Wagener, this strategy also has the objective of "militarily deterring the USA."[4] A while back, Washington proclaimed its "Pacific Century," and within its framework, began increasingly orienting its military engagement toward East Asia - from China’s perspective, clearly a threat. This is understandable also in light of repeated discussions in the establishment in Washington of the possibility of going to war with the People’s Republic of China.[5]

The Fulda Gap of the 21st Century

During the course of the preceding "Trier China-Dialogue," Martin Wagener emphasized the extent of - anti-China - expansion of western military presence into eastern Asia. In the summer of 2011, he was quoted saying that US military presence has come to resemble "a preventive 'ring of fire' around China, which Washington is ready to activate in a conflict situation."[6] The Straits of Malacca example demonstrates that this is not merely an abstract but a concrete threat to China's interests. German specialists recently drew the conclusion that, as "the most important transit route" between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the straits is not only economically, but even of such military strategic "importance, that it can justifiably be called the 'Fulda Gap of the 21st Century'." Already today, "a permanent US presence in Singapore," - directly at the Straits of Malacca - must be taken into account. The US proximity makes "the presence of the Chinese in the Indian Ocean" and ultimately, therefore, its supply of raw materials, as well as China's exports to Europe and Africa "dependent upon whether the USA (...) tolerates Chinese transit."[7] However, the specialists avoid mentioning Germany's role. Berlin is systematically expanding its cooperation in military policy with Southeast Asian countries, particularly those along the Straits of Malacca and is increasingly supplying various kinds of armaments - from warships to battle tanks. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[8])

Hypothetical Practical Tests

Western military presence in China's direct vicinity is one of the reasons for this year's "Trier China-Dialogue's" preoccupation with China's military forces. Presentations and discussions will elaborate on the military policy of the new Chinese leadership and the capabilities of the most advanced Chinese weapons systems - from its aircraft carriers to its J-20 stealth fighter jets. The symposium concludes with two "war games," which BAKS calls "hypothetical practical tests." BAKS formulates the problems: "Is China capable of taking over Taiwan or of occupying individual islands in the South China Sea and (!) holding onto them?"[9] Washington has assured China's adversaries of its support in a conflict, reinforcing this with joint maneuvers, as well as supplies of combat equipment - and Germany is participating, to a growing degree, in the latter. If a conflict erupts, the West will be directly involved. With BAKS' "war games" Berlin is preparing for this eventuality.

[1] Trierer China-Gespräche 2013; www.baks.bund.de
[2] Auf dem Weg zur regionalen Militärmacht: Wie stark ist die Volksbefreiungsarmee Chinas? www.kas.de 05.11.2010
[3] see also Am Indischen Ozean and Anti-China Offensives (I)
[4] Auf dem Weg zur regionalen Militärmacht: Wie stark ist die Volksbefreiungsarmee Chinas? www.kas.de 05.11.2010
[5] see also Das pazifische Jahrhundert
[6] Wettrüsten in Asien? Die Modernisierung der chinesischen Streitkräfte und die Reaktionen regionaler Mächte; www.baks.bund.de. See also A Ring of Fire around China
[7] Felix Seidler: Maritime Machtverschiebungen im Indo-Pazifischen Raum: Geopolitische und strategische Trends. Kieler Analysen zur Sicherheitspolitik Nr. 33, Januar 2013. See also Die Pax Pacifica (III)
[8] see also Die Pax Pacifica (I), Die Pax Pacifica (II) and Die Pax Pacifica (III)
[9] Trierer China-Gespräche 2013; www.baks.bund.de