Fighter jet signals China's military
China unveiled the locally built Jian-10
last week, saying it narrows the gap with advanced nations
Peter Ford, The Christian Science Monitor,
– A sleek, swept-wing
fighter-bomber dubbed the "Jian-10," unveiled here last week, is more than
just another jet plane. It is China's calling card, announcing Beijing's
arrival among the top ranks of military manufacturers.
Powered by Chinese
engines and firing Chinese precision-guided missiles, the locally built
Jian-10 has "allowed China to become the fourth country in the world" to
have developed such a capability, "narrowing the gap with advanced
nations," boasted Geng Ruguang, deputy general manager of the plane's
The latest fruit of a
military modernization drive that has produced an indigenous Chinese
nuclear attack submarine, early warning aircraft, frigates and destroyers,
cruise missiles, and computerized command and control systems, the Jian-10
is "a decisive step by China toward becoming an aviation power," the
official Xinhua news agency declared.
The plane is also a new symbol of China's
role-reversal in the global arms industry. "Most technology analysts have
been surprised by the speed with which China has gone from being an
arms-buying country to one with real promise of being a producer of
front-edge military technology," says Denny Roy, senior researcher at the
Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu.
Neighbors wary of
China's military advances
To some of China's neighbors, though, that
promise looks more like a threat. And Pentagon officials, too, have
repeatedly urged Beijing to explain more clearly the purpose behind a
military buildup that has seen defense spending rise by more than 10
percent a year since 1990, according to official Chinese figures.
Offering rare insights into the Chinese
leadership's strategic view of the world, the government issued a defense
white paper at the end of last year, in a bid to clarify its military
The paper declares that "China's overall
security environment remains sound," but notes "challenges that must not
Chief among them, it says, is "the struggle
to oppose and contain the separatist forces for 'Taiwan independence,' "
which "remains a hard one." Beijing claims the island of Taiwan as its own
- a position rejected by the government in Taipei.
The white paper, the first of its kind in
two years, sets ambitious military goals for the People's Liberation Army
(PLA), harping repeatedly on the need for technological modernization. By
the middle of this century, China should be "capable of winning
informationized wars," it says, referring to the computerized battlefield
on which future wars will be fought.
Such capabilities, China insists, are
"purely defensive in nature," and the report does not repeat the threat
contained in the last white paper to crush any serious move toward
Taiwanese independence "resolutely and thoroughly."
It does, however, note disapprovingly of
heightened US-Japanese military cooperation, as Tokyo and Washington build
a joint missile shield designed to protect Japan from North Korean
missiles. Beijing appears to worry that Taiwan may one day be brought
under this shield, blunting the mainland's military strength in any
The white paper came on the heels of a
speech by President Hu Jintao calling for a stronger "blue water" navy
with the ability to range far from home ports. "We should strive to build
a powerful navy that adapts to the needs of our military's historical
mission in this new century," Mr. Hu said.
"We should make sound preparations for
military struggles and ensure the forces can effectively carry out
missions at any time," he added.
What such missions might be was hinted at in
the white paper, which mentions "ensur[ing] the interests of national
development" as a key element of China's defense policy, and refers to
security issues including "energy, resources, finance, information, and
international shipping routes."
Buildup needed to
protect trade, China says
A Pentagon report last year detected Chinese
ambitions to build a fleet capable of protecting the sea lanes that carry
the country's vital oil imports through the Straits of Malacca, and of
operating even farther afield, in the Indian Ocean.
China's growing political and economic
interests, especially its worldwide appetite for imported raw materials,
mean that it sees defending those interests in ever broader terms, says
"As such a big country, with an ever more
global outlook, what China needs to do to defend its national interests
will inevitably impinge on the interests of other countries," Roy
predicts, and "it will demand a degree of diplomatic skill" to assuage
neighbors' suspicions of Chinese intentions, he adds.
Many Western analysts accept Chinese
officials' argument that military spending has increased only in line with
their country's economic rise. Officially, spending is set at $36.4
billion this year, but it is generally believed to be about twice that.
But while "their focus is defensive, any
weapon can be used offensively," points out Robert Karniol, Asia-Pacific
bureau chief for Jane's Defence Weekly. The White Paper sets out
"primarily defensive concepts," he says, "but they are based on a degree
of offensive capability and they have the capacity to undertake purely
offensive operations if desired.
"The political environment is very stable at
present ... but neighbors look at the concentrated buildup of China's
military capabilities and it's at that, not the politics, where they have
to concentrate their strategic thinking," Mr. Karniol argues. "Because
intentions can change."