Chinese RMA

While Chinese military capabilities still lag far behind that of the United States, it was known since the 1991 Gulf War that they have been keeping an eye on the United States and its on-going revolution in military affairs (RMA). China noted with some consternation the ability of the United States not only to muster a large, effective show of force and presence (over 500,000 troops, and over 2000 aircraft, were based in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States), but also to the precision of American "smart" bombs. The "Lessons Learned" from Operation: Desert Storm were not lost on the People's Republic.

Reader Stygius refers to a review of China's cruise missile program. In the conclusion, Geoffrey T. Lum, the author, makes the following observations:

China knows it is in no position to directly challenge U.S. military might, so it is acquiring the capabilities to hold U.S. forces at risk and to raise the military, political, and economic cost of any U.S. intervention in East Asia. Cruise missiles are asymmetric weapons that China could use to influence the will of U.S. leaders while avoiding a major conflict.

China believes asymmetric capabilities enable "the inferior to defeat the superior" and emphasizes operations to disrupt or delay an enemy's campaign. (43) China aims its cruise-missile acquisition program primarily at denying U.S. naval operations and striking at U.S. forward-deployed forces. China's cruise missile systems could hold high-value U.S. assets at risk, and the threat of these weapons against U.S. forces could deter the United States from intervening on Taiwan's behalf. If the PLA can disrupt or delay U.S. intervention, it can easily overwhelm Taiwan.

As many others have written, it is not necessary for China to defeat the United States; it is sufficient to break Taiwan's will to resist. As noted before, it is of utmost importance that the Republic of China again take its military obligations seriously.

Now, as Mad Minerva points out, a former student protest leader from the failed 1989 movement has spoken up. In the Financial Times, Wang Dan (??) admonishes the EU: "History tells us to keep the arms ban on China."

Ironically, perhaps, it was classical European thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke whose ideas of democracy and liberty enlightened me 16 years ago, when I was studying history at Beijing university. One episode of history that ignited my idealistic passion was the French revolution; its 200th anniversary coincided with the 1989 Chinese student protests. Europe has made an important contribution to history by firmly grounding its societies in ideals of democracy and freedom. This should make EU leaders proud.

When the EU adopted its resolution 16 years ago to ban weapons sales to China, it was an expression of moral outrage at the Chinese government's use of the military against peaceful demonstrators. Such reactions from the international community both moved and inspired us - the student leaders who were arrested, imprisoned, or exiled at the time. They showed us that justice remained a fundamental principle in international relations. In this context, our concern about the EU's move to lift the embargo is surely understandable.


Some European leaders have referred to the June 4 massacre as belonging to "another era". This is not factually correct. Today, many participants in the 1989 democracy movement are in exile overseas and barred by the Chinese government from returning to their country. My own story is, again, an example. After my Chinese passport expired, the Chinese embassy in America refused to extend it, depriving me of my citizenship rights - simply because I participated in the 1989 movement. Today, the government still prohibits anyone from publicly mourning those killed in the protests. There seems little evidence that conditions are even nearly ripe for lifting the EU's weapons ban.

I understand the importance of engaging China. I personally supported the US move to grant China "most favoured nation" trading status, and also the country's bid to host the Olympic Games. But selling weapons to China is an entirely different matter. From solid trading relations, ordinary Chinese people can benefit; but weapons sales only benefit the officials involved in the arms deals and the Chinese government. They do nothing to help development of Chinese civil society or raise living standards of ordinary Chinese. It puzzles me why some EU leaders want to lift the arms ban while the Chinese government still refuses to deal with questions of truth and accountability concerning the June 4 massacre, and while human rights conditions in China continue to deteriorate.

To me, Europe symbolises the origin of humanity's quest for freedom. My respect for Europe comes from its protection of democratic traditions and the values of freedom. As China's regime still defends the slaughtering of peaceful student protesters, the notion that the EU might be willing to make more weapons available distresses me greatly; I can only hope that Europe will keep our hopes alive.

Sadly, Wang's idealism and paean to liberal values will be better received here in the United States than in the Europe that he believes in, but which is barely alive these days. I remain unconvinced that France and Germany are not simply looking to delve into a new arms market because their former favorite client, Saddam Hussein, is now no longer capable of doing business. But if that idealism can be revived, and public officials made more accountable to those ideals, the EU may yet again be a force for good in a generally Hobbesian world.

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds and Naruwan Formosa]

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