Sunday, April 17, 2005

Well Slap Me for Stupidity

This article notes that China has the choice of a "northern" strategy aimed at Central Asia and Russia or a "southern" strategy aimed at the sea (and therefore the US ultimately):

Today much of the attention regarding China is on the "south." It is assumed in the West that China naturally looks toward the South China Sea and beyond to the waters of Southeast Asia and perhaps even the Indian Ocean. The region is economically vibrant. There are commercially successful ethnic Chinese enclaves all over the area, controlling much of the national wealth in countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore. Furthermore, the area serves as a vital conduit of foreign trade for China, taking Chinese products westward and bringing much needed natural resources like petroleum through the strategically important Straits of Malacca. Expecting China's strategic influence to head south is a good bet.

Still, the possibility that China could press northward should not be entirely discounted. There are some good reasons why China may do so. Russia remains weak both in economic and military terms in the region and will be so for the foreseeable future. The area is vastly endowed with natural resources, especially energy that China's growing and hungry economy enviously eyes. At the same time, the region is largely unpopulated, an attractive condition for over-populated China.

I've noted these alternatives, of course. But other than noting that China seems fixated on Taiwan and noting that Russia is foolishly selling arms to a China that might eventually take a northern strategy that would harm Russia, I didn't think too much about it. I figured eventually Russia would see that China is far more of a threat than the West and so would grow more friendly to us as the Chinese threat became obvious. This article prompted me for some reason to consider that Russia is not acting stupidly--or at least not too stupidly.

Russia knows it is too weak to stop China if China goes north. At least for a good many years until the Russians can rebuild their army. Knowing this, the Russians are aiming the Chinese away from themselves. They arm China not because Moscow doesn't know that China is a threat to Russia's far east, but because the Russians are painfully aware of their own weakness.

Notice what Russia is selling to China:

Over the past decade, Russia has steadily increased its arms sales to China. The Chinese air force received its first Russian-made Su-27 in 1992, under a deal to sell 20 Su-27SK fighters and six Su-27UBKs. China was later supplied with another 50 Su-27s as well as 57 Su-30MKKs. In 2003, China is expected to receive 19 Su-30MKKs, according to earlier contracts. On the other hand, in 1996, Russia and China inked a $2.5 billion deal to manufacture 200 Su-27SKs under license at a plant in Shenyang.

In addition, last year agreements were signed for the shipment to the Chinese navy of two ship-based S-300F Reef anti-aircraft missile systems. These systems are designed to provide major naval task forces with air defense.

In 1999-2000, Russia sold two Project 956E Sovremenny (Modern) class destroyers to China in a $603 million deal. In January 2002, the two countries clinched yet another $1.4 billion contract to build another two Project 956EM destroyers. The destroyers are equipped with Sunburn anti-ship cruise missiles. China has also been supplied with two Project 877EKM diesel-electric submarines and two Project 636 vessels (an upgrade of the 877EKM). In May 2002, a $1.5-billion contract was signed to build another eight Project 636 vessels. It has been reported that China plans to procure Russian Akula nuclear submarines to supplement its ongoing purchase of eight Kilo-class conventional submarines, as well as two Slava-class cruisers armed with 16 P-500 anti-ship missiles with a range of more than 500 kilometers.

Russia has sold eight regiments of the S-300PMU1 long-range anti-aircraft missile system and 27 short-range Tor-M1 systems for China's air defense. In 2001, Russia and China reportedly signed a $400 million contract to supply another four regiments of the more modern S-300PMU-2. China has also been reported to be considering the purchase of MiG-31M interceptors, Tu-22MZ bombers with Granit cruise missiles, Project 949 nuclear missile subs with 24 Granit cruise missiles, and Project 1144 nuclear cruisers with 20 Granit systems.

What's the common factor here? Well, they are all geared toward supporting a southern strategy. Missiles, planes, and ships. No tanks. No armored fighting vehicles. No anti-tank weapons. No armed helicopters. Nope. Those would be appropriate for land warfare and a northern strategy.

Those clever bastards in Moscow are trying to make up for their current weakness by encouraging the predators in Peking to look south. I can't believe that this didn't occur to me until I read the north-south article. Doh. The Russians aren't stupid. They aren't some rube Third World nation. They were recently a superpower and they aren't deluded here. Sure, there's some appeasing here, but a good part is making sure China goes for somebody else--Taiwan and therefore Japan and America, too.

Not that Russia compelled a Chinese southern strategy. I think China was disposed toward that strategy anyway. But Russian arms sales have certainly reinforced the southern orientation.

And how is China doing? Well, as I wrote in Ready. Set. Go? I think the Chinese are getting ready to invade by 2008. Janes writes, in China: Ready, steady go ... , that China is making strides:

An emerging consensus among long-time PLA observers, including within the US intelligence community, is that the Chinese military has successfully achieved a far-reaching qualitative advancement in its warfighting capabilities since the beginning of this decade. The PLA is quickly becoming an increasingly credible threat against Taiwan and could even begin to pose a challenge to US military preponderance in East Asia in the next decade if the momentum is sustained.

One day soon--if they aren't ready already--China will be able to defeat Taiwan and delay US intervention until Taiwan is beaten. A good chunk of the reason for this momentum is Russia's decision to arm a southern strategy.

Still, if we make a southern strategy too dangerous by making sure Taiwan is prepared and we are set to move in fast, the Chinese may find their southern strategy unworkable.

One day, Russia will need America and Japan as China turns toward Russia. Sure, we'll help Russia, I imagine; but it might not be east of the Urals. As I said, Russia may be being too clever by half.

UPDATE: Arthur K emails me that the Soviets pulled this gambit before World War II with Operation Snow. The Soviets worked to engineer a US-Japan clash to keep Japan away from the Russian Far East. Either I never knew this or I forgot about it. Fascinating. I'm not paranoid, just forgetful.