China’s Military Capabilities Closer to France’s Than the U.S. (UPDATED)

By Stew Magnuson

Despite talk of a “rising China” and allegations that it is stealing massive amounts of defense trade secrets, the East Asian nation is still far from equal militarily to the United States, an expert on the country said July 10.

“If I had to look 10 years out, I think you’re going to see something like what the French can do today. Nothing like what the English did with our help in the Falklands,” said Larry Wortzel, author of the new book, “The Dragon Extends Its Reach: Chinese Military Power Goes Global.”

There is a deep incongruity between the China and the United States, he said during a presentation of the book at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

“At least for China, they see us as the greatest potential threat,” said Wortzel.

As for potential conflicts with the United States, the most likely scenario would be over sovereignty in places such as Taiwan, or confrontations with allies such as Japan.

“They’re trying very hard to avoid that,” said Wortzel. “I think the likelihood of a major conflict remains relatively low.”

China is a keen observer of U.S. strategies, he noted.

“What they did was essentially watch how we handled the war in the Balkans, and watched how we handled the war in Iraq, and they read everything the United States published on the topic and used that as a model,” said Wortzel. “They focus on us and they focus on our technology.”

“I think the People’s Liberation Army and its Navy have learned a lot in the past few years,” he added. “One of the things I’ve learned from all this research is, if you go through enough articles from Chinese universities by scholars, you really see the guts of some of the ideas and doctrines.”

The Chinese have discovered the importance of overseas military bases. “They need places they can go to reliably for repairs, for refueling, for food,” said Wortzel.

He advised that close attention be paid to the nation’s ability to employ military forces, especially in proximity to U.S. naval bases. “You will see the capacity to deploy ships outside bastions close to the coast that can actually hold parts of U.S. ports — embarkation ports — at risk,” he added.

According to Wortzel, a great deal of what the Chinese are doing is “pretty transparent,” but the United States is lacking in its knowledge of the nation’s intentions or what kind of escalatory action would trigger a conflict with it.

Of China’s plans: “They want to deny the U.S. the ability to operate near China, and then they want to support their own military activities out in the Pacific Ocean,” said Wortzel.

There is potential to work together on joint military operations, he said, but a line would have to be drawn to prevent the United States from giving the Chinese military any information that would later allow it to repress, threaten or harm U.S. allies.

“I think there will remain a competition between us. They are global already in nuclear and ballistic missiles, in space and in cyber.”

Correction: The original story compared the Chinese to the British in the "Balkans." It should have read "Falklands." It also should have read "Balkans" when discussing the war in the "Baltics."

Topics: Defense Department, War Planning, International

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