What Is the End Game for China’s Military Modernization?

 - November 30, 2006, 10:46 AM

The concern of some watchers is just what the end game is for China’s more than 15-year drive to modernize its defense industrial base. Part of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) goal is to keep generating revenue with the type of foreign arms sales that made so much money for it in the 1980s. China maintains an extensive multi-agency system for coordinating and controlling its arms exports, and this system shows no signs of slowing down.

But the more troubling aspects for some are the in-depth improvements China has made in its military capability to strike its neighbor Taiwan. China’s military is believed to have deployed 650 to 730 mobile DF-11 and DF-15 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) to garrisons positioned opposite Taiwan and the PLA reportedly plans to increase this total to more than 1,000. U.S. government reports claim that these new missiles are coming on line at a rate of 100 or more per year.

“China also has a continuing interest in keeping its border with North Korea safe and secure,” pointed out a Western Beijing-based analyst. This argument goes that if the Democratic People’s Republic collapses, the PRC is likely to be flooded with refugees and consequent instability. “The only thing that Beijing fears more than a total collapse of the Kim Jong-Il regime in Pyongyang is a takeover of the northern end of the peninsula by South Korea. Faced with the choice of an unpredictable North Korean government versus that of a unified Korea led by a government in the south, Beijing will opt for modernizing its military in this region as well as part of an effort to keep Kim’s increasingly shaky buffer state in power,” he claimed.

But what worries the U.S. DOD and other China analysts almost as much is that the situation inside the PRC itself is none too calm at the moment. The 2005 DOD report states that “domestic protests, mainly directed at local policies and officials, have grown violent over the past year, posing increasing challenges to China’s internal security forces.

The concern of some Western officials is that this sort of domestic tension can precipitate regional civil strife and/or military revolts with little warning. Faced with these internal problems, a teetering North Korea on its border and its long-standing ambition to bring Taiwan under mainland control, the scope of the PRC’s attempts to modernize its military machine becomes all the more worrisome. There is little disagreement among experts that the longer this influx of technology and weaponry continues at its current pace, the louder the bang is likely to be if China’s military machine stops building and buying and starts using all the new equipment at its disposal.