Along with a large-scale nuclear and conventional arms buildup, China is upgrading its military doctrine to include guidance focusing on rapid military power projection, according to Pentagon intelligence officials.
The People’s Liberation Army recently issued new guidance calling for the use of what is calling “rapid force projection.”
“This is intended to hasten the transition from regional defense to full area operations,” said one Pentagon official familiar with reports of the new military guidance.
Pentagon intelligence agencies closely monitor all Chinese military developments because the U.S. military is increasingly concerned it could find itself in a conflict in the future over Beijing’s growing military activities in the South China Sea and East China Sea. The new guidance was discussed during an internal meeting of senior Chinese military leaders last week, the officials said.
Disclosure of the rapid force projection guidance comes as Chinese President Xi Jinping announced after a meeting of military leaders that the PLA is adopting major reforms designed to streamline the military. Mr. Xi, who chairs the Central Military Commission in addition to being Communist Party general secretary and head of state, announced the scaled-down military structure following a two-day conference on military reforms with 230 senior officers.
China announced earlier that it is cutting 300,000 troops from its 2.3 million-troop army.
The goal is to upgrade the Chinese military into a high-technology military force capable of conducting joint, multi-service military operations similar to those carried out for decades by the U.S. military.
“There have been new changes in terms of the military’s size, structure and formation, which features smaller-in-size, more capable-in-strength modulization and multi-functionality, with scientific factors playing bigger roles,” Mr. Xi said, without elaborating.
The shift from regional defense to rapid power projection was not a surprise to U.S. intelligence agencies that have been monitoring the change for the past several years. The new Chinese military guidance contradicts the views of many U.S. military and intelligence officials who for decades wrongly asserted China’s military is focused solely on potential conflicts close to China’s coasts, such as a clash over Taiwan or with Japan over the disputed Senkaku islands.
U.S. intelligence agencies stated in February that the buildup of Chinese military forces in the South China Sea, for example, is aimed at developing rapid power projection capabilities.
New military bases under construction in the South China Sea provide Beijing with “significant capacity to quickly project substantial offensive military power in the region,” according to an intelligence assessment released to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain.
Larry Wortzel, a former U.S. military intelligence officer, said one goal of PLA reforms has been to develop military forces that can be rapidly deployed around the world in areas important to Chinese economic interests.
“The rationale given by the PLA is that there already are hundreds of Chinese peacekeepers deployed for the U.N., and that in two instances in the recent past, China has had to evacuate civilians in trouble in unstable areas,” said Mr. Wortzel, also a member of the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission that addressed the issue in its latest annual report.
“As we point out in our annual report to Congress, these same capabilities can be used for other forms of expeditionary force projection missions,” he said.
A Rand Corp. report on China’s military made public this week identifies several key military capabilities for China. They include drones, hypersonic glide vehicles, stealth jets, aircraft carriers and long-range ballistic and cruise missiles.
Mattis confirmation battle
The incoming Trump administration is preparing for a fight with congressional Democrats over its choice for secretary of defense. President-elect Donald Trump announced on Tuesday in North Carolina he will nominate retired Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis for the defense secretary post.
Gen. Mattis, a decorated war hero and former commander of the U.S. Central Command, is highly regarded as one of America’s most experienced commanders and military thinkers.
Unlike other nominees for the post, Gen. Mattis must pass two congressional tests: the traditional Senate confirmation of senior appointees, and a second vote to waive legislative limits on former military officers running the Pentagon.
Current U.S. law states that “a person may not be appointed as secretary of defense within seven years after relief from active duty as a commissioned officer of a regular component of an armed force.” The restriction can be circumvented through a law waiving the seven-year waiting period, as occurred in 1950 when President Truman appointed retired Gen. George Marshall as defense secretary.
Congressional Republicans already are trying to short-circuit anticipated Democratic opposition to Gen. Mattis’ nomination through waiver legislation attached to a $1.07 trillion stopgap funding bill to keep the government open in the current lame-duck session.
Democrats oppose the provision of the continuing resolution, but analysts say it is unlikely they are prepared to shut down the U.S. government over what is otherwise expected to be a relatively easy confirmation for the retired Marine Corps general.
Gen. Mattis had little to say Tuesday night in Fayetteville after he was introduced by Mr. Trump.
“Thank you, president-elect, for the confidence that you have shown in me,” he said. “Thank you for the opportunity. I’m grateful for the opportunity to return to our troops, their families, the civilians at the Department of Defense, because I know how committed they are and devoted they are to the defense of our country, the defense of our Constitution and with our allies strengthened, with our country strengthened.”
Mr. Trump said he is confident the general will win approval.
“What a great guy,” Mr. Trump said. “He’s going to be incredible. You’ll get that waiver, right? He’s going to get that. Oh, if he didn’t get that waiver, there would be a lot of angry people.”
SoftBank’s China ties
President-elect Donald Trump announced this week that Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp., a major telecommunications firm, will invest $50 billion in the United States and create 50,000 new jobs.
The announcement followed a meeting between Mr. Trump and SoftBank Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Son at the Trump Tower in New York.
“Masa said he would never do this had we (Trump) not won the election!” Mr. Trump tweeted Tuesday.
But the investment commitment is raising concerns in some U.S. national security circles because of SoftBank’s past relations with China’s Huawei Technologies, the Chinese government-linked telecommunications giant that has been linked to the Chinese military and intelligence service.
SoftBank has collaborated with Huawei in setting up a high-tech wireless network in Japan’s Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka corridor.
“Joint innovation efforts have been taking place between Softbank and Huawei with the aim of simplifying network deployment,” Huawei said on its website of the joint efforts.
One U.S. national security official said SoftBank’s dealings with Huawei should raise red flags. “They should be told that if they do business with us, they don’t do business with China,” the official told Inside the Ring.
SoftBank in 2013 purchased a controlling stake in the U.S. wireless carrier Sprint.
Huawei in 2008 was blocked from purchasing the U.S. telecommunications company 3Com over concerns the Chinese company would gain technology that could benefit China’s military.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.
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