- The Washington Times - Friday, October 2, 2009

BEIJING | China’s first large-scale military parade on Thursday delivered a message to potential regional adversaries that it is not to be messed with and that China is moving toward global power projection 60 years after the founding of the communist government, analysts say.

Along with its latest tanks, amphibious assault vehicles, anti-aircraft systems, fighters jets and bombers, China’s most impressive - and biggest - weapons seemed to have been new variants of ballistic missiles. These included the DF-15B and DF-11A short-range ballistic missiles, the DF-21C medium-range ballistic missile - which could target U.S. aircraft carriers - and the nuclear-armed DF-31A intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which could reach the United States.

Denny Roy, an Asia-Pacific security expert at the East-West Center, said China stressed two themes during the televised parade, which was a centerpiece of the anniversary celebrations. First, that it has the ability to make sophisticated weapons without having to procure them from abroad; and second, that China is now a great power.

“It’s the same point the Olympics made, but the military parade makes it from another angle,” Mr. Roy said. “This is about making the Chinese people proud of what the party has achieved since 1949.”

The parade started with 200 Chinese flag bearers who counted off 169 steps - the number of years since the Qing empire lost the Opium War to the British in 1840. They marched from the Monument to the People’s Heroes to the national flagpole, where they raised a five-starred red flag beneath the clear blue skies at the heart of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Then came the show of military might.

Also unveiled were unmanned aerial vehicles, early warning aircraft and a land attack cruise missile called the DH-10, which the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has actively had in its arsenal for a few years but hadn’t displayed previously.

China’s display of newer armored systems, as well as upgraded amphibious and infantry vehicles, show its future power projections, specialists say.

With a three-missile capability, the DH-10 could give the PLA missile force a “swing” capability for nuclear or conventional strikes in the region, said Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Alexandria, Va.

“As cruise missiles are usually much cheaper than ballistic missiles, the DH-10 indicates that the PLA could even more rapidly build up its missile numbers against Taiwan - now about 1,500 - or any other regional adversary,” Mr. Fisher said.

Mr. Roy said these weapons systems have immediate implications for Taiwan.

“The Chinese leadership has been working for over a decade to erode any hopes by pro-independence Taiwanese that Taiwan has any future other than unification,” he said. “The PLA’s job is to build a force that could roll back independence and deter the U.S. from trying to intervene in Taiwan’s defense.”

Though analysts have been seeing the DF-21C medium-range ballistic missile since around 2006, this is the first time it has been shown so prominently.

“It may have a range of about 3,000 kilometers [1,864 miles] and multiple warheads,” Mr. Fisher said. “If it does have multiple warheads, this missile would have a better chance to defeat the regional missile defense systems planned by the Obama administration.”

Perhaps the biggest message the communist government has sent “is that China is no longer preparing for a Taiwan Strait crisis, but seeks to establish military preeminence across East Asia beyond Taiwan,” said John Tkacik, an Asian affairs expert and former State Department official.

More specifically, Mr. Tkacik said, China’s showing of its latest medium-range ballistic missiles were a message to India that “China is serious” about taking India’s historically Tibetan lands along the two country’s common border.

China did not showcase its submarine-launched Julang-2 missile, its SC-19 anti-satellite missile, newer anti-ship missiles or a larger ICBM that could possibly carry more than 10 warheads and that no U.S. source has yet identified, according to experts.

This new ICBM is important, Mr. Fisher said, because it shows that China could reach parity in warheads with the United States very quickly if the Obama administration reduces the level of its nuclear warheads below 1,000.

“When that happens, the U.S.-led alliance system in Asia will unravel, as Japan, South Korea and others will likely opt for their own nuclear capabilities, having no assurance that the U.S. can ‘extend’ deterrence,” he said.

“Even without new surprises, it is clear that China is making progress in complicating or even restricting the potential freedom to maneuver for the U.S. and its allies in the Western Pacific,” Mr. Roy said.

“The unstated theme,” he added, “is a message to China’s potential adversaries that China is closing off the possibilities for outsiders to threaten what the Chinese see as their vital interests.”

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