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The Takshashila PLA Insight
Issue No 86.
February 05, 2020.
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I. The Big Story: Sino-Indian Relations

India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman presented the Union Budget in the Indian Parliament this week. Against the backdrop of the stand-off with China and an impetus for military modernisation, capital expenditure in the defence budget saw an increase of ₹21,326 crores, or 18.75 per cent, from the Budget estimates of 2020-21. Moreover, an additional Rs 20, 776 cr was spent last year amid the stand-off for emergency purchases. The overall defence budget this year was hiked by 7% excluding pensions. While India’s defence budget for 2020-21, including pensions, constituted 15.5 per cent of the central government’s expenditure plan, China’s reported defence allocation was 36.2 per cent of its budget.

Check the service-wise breakdown of India’s defence budget for FY 2020-21 using this 
PRS link
 
A few Chinese journalists and scholars have 
reacted to cap-ex hike in India’s defence budget. Song Zhiping, a military commentator, said that India’s economy has suffered from an astonishing decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic and under these circumstances, it cannot put more money into the military. 
 
Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, said, 
“This year’s small increase comes along with great financial pressure. But it is an illusion to believe that it can improve its military capability by buying weapons from other countries. Due to its low capacity for research and development, India is seeking to buy advanced and high-tech weaponry globally, which makes it hard to gain the advantage it has longed for when facing China, especially in prolonged, large-scale and intensive standoffs.” 
 
Meanwhile, China also reacted to India’s Foreign Minister's remarks on China-India relations and the way forward. China’s Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson said, 
“EAM Jaishankar’s stress on the significance of China-India relations showcases importance the Indian side attaches to its ties with China. We approve of that. Meanwhile, I need to stress that the border issue shall not be linked with bilateral relations. This is also an important lesson learned through the two countries’ efforts over the past decades to keep our ties moving forward. We hope the Indian side will work with us to manage differences properly, promote practical cooperation, and get the bilateral relations back on the right track.” 

Prof M Taylor Fravel made an interesting observation on this remark. He 
tweeted, “PRC MFA, on US-China: China-US cooperation in specific areas...is closely linked with bilateral relations as a whole. PRC MFA, on India-China: I need to stress that the border issue shall not be linked with bilateral relations.”

Moving on, The Indian Army has 
acquired 14 acres of land in Arunachal Pradesh’s West Siang district. It’s a part of the Army’s continuing efforts to strengthen its presence along the border areas. The Army has two of its corps looking after Arunachal Pradesh including the Dimapur-based 3 Corps and Tezpur-based 4 Corps. 
 
China has been engaging in similar activities on the Indian border for over a decade or more, and the Indian Army is now acquiring lands to cement its position on the disputed border. 
 
Meanwhile, as Ananth Krishnan 
highlights, the Dalai Lama had a rare insight to share on the China-India issue in his new book, The Little Book of Encouragement.
 
On Sino-India ties, he writes, 
“India and China have developed a sense of competition in recent times. Both countries have populations of over a billion. Both of them are powerful nations, yet neither can destroy the other; so, they have to live side-by-side.”
 
On the Tibet issue, he writes, 
“I always tell Tibetans: it is much better to consider the Chinese as our brothers and sisters than to think of them as our enemy - no use in that. For the time being, there is a problem with our Chinese neighbours, but only with a few individuals in the Communist Party. A number of Chinese leaders now realise that their 70-year-old policy regarding Tibet is unrealistic.”
 
He says that his death may well mark the 
“end of the great tradition of Dalai Lamas. It may end with this great Lama. The Himalayan Buddhists of Tibet and Mongolia will decide what happens next. They will determine whether the 14th Dalai Lama has been reincarnated in another tulku.”
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Check these heliports that are being constructed across Tibet at a swift rate. The satellite image highlights the large format construction in Golmud that could enhance the PLA's mobility towards forward areas in the southern Tibet Autonomous Regions, tweets @detresfa_



Furthermore, China claims that it was successful in conducting a midcourse anti-ballistic missile intercept test. This means
“it could now intercept an incoming nuclear warhead,” a PLA official told SCMP – may be intending as a warning to India. That’s because India is planning to deploy its longest range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile Agni-V this year. The Agni-V range is estimated to be over 5,000km. It was the fifth land-based ABM technical test China has publicly announced and the fourth land-based, mid-course ABM technical test publicly known.  

Finally, check this SCMP 
article claiming that Pakistan is looking to develop new overland border crossings with China to boost the allies’ military interoperability against Indian forces in Ladakh and the rest of Kashmir. The Pakistan-administered Gilgit-Baltistan region has proposed a new transit and trade route linking Xinjiang to Kashmir and extending to Afghanistan. China and Pakistan are currently connected only by the Karakoram Highway, completed in 1978, via a single crossing in the Khunjerab Pass. The new route rings alarm bells in New Delhi as it will, on completion, increase Beijing and Islamabad’s military interoperability against Indian forces in the region. 


Source: @splalwani

Read More: Global Times’
interview with Pakistan’s Navy Chief

II. Developing Stories

BGI and the PLA

Reuters reports that the BGI Group, the world’s largest genomics company, has worked with China’s military on research that ranges from mass testing for respiratory pathogens to brain science. Reuters reviewed more than 40 publicly available documents and research papers in Chinese and English and highlighted BGI’s links to the PLA. The links include research with China’s top military supercomputing experts. BGI has sold millions of COVID-19 test kits outside China since the outbreak of the new coronavirus pandemic, including to Europe, Australia and the United States. Shares of BGI Genomics Co, the company’s subsidiary listed on the Shenzhen stock exchange, have doubled in price over the past 12 months, giving it a market value of about $9 billion.

But top US security officials have warned American labs against using Chinese tests because of concerns related to China's gathering of foreign genetic data for its research. BGI has denied that. The documents reviewed by Reuters neither contradict nor support this US suspicion. The material shows that the links between the PLA and BGI run deeper than previously understood, illustrating how China has moved to integrate private technology companies into military-related research under President Xi Jinping. 
 
Check this US officials’ 
claim: "China pushes to acquire our health care data, including American citizens' DNAThe quest to control our biodata – and, in turn, control health care’s future – has become the new space race, with more than national pride in the balance. Our investigation begins with an unsolicited and surprising proposal that came from overseas at the onset of the COVID crisis.”
 
Also, check Elsa B. Kania’s take on BGI in NDU’s quarterly journal 
Prism. Link to her article. She writes: 
 

The Chinese government believes that national genetic resources possess strategic significance. China’s National Genebank, which is administered by BGI, was launched in 2016, and it is intended to become the world’s largest. This new Chinese genebank has been described as intended to “develop and utilise China’s valuable genetic resources, safeguard national security in bioinformatics, and enhance China’s capability to seize the strategic commanding heights” in the domain of biotechnology….The processing of such massive amounts of genetic information requires powerful supercomputers. In the process, BGI affiliates have been engaged in research collaboration with the NUDT, including the development of tools and insights that may contribute to enabling future gene-editing… Such collaboration with NUDT researchers is not necessarily surprising. However, the confluence of troubling sentiments in military writings, ongoing programs funding research on human enhancement, and collaboration between military and commercial institutions raises questions that merit further scrutiny from a policy perspective, particularly considering the range of potential implications BGI’s research.  Do read the full document, it’s interesting. 

BGI and China, of course, denied these allegations. In a statement to the Global Times, BGI said that it had no government capital. "BGI reiterates that its collaboration with universities and other research institutes around the world adheres to the highest expectations and requirements related to open science, data sharing and genomic research and benefits public health in the world community," read the statement. 
 
Ni Feng, Deputy Director of the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Science, said, 
"Maybe the US used their companies to collect other countries' data so they take it for granted that other countries would do the same."

 
Chinese Survey Ships

Nikkei reports that Chinese survey vessels have increased their research activities in the Asia Pacific region. Nikkei analysed the automatic identification system data on 32 Chinese survey vessels from a database provided by ship tracking website Marine Traffic and examined the ships' voyages over the 12 months through late November 2020. According to the International Maritime Organisation's database, 64 registered Chinese survey vessels were built in or after 1990, surpassing the US's 44 and Japan's 23. 

Data show that many Chinese research vessels are conducting activities near Guam and in the South China Sea. 
 
Many Chinese vessels receive warnings if they conduct research in other countries' exclusive economic zones without permission. Of the 17 Chinese vessels operating in the past year in another country's EEZ or undefined international boundaries, more than ten vessels were reportedly involved in suspicious activities, the article claims. For instance, 1) Since last April, China's Xiang Yang Hong 10 has conducted surveys in three locations south of Guam, while the Xiang Yang Hong 01 has conducted surveys near Guam, Papua New Guinea and the Federated States of Micronesia's EEZ, as well as off the northwest coast of Australia. 2) The Hai Yang Di Zhi 8 entered Malaysia's EEZ in April 2020. The vessel continually operated near the West Capella, a drillship operated by London-managed Seadrill, contracted to Malaysia's Petronas and conducted a survey. 3) In 2019, the Japan Coast Guard ordered the Ye Zhi Zheng to stop inserting wirelike objects underwater in Japan's EEZ west of the Danjo Islands, part of Nagasaki prefecture. Last July, Tokyo lodged a diplomatic protest against Beijing, saying that China's Da Yang Hao vessel was unloading observation equipment in Japan's EEZ north of Okinotorishima. Besides these examples, Chinese survey ships are spotted in the IOR on multiple occasions. 


Sea Sick: Chinese Submariners

According to new research, one in five male sailors serving with China’s submarine force in the South China Sea experience mental health problems. The study by Naval Medical University in Shanghai of more than 500 service members and officers claims to be the first of its kind to highlight the psychological problems facing troops working in the disputed waterway.

Based on their answers to a self-assessment questionnaire, 21 per cent of respondents were found to be suffering from some degree of mental health problems. The submariners also scored higher on anxiety and paranoid ideation indicators than the average for all Chinese military servicemen. The study said more research was needed to understand the causes of the mental health problems but said the sea’s strategic importance to China was likely to contribute. 
“We speculate that this may be because of, on the one hand, increasing military manoeuvres in south China in recent years that can involve 60 to 90 days of submerged cruising,” the researchers said. The study also found that service members on nuclear submarines were more likely to experience psychological problems than their counterparts on conventional vessels. Despite these findings, the researchers said the discovery that 21 per cent of submariners were experiencing mental health problems was not significantly different from a 2005 study that found 18 per cent of all male Chinese soldiers had such issues.
 
Read this Global Times 
report claiming that PLA’s digital mental health management system since November 2019, which not only conducts psychological testing but psychological counselling.


 Taiwan and China

The PLA reportedly sent warplanes for exercises near the Taiwan Straits almost every day in January 2021. A separate Liberty Times report claims that only on January 1, 8, 10 and 21, the PLA didn’t enter Taiwan’s ADIZ. On one occasion, however, the US reconnaissance aircraft was in the same southwestern part of Taiwan’s ADIZ as five PLA aircraft, claimed Taiwan’s Defence Ministry. It was the first time the ministry had mentioned the presence of US military aircraft since mid-September when it began giving almost daily reports on Chinese military activities in its ADIZ.
 
Meanwhile, Taiwan News 
reports that over 10,000 Hong Kong citizens have moved to Taiwan since the mid-2020 after the passing of controversial HK national security law. Last year’s wave also surpassed the 7,506 who moved to Taiwan following the Umbrella Movement. Also, 1,576 Hongkongers obtained permanent residency, far surpassing the 102 registered in 2019.
 
Finally, do read Dr Toshi Yoshihara’s 
issue brief in Global Taiwan Brief on the PLA’s Global-Local dilemma for Taiwan’s defence. He claims that the PLA’s dual force structure for local conflicts and global operations is unsustainable over the long haul. It may prove overly burdensome in the future.


- Also, read Beijing lays down a marker in the South China Sea
- Must Read: Jayadeva Ranade’s recent
article on the PLA’s New Military Rank System

III. Testimonies: "US-China Relations at the Chinese Communist Party’s Centennial"

I will highlight important points from Dr Sheena Chestnut Greitens and Prof M Taylor Fravel’s testimonies. But do read all nine testimonies from the recent hearing.
 

1) Internal Security and Grand Strategy: China’s Approach to National Security Under Xi Jinping  

Dr Greitens argues that when the CCP uses national security, it means the state or regime security -- the Chinese Communist Party’s security and its ability to govern a Chinese society. Internal security is one of the chief ends of China’s strategy, not just a means or a constraint on foreign policy, and understanding it is vital to analyse China’s security behaviour -- both domestically and externally. She argues that China’s grand strategy focuses on regime security and pays explicit attention to both internal and external dimensions. Moreover, in the Chinese framework, internal security is the end toward which grand strategy is directed, not a) a means by which external goals are pursued or b) a constraint on pursuing them. Under Xi, China’s notion of grand strategy or national security also includes a much more prominent place for surveillance, policing, and internal instruments of non-military but coercive regime power. To understand Chinese security behaviour now and in the foreseeable future, one needs to revise its thinking about how Beijing formulates and defines the grand strategy, she claims.
 
Preventive management is a defining feature of Xi’s strategy, she claims. 
“To safeguard national security, we must maintain social harmony and stability, prevent and resolve social conflicts, and improve our institutions, mechanisms, policies and practical endeavours to make this happen…. [We must improve] the mechanism for assessing potential risks, so as to reduce and prevent conflicts of interest,” Xi claimed in 2014. This makes clear that the CCP’s preventive logic requires targeting and “treating” citizens long before they have shown any symptoms of threatening behaviour, based only on the regime’s perceived perception of someone’s “susceptibility” to incorrect political thinking, she argues. Read more.


2) Prof Fravel’s Testimony  

Using Chinese language sources, Prof Fravel’s testimony examines how China assesses its international environment, the goals it will pursue in the areas of foreign policy and national security (with an emphasis on national defence), and implications of the analysis for whether China will engage in a major use of armed force. 

Prof Fravel refers to a CICIR report and Yang Jiechi’s People’s Daily article to highlight how China views its external environment. Broadly, Mr Yang assesses that the pandemic has accelerated the evolution of profound changes in the world. The international economy, science and technology, culture, security, and politics are all undergoing profound adjustments. Due to this, China’s external environment will face more profound and complex changes. Yang’s signed article provides one useful source for thinking about China’s foreign policy goals after the plenum, in 2021 and beyond, and how China will seek to create a favourable external environment, claims Prof Fravel. The article has more on Yang’s subordinate goals for creating a favourable external environment. 
Do take a look

On China’s National Defence, Prof Fravel highlights China’s two top-line goals from the 14th five-year plan. 


1) Accelerating national defence and modernisation
2) Realising the unity of a wealthy country and a strong army

He also highlights two phases that stand out as an area of emphasis over the next five years. 

1) The fused development of mechanisation, informatisation and intelligentisation
2) Ensuring the achievement of the military’s centenary goal by 2027

But as argued previously, he repeats that neither the plenum’s communique nor proposal indicates changes to the PLA’s modernisation time table. 

Most importantly, he argues that the probability of China’s use of force is slim, but China will continue to pursue its interest around its periphery aggressively. Five reasons for this: 1) Avoid counterbalance against China 2) Upcoming anniversaries – Centenary, Winter Olympics, 20th Party Congress 3) China has developed an effective way to pursue national interest using grey zone actions and economic coercion 4) Gap between neighbours and China, which deters neighbours to challenge China 5) The PLA’s focus on modernisation over the next few years. 

Do read the 
document as it has more on the East and South China seas, China-India border and Taiwan.

IV. News Update

- China has built a massive new yard for building nuclear submarines. The site near the legacy Bohai shipyard, where all of China’s nuclear submarines are currently built, is still being developed. But the main constriction halls have been complete for some time. New commercial satellite imagery appears to show the first hull section of a new submarine. The exact class of submarine has not yet been confirmed. But it is possibly either the first Type-095 Tang-class attack submarine (SSN) or the first Type-096 ballistic missile sub (SSBN).

- The USS Nimitz carrier strike group is 
heading towards the Indo-Pacific region after serving an extended period in the Middle East (West Asia). The group had served more than 270 days in the Central Command and was moving into the Indo-Pacific region, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday. 

- The 13th 
Airshow China, originally scheduled for November 2020 and postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will be held this year. It will likely take place before November, exhibitors said. The Airshow China has become not only an exhibition for the aviation and space industry but also for the arms industry, as many Chinese arms firms, also for naval and ground weapons, took part in previous shows, observers noted. 

- Do read: The PLA 
reinforcing “Triad” military education and training reform “三位一体” to improve developing joint talent from the PLA Daily. Also, read the PLA Daily’s piece encouraging China to invest more in hypersonic weapons

V. More Readings

1) Toi piece on Pak army Gen admits China's role in 'crushing' Baloch freedom movement
2) Kris Osborn’s
piece on China’s highly-networked military
3) Chinese Navy added new
recruits
4) Why the longer telegram won’t solve the China challenge

The Takshashila PLA Insight is written by Suyash Desai, a research analyst at The Takshashila Institution. He has completed his M Phil from CIPOD, SIS, JNU.
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