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The Takshashila PLA Insight
Issue No 44.
March 06,2020
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Manoj Kewalramani and I are soon coming out with a research document on China's military reforms and their efficacy in enhancing the Chinese Party-state's capacity to achieve stated and revealed national security objectives. 
I. The Big Story: PLA Members in the Philippines?

On March 4, 2020, a Filipino Senator Panfilo Lacson expressed concerns about the growing number of Chinese military personnel in the Philippines. He said that a good number of 2000 to 3000 PLA personnel are in the country. However, the information, which he claims to have shared with Senator Richard Gordon, still needs validation by the intelligence committee. Lacson said the PLA members might be here for an immersion mission, of which exact purpose remains unknown. This was followed by Gordon’s statement, where he claimed that certain Chinese citizens had been “assuming” the identities of deceased Filipinos with the help of corrupt personnel of local civil registry offices. He shared the information a day after saying that China may be using Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) for intelligence and for bringing in money to fund espionage in the country.

Background of the story: The police found PLA
identification cards in possession of the two Chinese suspects in the death of Yin Jian Tao, a Chinese worker who was shot inside a VIP room of a restaurant in Makati City last week. On Saturday, the senator said the PLA IDs should be investigated, noting that some of the Chinese workers in the country were in the age range of army recruits. Earlier, Gordon had also warned about the increasing Chinese money in the country, couriers that had brought over $160 million from December 2019 to February 2020.  “The mix of billions of dollars coming into the Philippines, unchecked and the possibility of Chinese espionage and military presence is worrisome,” said Gordon.

The Philippine National Police maintained on Monday that there was no evidence of POGOs being used as fronts for Chinese espionage.

The Philippines residents are
troubled by the growing number of Chinese workers moving into their neighbourhood and engaging in activities they found suspicious, according to a video presented by Senator Gordon during the investigation of POGO on March 5. POGO is the official designation for firms operating in the Philippines which offers online gambling services to markets outside the country. To operate legally, they must be licensed by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR). The influx of Chinese started during President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, who pursued cordial ties with China. So much so, that one of the consequences of Duterte’s “independent foreign policy” has been growing concerns about illicit, covert, and malign Chinese activity in the Philippines and aspects of potential government complicity, some of which are also shared in other Southeast Asian countries. This covers a range of areas, including espionage, surveillance, money laundering, prostitution, and gambling. Earlier this month, at Duterte’s direction, the Philippines announced that it would scrap a security pact that allows American forces to train in their country.

Besides having its sights on the West Philippine Sea, China has growing interests in the Philippines as the Duterte administration broadens political and economic ties with Beijing. Chinese entities have significant stakes in the Philippines’ national power grid and in an emerging telco player that is poised to set up communication equipment inside military bases. China is also set to finance several big-ticket infrastructure projects in different parts of the Philippines, such as the planned Kaliwa Dam in Quezon and Rizal provinces.

II. Developing Stories

US-China Tensions

The US-China tensions remain high despite the breakout and spread of the novel coronavirus. The recent escalation was over the incident in the western Pacific Ocean when a Chinese destroyer pointed a laser at an American maritime patrol aircraft while returning from 41-days live-fire exercises. The US Navy called this incident “unsafe and unprofessional.” This was after the US Secretary of Defense, Mark T. Esper’s speech at the Munich Security Conference, where he hit out at Beijing’s “bad behaviour.” The Chinese Defence Ministry replied by blaming the US for all the wrong-doings. “In this speech, the US side spared no effort in smearing and slandering China’s defense and military development, exaggerated the so-called “China military threat”, interfered in China’s internal affairs and undermined the basic norms governing international relations. The Chinese side is strongly dissatisfied and firmly opposed to these words,” said Senior Colonel Wu Qian, spokesperson for the Chinese Defence Ministry.

Earlier, Beijing had described the actions of the USS Montgomery, a littoral combat ship, as “deliberate provocation” when it sailed within 8.5 nautical miles of Fiery Cross Reef – one of Beijing’s eight artificial islands in the South China Sea – during a freedom of navigation operation on January 25, the first day of the Lunar New Year.


“The US Navy deliberately chose an important Chinese festival day for the FONOP [freedom of navigation operation] to make trouble,” said an expert.

The US, after the latest incident, has formally issued a protest to China this week.
“The laser, which was not visible to the naked eye, was captured by a sensor onboard the P-8A. Weapons-grade lasers could potentially cause serious harm to aircrew and mariners, as well as ship and aircraft systems,” read a statement from U.S. Pacific Fleet on the incident.

While this is the first time a Chinese warship has lased a Navy aircraft, it is not the first time the U.S. has demarche China over a lasing incident. The Chinese Defence and Foreign Ministries have not yet responded to the US’s recent statements.

Ankit Panda
writes in the Diplomat that this is not business as usual. He claims that the last week’s incident was particularly significant. The incident is neither novel in kind or at the higher end of intensity. “What is notable about last week’s incident is the fact that it took place in airspace nowhere near Chinese claims or a Chinese overseas military base,” writes Panda.

Something to ponder upon…Is China heading on the path of its revealed national security objective to slowly dominate the Western Pacific Ocean??? What’s the role of A2/AD capabilities in achieving this? Or is the US's presence too dominant in the Western Pacific to be pushed out?

This, and more in my upcoming research document on China’s military reforms and its national security objectives.


PLA’s Fight with the Virus

The PLA continues its battle with the novel coronavirus. Chen Wei, the Chinese military’s leading epidemiologist and virologist, in an interview with China Science Daily, said that prevention and control of the epidemic could never wait until the disease has happened. She arrived in Wuhan in mid-January and is currently leading a team in the Wuhan virology institute on the issue. Read more.

Meanwhile, the PLA
claims that no soldier or military medic is infected while fighting the virus. As Bill Bishop writes Sinocism, his daily newsletter, “Seems hard to believe given the number of civilian front line medical workers who have been infected.” (Sinocism dated March 04, 2020).

But despite tensions, the Chinese and US defence ministers discussed the situation in a telephone call. Wei Fenghe, the Chinese Defence Minister, said that the positive trend is evolving in China. Esper expressed his willingness to promote closer dialogue and consultation between the two militaries as well as strengthen exchanges and cooperation in the areas of epidemic control and prevention.

Gwadar: No More a Pearl in the String

Bloomberg reports that a planned $62 billion initiative in Pakistan has been beset by delays and a lack of funding. This points at more signs of trouble for President Xi Jinping’s signature policy. Less than one-third of announced CPEC projects have been completed, totalling about $19 billion, according to government statements. Pakistan bears much of the blame. It has repeatedly missed the targets.

But setbacks in Gwadar point to more significant problems along the Belt and Road Initiative. China is scaling back its ambitions projects, not just in Pakistan but around the world. Its economic growth has slowed to the lowest rate in three decades, inflation is rising, and the country has been feeling the effects of a trade war with the U.S. This is coupled with the breakout of the novel coronavirus which would definitely take a toll on its ambitious plans.


Also, read on some developing stories in the South China Sea: 

Vietnamese Boats increasingly intruding into Chinese Waters for Espionage: report

Chinese Search-and-Rescue Vessel moves to Fiery Cross Reef.

III. Military Hardware

J-10 Fighters use Homemade Engines

A newly built J-10C fighter jet is reportedly equipped with a domestically developed WS-10 Taihang engine. Global Times claims that this is a sign of homemade engines becoming technically mature and reliable, and China would no longer rely on foreign fighter jet engines. The paper claims that its premium strike fighter jets, the J-20 could also start to use homemade engines soon. The WS-10 Taihang is China's first high-performance, a high-thrust turbo-fan engine with intellectual property rights, Weihutang, a CCTV military column reports.

Type 053H Frigate joins Real Combat Scenario Exercises

With a new anti-aircraft missile system and a new type of close-in weapon system, an upgraded Type 053H3 frigate participated in recent naval exercises. The upgraded frigate, which underwent a midlife modernisation program, was seen for the first time participating in a real combat scenario exercise. It had replaced its old HHQ-7 short-range surface-to-air missile with the more advanced HHQ-10 anti-aircraft missile system. It is also equipped with a new type of close-in weapon system, believed to be developed from the Russian AK-630 naval close-in weapon system based on a six-barreled 30 mm rotary cannon.

Chinese Arms Company develops Combat Robot Vehicle

A Chinese arms company has revealed an unmanned ground vehicle that can transport arms and ammunition in complicated terrains, and provide fire cover when armed. This was displayed by a Chinese private arms company, Zhong Tian Zhi Kong Technology Holdings at the Unmanned System Exhibition and Conference 2020 (UMEX2020) in Abu Dhabi last week. The vehicle weighs 500 kilograms and carries a maximum load of 200 kilograms. This unmanned robot is one example of China's military-civilian integration strategy.

IV. Research Paper

Rajeshwari Pillai Rajagopalan and Pulkit Mohan have published an occasional paper for the Observer Research Foundation on PLA’s joint exercises in Tibet and its implications for India. They argue that since Xi Jinping’s military reforms in late 2015, the PLA’s operational capabilities in Tibet have improved significantly. The restructuring and reforms in and around the Sino-Indian border areas as well as in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) are of particular concern to India. The PLA is constantly upgrading its infrastructure and has now acclimatised to the conditions in the region. In comparison, the Indian forces are located on the plains and would take some time to acclimatise in case of deployment during the crisis.

They argue that while physical infrastructure remains a challenge, there are concerns regarding PLA’s increasing joint military exercises in this region. They cite instances of improved infrastructure on the Chinese side and deployment of newer aircraft and equipment in the Tibetan Military district.

The major implications for India are:


- Joint exercises and improved logistically capacity has enabled the PLA to sustain in border areas for a longer time duration.

- The PLA’s deployment time has improved due to improved infrastructure.

- Joint exercises helped the PLA to access effectiveness and military integration.

- Improved weapons have titled balance heavily in favour of China.

- Multiple exercises enabled the PLA to identify weakness and work on them. Read more
V. Emerging Technologies and the PLA

The PLA Rocket Forces hosted an all-member innovation competition among its grassroots members for the first time. Fifteen winning innovative projects in the competition have been included in the PLA Rocket Force's 2020 annual scientific research plan.

The participants submitted a total of 103 innovative projects, among which the organisers selected 15 projects with considerable military benefit, strong feasibility and high application value.

Among the winning innovations:
-Some devices could be used to shorten the construction time of missile sites
-Some facilitate their maintenance and repairing
-Some focused on the improvement of missile launchers
-Some concentrated on the design of an integrated warehouse of missile weapon

China Military Online reports that these projects are included in the annual scientific research plan of the Rocket Force, and will get support and guarantee in terms of materials, funds, technology and other aspects, and continue to track further progress.

Also read: AI on the
rise

VI. Jiefangjun Bao (解放军报) Liberation Army News

The PLA Daily published an article on the US-India arms sale post the US President Donald Trump’s visit to India. The US believes India is an important element of the Quadrilateral arrangement, and it aims at deepening the Quad by strengthening defence ties with India, claims the article. India is also in dire need of defence modernisation, and the US is using this opportunity to sell tactical weapons to India.  

But the article argues that there are very few binding factors in the US-India ties besides defence cooperation.
On the surface, although the US-India arms sales are ready to meet each other's needs, it is conceivable how much India can benefit from the "US priority" logic. After some intimacy on the table, it is still difficult for the United States and India to cover up the actual differences of interests,” says the article.

Meanwhile, an interesting question was raised in the regular press conference at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs
. This was regarding India’s interception of a Karachi-bound Chinese ship carrying goods used in launching ballistic missiles. Refer to Issue no 42 for a recap.  

Question: India's Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) confirmed that the industrial autoclave seized from the Chinese ship Da Cui Yun could be used for the "manufacture of very long-range ballistic missiles or satellite launch rockets". Indian officials also said India's national security authorities could notify the UN pursuant to relevant Security Council legal instruments to expose the nuclear proliferation nexus between China and Pakistan. Comment?

Zhao Lijian, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, answered:

We note relevant reports. As a responsible country, China faithfully fulfils its international non-proliferation obligations and commitments. We have learned that the cargo involved is a heat-treating furnace shell system made by a private Chinese company. It is by no means a piece of military equipment or a dual-use item covered by China's non-proliferation export control regime. The Chinese commercial ship and owner of the cargo have declared the item truthfully beforehand with the Indian authorities in charge, so there is no concealment or false declaration.

VII. Exercises, Drills and Training

China suspended its annual exercises in the Inner Mongolian region due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (I think these were annual Stride exercises in Zhurihe which were introduced in 2017. I am not sure about it, though).

 But Senior Colonel Wu Qian, spokesperson of the Chinese defence ministry,
announced that China will participate in Dragon Golden 2020, a joint military exercises and training between Cambodia and China.

VIII. News Updates

Better Late than Never: Indian military sends China 15 tons of medical supplies

PTI reports that the Indian military sent 15 tons of medical supplies which included face masks, gloves and other medical equipment to China. The Indian Airforce transport aircraft, the C-17, arrived in Wuhan last week. After unloading, the military aircraft flew back to New Delhi carrying a total of 112 Indians and foreign citizens stranded in Wuhan.

Don’t miss the
article by Rick Joe in the Diplomat on China’s Military Advancements in the 2010s: Naval and Strike. It recaps the major developments that have happened in the past decade. This is the second article of the series. You can check the first here.

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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Suyash Desai · 2nd floor, 46/1, Cobalt Building, Church St, Haridevpur · Shanthala Nagar, Ashok Nagar, Bengaluru · Bangalore 560001 · India

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