Monday, April 11, 2005

The Mysterious Orient

Well, good news on one front - China and India have announced a plan to settle their 40-year old border dispute in the Himalayas. This quote was telling to me:
"India and China can together reshape the world order," Singh said after welcoming his counterpart to New Delhi.
I wrote once that I thought the most important question of the 21st century would be whether India and China will play the roles of France and Germany in the first or second half of the 20th century - that is, mortal enemies or cooperative powers. I get more and more optimistic on this front with every piece of news. China and Taiwan, however...

"Chinese Navy Buildup Gives Pentagon New Worries"
"They are building their force to deter and delay our ability to intervene in a Taiwan crisis," said Eric McVadon, a former military attaché at the United States Embassy in Beijing. "What they have done is cleverly develop some capabilities that have the prospect of attacking our niche vulnerabilities."
"Niche vulnerabilities"? I guess that's the newest euphemism for "Achilles' heel." Or, to put it more plainly, "problems we would fix in our force structure if it weren't for the Iron triangle."
In fact, American carriers responding to a crisis would now initially have to operate at least 500 miles from Taiwan, which would reduce the number of fighter sorties they could launch. This is because China now has a modern fleet of submarines, including new Russian-made nuclear subs that can fire missiles from a submerged position. America would first need to subdue these submarines.

China launched 13 attack submarines between 2002 and 2004, a period when it also built 23 ships that can ferry tanks, armored vehicles and troops across the 100-mile strait. Tomohide Murai, an expert on the Chinese military at the National Defense Academy in Tokyo, said that China's buildup is intended to focus on an American response, but he is skeptical that China already has the naval and air superiority over Taiwan to dominate the strait.
In first year, while I was looking through the library stacks, I stumbled across a book from the American Enterprise Institute (a bunch of right wingers in the US) which advocated that the US surface fleet was essentially obsolete, and that submarine-launched cruise missiles were "the new Carriers", that is the new strategic center for naval power. It seems the Chinese have internalized this idea - launching 13 subs in two years is an impressive number indeed. I may have to revise my assessment of the dangers in the Taiwan straits.

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