By Shunsuke Oba, Tetsuro Kosaka, Eiji Furukawa, and Norio Matsumoto
On Aug. 26, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched four intermediate-range ballistic missiles from the mainland toward the South China Sea. Since July, the U.S. Navy has repeatedly conducted hyper-realistic training exercises that involved carrier strike groups and B-52 strategic bombers in the same region.
The South China Sea has been the location of China’s most-treasured weapon, the submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). Although the SLMB cannot strike the U.S. mainland, it is capable of reaching Hawaii, Guam, and U.S. military bases in Japan. The four missiles launched in August seemed a testament to China’s frustration over the U.S. move to undermine Chinese military capabilities.
China learned from the U.S. the strategy of achieving nuclear deterrence through the deployment of SLBM-mounted nuclear submarines. In fact, the U.S. has been the model for all of China’s recent military expansion, from the deployment of ships in a formation above submerged submarines from fleet formation above submerged submarines to area-oriented joint operations between the three branches of the military
U.S. military strength has given China a goal to aim for. The U.S. has also shown China an effective method to reach that goal.
A former Western intelligence officer commented frankly on the Trump administration’s insistence on excluding Chinese communications equipment: “Western nations invented the method of stealing foreign intelligence through communications instruments.”
Around the time of the First World War, the U.S. and the UK started listening in and deciphering coded messages conveyed by underwater cables and by radio signals in order to ensure diplomatic and military superiority. These days the two countries collect information transmitted over the Internet as well.
China learned from this, and it has globally promoted inexpensive, made-in-China communication devices. The U.S. is alarmed that China has started building a system that collects sensitive information through those devices.
After World War II, the U.S. maintained and strengthened bonds between the government, the military, and the defense industry forged during the war. The so-called military-industrial complex accelerated innovation in defense technology through revolving-door appointments between the sectors that reinforced the fusion of the military and industry. For example, retired military personnel were offered positions in the defense industry, and later senior positions at the Defense Department.
China also adopted this method of fusing the two sectors. In Japan, a government intelligence expert warns that Japan’s private businesses, universities, and research institutions should be aware that “an unexplained blank in an applicant’s resume suggests he/she may have come from the Chinese military.”
In addition to the goal and the methods, the U.S. provided “motivation” for China’s military expansion.
There is a possibility that China’s nuclear weapons development might have been considerably delayed if the U.S. had not have failed in its handling a particular Chinese individual in the past. The individual in question was Dr. Tsien Hsueshen, who, after studying aeronautical engineering in the U.S., joined the American nuclear development program, the Manhattan Project, during the war.
Tsien was accused of espionage and detained by the U.S. after the war. He was returned to China through a “hostage exchange.” Driven by a strong antipathy toward the U.S., he became the central figure in China’s nuclear weapons development.
Today, the U.S. is excluding Chinese engineers and students to protect U.S. defense technology. There is a risk that this policy might give rise to many “new Tsien Hsueshens,” who harbor hatred of the U.S., in the crucial technological fields that are decisive in a race for the military superiority. Those fields include artificial intelligence (AI), robot engineering, and quantum cryptography.
The U.S. military-industrial complex achieved global influence by expanding the network of nations that purchase U.S. defense equipment. The strategy enriched the U.S. defense industry. However, this strategy has in part resulted in a dependence on armed conflicts as means to consume the equipment.
The new mode of international stability, where the U.S. and China compete for superiority in military technology, harbors a risk that no one should ignore.