Military Developments in China: Implications for Defense Policy
Milrtary Developments in China: Implications for Defense Policy
nd the demise of Defense Mmister Lin Piao. several changes inefense programs and policies have become evident. These include aslowdown in production and deployment program* for aircraft and surface-to-aireveling-off of strategic missile, naval, and ground force weaponsenewed effort to limit the authority of military leaders in party and government circles;eallocation of some resources from defense to civilian industries.
Viewed in retrospect, political, economic, and military factors appear to have prompted Peking toajor reassessment of its foreign and military policynternally, the Cultural Revolution had left China with seriousproblems. Internationally, the US clearly was developing an entirely new policy for the Far East, which could be expected to include some move toward rapprochement with China. At the same time, the Soviet Union.had replaced the US asrincipal threat
1 China hadodest nuclear strike force and suable groundair forces that appeared sufficient tooviet attack. Moreover, the developing Si no-US relationship reduced the chances of military moves against China by either the US or the USSR. Thus, the times appeared propitiousew political-military policy geared to China's perceptionew, less menacing environment in eastern Asia.
This study reviews the implications of the policy changes that the Chineseimplementing for the past five years, to provide Iruiohts into theirindlikely developments in their military forceTsHu' prog?amT
In China's view, strategic sufficiency can bo achievedombination of military power and diplomatic maneuverlnc
Peking evidently presumes that its small nuclear force already constitutesd-terrent to Soviet strategic attack, and expects that China's massive conventional forces will discourage nonnuclear attacks by any nation.
China will pose no direct military threat to the US at least throuoh this
China's shift of resources from defense to civilian industriesong-term commitment that would inhibit the resumption of rapid pro-
nuilvtiiet Agency and ton* analyst* in CIAtofon to the cor<!us.oni of trm 'toot ni jr. noted Ir. the Ai-ne,.
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY Directorate of Intelligence
Military Developments in China: Implications for Defense Policy
9 many significanteconomic, military, andhadfor China's defense policy and the state of its armed forces. Some of the most important of these events are:
Reduction of the involvement of the armed forces in politics and other nonmilitary activities after the Cultural Revolution.
The fall of Defense Minister Lin Piao and removal of leading defense officials.
The rotation of eight military regionand the termination of many of their nonmilitary duties.
The appointment of civilian cadres to be army chief of staff and to head the General Political Department.
reduction in the level of defensea halt in the growth of most weapon production programs.
Emphasis on development of the civilian economy and importation of industrial plants and technology.
A recognition of the USSR as the foremost military threatj the shift of more forces toward the northern border in response to the Soviet buildup.
'A substantial reduction in output of nuclearvehiclesuildup infacilities for nuclear weapon materials.
continuation of weapon research andgenerallyeasured, unhurried pace, but no construction starts for long-rar.gc missile deployment.
increase of military training within the
armed forces after the Cultural Revolution.
j: in ij :
rapid reduction of US forces in Southeast
The promulgation of the Shanghai Communique, and the openingew era of Sino-US detente
The seating of China by the UN.
There is little room for argument about the facts of the foregoing events, but the way in which they affect military policy and force capabilities isto various interpretations. The thesis of this memorandum is that the Chinese have instituted basic changes in their military policy, which is now notably
different from the policy held through most of the sixties. These changes suggest that China hasess menacing posture toward the US and will be less likely to engageapid buildup of strategic and conventional arms.
An alternative explanation is subscribed toanalysts in CIA and by DIA. They concludehas not made any fundamental changes inbut rather is making temporary adjustmentsmilitary programs and that Peking still hasto continue to develop and produce armsview "is ou
Signs of Change . .;
Slowdown in Weapons Procurement
New Perception of External Forces
Political, Budgetary, and Other Factors
Implicatons of Current Military Policy
Annex: An Alternative Interpretation
Estimated Costs of Chinese
China's Military Procurement and Total Industrial Production .
Harbingershange in status for the Chinese military forces appeared9 as the destructive phase of the Cultural Revolution ended. Cadres of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) were admonished to hold correct political views and to shun arrogance. Many were also ordered to relinquish their nonmilitary posts and return to the barracks. Since that time, civilian party leaders have been phasing the PLA out of civil government and politics, and there hasarked emphasis on professional military matters and training.
Irrespective of thc political background to this change, there were, ompelling military reasons to get the army back to soldiering. Theinvasion of Czechoslovakia, the promulgation of the "Brezhnevnd the Ussuri River clashes allrowing Soviet threat. Pekingreoriented and enlarged the ground forces in northern China and continued to increase the levels of military production. China's need to respondto the Soviet threat may have come at atime for those who were concerned over the growing PLA influence in the political sphere. the initial motivation, military influence in the party and government was purposefully reduced9 and that practice has continued.
A major turning point appears to have occurred int about the time of the demise of Defense Minister Lin Piao and the purge of his close associates. By that time, the likelihoodoviet attack had diminished and heavy expenditures for military programs may have been challenged. oppositionutback in procurement and resistance by some military elements who wereto see the armed forces lose their preeminence in party and government circles may have helpedthe Lin crisis. In retrospect it appears that the decision to put tighter reins on the military may have created conditionsreshof military programs and policy for the first time in many years.
Slowdown in Weapons Procurement
Basic Chinese military policy at the close of the sixties called for an ever-increasing buildup of conventional and nuclear forces for deterring attack. The Soviet Union and the United states were the main enemies, with the threat from the north daily becoming of increasing concern. Following the Sino-Soviet border clash9 the USSR identified as the principal enemy, and China's military production effort mounted sharply.
The first firm signundamental change in this policy of growth became evidenthen overall military procurement, as measured in US dollars, declined by more thanercent from thatince then, procurement has remained steady at the new lower levels (See graphs at right.) The slowdown in weapon programs1 has had these results:
Fighter aircraft production has dropped byercent, and the SAH defense network has expanded very slowly.
Bomber production is very low and may have ceased.
Airfield construction starts have dropped sharply from the level that had beenover the preceding eight years.
No new fixed missile sites are known to have boon started (although there may be continuing slow deployment of semimobile launch units).
of Chinese military procurement*
Procurement for the ground and naval forces haa leveled off generally, and some important programs have been stopped or appreciably slowed.
Other developmentalthose for the SSBN, its related missile, and follow-on fighterto have slowed appreciably.
Two factors suggest that the lower levels ofprocurementronounced departure from previous military policy and strategic planning in China. First, Peking has expended an enormous amount of resources since the late fifties to develop new facilities for producing weapon-grade nuclear The size of these facilities, which are reaching operational status, suggests that Peking previously had an ambitious plan to develop aarsenal of nuclear weapons. Now, just as these facilities canucn higher demand for nuclear weapons, it is apparent that the Ch'->ese have slowed, rather than accelerated, the procurement of delivery vehicles. This strongly supports thethat an earlier decision to push ahead rapidly in the advanced weapons field was subaequontly mortified. Second, the drop in procurement, occurringime of rising industrial production, dramatically altered the relationship between military procurement and industrial output that had prevailed in China since the early sixties; (See graph at right.)
In retrospect] the earlier deemphasis of military influence in the political sphere following thoRevolution could be interpreted as the result of the PLA's return to soldiering, hence only ansignal of change, but the sharp reduction in weapons procurement1 appears more clearly toeassessment of military priorities.
New Perception of External Forces
From the Chinese perspective, the outside world in the seventies must appear very different from that
China's military procurement and total industrial production*
of the sixties. This difference first began9 with the serious Sino-Soviet border confrontation and President Nixon's pronouncement of the Guam Doctrine. 1 both the Soviets and the Chinese had shifted substantial numbers of military units to the border areas. In contrast, the outlinesino-American rapprochement had been unveiled in the Sino-US talks in Warsaw and the Kissinger trip to Peking to plan the China visit of the President. China's admission to tho United Nations and the Shanghai Communique ended Peking's isolation and relegated Taipei to the diplomatic sidelines. The cease-fire in Indochina and the beginningsS military withdrawal from Asia helped to promote theetente.
These developments suggest that9 onward thererowing need for the Chinese to reassess
the course ot thc ensuing policy reviews, Peking apparently determined to use the Sino-US detenteounterweight to the Sovietor Adoption oftrategy would openide range of policy options, both economic and military.
The Chinese leadership could well feel confident in an assessment of this type. They had createdetaliatory ;nuclear capability ready for use against the USSR, although capable of strikingonly in eastern Siberia. Someissile sites were deployed in the northeast quadrant of China. These ware supplementedorce ofombers. Peking could rightly figure that the likelihoodoviet surgical Strike against China's nuclear facilities had been greatly reduced. Moreover, the Chinese probably believed that the newly positioned ground forces in the northern military regions could defend against any conceivable Soviet conventional invasion force. Lastly, the traditional Soviet concern for Europeactor constraining thc scope of Soviet
actions in relation to China. Thus China'sconclude that the times allowed somein direct military expenditures.
Political, Budgetary, and Other Factors
The internal power equation in China today also differs greatly from that of-the sixties. Lin Piao former minister of defense and designated successor
111 Several of Lin's close
associates fell with him,"including the PLA chief of staff, the head of the air force, and the political commissar of the navy. Military representation on the Central Commictee has also dropped appreciably By the end3 the leadership wasosition to shift eight of China'silitary regionto new regional commands, and in all cases to take away their most important provincial party and government posts. More recently, civilians were selectee for the posts of PLA chief of staff and head of the General Political Department. With diminished authority in the regions and at the center, theestablishment has clearly lost the preeminent position it enjoyed in theultural Revolution period and probably exerts less influence today in policymaking.
Theretriking temporal correlation between the fall of Lin Piao1 and the manifestationslowdown in arms procurement. The fact that China's air arm has been heavily affected by this new policy is probably also significant, as the air force was implicated in the Lin "coup."
circumstances su which ent wTth
est three conclusions
are logically consis-
e evidence at hand:
implementation of the new policyrequired the removal of Lin's proteges from the political scene.
influence began9 but gatheredon strongly suggests that militarywhich had coalesced around Linmoveeduced political rolePLA. Controversy over this move maya factor in bringing the Lin crisis
China's arms procurement policy1 suggests that, in some areas at least, an element of retaliation against segments of the military establishment consideredunreliable has been at work.
If some military elements resisted the changelower rate of military buildup, they may have done so not only on strictly military grounds but also because controlarge share of China's economic resources obviously gave the PLA additional political muscle. Conversely, China's civilian' leadersbelieved not onlyhange in military policy was consistent with China's new international position, but also that by restricting the military budget the political influence of thc militarycould be curbed as well. Arguments along these lines may not yet have died away completely; recent propaganda suggests that China's civilian leaders still find it necessary to assert theof the present division of resources.
ider sense, the high costs of, andfor,skilled manpowerolicy change. Tho recen Chinese emphasis on developing agriculture andindustry bears this out. The Chinese,are purchasing industrialfertilizer, petroleum extraction, petrochemical, and steelthc technologically advanced nations of the Free World.
The germination of this import program secri3 to have paralleled the transitionew military policy and may have beon an early reflection of the
reassessment of priorities. lone, the known value of industrial plants purchased abroad amountedillion US dollars. Thesewill eventually draw on some of the sameas does weapons production, hence long-range planning for resource allocations must have had some role in the reduction of weapons procurement.
The obsolescence of China's military equipment then being produced also may'have supported argumentseduction of procurement. Most Chinese weapon systems are based on Soviet designs of the mid-fifties. Technological problems may account in part for the nonappearance of new weapon systems. Scientific and technological training, which was disrupted during the Cultural Revolution, still has not fully recovered,
Tan development nder way--new" fighter and__gjngjii^ic^us_air-
|^ however, the development has been under way for some time and the pace of the >rocrarr^ seems unhurried and deliberate,
In sum, it appears likely that Peking's current policy is based on the belief that detente andhave together eased the threat to China from either superpower. Peking appears to presume that the USSR would not wish touclear attack against China because of the unknown degree of retaliation from China's surviving stratectic forces and tkf>
a conventlonaT^^ack^^the^CnTnesc^ciearly expect to maintain their large military forces. Finally, the Chinese haveropaganda campaign to depict themselvesesser military concern to the USSR than are the US and its NATO allies. They havo warned the Western nations that the USSR iseint in the East while attacking in the west."
Under these circumstances, China'sNibly feel that some slowdown of defensein strategicnot materially endanger national security. The resources thus saved can eventually bo used to strengthen China's civilianimportant strategic factor in its own right.
Implications of Current Military Policy
Apparently we are now seeing some results ofreassessment of China's foreign andthat will have long-term effects. "use" of the US to counter theasic policy goalhina thatore deliberate buildup of armsno direct military threat to the US, atthe remainder of this decade. new policy of procuring strategicslowly than previously planned couldrelative significance of the Chinese threatmilitary planning. China's civilianin particular--may believe, in fact, thatslow rate of deployment of strategickeep Soviet anxieties about the threatwell below the flash point. This in turnpossible to maintain Sino-Soviet politicala high level without undue risk of war. approachto^the problem of missileLin Piaupolitical ten-
sions with Moscow must be reduced while procurement of strategic arms presumably goes ahead at full speedits head.
Indeed, there is diminishing substance to the Soviets' argument that theyerious buildup of forces in the East, as the Chinese will be in no position to initiate hostilities against the USSR for some years to come. But neither will theabandon their territorial claims and their avowals of political orthodoxy in the world Communist movement. They will continue toigilant military posture along the border. Sino-Sovietover the issuos of territory and orthodoxy--aro not directly involved in the
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present slowdown of weapons procurement. Tacitly, however,lowdown could work to ease thein Sino-Soviet relations after Mao's departure.
olicy of restricting militaryChina continues to improve and modernize its forces and is determined toominantpower in eastern Asia. Because the success of the present policy would be best assured by restraint on its part, however, china's attitude toward its Asian neighbors will probably continue to be cautious As its forces expand and iroprove--even with thcChina's growing naval prowess iswe shouldore forward posture into areas considered to be Chinese territory. Traditionally, these areas include large portions of the South and East China Seas, Taiwan, and certain disputed border territories along China's southern border. We can expect the Chinese to undertakelow-risk military actions--for example, that in the Paracels in earlymoderate gains-China's decision to shift resources to civilian industries appears toong-termthat cannot readily be reversed, China isto stop plant importation in mid-stage or to adopt foreign or military policies that wouldthat program and the dividends it promises. Meanwhile, some existing weapon plants cannot easily crease production wit-hour a lenq^iv start-up period:
On the other hand, production programs for such general purpose force weapon systems as fighter aircraft, tanks, and armored personnel carriers could almost certainly beelatively shortlessear. This capability was illustrated in the high production rates achieved in the aftermath of th* Cultural Revolution, As time goes by, however, an upsurge in programs to produce obsolescent weapon systems becomes less likely.
general, it seems likely that progress in military research and development will continueelatively slow pace over the foreseeable future.
The present general ordering of military versus civilian priorities probably will persist through this decade even if Mao passes from the scone. This is because the most important bases of thisthc cost and difficultyore ambitious strategic weapons effort and the urgency of China's need to modernize and increase its agricultural andproductioncontinue to befactors through this decade and beyond. Because Chinaopulation about four times that of tho US, even the projectionercent annual growth in population means that China must be prepared to feed, house, and clotheillion people within the noxt decade. This challenge is the greater because of thesmall industrial base and because China has only about half as much arable land as thatin the US.
In future Chinese reassessments of military policy, however, international considerations will undoubtedlyredominant factor. long as the status quo isChina facing no other military rivalsonthreatening US and anigh likelihood that China's policy of restricting weaponsin favor of industrial development will continue. Hajor changes in the statusesurgent, rearmed Japanelligerent, nuclear-armedinduce the Chinese to divert resources once again toward the development and production of weapons*
An Alternative Interpretation
The alternative view presented in this
trtt bLDI* aS WeU as hy some CIA hinfse dld not institute basic changes in military and foreign policy in the early seventies The dissenters believe the data at hand do not ind^ cate that the long-range goals represented in the military policy of China's leaders have changed Neither do they believe that China's foreign policy nowary detente with the US asong-term factor in the Sino-Soviet power balance.
Grounds for Dissent. The more general grounds of the dissenting viewiming problem caused by thein thiscritical decision points. For example, it is entirely possible that Lin Piao was in no position to influence events
PernaPsto the point, however,
!Vfc iS difficulte adefinite date on the alleged policy changes. In
any9 seems early for any majors indicated, could postdate Lin Piao's loss of influence by as much as two years.
From the more particular standpoint of military analysis, the lower levels of weapon procurement noted1 do not appear to represent the end
nificant change in militaryhardware procurement has been almostPekin9's terminating orbaCk Production in four aircraftprogram cuts account for aboutercentprocurement savings. In particular, it is
tne Chinese have shifted military priorities.
of an across-the-board trend. First, all the aircraft cut back areobsolete, butby modern standards. In the case of anthreat, such as that perceived from the Soviet Onion in the early seventies, the Chinese wouldhave emphasized production of militarythat could be quickly added to the inventory. As the threat, or perceived threat, of imminent attack receded, however, so too would the impetus to produce out-of-date equipment. The Chinese, moreover, now have what they mav well consider to be an adeauate inventory of
and are making at least some effort to designuce more modern aircraft. Admittedly the program is si
the Chinese are still building aircraft at all but one of their plants, although production ha tapered off at each. Thus they retain the potential for expansion of production at any time.
Other Programs. Savings achieved by posjible reduction of other programs probably have beenexample, thg armgrgd personnel carrier nrcrtr <
On balance, the current status of Peking'sdevelopment and production programs permits the
continuing buildup of most conventional armaments along well established lines and at peak rates achieved Thiseasonable course in
programs could not retrieve much of the investment costs embodied in military plants or release much highly specialized equipment and human talent for use in the civilian sector. Nor does itommitment against speedily reinstitutingof military equipment in available, if only partially active, military-industrial facilities.