The Department of Defense has negotiated a landmark new communications hotline between the U.S. military and the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, while it continues to keep a watchful eye on China’s growing military capabilities.
Defense Department officials announced Feb. 29 that they had formally agreed to implement the long-discussed Defense Telephone Link (DTL) with China. The agreement comes after years of talks between the two sides. Hotline talks were given a boost last September when President George W. Bush raised the issue directly with Chinese President Hu Jintao. The link was discussed again when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited China in November and at an annual bilateral meeting of undersecretary-level defense representatives in Washington in December.
The formal agreement was reached in Shanghai during a meeting of representatives at the deputy assistant secretary level. In a statement to Arms Control Today March 17, Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder said that “the agreement will allow us to move forward on installing the actual equipment in the next few weeks. We anticipate the DTL will become operational this month.” A Chinese spokesperson refused to commit to a specific date when asked at a March 4 press conference, although he did express hopes that the new connection would “enhance political mutual trust, exchanges, and cooperation.”
At the Shanghai talks, the United States and China also agreed to move forward with their nuclear strategy and policy dialogue. In March 3 remarks, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia David Sedney, who negotiated the final hotline agreement, said “we do have a process in place now. This process was proposed by the PLA [Chinese military], and the first part of that will be a discussion between Chinese military officers and Chinese military academics and counterparts here in the U.S. And we expect that to happen in the next month or so… maybe two months.”
The hotline and nuclear strategy talks are part of a multiyear effort to enhance openness in the troubled relationship between the two military establishments. The Defense Department is eager to learn more about the Chinese military, including better understanding Beijing’s military philosophy, and command and control structures.
Report on Chinese Military Power
The Defense Department’s 2008 Military Power of China report, released March 3, also underscores Washington’s continuing uncertainty about Chinese procedures and intentions. The annual report asserts that the “lack of transparency in China’s military and security affairs poses risks to stability by increasing the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation.”
This year’s report notes several new developments in China’s nuclear capabilities, including the deployment of fewer than 10 each of the new solid-fueled, road-mobile DF-31 and DF-31A ICBMs. These missiles’ enhanced mobility and quicker launch times make them less vulnerable than the older, liquid-fueled CSS-3 and CSS-4 missiles that are being phased out. The liquid-fueled missiles must be held in position and fueled before they can be launched, a process that takes several hours during which they are vulnerable to disarming strikes. The report asserts that the enhanced mobility enabled by the new missiles will create new command and control challenges for the Chinese leadership.
The report says that China continues to deploy 20 CSS-4 ICBMs. The DF-31A and CSS-4 are the only Chinese ICBMs capable of targeting the continental United States. In contrast, the United States maintains approximately 450 ICBMs and 430 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) that can strike the Chinese mainland.
The Pentagon also reports a substantial increase in CSS-5 deployments. The CSS-5 is a shorter-range, solid-fueled, road-mobile missile for regional use and is expected to fully replace the aging CSS-2 by 2010. CSS-5 deployment has increased from 40-50 missiles with 34-38 launchers last year to 60-80 missiles with 60 launchers this year. Because the report notes that China is preparing a conventionally armed version of the CSS-5, however, it is possible that some of these do not have nuclear missions.
The report also indicates that China is researching technologies for its ballistic missile forces that would counter potential ballistic missile defenses, such as those being developed by the United States. (See ACT, November 2007 .) These include maneuverable re-entry vehicles, multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles, decoys, chaff, jamming, thermal shielding, and anti-satellite weapons.
China also appears to be improving its nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) capabilities. The report indicated that one JIN-class (Type 094) SSBN may soon enter service, although publicly available satellite imagery suggests the existence of at least two of the new submarines.
The report estimates that up to five JIN-class submarines may be deployed by 2010, reflecting for the first time a December 2006 estimate by the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence. The JIN-class submarine will carry the JL-2 SLBM, which the Pentagon expects will reach initial operational capability by 2010.
China has built only one of its previous-generation XIA-class SSBNs equipped with JL-1 SLBMs. The 2008 report now lists the operational status of that submarine as “questionable.”
The report indicates that China has also acquired an uncertain number of cruise missiles. It estimates that China now has 50 to 250 indigenously produced DH-10s. By 2010 the report says new air- and ground-launched cruise missiles “could perform nuclear missions.”
Although new Chinese budgetary figures were not available at the time of the report’s publication, the Pentagon’s report continues to criticize China’s alleged underreporting of its military spending. Historically, the Defense Department has estimated that China’s actual military spending is roughly two to three times the official number reported by the Chinese. China released its claimed 2008 military spending March 4, the day after the Pentagon released its report. China said it would spend $59 billion on its military in 2008, a 17.6 percent increase over the 2007 figure. In contrast, the U.S. military budget in fiscal year 2008, which ends Sept. 30, is $481.4 billion, not including funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.