Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top PLA stories of the decade

As this extremely eventful decade winds down, I'd like to give a list of the top PLA related stories from the past 10 years in no particular order. I started off by wanting to create an order but it simply became to difficult for me to justify some of them over other ones.

1. Heated relationship with US military (Taiwan, naval confrontations and PLA growth)
I put this as number 1, because I really do think that this is the most relevant story for us. US military obviously lacked an adversary at the end of the cold war. Early this decade, some people like Richard Fisher and Bill Gertz started to really track PLA advancements as the most obvious adversary to US. In the last couple of years, China was classified by as such by the Pentagon in the Quadcentennial report. Obviously, there are many points of contention. Before KMT took power last year, China and US were always a stupid action away from fighting in the Taiwan Strait. More recently, China's quest for greatness and securing shipping lanes for its natural resources has resulted in a military build-up that puts it directly in conflict with US. There are many in America who fear the rise of China and what that will mean for US's standing in this world. There are many in China who feel that US is unfairly trying to contain the rise of China. Similar to Japan's rise in the 80s, America's rise after world war I and Germany's rise prior to world war I, the rise of China has caused conflicts with the existing super power. In the first two cases, the mutual values and trade relationships between the existing super power and the ascending nation eventually faded. Obviously, we fear for a Germany/Britain scenario playing out if China continues to grow economically and the 2 countries get provoked into a war by Taiwan or something in South China Sea. I think the relationship between China and US is clearly different from any of those 3 cases. The two countries are so closely linked economically that they could cause each other tremendous harm without ever having to fire a shot. Fundamentally speaking, I think China and US can develop a even more cooperative relationship than now. In the long run, China is probably far more likely to have conflicts with neigbhours like India or Russia. Until then, we will see more nervousness by DoD over PLAN's shipbuilding program and PLAAF's next generation fighter program. We will likely see more incidents like Song surfacing next to Kitty Hawk or fish trawlers tangling with SURTASS ship in South China Sea, but I think both sides are calm enough to get by those.

China and Taiwan
Until KMT got voted into power last year, the Taiwan strait was one of the most combustible points in the world. With Taiwan's DPP constantly pushing for greater recognition of its independence and PRC's resistant efforts, the two sides were always a couple of moves away from getting into a major war. This hot point obviously brings a whole new level of risk, because of the probably involvement of the US military. The Anti-Secession Law passed in 2005 only affirmed that China would attack Taiwan if Taiwan ever declares formal independence. In the early past of the century, Taiwan was in the upper hand, because George Bush gave approval for a major weapons package. As time went on, this package was watered down due Taiwan's domestic bickering and the more pragamatic dealings by Bush toward China. To counter the possible sales to Taiwan, China put in some orders to Russians in 2002 to improve the navy and air force. As time went on, China developed more accurate ballistic missiles, LACM, ground attack munitions, surface to surface missiles, amphibious armoured vehicles, amphibious ships and increased airlift to prepare for a possible invasion. After a decade of building up in all services, the power balance across the strait has shifted permanently in PRC's favour. The gap between the 2 parties will only increase over time. Just as concerning to Taiwan, China has continue to build up more missiles facing them. KMT has put removing missiles as a prelude to peace talks, but PLA has the ability to aim them back at Taiwan at anytime. Realistically speaking, most of the damage against important targets in any conflict would be caused by ground strikes with PGMs and cruise missiles rather than those short ranged ballistic missiles. As we speak, tension along the strait is at a 10-year low. In the long run, PLAN would have a problem with its blue water dreams if it has a hostile naval opposition that close to its borders, so the current status quo is not really acceptable for China. By that time, I hope that some kind of agreement would have been worked out between the two parties.

Moving from relying on Russians for military hardware to becoming self sustaining
At the start of this decade, China was basically relying exclusively on Russia for all of its main weapons. J-10 was still in testing stage, so PLAAF relied on buying Su-30s from Russia and building Su-27s locally for air defense. After the nervousness over the proposed sale to Taiwan in 2002, PLAN ordered 2 additional Sovs and 8 improved Kilo submarines from Russia. The air defense still relied on importing different versions of S-300 to protect critical areas like Beijing, Shanghai, Three Gorges Dam and Pearl River Delta. I think all of that pretty much changed by 2006. negotiations for new purchases stopped in the wake of the IL-76 fiasco, but China pretty much ordered all it needed from the Russians by then. Even after that freeze was over, the large orders of Russian hardware of early 2000s never restarted. The truth is that Russia simply did not have anything to offer to China that was better than what China could produce. The Sovs and Kilo submarines have pretty much become white elephants with the commissioning of 052C, 054A and 039A class. The need for Su-30s and S-300 have also disappeared with the induction of J-10, J-11B and HQ-9. As this decade concludes, China is capable of pretty much producing and developing everything that it needs, so its military industrail complex has reached the self-sustainig level.

Varyag and China's carrier program
Ever since that holding company from Macau bought Varyag in 1999, China watchers have wondered when China will get its first aircraft carrier. I think by now, we have all seen the works done to Varyag recently and the Carrier replica in Wuhan. I have writtne in the past on this blog about why China needs a carrier and will not repeat myself again. However, I think it's important to look at how methodical China have been in this process. In the past 10 years, it studied Varyag thoroughly, developed partnerships with other countries to train its pilots, built larger warships like 071 LPD, invested in developing naval fighter and in developing an escort fleet. The interesting part is that current ships like 052C, 054A and 093 are not meant for the future carrier group even though they would do well in that rule, because China has newer destroyers, frigates, supply ships and submarines designed for the escort fleet. I think they were probably ready to start building a carrier 5 years ago, but they waited until everything is ready (which took an entire decade) before starting work on it. Once China's first domestically built carrier is ready, it will be part of a true carrier group rather than a white elephant like the one for Thailand.

Advances in China's space program and ASAT
By nature, space technology had dual use, so the advances in China's space program is also a major story for PLA. The successful ASAT test in January 2007 caused many people to panic over what that might mean for US space dominance in the event of a war. I think this threat was overblown due to the great redundancy in US space netowrk and possible retaliatory strikes. However, other advancements in China's space program have far more profound effects on PLA. The deployment of Beidou network is probably the most important contributor. Even though Beidou 1 is not that accurate, Beidou 2 will be just as accurate for PLA as GPS is for the US military. We have already seen from many pictures that Beidou is pretty much deployed on all PLA assets. Since Beidou guidance was also incorporated on all of China's missiles and satellite guided bombs, it has significantly improved the ground strike capability of PLA. For strategic missiles like CJ-10, Beidou allows them to be as accurate over long range as equivalent US weapons. In addition, the launching of recon satellites like the Yaogan series and Ziyuan series are all extremely important in identifying incoming carrier groups for the ASBM program. The launching of data relay satellites like the Tianlian, ShenTong 1 and FengHuo are important in secured digital communication of data and voice for a theatre-level C3I network. We can see SatCom antennas on the new PLAAF aircrafts and all of the recently launched naval ships for PLAN. Clearly, there were many satellites launched this decade which could help different weapon platforms of PLA. In addition, non-military projects like the moon mission and Shenzhou missions have yielded technologies that could be used on future military satellites.

The emerging submarine threat
This was a much bigger story back in 2005. Back then, China had just launched Yuan, was in the midst of a massive buildup of Song class (3 per year) and also getting those 8 Kilo submarines ordered in 2002. The much vaunted "Sizzler" missiles were mentioned on every article to highlight the threats posed by PLAN. The surfacing of Song submarine next to Kitty Hawk in 2006 only raised the level of alarm over the danger of these quiet diesel submarines. I think some of that fervour has died down in the last couple of years. We have seen Kilo submarines spending most of its time either in one of the Shanghai shipyards (getting repairs or upgraded, not sure which) or resting peacefully beside the dock. They were only able to successfully fire Club missiles in the past year, but it's definitely still not used operationally as much as the Song series. In the recent years, the nuclear submarine threat of 093 and 094 were raised due to the latter's second strike capability. Just looking at the numbers published in open sources, I don't think USN has a good handle on the quantiy and quality of this second generation of PLAN nuclear submarine, but their classified setion is probably far more accurate. One of the most important development recently is that PLAN submarines are making more patrols. That number is released every year and we've covered how this number has risen in the recent years. This increase coincides with the increased number of PLAN deployments in port calls and their anti-piracy missions. I think this threat was overhyped back in its day, because Kilo submarines really never turned out to be as lethal as the China threat group made them out to be. The Yuan submarine was also not generationally better than Song as Westerners originally thought, because it really was still considered by PLAN as part of the Song series. Even so, I think that this is becoming more of a threat now that these platforms have matured in PLAN through more patrols and training exercises.

In many ways, ASBM has replaced submarine threat as the main PLAN assymetric, anti-access threat topic listed by Western China watchers. I'm proud to say that this blog helped bring the ASBM threat into forefront. The Annual DoD report, Bloomberg, China Maritime Studies Institute and others have weighed in on this issue in the past year, because it could be a "game-changer" as Admiral Roughead stated. We've certainly had our share of entries on this issue throughout 2009. From following this issue on Western and Chinese sources in the last couple of years, I think that the Chinese military establishment believes this system is ready for action. Certainly, many parts in the system like tracking and identifying the carrier group will be improved and perfected in the next decade, but they believe ASBM can be used right now.

Lifting European Arms Embargo
This was another story that really peaked in early 2005. At that time, China was still dependent on Russia for most of its military hardware. Just as it was about to be lifted, American and Japanese pressure on Europe + initial reluctance by several EU countries over the embargo thwarted the process. The American argument was that imports from Europe would significantly improve the capabilities of PLA and be harmful to US interests in a possible conflict with Taiwan. At this point, I don't think lifting the arms embargo would really mean that much, because PLA is unlikely to have access to too many systems that it needs and can't already obtain. That's probably why this issue has not been at the top of China's requests in its recent discussions with Europe. Even with the arms embargo on, China was still able to get key systems like Spey engine for JH-7 fighter bomber, key subsystems for Z-10 project, co-development of Z-15 helicopter, engines for Z-9G helicopter, Sky master surveillance radar, diesel engines for different ships, LR7 rescue submarine and key subsystems for diesel submarines. I think that lifting EU arms embargo at this point can still help China in different areas. I've always listed NH-90 helicopter, A330 tanker, advanced quiet technology for submarines, aerospace engines, Aster missiles and naval radar as things that PLA would be interested in from Europe that they can't already get. However, I'm not sure how eager European firms would be at supplying these systems. So I think that even if the EU embargo gets dropped, it's really not going to be a game changer. US and Japan will still protest this move, but it really isn't that significant militarily. There are obviously still certain subsystems that China would be interested, but they would be able to develop a less capable but still adequate version of that on their own. I think the most important gains from Europeans are from the civilian sector. China gained a lot from cooperating in hi-tech industry through joint ventures with Western companies. They gained quality control, production method and management skills that are just as important as the technology themselves.

Phalcon + KJ-2000
This was a huge story back in 2000. At that time, Israel and China negotiated a deal for 4 Phalcon AWACS on A-50 platform. The US goverment forced Israel to renege on the deal with the argument that Phalcon is comparable in performance to E-3C. Jiang Zemin was humiliated, because he was told that China would get those AWACS. In 2004, Israel was also forced by US to back out of doing upgrades on Chinese Harpy drones. Those two incidents pretty much stopped the China-Israeli military cooperation that dated back to license production of Python-3 missiles. As the story goes, KJ-2000 AWACS based on A-50 platform made its first flight in 2003 and the first regiment of KJ-2000s were formed in 2005 or 2006. A lot of people were shocked by the pace at which China developed its own AWACS. At the time, people speculated that Israel had provided China with a lot of assistance on the project. As revealed in 2009, China had cooperated extensively with Israel in the Phalcon project. It provided Israel with much of the solutions in fitting the Phalcon system on A-50. In some ways, India reaped the reward of that project in its Phalcon contract. At the same time, Israel really taught China on how to produce and QC the modules for the AESA radar. It also taught China the command & control part of AEWC&C. As such, even though the Phalcon project did not work out, China received the necessary know-hows to produce KJ-2000. China put in extra resource into the KJ-2000 project and accelerated its development. Similar to the entire European Arms Embargo story, this is another case where US intervention really did not help anyone but China.

Third Generation fighter jets
China designates Su-27, F-16 and other Western 4th generation fighter jets as third generation. This decade saw China changing from a nation that imported the production line and know-how of a 3rd generation fighter jet to a nation that exports the production line and know-how of a 3rd generation fighter jet. Two decades after USAF converted much of its fleet with F-15s and F-16s, PLAAF did the same with J-10s and Flankers. By 2006, J-6s (Chinese version of Mig-19) were finally phased out of PLAAF. A year later, production for J-7s finally stopped at CAC, which means J-7s will probably also be phased out in 10 years (they have rather short service lives). Of course, J-10 project was the most important part of this movement. Although it received a lot of help from the Israelis and the Russians, but J-10 project led to the development of many subsystems that would be used in other fighter jets. People have called J-10 the Apollo project of China and I would agree to that in many ways. At this moment, China have pushed out J-10B and J-11B as the improved variants of J-10 and flanker series. CAC has also successfully finished the development of JF-17 and have helped PAC to set up local production. JF-17 will probably allow China to be competitive in the export market against used F-16s/M2Ks/Mig-29s. J-11B will not be exported. Once J-10 is allowed to be exported, it will probably be thrown in foreign fighter jet competitions against other late 4th generation fighters like super hornets, the eurocanards and su-35. Either way, this was the decade that PLAAF moved from a 2nd generation air force to a 3rd generation air force.

PLAN surface shipbuilding program
Before this decade started, China's best ships were 2 Sovs, 1 051B, 2 052 and a few Jiangweis. We've talked about it many times before, but it's pretty amazing how much PLAN surface fleet has improved in the past decade. I've written several entries on this before, so I will keep this short. The improved quality and quantity of PLAN shipbuilding program can attribute to the improvements in the civilian shipbuilding industry and development of a entire generation of naval subsystems (some of which were copied off Russians). As seen recently with submarine tender, hospital ship, ELINT ship and replenishment ships, the building program is taking care of the entire fleet rather than just destroyers and frigates. Not only are the new ships more capable, they are also designed to operate further away from the shores. Basically, this decade represents the start of China's effort to move from a brown water navy to a blue water navy.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

China in 2009

As we look back on everything that happened this year, I decided to look at more than just naval shipbuilding and military/civilian aviation, but also the financial and economical engine that is China. Many people waited for the Beijing Olympics to be China's crowing moment or coming out party. In many ways, 2008 was a milestone year when one considers the major snow storm that crippled the country, the Tibet riot, the Sichuan Earthquake and the Beijing Olympics. However, this year has turned out to be the true coming out party for China. Due to the fall of Western financial institutions (especially in New York and London) and our current economic downturn, the world has been increasingly relying on China to be the knight in shining armour. In many ways, the increased power and expectations have come way too much and way too fast for China.

The Obama administration has basically annointed China as its equal this past year and the idea of G-2 have been raised everywhere. China has been asked to be a responsible stakeholder in issues like climate change, fighting global imbalances, Iran, North Korea and currency manipulation. In many of these cases, China has reacted and handled itself in ways that counter the views of Western countries. For years, China had followed the strategy laid out by Deng Xiaoping in growing quietly and minding its own business. There were a few bumps along the way, but China basically stayed out of major international affairs all the way through Jiang Zemin's run as the paramount leader. Their foreign and domestic policy could be summed up as: make a lot of money for Chinese people, being ambivalent about everyone else, advance the country scientifically/technologically and do this with as little noise as possible. By the time, Hu came to power, China had just joined WTO and started to run large trading surplus against USA. Hu moved away from a US-centric foreign policy and started this process of securing natural resources all around the developing world (even in the Americas). By 2005-2006, it was clear that China had expanded (and was on such a trajectory) so much in political influence that it could no longer hide in international affairs as just another developing nation. Starting from George Bush's second term, you really started to see US engagement in trying to make China into a "responsible stakeholder". Armed with this new attention and expectations, China really was unprepared for the extra responsibility. It was still trying to just remain in the background and become stronger economically. Even though China has opened up a little bit in the recent year and tried to take on more responsibility, it still values its own priorities above all else. In one sense, it still wants to be treated with the same leniency that other developing countries are treated with. At the same time, it also wants to be respected as a country with long history, rich culture and prospering society. But more than anything, China still does not look at itself as a superpower (it ranked itself 7th in national strength in a recent study), even though most people around the world think that way. I think that most Chinese people still do not comprehend the kind of impact that their country and its growth is having on the rest of the world. I will just try to go through some points on how this year has really seen the emergence of China.

Politically, this was a huge breakout year for China. Hilary Clinton made a visit to China in February and basically pleaded to the Chinese gov't to buy more treasury bonds. When they had the strategic dialog in the middle of the year, Obama stated clearly that all of the issues that we are facing need both countries to work together to resolve. And finally when he visited last month, it also appeared that he was bowing down to the Chinese. Because Obama has somewhat of a reputation of being soft amongst foreign policy hawks, I'd like to say that he gave the elevated status due to the practical situation rather than "the left being weak to the commies". During Bush's second term, he grew to become more and more friendly toward the Chinese administration. In many ways, George Bush was possibly the most China-friendly president in the US history and Obama has carried on that trend. I think both presidents did the most pragmatic approach possible. They realized that China was influential in way too many places around the world (especially pariah nations) to not cooperate over the major geopolitical issues. They also realized that China is America's banker and believe that America needs China's savings to get out of this financial mess. They have lamented that China has not acted to its responsibility on issues like Iran, Sudan and North Korea. I think they would be find it hard to get cooperation from China. When China was still clear the weaker partner in the relationship, it could claim that it was not influential enough and did not have the luxury as a developing country to influence other developing countries. Now that China is more of an equal in the relationship, it could afford to resist US pressure to press further on these troubled states. China still does not feel like enough of a world leader to take positions that are more positive for all of humanity. It would like to continue policies that will help feed natural resources to its rapidly growing economy. By now, everyone can see the kind of influence that China has over African countries, several South American countries, ASEAN countries and the countries along the String of Pearls. G-7 is no longer the policy making organization that it used to be, because China is not in there. Even so, China is trying really hard to stop the idea of G-2 while promoting G-20 + BRIC, because it really does not want the responsibility/pressure of being a super power.

This was the year that China really became the financial power of the world. Jim Rogers has repeatedly said in the past that power moves to where money is. If that's the case, then the growing accumulation of China's foreign reserve point to a lot of good days ahead. We have seen USA asking China to continue to buy Treasury Bonds. We have seen IMF selling bonds to China. We have seen countries all around the world asking China for money. G-20 replaced G-8 in determining policies to get out of this worldwide economic downturn, because it needed China's deep pockets. For its domestic economy, China was able to put in a more effective stimulus program without adding much public sector debts (although some would argue for the hidden bank debts). We have seen China buying up resources around the world. After all, why would anyone want to sit on fiat currencies when the central bankers around the world cannot control themselves from printing more money? China dramatically expanded its holding of gold bullion and will probably continue to buy. It continued to acquire mines across the world including the much talked about attempt by Chinalco to increase its stakes in Rio Tinto. When the prices of oil, iron ore, copper, silver and other natural resources dropped, China moved in to buy them at rock bottom prices to creater larger strategic reserves. Australia basically avoided a major recession due to the continued China demand for its iron ore and other resources. Perhaps the most interesting part of China's buying spree is that it has moved beyond foreign debts and natural resources. As companies around the world started to collapse under the tough economic conditions, Chinese companies have started to acquire foreign companies, their branding and their production process. In this past year, the successful bids by Chinese companies for Hummer, Volvo and Saab made headlines. However, there are also many other stories of Chinese companies acquiring Western know-hows + branding at rock bottom prices. More than anything, this economic downturn has shown the importantce of being financially sound. As this downturn continues in the next couple of years, I think Jim Rogers' prediction will show to be really accurate.

For the past 25 years, people have talked about the potential of 1.4 billion people and the huge market created by the growing middle class in the country. Due to the increased savings and declining purchasing power around the world, consumption was down in most other countries causing a collapse in world trade. After a slow 4th quarter in 2008 and early 2009, consumption in China really took off this year with the help of some stimulus policies by the government. The Chinese market finally exceeded the US market in several industry and somewhat feeled the void left by export markets for domestic manufacturers. 2009 could also be remembered as the first year that China's auto market exceeded that of US. While most automakers around the world were suffering due to declining sales in most countries, Chinese automakers were really thriving. BYD, Chery and Geely all had massive growth in sales due in large part to the lower tax for small cars. As a result of this, these automakers now have the capital to really acquire oversea assets, expand capacity, develop newer models and produce higher quality cars for the more mature EU and US markets. In a sign of times, SAIC became the majority stakeholder in its joint venture with GM and will also be producing their joint venture car Wuling for export in India. BYD has made a lot of news for its plans to bring affordable hybrid/electric car models to America and also supplying batteries for Volkswagon. The improved fortune for domestic automakers is part of China's progression of moving up in value chain and becoming an even stronger manufacturing engine. 2009 was a terrible year for shipbuilders around the world, but China managed to move past South Korea for the first time in terms of orders taken and order backlog. In a few years, China will officially become the world's largest shipbuilder. Green industry is another area that recent government policy has really helped. The Chinese solar module industry have became the largest in the world (accounting for 1/3 of photovoltaic cells production). It is now exporting 99% of its production and is causing huge fall in solar module prices by basically swamping the market. China's wind turbine industry is also now the largest producer in the world thanks to the huge wind power expansion in the country + exporting to foreign markets (like the recent A-Power deal in Texas). Even in fields like civilian aviation, trains and nuclear power, you can see that China is slowly entering these markets and moving up the value chain. Due to the fact that China is the only country in the world that is actually having this massive nuclear power expansio and high speed rail expansion, advanced multi-national corporations are forced to provide more know-hows + local manufacturing in order to win those contracts. In the long run, China will probably end up becoming a competitor to them in this area. In the mean time, Airbus, Westinghouse, Alstom and Bombardier can remain highly profitable despite the declining orders around the world. In some ways, you can already see that China is moving up in this field with their nuclear power, airliner and railway exports to developing countries while still buying the latest technology from the west. And really, we can go through a bunch of other domestic industries, but I see a very methodical approach in using domestic market to extract technology and developing local industries. China is getting wealthier, so it can no longer rely on selling cheap clothing, toys and furnitures to walmart to expand. It is moving up in the value chain in manufacturing for both its domestic market and export markets.

I will have a separate ntry on the military growth, since that is the area that I follow the most. Needless to say, there were a lot of headlines this year with the carrier program, the next generation fighter program, the large transport program and the ASBM program.

As I review all that has happened in this past year, I can say for certainty that this was one of the most significant years since the market reforms started. After a revision of its 2008 GDP numbers, it looks like China became the 2nd largest economy in the world this past year. In terms of purchasing power, it reached the position quite a while ago. The financial crisis has only shown the world how influential China has become in the recent years. If 2009 was any indication, China has officially risen to super power status on the world stage. There are a lot of anger toward China around the world, because it's manufacturing strength has crippled many economies around the world. At the same time, it also remains important, because it has now become the largest market in the world for many industries. Regardless, China's emergence has changed the dynamics of the world. Policies are no longer determined by 7 large Western economies, but need the inclusion of the other countries in G-20. The question is how will China react in the coming years as it is expected to do more for the international community.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why we should cheer for Copenhagen and fight to protect Earth

As many of you have heard by now, there was an eleventh hour deal between US and the major emerging economies like China, India, Brazil and South Africa when I was looking bleak. Before going through the merits of this deal, I will first explain why this issue is so important to me. I grew up in possibly the most polluted place in the world. CNN ran a story about Linfen, http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/12/15/china.pollution/index.html, which is right next to my hometown. I know there are a lot of questions, especially from the Republicans in America, regarding whether or not global warming is really valid. I think that if ever lived in my hometown, you would think that global warming is a reality. In the span of the 26 years of my life time, the average high temperature of a summer time has gone from mid 20s to mid 30s. The kind of environment degradation in my hometown is truly extraordinary. The water level dropped so much that what used to be a shallow river no longer exists. They had to fill that area with tap water to give the illusion that it's still a river. When it's really hot and dry in summer time, you can see dry land with huge cracks. Even the famous yellow river is completely dried up in the summer time around where I came from. The air quality is so bad that I catch some form of respiratory sickness every time I go back there and can never get well until leaving the country. I can go on talking about how the sinful nature of men have destroyed this amazing world that we live in, but I would be spending the next 4 pages talking about all the bad things i have seen in China alone. I think that the change in climate is partly due to the natural climate change, but mostly due to the damage done by us. If the temperature continues to go up the way it does, there will be increased drought problems around the world. Water will become more and more scarce for certain countries. In other countries, they'd have the opposite effect of too much precipitation leading to hurricanes and tsunamis. And with polar ice caps melting, the international water level would rise to the point where millions of people will be displaced. The sad part is that the developing countries that contribute the least to carbon emissions and can afford the least to help out on emissions cut will end up suffering the most from climate change. There have already been talks about many Pacific islands getting swallowed up by the Ocean in the next 50 years. I'm more concerned about areas like Bangladesh where over 100 billion people could be displaced due to elevation in water level. And what about New York? Manhattan would be swallowed up if water level is elevated as much as the projection.

But what if all of the scientific theories are wrong and all the global warming in the past 20 years are occurring naturally? Even if that's case, the world would become a much less polluted and environmentally damaging place by using less fossil fuel, have more stringent emission standards and use more efficient plants. Who would really complain about breathing in air with less toxin? During the elections, everyone complained about how America is overly reliant on the Middle East for energy usage. At the same time, many of the major oil fields (like Ghawar Field in Saudi Arabia, Cantarell Field in Mexico and Daqing in China) around the world have all hit the so called peak oil and are not declining in production. There are still oil sands in Canada and deep water oil deposits off Florida and the Green River Formation oil shale around Colorado. However, you start running into the problem where the amount of energy used to extract is actually greater than the oil extracted. For example, the core of Earth has the highest grade of untapped iron deposits, but is anyone actually stupid enough to try to extract those iron ore? As a result of the oil/natural gas production decline and the increase need for them around the world, America will be fighting for that shrinking share of oil production with China and India. By necessity, the entire world would have to eventually switch to using renewable or re-usable source of energy.

Because of all the above, I was really nervous leading up to Copenhagen. I knew of the great divide between the developing countries and developed countries, so was really worried that nothing would get worked out. As it stands, the agreement was regarded by numerous European countries as not enough. I think that view is way too pessimistic. Even though China and India have not given a specific year when their emissions would peak, they have agreed to at least set some kind of firm target and have agreed to some form of international verification. When it comes to China, face is an extremely important part of the culture and the communist leaders don't like to look bad in front of others. Under international scrutiny, I really don't see China backing off on the commitments that it made this week to the world. I really think Obama did a great job in emphasizing the idea that this is the first step in concluding something that is truly worthwhile and effective over the long run. I believe that by the UN conference in Mexico City next year, this deal would have moved further along. It would take a while for the last minute concessions by China, India, Brazil and South Africa to really put in a legally binding agreement. I don't think China will stop at 40-45% energy intensity cut. Having seen their past efforts, they will most likely achieve a larger cut through their current efforts in nuclear/wind/solar power expansion and more stringent fuel efficiency/emissions standards. Of course, it's also important for Europeans to achieve their stated goal of 25% emission cut from 1990 levels. It is also important for US to actually offer something better than a 1.3% emission cut from 1990 levels. Compared to EU and Japan, US and Canada are really not doing that much to help the global efforts. Having lived in these 2 countries for the better parts of my life, I'm quite ashamed of that. In the midst of the great economic downturn in the past 70 years, it's really hard for any country to make sacrifices while others stand pat. I'm just glad that we have finally started the process of really trying to cooperate on this globally. Even if what we have now is not perfect, we can hope for greater international pressure to yield more firm targets and a legally binding agreement that could save our planet.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The state of China/Russia military cooperation

Today, I read this article by a Russian paper regarding the military cooperation between China and Russia. I think it really does a great job of explaining why there haven't been a major deal recently and why it probably would not happen anytime soon. The important point is that this article didn't dwell on the so called pirating efforts of China against Russian hardware, so it was able to explore some of the major reasons why nothing is going on. It clearly identifies IL-76 and S-400 as the 2 major items that China would most likely want from Russia at the current time and why they are not coming through.

With respect to the last paragraph, I think the idea of pirating will be a problem for a while, because the two sides really can't agree on what constitute pirating. The copyright laws in the two countries are actually not the same. So even though they signed an agreement, I'm not sure it will work out as the Russians want.

The crisis in the Russian defence industry is hindering the
development of military-technical cooperation with the Middle Kingdom.

Military cooperation between Russia and China in the weapons business
sphere, it appears, is experiencing a severe crisis. This is shown by
the results of the visit to Russia by the Chinese government
delegation headed by Colonel General Guo Boxiong, deputy chairman of
the PRC's Central Military Commission, that concluded last Friday [27

General Guo Boxiong (on the left) rubbed shoulders with Dmitriy
Medvedev but apparently left Moscow empty handed.

The military leader from China came to discuss prospects for military-
technical cooperation (VTS) between the two countries. President
Vladimir Medvedev received Gou Boxiong. He noted that "a firm
partnership is developing between the two countries, and it is based
upon a coincidence of our basic interests." The day before, in the
presence of Defence Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov and Federal Service
for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSVTS) Director Mikhail Dmitriyev,
Russia's leader met for a long time behind closed doors in Barvikha
with the Chinese guests. On 24 November the delegation from China was
at the Kapustin Yar proving ground in Astrakhan Oblast where new
developments in prospective armament models were demonstrated for it.
And the next day [25 November] the 14th session of the Russian-Chinese
Joint Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation (SMK) was held in
Moscow under the chairmanship of Anatoliy Serdyukov. According to
Irina Kovalchuk, the defence minister's press secretary, at the
session "the sides expressed satisfaction with the state of bilateral
military-technical cooperation."

Nevertheless, it is striking that neither the Russian nor the Chinese
sides expected the present meeting to end in the signing of any sort
of documents about weapons purchases. Foreshadowing the SMK session,
Mikhail Dmitriyev stated that all areas of bilateral collaboration
"will be examined" at it: aircraft building, engines, ships, PVO [air
defence] systems, and armoured equipment. Although "the adoption of
any breakthrough decisions or the signing of any contracts is not
expected." Why it is "not expected" is completely understandable.
Beijing already has bought everything that is possible in Moscow, and
it will produce the greater share of weapons by itself. And all of the
new types of weapons that the PRC needs are only at the development
stage in Russia, or else there are problems in producing them.

For example, the last "breakthrough contract" between Moscow and
Beijing was concluded as far back as 2005 in Sochi. At issue were
deliveries to the PRC by 2010 of 34 Il-76 military-transport airplanes
and four Il-78 refueling airplanes, at a total cost of more than one
billion dollars. But, as is well known, the Chkalov Tashkent Aircraft
Production Association (TAPOiCH, Uzbekistan), where the airplanes
mentioned are produced, defaulted and the contract was broken. As
sources in the FSVTS reported to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the question of
buying heavy military transport airplanes also was raised during the
present round of Russian- Chinese contracts, but Moscow was not able
to make the Chinese comrades happy in any way.

We would note that during the time of Guo Boxiong's visit to the
Russian Federation President Medvedev visited Ulyanovsk. The media
paid attention to the dressing down that the president gave to the
military in that city in connection with the explosions at the Navy's
No 31 Arsenal. Meanwhile, having arrived in Ulyanovsk Dmitriy Medvedev
immediately left the airport and headed first of all to the Aviatstar
SP [joint venture] aircraft-building plant, to which the production of
the Il-76 will be transferred from Tashkent. Together with others of
the aviation enterprise's innovations, they also showed him the plans
for a new aircraft (Il-476) based on the Il-76 airplane, where the
newest aviation navigation and control systems are used and where in
addition to everything the configuration of the wing is changed.

On the same day in Ulyanovsk, in addition to a session of the State
Council for Nanoinnovation [Gossovet po nanonovatsiyam: According to
the Kremlin website, Medvedev participated in a session of the State
Committee for Questions of Innovative Development of Russia's
Transportation System in Ulyanovsk on 24 November], a session of the
board of directors of the Amalgamated Aircraft Manufacturing
Corporation (OAK) was held under the chairmanship of Deputy Premier
Sergey Ivanov to determine plans for Russian aviation. Notable among
these is a plan for "the programme for producing the Il-476 to be set
in motion at the Ulyanovsk aircraft plant: the airplane is expected to
be rolled out in 2010 and will be tested in 2011." Thus it was
demonstrated to the PRC that Russia is developing modern aviation
technology, but the Chinese still will not see the new military
transport airplane very soon. Judging from present Russian experience,
testing the airplane will take a long time.

Besides this, the Russian Air Force is in great need of these
airplanes. The same thing could be said about other new Russian
defence industry developments. Let us say that on 24 November at the
Russian Air Force's Kapustin Yar proving ground the Chinese admired
the S-400 surface-to-air missile (ZRS) system. But it was hinted to
them that they are unlikely to that soon either. In the first place,
the Russian armed forces will have to be equipped with it, and in the
second place - and perhaps this is the most essential point - the
shortcomings that the S-400 has must be eliminated. Air Force
Commander in Chief Colonel General Aleksandr Zelin unambiguously
hinted at this on 26 November. According to him, the tactical-
technical characteristics that are set for this surface-to-air missile
system "still have not been completely obtained". Therefore, the
general says, together with the PVO Almaz-Antey concern it is still
necessary to carry out a great deal of work in order for "the
necessary results to be achieved".

The Chinese were shown other new types of weapons, but Russia does not
want to sell them "simply for the sake of selling them". From all
accounts, Moscow wants to establish gentlemen's agreements with
Beijing in the area of military-technical cooperation in order to
avoid pirate copying of our technology. In this connection one can
recall the scandal fanned by the media about the fact that Moscow is
thinking about refusing to sell Beijing a major part of the SU-33
fighter out of fears that the Chinese will illegally copy this
airplane as they had done earlier with the Su-27. Vyacheslav Dzirkaln,
deputy director of Russia's Federal Service for Military- Technical
Cooperation, thinks that the problem is a real one: "Last year we
signed an agreement on the protection of intellectual property, and I
hope that it will help us solve problems in disputes connected with
the illegal copying of our weapons."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Discussions through Google Wave

Hey guys, I'd be willing to have a discussion on PLA related topics through Google wave, so if anyone is interested, you can email me your Google wave account (my email is tphuang@gmail.com) or reply to this note and then I will try to answer any questions you may have. Please be respectful and not spam me.