Gates's challenge in China: Why he's looking far beyond J-20 stealth fighters
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who arrives Sunday in Beijing, seeks to put military relations on an even keel – despite recently released photos of China's J-20 stealth fighter.
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The Chinese are equally suspicious of US intentions. “The US always sees China as a rival and in their military exercises we are always the enemy,” complains Xu.Skip to next paragraph
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The US aircraft carrier group “was designed to scare North Korea” after its forces shelled a South Korean island, he adds, “but it also showed that if China violates US or its allies’ interests, America can deploy its military power without hesitation. If America cares about its relations with China it should avoid holding drills in such sensitive places.”
“Both sides should dial it back a notch,” suggests Carpenter. “China gets annoyed with this rather ostentatious display of American military power in China’s backyard.”
'Carrier killer' ballistic missile
Though Beijing can do nothing to stop such displays, its scientists are working on a “carrier killer” ballistic missile designed to strike enemy ships from space – the first such weapon in the world.
China’s “investment … in antiship weaponry and ballistic missiles could threaten America’s primary way to project power and help allies in the Pacific – particularly our forward bases and carrier strike groups,” Gates warned in a speech last September.
The antiship ballistic missile has not yet been tested, however, and it is uncertain when it might be deployed even if it works, according to US naval analysts.
China’s long-term maritime ambitions are symbolized by the expected launch this year of a refitted Soviet aircraft carrier bought from Ukraine. But no such vessel is expected to emerge from China’s own shipyards for several years, and Chinese carrier proficiency and capability will still be very limited in 2020, the US Navy’s intelligence chief said this week.
“I see them [the Chinese military] delivering individual … weapons systems,” he said, but he pointed out that fielding a prototype is only the first step toward making it part of military operations.
Nonetheless, says Carpenter, “the concern is that China wants capabilities to neutralize America’s military presence in the western Pacific.”
That, insists Xu, is only to be expected. “The US is used to controlling all the open seas in the world," he says. “But the situation is different now and America should adjust its habits. China is getting stronger, we have our interests and our dignity.
“We can’t always be weak,” Xu adds. “But whenever there is a change in China’s military power, it touches a sensitive American nerve.”