Posts Tagged ‘Seoul’

North Korea vows to become a ‘state nuclear force’

October 1, 2017

Pyongyang calls sanctions and pressure ‘futile’ in halting its development of nuclear weapons.


Kim Jong-un’s regime says international sanctions will lead to imposing nations’ ‘final doom’ [KCNA via Reuters]

North Korea’s state news agency has called the US-led effort to impose sanctions over its weapons programme futile, vowing the country inevitably will become a “state nuclear force”.

The comments on Sunday came from the Korean Central News Agency’s website Uriminzokkiri after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met for talks with China’s top diplomats and President Xi Jinping in Beijing over the Korean nuclear crisis.

Tillerson has been a proponent of a campaign of “peaceful pressure”, using US and UN sanctions and working with China to turn the screw on the regime.

But his efforts have been overshadowed by an extraordinary war of words, with US President Donald Trump mocking North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as “little rocket man” and Kim branding Trump a “dotard”.

OPINION: What can actually trigger war on the Korean peninsula?

“The US and the South Korean puppet forces are mistaken if they think that sanctions and pressure will keep the DPRK from attaining the goal of completing the state nuclear force,” said KCNA, using the acronym for the country’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The US and vassal forces would be well advised to bear in mind that their frantic sanctions – contrary to the trend of the times – will lead to their final doom.”

Washington has reached out to Pyongyang but received no response.

“We ask: Would you like talk?” Tillerson said on Saturday. “We’re not in a dark situation, a blackout. We have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang.”

In Washington, the State Department said while communications channels do exist, North Korea has shown no interest in talking about giving up its nuclear weapons.

“Despite assurances that the United States is not interested in promoting the collapse of the current regime, pursuing regime change, accelerating reunification of the peninsula or mobilising forces north of the DMZ [de-militarised zone], North Korean officials have shown no indication that they are interested in or are ready for talks regarding de-nuclearisation,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

The United States has not ruled out the use of force to compel Pyongyang to halt missile and nuclear tests, and last week Trump threatened to “totally destroy” the country.

But privately senior figures admit military options don’t look promising, with ally South Korea’s densely populated capital Seoul – a city of 25 million people – in range of the North’s heavy artillery.

Even as Tillerson met Xi and China’s top diplomats State Councillor Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the North’s propaganda agency fired a new barrage of insults.

A statement proclaimed Trump an “old psychopath” bent on the “suicidal act of inviting a nuclear disaster that will reduce America to a sea of flames”.

READ MORE: Pyongyang: All options on the table

North Korea’s rhetoric has been backed by a provocative series of ballistic missile tests and on September 3 it conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test yet.

Washington, backed by most of the international community, has declared North Korea’s programme unacceptable, fearing its own vast arsenal will not deter Kim from attack.

With the world on edge, fears are growing a miscalculation from either side could trigger a renewed deadly conflict on the divided Korean peninsula.

Some recent tests saw North Korean missiles flying over Japan en route to the Pacific, and its latest underground detonation appears to have been a powerful hydrogen bomb.

Observers have expressed concern if the North carries out an atmospheric nuclear test over the ocean, Washington will feel obliged to take risky military action.

But Tillerson said that decision would be up to Trump alone. “As far as I know the commander-in-chief has issued no red lines.”

Tillerson instead called for calm, singling out Pyongyang’s missile tests for criticism.

“The whole situation is a bit overheated right now. I think everyone would like for it to calm down,” he said in response to a question about Trump’s threats.

“I think if North Korea would stop firing all the missiles, that would calm down things a lot.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies



China Says Threats Cannot Help Resolve Korean Situation

September 19, 2017

BEIJING — Threatening action or rhetoric cannot help resolve the situation on the Korean peninsula, China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday, after U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis hinted about the existence of military options on North Korea.

Ministry spokesman Lu Kang made the comments at a regular briefing in Beijing.

Asked about potential U.S. military options that might not put the South Korean capital, Seoul, at risk, Mattis said on Monday there were but declined to give details.

Seoul is within artillery range of North Korea, which is also believed to have a sizable chemical and biological arsenal beyond nuclear and conventional weapons.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Writing by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Paul Tait)

Learning to Live with a Nuclear North Korea: Awful, but Better than the Alternatives

September 6, 2017

We live Pakistani nuclear missiles; we can live with North Korean ones too.

This is a re-post of an essay I wrote for the New York Daily News a few weeks ago, at the peak of the summer war-scare.

By Robert Kelly

I argue that we can in fact live with a nuclear missilized North Korea. Yes, that sucks. But all this irresponsible talk that we can’t adapt, that nuclear North Korea is an undeterrable, existential threat is just threat-inflating baloney. We’ve learned to live with nuclear missiles in the hands a Muslim state with a serious jihadi problem. Would America prefer this not to be the case? Yes. But is living with a nuclear Pakistan a better choice than bombing it or sending in US special forces to destroy their nukes? Absolutely. Or we would have done it already.

It’s not clear to me why this is so hard for people to absorb. What is it about North Korea that makes people lose their mind and say bonkers s*** about risking a huge regional war?

As the current war-scare with North Korea heats up, it is worth observing that the United States has learned to live with other countries’ nuclear weapons and missiles without a war. As loathsome as North Korea’s domestic politics are, it is not at all clear that North Korea intends to use its nuclear weapons offensively against the United States or American allies in the northeast Asia. As former National Security Advisor Susan Rice put it recently, the United States can “tolerate” a nuclear North Korea.

Language is important here. “Tolerate” does not mean endorse or approve. No one wants North Korea to have nuclear weapons, not even the Chinese, who often abet North Korean bad behavior. But we have little choice. This is teeth-grinding, grudging tolerance, because the other options are so poor. And it does not preclude us from taking actions to defend ourselves and otherwise pressure North Korea.

For convenience, those options might be arrayed along a typical, left-center-right spectrum. Doves on the left would seek engagement and dialogue with the North. They argue that the US and South Korea have demonized North Korea over the years so much, that the North is understandably hostile. George W. Bush famously placed North Korea on an ‘axis of evil’ and said he ‘loathed’ Kim Jong Il, the father of current leader Kim Jong Un. North Korea itself routinely claims that the US pursues a ‘hostile policy’ toward it, and that it needs nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantee against American-led regime change. The Kims have been quite explicit that they do not wish to meet the fate of Saddam Hussein or Muammar Kaddifi. The South Korean left has sought a dovish engagement policy for years, peaking in the so-called ‘Sunshine Policy’ from 1998-2008. The most prominent figure of such thinking is the current liberal South Korean president, Moon Jae In.

Hawks on the right would argue that military action must be contemplated, because North Korea is the most dangerous state in history to possess nuclear weapons. These critics would suggest that engagement is a ruse, that North Korea cheated on the ‘Sunshine Policy,’ and that Pyongyang’s brutal, gangsterish dictatorship cannot be trusted to have the world’s most powerful weapons. Indeed the ruling Kim family may not even be rational. They may use these weapons offensively against the United States, or to coerce Korean unification on Northern terms. The most prominent figure making such arguments in the United States today is probably John Bolton.

Centrists – the position taken here – would argue that engagement with North Korea has traditionally failed, and that military action is too risky. Doves have indeed struggled to show results from engagement or negotiation. Talks with North Korea often seem to drag on forever, with constant trickery and backsliding on the North Korean side. The last serious US-North Korean deal, struck in 2012, began to unravel within weeks because of North Korean noncompliance. Talks in the Bush years also seemed to go nowhere. On the South Korean side, the Sunshine Policy, despite great commitment from Seoul, yielded little, and Moon’s recent, renewed effort at outreach has been batted away by Pyongyang.

Trying to talk to North Korea is always a good idea. As Winston Churchill said, ‘jaw jaw is better than war war.’ But we must go in with deep skepticism. We must not allow talks to become an end in themselves, a play for time by North Korea to continue developing its weapons. Nor must talks degenerate into subsidies to a dictatorship as an effort to ‘buy’ good behavior from North Korea. This is ultimately what undid the Sunshine Policy. So in this current crisis, we should support Secretary of State Tillerson’s efforts. He said to Pyongyang just a few days ago, ‘we are not your enemy,’ in an effort to draw out the North. But after decades of effort, our expectations of engagement should be low.

Hawks have similarly struggled to find an answer to the North Korean conundrum. Force is an attractive option for a superpower. The US has the world’s best military, and it is tempting to use that powerful leverage, as President Trump seems to be hinting. We do this frequently in the Middle East, where we have used invasion, special forces, and drones to pursue our opponents. But that is feasible there, because the US is relatively secure from counter-strikes, other than limited terrorist action. In the Korean case, North Korea has significant capabilities to do great damage to our allies in the region, South Korea and Japan, and perhaps now to the US homeland itself via its emergent intercontinental ballistic missiles. South Korea is especially vulnerable. Its capital, Seoul, lies just twenty miles from the demilitarized zone border. Some twenty million people live in Seoul and its nearby cities. Were the North Koreans to retaliate against an American airstrike, they could do great damage to Seoul, potentially killing tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands if they used nuclear weapons. As North Korea’s missile tests have accelerated, Pyongyang can now range Japan’s cities too, plus, perhaps, American cities. All this means that North Korea could respond devastatingly to an American airstrike.

This knowledge has stayed the hand of American and South Korean planners for decades. North Korea has provoked the US and South Korea plenty. There have been repeated North Korean provocations which could reasonably have warranted South Korean and/or American counterstrikes. In 1968, 1969, 1976, 1987, and 2010 occurred the worst North Korean provocations of the decades-long Korean division. Despite casualties and heated debate in South Korean and American media over the need to ‘finally’ punish North Korea, no action was taken. This was not from reticence – the US has been more than willing to pursue an aggressive drone war in the Middle East – but rather from the exposure of millions of innocent South Koreans and Japanese to North Korean retaliation.

Kinetic options have other downsides the Trump administration would be wise to contemplate before it unleashes the bombers. North Korea has been tunneling since the 1960s to prepare for just such an American air campaign. The US punishingly bombed North Korea during the Korean War, 1950-1953. Over a million died. North Korean planners learned that lesson and have been digging ever since. This means that any airstrike on North Korea would not look like what we have become accustomed to in the Middle East. There could be no limited cruise missile or drone strike which could be wrapped up in a day. Instead, North Korea’s decades-old hardening would require an extensive air campaign, involving hundreds, perhaps thousands, of air sorties, pursuing dozens of targets. We would call it a ‘surgical strike’ before global public opinion, but in practice it would be a war.

Once the bombs started to fall, the North Koreans would move everything underground, requiring yet more airstrikes. They would also use human shields, with grandmothers and infants placed around any targets which could not be moved below ground. Pictures of dead innocents would immediately be broadcast globally.

Finally, the North Koreans have a defensive alliance with China. China would not support North Korean aggression against the South or US, but it would, technically, be required to help North Korea if it were attacked. And an American air campaign would look so much like a war – no matter what we call it – that North Korea would almost certainly call on its ally for help. We do not actually know the redlines of that alliance. Perhaps China would abandon North Korea. But China intervened in 1950 to bail out North Korea as it began to lose the Korean War, and its strategists still refer to North Korea today as a ‘buffer’ between China and the robust democracies of South Korea, Japan, and America. Were China to enter the war on Pyongyang’s side, that could be disastrous. Americans and Chinese shooting at each other could easily spiral into a major regional, or even global, conflict sucking in Russia, whose Siberian backyard extends all the way to east Asia, and Japan as well.

These combined risks are so high that centrists reject the use of force as too risky, at the same time they grasp the general futility of negotiating with North Korea. The answer then is an unsatisfying ‘more of the same.’ For 64 years, deterrence and defense have worked on the peninsula. For all the tension, cable news hysteria, and North Korean provocation, the Korean War has not returned. Deterrence has been stable, however morally unsatisfying we find that, because it allows vicious North Korea to hang on.

North Korean nuclearization does not fundamentally change this. The United States already lives in a permanent nuclear deterrence relationship with Russia and China, and we have for decades. We have adapted ourselves, however grudgingly, to those countries’ nuclear missilization. The Cuban Missile Crisis is remembered as an American victory over the Soviet Union, but within a decade the Soviets had the ability to strike the US homeland without Cuba. We have lived with that, plus later Chinese and Pakistani nuclearization. This was unwanted, but, as with North Korea, the alternatives, particularly the military ones, were simply too risky. We learned to tolerate, just as Rice suggests we now do with North Korea.

This is depressing, but nonetheless the likely outcome of the current crisis. Trump may bluster and threaten, but I have little doubt his national security staff has warned him of the great risks of a strike. Nor should we think that North Korea intends to use these weapons to offensively strike the US. The American retaliation for an out-of-the-blue Northern strike would be devastating. North Korea as a functioning state would be utterly destroyed, and its elite killed. And that elite is not suicidal ideologues. They are not ISIS or Osama bin Laden. If they wanted to go down in a blaze of anti-American glory, they could have done so at any time of the last few decades. They wish to survive.

Sticking to the deterrence posture we have pursued since 1953 is not passivity in the face of threat. We can, and likely will, put resources into missile defense. If the North insists on missilization, then we should respond in kind with a ‘roof.’ And we can continue to pursue ever-tightening sanctions, which even China recently supported, to constrict North Korea’s pipeline to the global economy. North Korea’s gangster elite enjoys a life of privilege which requires that pipeline, as do its nuclear and missile programs. Going after their money and access will hurt.

If this feels unsatisfying or disappointing, it is. There is no silver bullet regarding North Korea. Were there, we would have used it long ago. North Korean nuclear missiles are a fact we can either adapt to, or risk a major war over. The US has, despite all our power, not risked that war to date, and I imagine Donald Trump will not in the end either.


 (The Opposite View)

Boris Johnson warns that North Korea could ‘vaporise’ South Korean capital Seoul

September 4, 2017

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson CREDIT: VICTORIA JONES 

  • Boris Johnson condemns ‘reckless’ North Korean nuclear test that sparked quake
  • The Foreign Secretary admitted there is ‘no easy military solution’ after blast
  • But he said the UK’s view was that ‘peaceful diplomatic means’ are the best way to resolve the crisis

Boris Johnson has warned that Kim Jong-un could ‘vaporise’ the South Korean capital Seoul while admitting that there it no ‘easy military solution’ after Kim Jong-un tested a powerful underground hydrogen bomb.

The Foreign Secretary condemned the ‘reckless’ North Korean nuclear test and warned that being able to fit a warhead to a missile would present a ‘new order of threat’ from the regime.

Mr Johnson, pictured, said the UK’s view was that ‘peaceful diplomatic means’ are the best way to resolve the crisis in the Korean peninsula.

In an attempt to play down the threat of conflict he said that ‘none of the military options are good’ – but added that ‘it is of course right to say that all options are on the table’.

Mr Johnson, pictured, said the UK's view was that 'peaceful diplomatic means' are the best way to resolve the crisis in the Korean peninsula

Mr Johnson, pictured, said the UK’s view was that ‘peaceful diplomatic means’ are the best way to resolve the crisis in the Korean peninsula

North Korean television today released these photos appearing to show Kim Jong-Un signing the order to carry out the test

North Korean television today released these photos appearing to show Kim Jong-Un signing the order to carry out the test

Kim Jong-Un appears to sign the order asking his scientist to proceed with the test
The order to proceed

Kim Jong-Un (left) appears to sign the order (right) asking his scientist to proceed with the test

The detonation of the nuclear device was North Korea’s sixth and most powerful test to date.

Pyongyang called the test a ‘perfect success’ but it has led to condemnation from around the world.

Theresa May said that the action by North Korea was ‘reckless and poses an unacceptable further threat to the international community’.

US President Donald Trump meanwhile branded the country ‘a rogue nation’ whose ‘words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous’ to the United States.

Mr Trump tweeted that North Korea ‘has become a great threat and embarrassment to China, which is trying to help but with little success’.

Mr Johnson called for ‘common sense’ to prevail in the crisis and urged Beijing to put further pressure on Kim’s regime.

Yonhap, South Korea's official news agency, reports the quake struck where North Korea's nuclear test site Punggyeri is located

Yonhap, South Korea’s official news agency, reports the quake struck where North Korea’s nuclear test site Punggyeri is located

He said: ‘There is no question that this is another provocation, it is reckless, what they are doing is they seem to be moving closer towards a hydrogen bomb which, if fitted to a successful missile would unquestionably present a new order of threat.

‘We have to consider how to respond and it’s our view in the UK, overwhelmingly, that peaceful diplomatic means are the best.’

Mr Johnson said: ‘Over the 30 year history of North Korea’s attempt to acquire nuclear weapons there have been tough moments and moments when they have backed down again.

‘We are working to see if we can get some common sense here.’

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, pictured, called for 'common sense' to prevail in the crisis and urged Beijing to put further pressure on Kim's regime

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, pictured, called for ‘common sense’ to prevail in the crisis and urged Beijing to put further pressure on Kim’s regime

The earthquake came after North Korea claimed it had developed a more advanced nuclear weapon. Photos released on Sunday show the country's leader Kim Jong-un inspecting a hydrogen bomb

The earthquake came after North Korea claimed it had developed a more advanced nuclear weapon. Photos released on Sunday show the country’s leader Kim Jong-un inspecting a hydrogen bomb

Overhead pictures of Punggye-ri nuclear test site from August 17, published by 38 North, revealed Kim Jong-un could order a test blast 'at any time with minimal advance warning', experts said

Overhead pictures of Punggye-ri nuclear test site from August 17, published by 38 North, revealed Kim Jong-un could order a test blast ‘at any time with minimal advance warning’, experts said

Asked how close the crisis was to conflict, Mr Johnson said: ‘It’s certainly our view that none of the military options are good. It is of course right to say that all options are on the table, but we really don’t see an easy military solution.’

The distance between North Korea and South Korea’s capital Seoul is small and ‘they could basically vapourise’ large parts of the population even with conventional weapons, he warned.

‘So that’s not really very easy to threaten and to deliver,’ he said.

‘Much more productive we think is to continue with the international diplomatic effort.’

In a call for Beijing to increase pressure on Pyongyang he said: ‘What the Chinese always say is that there is a kind of equivalence between the South Korea/American military exercises and that nuclear testing conducted by North Korea.

‘We don’t accept that: what the South Koreans do is entirely legitimate, it’s peaceful, it’s been going on for years, it doesn’t represent any illegal provocation of that kind.

‘Our message to the Chinese is, and we are working ever more closely with them, we think there is more scope for you the Chinese to put economic pressure on the North Koreans.

‘It has worked, we have seen signs in the last six months of Chinese pressure actually changing the approach of North Koreans – let’s see if we can do it again.’

Read more:
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

See also The Telegraph:

‘Seoul will be vaporised’: Boris Johnson’s warning as US threatens to annihilate North Korea

As tensions soar, South Korea mulls nuclear arms

August 11, 2017

Image may contain: sky and outdoor

A photo from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency shows the intercontinental ballistic missile launched from an undisclosed site in the North. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

SEOUL (AFP) – As nuclear-armed North Korea’s missile stand-off with the US escalates, calls are mounting in the South for Seoul to build nuclear weapons of its own to defend itself — which would complicate the situation even further.

The South, which hosts 28,500 US troops to defend it from the North, is banned from building its own nuclear weapons under a 1974 atomic energy deal it signed with the US, which instead offers a “nuclear umbrella” against potential attacks.

But with Pyongyang regularly threatening to turn Seoul into a “sea of flames” — and nagging questions over Washington’s willingness to defend it if doing so put its own cities in danger of retaliatory attacks — the South’s media are leading calls for a change of tack.

South Korea, which fought a war with the North that ended in a stalemate in 1953, is highly technologically advanced and analysts estimate it could develop an atomic device within months of deciding to do so.

“Now is time to start reviewing nuclear armament,” the Korea Herald said in an editorial Friday.

After Pyongyang conducted two successful tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile last month, putting much of the mainland United States within reach, the paper warned: “Trust in the nuclear umbrella the US provides to the South can be shaken.”

It urged Washington to deploy some of its atomic weapons to South Korea if it did not want to see a nuclear-armed Seoul.

The US stationed some of its atomic weapons in the South following the 1950-53 Korean War, but withdrew them in 1991 when two Koreas jointly declared they would make the peninsula nuclear-free.

But Pyongyang carried out its first nuclear test in 2006, and formally abandoned the deal in 2009.

Tensions have soared in recent months with US President Donald Trump this week warning of “fire and fury” against Pyongyang, which threatened missile strikes near the US territory of Guam.

The North’s military chief Ri Myong Su responded saying that if the US continued in its “reckless” behaviour, Pyongyang would “inflict the most miserable and merciless punishment upon all the provokers”.

The latest war of words between Trump and the North — ruled by young leader Kim Jong-Un — unnerved many in the South, even though it has become largely used to hostile rhetoric from its neighbour.

A conflict between the North and the US could have devastating consequences for Asia’s fourth-largest economy, with Seoul within range of Pyongyang’s vast conventional artillery forces.

“A catastrophe is looming,” the South’s top-selling Chosun daily said in an editorial this week.

“All options, even those considered unthinkable so far, must be on the table.”

– ‘Balance of terror’ –

In all the North has staged five atomic tests — including three under Kim — as it seeks to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the continental US.

A survey last year — even before tensions reached a crescendo — showed about 57 percent of South Koreans supported the idea of nuclear armament, with 31 percent opposing it.

“We need to have our own military options to overwhelm the North,” the Korea Economic Daily said in an editorial this week, calling for a nuclear weapon to ensure a “balance of terror” and prevent Pyongyang from attacking the South.

But a South Korean bomb would infuriate Pyongyang, which says it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against the threat of invasion, and make bringing it to the negotiating table even harder.

“The so-called ‘balance of terror’ would only turn the Korean peninsula into the hotbed of a nuclear arms race, not a peaceful peninsula,” said Yang Moo-Jin, professor at the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul.

It could also trigger a “nuclear domino” in Asia, pushing others such as Tokyo and Taipei to seek their own arsenals, he added.

“Japan in particular would welcome it with open arms, because it provides a perfect excuse to revise its pacifist constitution and build its own nuclear weapons for ‘self-defence’,” he said.

Seoul’s defence chief Song Young-Moo said recently the South was “fully capable” of building its own nuclear weapon but was not considering the option for now.

Atomic arms are not the only way Seoul can step up its defences.

Song is pushing for the development of nuclear-powered submarines, although doing so also requires consent from the US.

South Korean President Moon Jae-In has also urged limits on Seoul’s missiles to be loosened in a conversation with Trump.

At present, Seoul is allowed to possess ballistic missiles with a range of 800 kilometres and payload of 500 kilogrammes. It wants the weight limit raised to 1,000 kilogrammes, and the Pentagon said Monday it was “actively” considering the revision.

by Jung Ha-Won
See also:
The New York Times
After North Korea Test, South Korea Pushes to Build Up Its Own Missiles

Commentary: Hong Kong, a cautionary tale for Singapore, a lesson for the future — Survival of any city-state cannot be taken for granted.

August 6, 2017

Hong Kong offers valuable lessons for Singapore, showing that Singapore must tread a different path if it wants to continue to thrive, argues Woo Jun Jie.

Image may contain: skyscraper, sky, night and outdoor

SINGAPORE: “In my generation, things were simpler … if you worked hard enough, you gained admission to university, more or less you’d be able to find a good job with a good salary, and then a career path in front of you.”

These words could easily pass off as those of an older Singaporean reminiscing about the past and lamenting the stiff competition that young Singaporeans entering the workforce today face.

“But now with the globalisation of the economy, with a lot of competition and other things – that becomes a bit difficult,” Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam continued, in a recent interview with Channel NewsAsia.

Lam was in Singapore at the invitation of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and the sentiments she expressed over the challenges resonated with many Singaporeans.

It is clear from Lam’s statement that Hong Kong and Singapore face similar economic challenges. However, their responses to these challenges differ.

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Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam


Both Singapore and Hong Kong have followed a similar growth trajectory, with both emerging to become Asia’s leading financial powerhouses, riding on the rapid expansion of financial services in Asia over the past three decades.

While Hong Kong’s financial sector has a much longer history than that of Singapore and remains larger in terms of market capitalisation and depth, it is beginning to experience speed bumps in its growth.

As I discussed in an earlier commentary, much of Hong Kong’s current challenges are a result of deficiencies in its public administration.

Once the leader of the pack as the leading Asian tiger economy, it has since fallen behind its competitors. Its fall in prominence as a global financial centre is particularly striking, since financial services have always been Hong Kong’s forte.

Hong Kong’s economic decline is rooted in its falling productivity and innovation. The city fell from 11th position to 14th in the 2016 Global Innovation Index, while growth in labour productivity has fallen to 0.8 per cent over the past four years, compared to an average of 3.6 per cent before the 2009 global financial crisis.

Image may contain: one or more people, sky, cloud, outdoor and water

Anglers fish as a litter collection boat sails past in the waters of Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong. (Photo: Anthony WALLACE / AFP)

It is striking how similar Hong Kong and Singapore are in so many ways, in terms of the common challenges that both seem to be collectively facing. Given these similarities, are there lessons that Singapore can draw from Hong Kong’s ongoing decline?


Hong Kong and Singapore resemble each other in many other ways, if only because of their remarkably similar history. Both are functioning city-states that have emerged from a history of British colonialism and have retained their British-styled common law and public administration systems.

Although Hong Kong now exists under China’s One Country Two Systems principle, it nonetheless possesses significant autonomy in economic policy.

In terms of economic development, both cities started out as manufacturing bases and shipping hubs but subsequently developed strengths in financial services, tourism and services.

However, this is where the similarity ends.

For Singapore, some of our biggest competitors come from all across the globe, with Seoul and Dubai rivalling our air hub status, and Ireland increasingly giving us a run for our money as an alternative business location. In a highly globalised economy, this is, as they say, par for the course.

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A general view of the departure gates and duty free area at the Emirates’ terminal in Dubai International Airport. (File photo: REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh)

However, if we look at the cause of Hong Kong’s economic challenges, we may be surprised to find that the strong competition that Hong Kong faces emanate from places much closer to its shores. Emerging Chinese financial centres such as Shanghai and Shenzhen in particular are threatening Hong Kong’s traditional role as “gateway” to China.

A case in point is that of container throughput. While Singapore continues to be ranked second, Hong Kong has fallen from fourth to fifth place on the World Shipping Council’s list of top 50 world container ports. It was replaced by Ningbo-Zhoushan, a rising transshipment hub with excellent port infrastructure and strong connectivity to Zhejiang, an emerging economic centre.

While China has long served as Hong Kong’s economic hinterland, it is now ironically throwing up powerful new port cities and financial centres that threaten to eclipse the territory.

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The city of Ningbo, a major port and industrial hub located in eastern China’s Zhejiang province. (Photo: AFP)


Hong Kong’s economic decline and the challenges it faces hold important lessons for Singapore.

Hong Kong’s struggles with emerging competition highlight an ineluctable fact: As the Chinese economy continues to develop and mature, it will be increasingly difficult to compete with Chinese ports and financial centres that are more competitive, more efficient, and more integrated with the rest of China’s economy.

This is particularly the case with nearby Shenzhen, which has emerged to become a thriving finance and innovation hub. In 2014, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences ranked Shenzhen above Hong Kong in its ranking of the most competitive cities in China.

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A view of the skyline of Shenzhen. (File photo: AFP/Samantha Sin)

It is said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. Yet, imitation can ring the death knell for a successful global city, as copycats with easy access to information and expertise can replicate a global city’s strategy for success in a shorter time and possibly with less effort.

Hence, once a city like Hong Kong or Singapore attains economic success in a particular industry, it must quickly move onto another sector to keep ahead of the curve. Unfortunately, such constant movement is the fate of small city-states.

Taking a leaf from the challenges and competition that Hong Kong faces, Singapore needs to enact a paradigm shift and not rely solely on its pole position as the gateway to Southeast Asia. Rather than simply being a gateway to any particular region or emerging market, Singapore needs to continuously rebrand itself as a truly global city that can serve a diverse array of markets and services.

With second-tier cities growing in both market size and expertise, traditional strengths in trade and finance will not be enough to guarantee Hong Kong’s and Singapore’s survival in the global economy.

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The birthplace of leading global electronics companies such as Samsung and LG, Korea is renowned for its cutting-edge technology. (Photo: AFP/Ed Jones)


One way both cities have sought to diversify their offerings is to encourage the growth of innovation and technology, with FinTech being a case in point, so as to bolster their financial services sector, and hedge against potential disruption in this field. In doing so, they are transforming themselves into smart cities.

Yet, in contrast to Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative, Hong Kong’s smart city policy initiatives are much less coherent and Hong Kong continues to lag behind Singapore. While Singapore had introduced its Smart Nation initiative back in 2014, Hong Kong is only just releasing its Smart City blueprint, having spent the past few years commissioning studies and mapping out development plans.

However, smart cities cannot be the silver bullet for sustainable economic growth. Successful global cities such as London and New York are more than simply places to do business. Rather, they are also highly vibrant and liveable cities that are attractive to innovators, movers and shakers of the future global economy.

This will in turn lead to a natural clustering of companies seeking access to highly skilled labour as well as links to other companies, giving rise to new and innovative business solutions. More than simply a clean and aesthetically pleasing environment, however, a successful global city needs to possess a strong cultural identity.

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Tokyo’s edgy art scene is scattered across the city in bathhouses, backstreets and skyscrapers. (File photo: AFP/Kazuhiro Nogi)


As Singapore’s thriving arts scene shows, a city’s cultural activities can both generate economic revenue, in terms of tourism, and perhaps more importantly, strengthen its cultural identity. It is this cultural identity that imbues great cities with long-term economic vibrancy and grants them confidence on the global stage.

At a more fundamental level, a vibrant arts and culture scene also serves to attract both top talent and industry leaders who are able to shape emerging cultural and economic trends. More than simply providing recreation and aesthetic value, the arts can truly build up Singapore’s cultural milieu and attractiveness as a global city.

The challenges faced by Hong Kong suggest that in an increasingly competitive global economy that is dominated by large and better-resourced nation-states, the survival of any city-state cannot be taken for granted.

Going forward, this softer aspect of urban economic development will prove crucial to both Hong Kong and Singapore. There is an urgent need for urban differentiation and for a new economic strategy.

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The value of fintech investment in Singapore increased significantly in the second quarter of 2017, compared to a year ago, despite fewer deals being completed. (Photo: TODAY)

This will require moving up the value chain to provide services that these emerging cities are not yet able to through a form of a smart city transformation. Hence, Singapore needs to move beyond the hamster wheel of economic upscaling to truly rethink what its value proposition is, especially in light of other competing cities that can easily replicate our recipe for success.

Fostering a vibrant and unique cultural milieu will set Singapore apart from other economic powerhouses and enhance its attractiveness as a global city. A vibrant arts and culture scene will be essential for this.

In order to do this, the city-state must master both the art and the heart of governance. While Singapore’s physical infrastructure is crucial for its economic performance, it is the city-state’s cultural identity that will give it soul and long-term vibrancy.

Woo Jun Jie is an assistant professor in the Public Policy and Global Affairs Programme of Nanyang Technological University and Rajawali Fellow at the John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He is the author of the newly released book, 3-in-1: Governing a Global Financial Centre, published by World Scientific.

Source: CNA/sl

How to avoid nuclear war with North Korea

August 4, 2017

There are no good options to curb Kim Jong Un. But blundering into war would be the worst

The Economist

IT IS odd that North Korea causes so much trouble. It is not exactly a superpower. Its economy is only a fiftieth as big as that of its democratic capitalist cousin, South Korea. Americans spend twice its total GDP on their pets. Yet Kim Jong Un’s backward little dictatorship has grabbed the attention of the whole world, and even of America’s president, with its nuclear brinkmanship. On July 28th it tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit Los Angeles. Before long, it will be able to mount nuclear warheads on such missiles, as it already can on missiles aimed at South Korea and Japan. In charge of this terrifying arsenal is a man who was brought up as a demigod and cares nothing for human life—witness the innocents beaten to death with hammers in his gigantic gulag. Last week his foreign ministry vowed that if the regime’s “supreme dignity” is threatened, it will “pre-emptively annihilate” the countries that threaten it, with all means “including the nuclear ones”. Only a fool could fail to be alarmed.

What another Korean war might look like

Yet the most serious danger is not that one side will suddenly try to devastate the other. It is that both sides will miscalculate, and that a spiral of escalation will lead to a catastrophe that no one wants. Our briefing this week lays out, step by step, one way that America and North Korea might blunder into a nuclear war (see article). It also lists some of the likely consequences. These include: for North Korea, the destruction of its regime and the death of hundreds of thousands of people. For South Korea, the destruction of Seoul, a city of 10m within easy range of 1,000 of the North’s conventional artillery pieces. For America, the possibility of a nuclear attack on one of its garrisons in East Asia, or even on an American city. And don’t forget the danger of an armed confrontation between America and China, the North’s neighbour and grudging ally. It seems distasteful to mention the economic effects of another Korean war, but they would of course be awful, too.

President Donald Trump has vowed to stop North Korea from perfecting a nuclear warhead that could threaten the American mainland, tweeting that “it won’t happen!” Some pundits suggest shooting down future test missiles on the launchpad or, improbably, in the air. Others suggest using force to overthrow the regime or pre-emptive strikes to destroy Mr Kim’s nuclear arsenal before he has a chance to use it.

Yet it is just this sort of military action that risks a ruinous escalation. Mr Kim’s bombs and missile-launchers are scattered and well hidden. America’s armed forces, for all their might, cannot reliably neutralise the North Korean nuclear threat before Mr Kim has a chance to retaliate. The task would be difficult even if the Pentagon had good intelligence about North Korea; it does not. The only justification for a pre-emptive strike would be to prevent an imminent nuclear attack on America or one of its allies.

Can Mr Kim be cajoled or bribed into giving up his nuclear ambitions? It is worth trying, but has little chance of success. In 1994 President Bill Clinton secured a deal whereby Kim Jong Il (the current despot’s father) agreed to stop producing the raw material for nuclear bombs in return for a huge injection of aid. Kim took the money and technical help, but immediately started cheating. Another deal in 2005 failed, for the same reason. The younger Kim, like his father, sees nuclear weapons as the only way to guarantee the survival of his regime. It is hard to imagine circumstances in which he would voluntarily give up what he calls his “treasured sword of justice”.

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If military action is reckless and diplomacy insufficient, the only remaining option is to deter and contain Mr Kim. Mr Trump should make clear—in a scripted speech, not a tweet or via his secretary of state—that America is not about to start a war, nuclear or conventional. However, he should reaffirm that a nuclear attack by North Korea on America or one of its allies will immediately be matched. Mr Kim cares about his own skin. He enjoys the life of a dissolute deity, living in a palace and with the power to kill or bed any of his subjects. If he were to unleash a nuclear weapon, he would lose his luxuries and his life. So would his cronies. That means they can be deterred.

To contain Mr Kim, America and its allies should apply pressure that cannot be misconstrued as a declaration of war. They should ramp up economic sanctions not only against the North Korean regime but also against the Chinese companies that trade with it or handle its money. America should formally extend its nuclear guarantee to South Korea and Japan, and boost the missile defences that protect both countries. This would help ensure that they do not build nuclear weapons of their own. America should convince the South Koreans, who will suffer greatly if war breaks out, that it will not act without consulting them. China is fed up with the Kim regime, but fears that if it were to collapse, a reunified Korea would mean American troops on China’s border. Mr Trump’s team should guarantee that this will not happen, and try to persuade China that in the long run it is better off with a united, prosperous neighbour than a poor, violent and unpredictable one.

Everyone stay calm

All the options for dealing with the North are bad. Although America should not recognise it as a legitimate nuclear power, it must base its policy on the reality that it is already an illegitimate one. Mr Kim may gamble that his nukes give him the freedom to behave more provocatively, perhaps sponsoring terrorism in the South. He may also sell weapons to other cruel regimes or terrorist groups. The world must do what it can to thwart such plots, though some will doubtless succeed.

It is worth recalling that America has been here before. When Stalin and Mao were building their first atom bombs, some in the West urged pre-emptive strikes to stop them. Happily, cooler heads prevailed. Since then, the logic of deterrence has ensured that these terrible weapons have never been used. Some day, perhaps by coup or popular uprising, North Koreans will be rid of their repulsive ruler, and the peninsula will reunite as a democracy, like Germany. Until then, the world must keep calm and contain Mr Kim.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “It could happen”

US caught between rock and a hard place on North Korea

July 31, 2017

By Jonathan Eyal

Opinion: Trump’s Korean dilemma

April 28, 2017

Deutsche Welle

Are “all options” really on the table, as Donald Trump says, when it comes to dealing with North Korea? In reality, says guest contributor Peter Sturm, the military options are very limited.

Nordkorea Militärparade (Reuters/KCNA )

It’s a phrase that’s part of the standard repertory whenever the United States talks about North Korea. And now the Trump administration, too, insists that “all options” are on the table. A UN resolution should impose further sanctions on North Korea. In principle, Washington is open to negotiations. That all sounds a lot like continuity, and in principle, that’s good news.

What is the target?

But that’s also the point where the questions start. How will Washington ensure that China really does implement the sanctions agreed by the United Nations? What exactly is there to negotiate about with North Korea, if you see “negotiating” as meaning that everyone has to make some concessions? And then there’s the big question: What military options are realistic? You quickly reach a dead end considering that question.

Of course, the US could launch a preemptive strike – as was the case with the attack in Syria. But on what target? If it were to bomb the atomic test site, there’s a big danger that radioactive material could be released that would affect neighboring Chinese territory. A “decapitating strike” against Kim Jong-un’s leadership would cause large-scale chaos, but it would barely impact North Korea’s military capability. An attack, then, on the border region and the troops stationed there, who are among the best that North Korea’s military has to offer?

Sturm Peter Kommentarbild App PROVISORISCHGuest contributor and “FAZ” editor Peter Sturm

Classic case of self-deterrence

All of this is possible in theory. But even if just a very small number of artillery and/or rocket batteries remain intact, that’s more than enough to do serious damage to US ally South Korea (which Donald Trump has promised to protect). The South Korean capital Seoul is located close to the border with North Korea, and is so big that the North Korean projectiles wouldn’t even have to be that accurate. Korea is dealing with a classic scenario of self-deterrence. Is there no way out? Kim Jong-un has put his country and his people into a perpetual state of emotional emergency. The worst thing that can happen to him is if nothing happens. Then, North Koreans might have a chance to remember that they are not doing well – and to ask themselves why that is the case.

Peter Sturm is an editor at the German daily newspaper “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” (FAZ).

How does US military power stack up against North Korea, China and Russia?

April 11, 2017


THE diversion of US warships to North Korea is a show of American military power but how does the nation’s weapons capability stack up against others and can it continue to maintain its superiority?

While America is undoubtedly the “top dog” when it comes to its military, experts say North Korea could still land a massive blow against the US.

“Most pundits think that whatever happens in Korea, if somebody hits the button, the fighting would be very intense but brief and would lead to massive devastation,” Professor John Blaxland said.

Prof Blaxland is the acting head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University and says while the US has superior weaponry, other countries such as North Korea, China and Russia have massive stockpiles of weapons and trained military to counteract this.

According to the Global Firepower website, which collates publicly available information about the military capability of different countries, America is ranked number one in terms of its war-making ability across land, sea and air.

“It has the most powerful military in the world without question,” Prof Blaxland said.

The US annual defence budget of $581 billion dwarfs China, which spends $155 billion, Russia on $45 billion and North Korea on $7.5 billion.

But if you look at how many soldiers America has access to, it’s a different story.

The US has an active military personnel of 1.4 million, and a reserve army of 1.1 million.

When it comes to soldiers based on the North Korean border, the US only has about 20,000 troops permanently stationed in South Korea, as well as about 8000 air force personnel and other special forces. There were also about 50,000 military personnel based in Japan.

Compare this to North Korea, which has 700,000 active soldiers, but a whopping 4.5 million reserves.

Prof Blaxland said North Korea had also massed about 20,000 rockets and missiles on the border with South Korea, and when you are playing a numbers game, technology doesn’t always win.

“There’s a saying ‘quantity has a quality all of its own’,” he said.

“North Korea has massed artillery and missile capability adjacent to the demilitarised zone, close to Seoul, which puts it in range of a population about the size of Australia — it’s pretty scary.”

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Prof Blaxland said US troops stationed in South Korea could probably shoot down a large number of missiles but chances were, some would still get through.

“It doesn’t matter how good your technology is, if they get a few rounds off the ground, there will be mass casualties.”

“The problem is the quantity, just the sheer mass,” he said. “(Especially) if you aren’t that concerned about how many people die in the process, which Kim Jong-un isn’t.”

It has been estimated that in this scenario North Korea could potentially kill about 100,000 people.

So while North Korea may not ultimately win a war against America, it could certainly ensure many people also go down with it.

This could also be a problem with any matchup between the US and China or Russia.

All three countries have nuclear weapons but would not be motivated to use them as any retaliation would likely annihilate them as well.

Prof Blaxland said the Russians had massive firepower capability including ships, submarines and armed forces. Recently the Russians had demonstrated in Ukraine that they had the ability to bombard a 1km square area of land and “basically clean it out”.

“That is a frightening prospect,” he said.

He said China had put a lot of emphasis on its cyber technology, as well as copying western technology. It had long range munitions that could sink an aircraft carrier or knock down satellite systems the US relies on heavily.

While there was no question the US had the most powerful and technologically advanced military in the world, Prof Blaxland said no matter how good an aircraft was, if it was overwhelmed by dozens of enemy craft then “you’ll run out of ammo before they do”.

Another issue is that the US’s forces are dispersed across the world, with troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, as well as Europe, Latvia, Australia, Korea, Japan, Guam and Hawaii.

“The US is incredibly powerful militarily but if it takes on more than one big fight at a time, it’s probably biting off more than it can chew,” he said.

In the past, Prof Blaxland said America’s military was designed with the capability to fight two and a half “major theatre wars” at the same, but these days it is in a position where it could barely do one or maybe one and a half.

“Bearing in mind that they are already tied down in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, they are considerably constrained (to fight a major war),” he said.

See also:
How the world’s largest military stacks up to the US armed forces
Mar. 30, 2016, 4:01 PM
China military
Military delegates arrive at the Great Hall of the People for a meeting ahead of the opening ceremony of the National People’s Congress (NPC), in Beijing, China, on March 4.REUTERS/Jason Lee

A recent report from the US Congressional Research Service outlines China’s 2.3 million-member armed forces and sheds light on misconceptions from Western military analysts.

Simply put, the report challenges the idea that Westerners can understand China’s military and foreign-policy decisions without first understanding Chinese philosophy and culture of warfare.

Unlike the US, China has a media apparatus controlled by the state, so its military reports lack the transparency established by a free press.

China also has a fundamentally different understanding of aggression. For the Chinese, there is little difference between peacetime and wartime cyber espionage, and they have engaged in stealing military secrets from the US and others because they can.

The report, written by Ian E. Rinehart, a CRS analyst in Asian affairs, urges Congress and military leadership to examine a “Chinese way of war.”

Specifics of the report, detailed below, show how China has stepped up to rival the US’s military might in the Pacific:

View As: One Page Slides


Overview of China’s military forces

Overview of China's military forces

Congressional Research Service

With a population of 1.3 billion to draw from, more than four times as much as the population of the US, China has over 2.3 million in active service, with an additional 1.1 million as reserves and military police. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has actually shrunk from its estimated 1992 level of more than 3 million in active service.

The US military has about 1.4 million active service members, which represents a much lower total number of personnel, but a much higher percentage of the population engaged in the military.

Also important to consider is that China’s last war was a short fight against Vietnam in 1979. The Chinese have not been in a sustained conflict since the Korean war that ended in 1953.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Chinese theaters of command

Chinese theaters of command

Congressional Research Service

This graphic depicts China’s recently formed theaters of command.

The US’s theaters of command span the entire world, which means that resources are dedicated to certain geographic areas.

Though the US has larger and more modern forces, they would face huge difficulty in abandoning their posts worldwide to focus on China.

Source: Congressional Research Service

US theaters of command for comparison

The US has only a fraction of its forces dedicated to a large region in the Pacific that includes China.

The US would have to abandon interests worldwide in order to focus on China, whereas China’s entire military would focus on defending its borders and few interests in the Pacific.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Massive push toward modernization

Massive push toward modernization

Congressional Research Service

A combination of foreign acquisition and domestic innovation, possibly bolstered by cyber espionage, have led to a huge push in modernization for the Chinese PLA.

A recent anticorruption push by Chinese President Xi Jinping has consolidated more power behind the leader and further streamlined the country’s acquisition and modernization efforts.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Quality over quantity

Quality over quantity

Congressional Research Service

Though China is known for mass-produced goods, its focus of late has clearly been on quality over quantity.

By most metrics, the PLAAF has decreased, but as this graphic depicts, its potency has increased many times over.

China’s Cold War-era legacy fighters that used to make up the majority of its forces have sharply declined, while fourth-generation aircraft now make up almost half of the force.

Source: Congressional Research Service

China’s military spending

This chart shows China consistently spending around 2% of it’s GDP on defense, but there are reasons to doubt this:

1. There is no international standard of what constitutes “defense spending.”

2. China may want to downplay its military expenses, and the numbers reported are not independently verified.

3. It can be difficult to differentiate defense spending from other types of spending, and poor accounting practices ensure that not even China really knows the true figures.

Source: Congressional Research Service

China’s navy

China's navy


China’s navy regularly makes headlines by expanding its defensive perimeter outward throughout artificial islands in the South China Sea. China is effectively boxed out of the deeper pacific by a string of islands and nations around its borders.

It has also made a point of modernizing its naval vessels, especially in the area of submarines and antiship cruise missiles.

China plans to increase its submarine fleet from 62 to as many as 78 by 2020, according to the US Department of Defense. It is also undergoing efforts to build additional aircraft carriers, and currently using its current vessel, the Liaoning, to train on and design carrier-ready aircraft.

This testimony from an expert on China’s navy before Congress in July 2015 illustrates just how far the PLA has come:

China is on course to deploy greater quantities of missiles with greater ranges than those systems that could be employed by the US Navy against them. China is on track to have quantitative parity or better in surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), parity in missile launch cells, and quantitative inferiority only in multi-mission land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs).

 Source: Congressional Research Service

China’s air force

The DoD has reported that the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) is “rapidly closing the gap with western air forces across a broad spectrum of capabilities,” and that China “will endeavor to shift its focus from territorial air defense to both defense and offense.”

While there have been reports that the Chinese will overtake the US in air superiority by 2030, Air Force Gen. Lori J. Robinson said that training and support for US pilots gives them an “unbelievably huge” advantage over the Chinese pilots.

But China has been stepping up its training programs with increasingly realistic drills that are less scripted and more improvisational.

Additionally, the Chinese are developing fifth-generation aircraft, the J-20 and J-31, which are said to rival the US’s coming F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Source: Congressional Research Service

China’s ground forces

China's ground forces

Chinese soldiers in a parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender during World War II in front of Tiananmen Gate in Beijing on September 3, 2015.AP

While China commands the largest ground force in the world, it is plagued by mobility problems.

China lacks sufficient transport helicopters, and still largely relies on trains for transportation across the mainland.

The ground forces mainly exist to deter and manage conflicts with China’s borders, and their goal is to increase mechanization by 2020.

Source: Congressional Research Service

China’s ballistic and nuclear missiles

China's ballistic and nuclear missiles

The DF-21D rolls through China’s 2015 military parade.Sino Defence

The DoD states that the PLA is “developing and testing several new classes and variants of offensive missiles, including hypersonic glide vehicles, forming additional missile units, upgrading older missile systems, and developing methods to counter ballistic missile defenses.”

Of all the technologies indigenously produced in China, the ballistic missiles are a relative bright spot. China has effective intercontinental ballistic missiles, which can carry nuclear payloads, as well as conventional shorter-range ballistic missiles.

The CRS report cites an expert as saying that the PLA’s Rocket Force “is central to the PLA’s emerging capacity to not only complicate US power projection and freedom of operations in the Asia-Pacific region but also challenge regional powers’ attempts to deny the PLA air superiority and command of the seas.”

Additionally, China may seek to buy Russia’s advanced S-400 missile-defense system, which would bolster its already-substantial missile defenses.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Counter-space capabilities

China has tremendous space assets, including 70 military satellites used for communications, navigation, positioning and timing, meteorology, and electronic and signals intelligence.

Additionally, China sees the US’s reliance on GPS technology and space assets as a weakness, and has developed antisatellite capabilities, such as directed-energy weapons, satellite jammers, and antisatellite missiles.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Cyber capabilities

Cyber capabilities

Thomson Reuters

There is some disagreement among experts on China’s cyber-warfare capabilities, but the following is known:

China has three types of cyber forces: (1) specialized military network warfare forces in the PLA, (2) PLA-authorized teams of network warfare specialists in government organizations, and (3) non-governmental forces that may be mobilized for network warfare operations.

Potentially, China could access foreign networks and even deny foreign nations access to their own networks.

There have been numerous and credible reports that China has used cyber espionage to steal military secrets from the US.

Source: Congressional Research Service

China’s weaknesses

China's weaknesses

People’s Liberation Army navy recruits chant a slogan during a parade to mark the end of a semester at a military base of the North Sea Fleet.REUTERS/China Daily

By its own admission, China has deficiencies in training, cooperation between services, administration, human capital, force development, and logistics.

Under the rule of the Communist Party, the Chinese military has long had to avoid honest self-assessment and focus instead on presenting only positives to the country at large, while the force grows less experienced in real combat.

According to the report: “Chinese military analysts assess that it is not yet capable of carrying out complex operations overseas or fighting and winning a ‘local war under informationized conditions,’ their term for the type of conflict that they perceive China is most likely to face.”

Source: Congressional Research Service

China’s military goals

China's military goals

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets navy personnel in Sanya. PLA reform will boost the navy’s role relative to the army’s.Xinhua

The CRS report warns against “mirror imaging” or “tacitly and perhaps unconsciously assuming that one’s values and belief sets are shared by the other party—can lead to less accurate assessments of the other party’s intentions” when analyzing Chinese military aspects.

Simply put, just because China is pushing a massive, modern military doesn’t mean it’d wield it in the same way the US would.

The most striking difference between US and Chinese military doctrine would be the Chinese concept of “active defense.”

According to the report:

PLA strategists place a high priority on seizing the initiative in a conflict. Some observers believe that the PLA would pair this predilection with its assessment that the cyber and space domains are the “high ground” of contemporary warfare and thus choose to strike its adversary’s information networks.

According to one American scholar, China believes that a “preemptive first strike is preferable, as it sets the stage for the remainder of the conflict and puts the aggressor in a distinct position of advantage.”

China’s use of cyber warfare against the US is a prime example of this philosophy. They have already engaged the US with non-kinetic warfare through the theft of military secrets and hacking into the Office of Personnel Management.

The report concludes that the Chinese, in addition to traditional warfare, would confront an enemy with media and propaganda, legal actions, and psychological warfare.

Already we have seen China employ its media apparatus against the US in denouncing freedom to navigation exercises in the South China Sea, as well as legal actions against other nations in the Pacific that claim the islands China is currently developing.

Source: Congressional Research Service



US President Barack Obama and Chinese Xi have a drink after a toast at a lunch banquet in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 12, 2014.REUTERS/Greg Baker/Pool

China has done a magnificent job of leveraging every possible source of national power, from domestic propaganda and currency manipulation to cyber espionage and military reform.

The threats posed by China to the US are real and credible, but only in its specific region. Whether China is reaching for regional hegemony or simply trying to rise as a power in its own right is a subject of academic debate, but as a technological nemesis the US has much it can learn from China.

For now, the US maintains a slight edge in kinetic-warfare capabilities, while China has had unprecedented success with cyber warfare and innovating anti-space capabilities.

US citizens enjoy more personal freedoms and transparency in governance, but as threats from more authoritarian states like Russia and China arise, the need for a focused, reformed US foreign policy that can contest the wills of other nations through media, technology, and, yes, kinetic means is clearer than ever.