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China, A Superpower By 2049: High Tech Instead Of Heavy Metal

In competition with the US, China continues to expand its military. It already has the largest navy in the world. The goal: to become a superpower by 2049 at the latest.

The enemy is in China's desert: two US warships can be seen there; instead of water, they have sand under their bugs. In the northwest of the People's Republic, in the Xinjiang region, the People's Liberation Army has had models of US warships installed. The dummies are probably used by the military for attack training and location exercises.

In November, experts in the United States used satellite images to identify the outlines of an aircraft carrier and at least one destroyer , which can probably be moved on tracks. A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said they had no information on the pictures. Which doesn't even amount to a denial.

It is well known that American aircraft carriers near their own coastal waters worry the government in Beijing, as is that countermeasures have long been developed in China. In hardly any other area is the People's Republic arming itself as strongly as it is in the navy. And the total spending on the armed forces is enormous. "The military spending of the People's Republic almost doubled in the past ten years," states the Bonn Center for Conversion (BICC) in its current global militarization  index. "While China invested 136.8 billion US dollars in the military in 2009, it was an impressive 266.4 billion US dollars in 2019." 

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The Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimates that China's spending in 2020 was $ 252 billion. The problem: Most of the figures on China's rearmament are estimates, because the regime is extremely opaque. The Chinese government called the tests of hypersonic weapons in August 2021  simply tests with spaceships. In mid-December, the US Chief of Staff officially contradicted this representation. It was the "very significant event of the test of a hypersonic weapon system," said Mark Milley. That is "very worrying".

America's intelligence agencies are looking for further evidence of China's armament through satellite images, reconnaissance images and photos posted on the Internet. If a new submarine is being built at one of the shipyards, more missile silos will be built in the desert or the navy will again lay a floating platform on one of the tiny islands in the South China Sea so that soldiers and amphibious vehicles can claim almost all of it To reaffirm marine region?

China's claim to power has long been global . 100 years after its inception, the Communist Party seeks leadership that extends well beyond Tibet, North Korea, Laos and Taiwan. The People's Republic no longer relies only on its economic strength, but also on its armed forces, which the country is expanding at a tremendous pace.

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In the first decades of the People's Republic, the military mainly focused on mass: The People's Liberation Army therefore has many tanks, guns and vehicles. That was enough to assert itself against its direct neighbors. In addition, there was the nuclear program, which brought China a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council with the right to veto. The number of Chinese nuclear explosives has been increasing for years - while the arsenals in the West are shrinking. In 2019 and 2020, the Chinese nuclear forces are said to have received 30 new explosive devices each. The total number should be around 320 pieces. This makes China the third largest nuclear power in the world, and US experts estimate that the number of nuclear warheads should rise to 1,000 by 2030.

China is producing new weapon systems itself

Most of the armaments were bought in the Soviet Union and, after the end of the USSR, in Russia and Ukraine. At most, the NATO states were concerned about the number of weapons systems, not their quality. That is over, the People's Republic no longer relies on heavy metal, but on high-tech and meanwhile also on future systems of warfare. In addition to the United States and Israel, the most innovative and also most troubling arms projects come from China. The state founded by Mao is one of the pioneers in cyberwar, hypersonic weapons and autonomous systems such as robots and drones.

In the meantime, China's armaments industry produces the majority of the new weapons systems to be procured itself. In this way, the country is also countering the embargoes that Western states have imposed on it; the NATO states and their allies do not supply China with any armaments technology. However, there are loopholes in the regulations, such as engines developed in Germany in many Chinese warships. Beijing aims to have largely completed the modernization of its military by 2035. The goal of the state leadership for the armed forces is extremely ambitious: by 2049 all branches of the armed forces should be able to keep up internationally. At the latest, the status of the United States as the only superpower would be a thing of the past.

The People's Liberation Army already has the largest navy in the world, maintains numerous frigates, destroyers, nuclear submarines and two aircraft carriers. US experts estimate that the Chinese fleet already consisted of 360 ships at the end of 2020, 60 more than the US Navy had. Particularly noteworthy is the increase in aircraft carriers and submarines that can fire ballistic missiles. China intends to introduce ten more so-called SSBN, strategic submarines, in the coming years and will then have 17 of these weapon systems. They are believed to be armed with nuclear weapons, so-called submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), long-range missiles and nuclear warheads.

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From 2025, the JL-3 will be ready to use a missile that can destroy targets up to 12,000 kilometres away. This would allow submerged Chinese submarines from their own waters to target large American cities on the US west coast including Los Angeles. China is also trying to keep up with the US on weapons of mass destruction, which has just begun to renew its nuclear arsenal.

By 2025, the Chinese armed forces should also be able to muster a good 400 warships. "The establishment of a strong navy has been the dearest wish of the Chinese nation for generations," China's state and party leader Xi Jinping announced in April 2018 on the deck of Liaoning , the first Chinese aircraft carrier. "We must not let up in bringing the People's Liberation Army's navy to world-class level."

In conventional surface units, China has already overtaken the USA. Only in the high-tech area does the USA still lead: it has more modern submarines and more aircraft carrier formations. But the Chinese are developing more and more armaments to keep the Americans in check. The People's Liberation Army wants to keep the US fleet away from its own fleet with medium-range missiles. It has developed extra projectiles to take out enemy aircraft carriers in the event of war.

China feels circled

For a good ten years now, the Beijing government has also been using its growing military strength in foreign policy, with a focus on East Asia . She tries to push back the influence of the United States on the Pacific region. China does not feel unjustly encircled: after all, the United States has large locations in Guam, in South Korea and Japan, uses the British base Diego Garcia on an atoll in the Indian Ocean, a location in Singapore, is in a relationship with Taiwan, and is trying to get closer to India to bind.

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The region around the South China Sea remains the region of greatest importance from a strategic point of view for Beijing. China claims several islands that belong to other states. The People's Republic is also concerned with natural resources on the seabed and fishing rights. Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan and other countries feel the aggressive action of the gigantic empire more and more. The US Navy has stationed its 7th fleet in Japan, which includes up to 60 other warships and the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

For example, it was not until November that the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte complained that Chinese ships had used water cannons against Philippine boats in the conflict over the Spratly Islands. Just one incident out of hundreds in the past few years. Chinese coast guard boats attack fishermen from other countries, they occupy islands and create artificial islets to expand the five-mile zone. This approach has already been condemned by international bodies. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejected China's claims to areas such as the Subi Reef and the Fiery Cross Reef. Warships from other nations are also harassing the Chinese fleet and the air force. The government in Beijing has arbitrarily declared waters off the coast such as the Taiwan Strait to its own territorial waters.

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The United States and Great Britain in particular are now regularly sending squadrons or individual warships to the region. They drive close to Chinese territory to demonstrate that they do not accept a breach of international law of the sea and are keeping shipping lanes free. This leads to Chinese reactions: Chinese fighter jets often penetrate the Taiwanese air defense zone and only turn away when the air defense targets the aircraft.

The US is benefiting from China's aggressive foreign policy. Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea have so worried many neighboring states that they are turning more to the USA. This includes old allies of Washington such as South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, but also former opponents of the United States such as Vietnam. US President Joe Biden relies on strong alliances, the arming of partners and a continued strong military presence.

This is particularly clear in the Indo-Pacific alliance Aukus , in which Washington has agreed extensive arms cooperation with Great Britain and Australia that is directed against China. The states are already working closely together in many areas of security, such as Five Eyes, the exchange of intelligence information.

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From Beijing's point of view, the alliance is another provocation. In March, the United States had already revived the so-called Quad Group. With this alliance with India, Australia and Japan, the USA wants to strengthen its influence in the Indo-Pacific region and form a counterweight to China. At a digital conference, representatives from the four countries spoke primarily about maritime security. India, which fought deadly skirmishes with China in the Himalayas in 2020, expressed concern over the large numbers of Chinese warships off its coasts. The government in New Delhi traditionally pursues a foreign policy of neutrality; the country has long belonged to the group of so-called non-aligned countries. Today, however, it seems so concerned about the neighbour's policies that the government is ready to commit itself more closely to the United States.

With Aukus, the US is showing the entire region how far Washington is going to strengthen partners. Ultimately, Australia will receive top-secret and ultra-modern nuclear submarine technology, not just finished boats, but the competence to build these high-tech systems itself.

The risks are similar to those of the Cold War

The cooperation has been official since November when Australia's Defense Minister signed an agreement with high-ranking representatives from the partner nations in Canberra to exchange sensitive data on nuclear propulsion technology in submarines. But it shouldn't stop there. The three countries also want to exchange ideas in the areas of artificial intelligence, quantum technology and cybersecurity. It is no coincidence that China's President Xi Jinping warned of growing military tensions in the region in the same month: "We must work together to preserve the stability of the South China Sea and make the South China Sea a sea of ​​peace, friendship and cooperation."

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Military and security experts fear that the next major interstate war could take place in the Pacific. Then, however, the conflict should not only be carried out locally, since China also has long-range missiles and, like the USA, has set up several bases in the region as far as Djibouti in East Africa. China's so-called Maritime Silk Road is not just for trade. A war between the US and China carries similar risks as a clash between the blocs in the Cold War.

"There is unlikely to be any relaxation in the foreseeable future with a view to the territorial conflicts in East Asia," said Marco Overhaus and Alexandra Sakaki from the Science and Politics Foundation in Berlin in a study in 2021, a think tank that advises the German government. You cite as an example: "China is expanding its military presence in the vicinity of the uninhabited Senkaku Islands controlled by Japan (for China it is the Diaoyu Islands) qualitatively and quantitatively and thus penetrates regularly into Japanese territorial waters according to Tokyo’s interpretation Compared to the previous year, China's military activities in the area increased significantly in 2020 despite the global corona crisis."

NATO is currently concerned with how the West should deal with China in the future. The heads of state and government of the alliance have tasked Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with developing a new strategic concept. It should be available at the summit in June 2022. The transatlantic alliance deals internally with how to deal with the new Pacific power. As the United States confronts more and more, states like Germany fear for free trade and autocratic regimes like Hungary are ingratiating and maintaining good relations with Beijing. 

The USA is meanwhile looking for new alliances. Aukus could only be the beginning of further alliances of America against the challenger in the competition for a new world order. A fight with an open outcome.

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