Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is considered a warrior scholar steeped in military history. His views on the Chinese military, however, are not widely known and remain hidden — despite several on-the-record and off-the-record meetings with reporters during his trip to Beijing last month for talks with Chinese military leaders and President Xi Jinping.
A senior defense official told Inside the Ring that Mr. Mattis, a combat veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, recently let his views be known to China’s People’s Liberation Army, the Communist Party-ruled military.
According to the official, Mr. Mattis provided his opinion of the Chinese military indirectly to China’s defense minister during a meeting at the April 2016 summit between President Trump and Mr. Xi at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
The defense secretary was asked by then-Defense Minister Gen. Chang Wanquan what kind of military he would prefer to face in conflict.
Mr. Mattis responded that his preference, if he had to choose whom to wage war against, would be a military that conducts lots of training but has very little experience in combat. The reason? Nothing can replace the experience of combat and the chaos of war, something that even the most rigorous training regimens often cannot prepare militaries to deal with.
The comment was a not-so-subtle dig at the PLA, which is known to conduct lots of training exercises with an array of new ships, tanks and missiles but has not faced ground combat since the three-week border war with Vietnam in 1979.
China’s aerial combat and naval warfare skills also are suspect.
China has built an impressive arsenal of advanced warships, including its first aircraft carrier and at least one additional carrier in development, new guided missile ships and new submarines, both attack and missile boats. China also is building a new bomber and an advanced stealth jet — based on stolen American aircraft technology.
Its missile forces include an array of new missiles of varying ranges and capabilities, including an anti-ship ballistic missile with a maneuvering warhead and hypersonic glide vehicles capable of delivering nuclear warheads through missile defenses.
Mr. Mattis was supposed to meet with Gen. Chang in March when his visit to Beijing was originally planned. However, the Chinese general was replaced that month and Beijing asked the Pentagon to put off the visit by Mr. Mattis until June. The defense secretary spent two days in the Chinese capital, June 27 and 28.
One reason for the delayed visit was that China’s new defense minister, Gen. Wei Fenghe, did not want to be viewed as having met first with Mr. Mattis over concerns that Beijing may be tilting toward the United States at the expense of a growing anti-U.S. alliance with Russia.
Gen. Wei made his first overseas visit as defense minister to Moscow, where he held meetings with senior Russian defense and military officials — an indication that Beijing regards the U.S. military as its main enemy.
CHINA WAR GAMES NEAR TAIWAN
As Washington pundits and government officials debate President Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, China is busy sending a strategic message to the United States with large-scale war games near Taiwan.
China on Wednesday kicked off live-fire drills in the East China Sea north of Taiwan in an area simulating the size of the island state — a not-so-subtle message to the country Beijing regards as a breakaway province.
The military maneuvers at sea also will be held not too far to the west of the Japanese island of Okinawa, home to U.S. military forces.
The six-day war games were announced Monday in a sea closure zone that warned all vessels to stay clear of the area, where Chinese ships are firing missiles and other weaponry.
The sea closure zone covers an area off the coast of Zhoushan, south of Shanghai, to Wenzhou about 200 miles to the south. The Communist Party-affiliated newspaper Global Times noted the exercise zone’s “similar size to the island of Taiwan.”
The exercises are designed to warn Taiwan, Chinese military expert Song Zhongping, told the newspaper. “The drill’s main objective is to send a serious warning to Taiwan separatists,” Mr. Song said.
According to another Chinese military expert quoted by Global Times, the East China Sea is viewed by the Chinese military as the main battle zone if war breaks out.
The expert, who was not named, said this week’s drills are larger than in the past and require more troops and weapons. The maneuvers will test the Chinese military’s combat capabilities, tactics and training methods and its new weapons and hardware.
“The [People’s Liberation Army] air force and navy have been frequently conducting island encirclement exercises,” Mr. Song said. “The drill this time will add up and form a military deterrence of high pressure against the Taiwan separatists.”
According to Mr. Song, the war games will involve joint military operations in a bid to simulate real combat.
NEW IRAN NUCLEAR SECRETS
Israel’s government this month disclosed new details of the daring Jan. 31 nighttime heist of Iranian nuclear secrets from a storage area in Iran.
Documents shown to reporters, including those from The New York Times, proved that Iran had been lying for years in insisting that its previous work on nuclear programs was for peaceful purposes.
The material reveals that the Iranians were developing nuclear bombs some 15 years ago as part of a secret Project Amad. The project was carried out in secret after the Iranians formally announced they were ending the program in 2003.
The Iranians were helped in designing and building nuclear weapons by Pakistan, which was the world’s most notorious nuclear weapons proliferator through the covert nuclear supplier network headed by Pakistani A.Q. Khan.
According to The New York Times, the Iranians were working to fashion a nuclear warhead for the medium-range Shahab-3 missiles and had proposed sites for underground nuclear tests — a key requirement for developing a viable nuclear weapon.
An Iranian scientist, Masoud Ali Mohammadi, warned in one document that development of neutron chain reactions for a nuclear explosion had to be carried out in secret. “Neutrons’ research could not be considered ‘overt’ and needs to be concealed,” the scientist’s notes state. “We cannot excuse such activities as defensive. Neutron activities are sensitive, and we have no explanation for them.”
Masoud was a nuclear physicist at the University of Tehran and was assassinated in January 2010 by unknown assailants.
The Israeli operation to steal the documents was carried out by the civilian Mossad intelligence services.
The intelligence on the nuclear arms program contributed to President Trump’s decision in May to jettison the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, the international agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program that was the signature foreign policy achievement of the administration of President Barack Obama.
Mr. Trump made pulling out of the Iran deal one of the key promises of his presidential campaign.
“The Iran Deal is defective at its core,” Mr. Trump tweeted May 8. “If we do nothing, we know what will happen. In just a short time, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons.”
Among the documents obtained by the Israelis were photos of a large metal chamber designed for high-explosive tests at the Parchin military base near Tehran. During negotiations on the JCPOA, Iran refused to allow inspections at Parchin.
The metal chamber was removed before the International Atomic Energy Agency was granted access to it in 2015.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.
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