The rest of the world was watching the pomp, circumstance and speeches celebrating China’s 70th anniversary Tuesday, but military analysts were glued to another spectacle in the heart of Beijing: the arsenal of cutting-edge weaponry capable of challenging U.S. military might for decades to come.
The lavish event marking seven decades of Communist Party rule gave Beijing a golden opportunity to showcase new hypersonic missiles, top-of-the-line drones, tanks, stealth bombers, unmanned underwater vehicles, helicopters that rival U.S. Black Hawks, and a host of other military technology that highlights the nation’s ever-rising defense budget and its long-term plan to cut into American superiority in Asia and beyond.
Analysts called the display a clear warning to the West and an indication that China’s military progress — already at the point where Beijing is likely capable of going toe-to-toe with the U.S. in the Pacific — is accelerating at a rapid pace. Pentagon officials say their strategy to counter China acknowledges the new paradigm and the uncomfortable truth that unquestioned U.S. power may be a thing of the past.
“We’re no longer in a period of overwhelming American dominance but rather one in which our armed forces are adapting to fight against near-peer competitors who are fielding increasingly sophisticated capabilities,” Randall G. Schriver, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, told an audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington just hours after the parade.
“Instead of expecting to dominate an opponent, our armed forces are learning to expect to be contested throughout a fight while achieving the political objectives set for them,” he said.
Chinese officials downplayed the idea that the celebration was meant to frighten or intimidate its adversaries. President Xi Jinping again stressed the party lie that China’s “peaceful rise” should not be considered a threat to its neighbors or to the West. China already ranks as an economic and manufacturing superpower, and it could surpass the U.S. with the world’s largest overall gross domestic product within two years.
In fact, the celebration drew unexpected congratulations from President Trump, a chief critic of China who has spearheaded a bitter trade war between the two nations.
“Congratulations to President Xi and the Chinese people on the 70th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China,” the president said in a post on Twitter.
But the sheer scale of the festivities clearly shows Beijing’s desire to project unprecedented power. The three-hour parade included more than 15,000 troops marching through the streets of the nation’s capital — a bold demonstration of the People’s Liberation Army, which is now the largest military in the world with more than 2 million men and women in uniform.
More ominously for Western military observers, the parade included a first look at some of China’s most dangerous weapons and drew fresh attention to the ways China is outpacing the U.S. in many technological realms.
One of the most menacing weapons on display was the DF-17 ballistic missile, a hypersonic weapon delivery system widely believed to be capable of evading virtually all current missile defenses. Hypersonic weapons travel at more than five times the speed of sound, and defense analysts widely agree that China is ahead of the U.S. in the development of such super-fast weapons.
China also rolled out a mobile DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile, a JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile and a host of aircraft, land vehicles, missile interceptors and other weapons, according to media reports.
Western military analysts and Pentagon planners also got their first public views of China’s new CJ-100 supersonic cruise missile, carried aboard 16 trucks in formation. Little is known officially about its capabilities, but it is believed to be an upgrade of the People’s Liberation Army’s CJ-10 cruise missile, which has an estimated range of 930 miles.
Parade organizers also showed off technologies such as its “Sharp Sword” drone believed capable of attacking targets such as radar stations and military bases, as well as drone submarines that can descend far deeper than those of manned subs, The Associated Press reported.
China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency singled out the DF-41 in touting the country’s growing military prowess by calling the weapon the “mainstay of China’s strategic nuclear strength, play[ing] a vital role in strategic counterbalance, deterrence control and in winning [a] decisive victory.”
In his highly anticipated speech at the event, Mr. Xi preached cooperation among nations while projecting defiance of those who would challenge China’s sovereignty or exploit divisive issues such as the future of Taiwan, democracy in Hong Kong or Beijing’s treatment of minority populations.
“No force can stop the progress of the Chinese people,” he said.
The Chinese leader cast the celebration as the culmination of 70 years of progress, a path that has finally landed the country on equal footing with its global rivals. Chinese officials note repeatedly that communist Chinese rule has surpassed the longevity of the Soviet communist rule in neighboring Russia, which collapsed with the end of the Cold War.
Mr. Xi also explicitly linked his reign to that of Mao Zedong, largely passing over the record of Mao’s successors in reversing some of the chairman’s policies and setting China on a path to massive, broad-based economic growth.
“Seventy years ago on this day, Comrade Mao Zedong solemnly declared here to the world that the PRC was founded and the Chinese people had stood up,” he said, according to Xinhua. “This great event completely reversed China’s miserable fate born from poverty and weakness and being bullied and humiliated over more than 100 years since the advent of modern times.”
Mr. Xi also called for stability in Hong Kong, where anti-government protests turned violent Tuesday when an 18-year-old demonstrator was shot and wounded by police at point-blank range. The unrest in the semi-autonomous region partially overshadowed the anniversary events in Beijing, and some U.S. lawmakers drew a direct link between China’s dangerous crackdown on protesters and its unceasing quest for military superiority.
“As General Secretary Xi Jinping parades weapons through Tiananmen Square today, where democracy protesters lost their lives over 30 years ago, the party’s ruthless grip tightens and expands around the globe,” said Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is interning millions of people in concentration camps in Xinjiang and violently cracking down on democracy activists in Hong Kong — including the senseless shooting of a high schooler at point-blank range today. Their obsession with control is putting the United States, our friends and allies, and our national security at risk.”
Level playing field
Despite such fierce criticism from the U.S. and some of China’s regional adversaries, Mr. Xi’s public comments show his growing belief that the nation can compete with the U.S. militarily in the Pacific.
In fact, some of China’s weapons seem designed explicitly for a conflict with the U.S. military. For the first time, the Chinese military displayed the long-range H-6N bomber, an aircraft fully capable of targeting American forces in the Pacific.
Beijing also showed off its DF-26 missile, known as the “Guam Killer” because of its ability to easily strike U.S. forces stationed on the island.
Military analysts say the H-6N and DF-26 — along with hypersonic arms, drones and other new weapons — are part of Beijing’s broader “anti-access and area denial” (A2AD) military strategy. Such an approach is aimed at denying an enemy the ability to occupy or move through a specific area of land, air or sea.
The strategy, analysts say, would be vital if Chinese forces mount a full-scale invasion of Taiwan and need to keep U.S. forces at bay.
“Advanced supersonic drones, hypersonic glide vehicles, sophisticated air combat capability and missile systems are designed with this role in mind,” Malcolm Davis, senior analyst in defense strategy and capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, wrote in Britain’s Telegraph newspaper. “The goal is to deter and deny the U.S. and its allies ‘access’ and freedom of [movement], by striking them as far away from China as possible.”
The celebrations, Mr. Davis wrote, were “a warning Western states ignore at their peril.”
The Pentagon’s “Indo-Pacific Strategy” released this year focuses on containing Chinese expansion in the Pacific and bolstering partnerships with key regional allies such as Japan and Australia. But military officials readily acknowledge that China is growing more powerful by the day.
“We take China at their word: They seek to be a world-class military by 2049, and they are making progress toward that goal,” Mr. Schriver said. “They’re working to become a preeminent power in the Indo-Pacific region while simultaneously undertaking plans to expand overseas presence and develop capabilities to sustain operations farther from Chinese shores.”
Although China is far from having the global reach of the U.S. military, there are real fears that its forces are the equal of the U.S. in the Pacific theater.
An August study by the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Center found concluded that the Chinese military is now capable of launching attacks that could crush American defenses in a matter of hours. Defense Department officials, however, maintain that the U.S. remains able to defend itself, its territory, and its men and women in uniform around the world.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.
• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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