Category: military

China’s New Military Strategy

In a new article in the China Brief, I show that terminology in the 2015 defense white paper indicates that China has officially changed its national military strategy.  The goal of the new strategy is “winning informationized local wars,” with an emphasis on the maritime domain.

This marks only the ninth military strategy that China has adopted since the founding of the PRC in 1949 and will guide the PLA’s approach to modernization in the coming decade.

To read the article, point your browsers here



The Myth of China’s Counter-intervention Strategy

Chris Twomey and I have just published an article in The Washington Quarterly on Chinese military strategy.

Increasingly, journalists, policy analysts and scholars as well as selected U.S. government documents describe China as pursuing a ”counter-intervention” strategy to forestall the U.S. ability to operate in a regional conflict.  Moreover, the concept of counter-intervention (fan ganyu) is attributed to the writings of Chinese strategits, as a China’s own version of an anti-access / area denial strategy

Nevertheless, as we show in the article, China does not actually use the term counter-intervention to describe its own military strategy, much less a broader grand strategic goal to oppose the role of the United States in regional affairs.  When Chinese sources do refer to related concepts such as “resisting” or “guarding against” intervention, they are describing as one of the many subsidiary components of campaigns and contingencies that have more narrow and specific goals, especially a conflict over Taiwan.

This misunderstanding or misreading of China’s military strategy is consequential for several reasons: it overstates the U.S. role in Chinese military planning, it can divert analysis from other aspects of China’s military modernization and it exacerbates the growing security dilemma between the United States and China.

The article can be downloaded here

China, Japan, and the U.S.—Will Cooler Heads Prevail?

I joined the conversation over the Asia Society’s ChinaFile on tensions between the China, the United States and Japan.

Specifically, I addressed a question “will China attempt to take the Senkakus by force?”

Let me pick up on Isaac’s first question, “will China attempt to take the Senkakus by force?”

Iain Johnston and I recently analyzed data on the frequency of Chinese Coast Guard patrols within the twelve nautical mile territorial waters of the islands. Since September 2012, China has used these patrols to challenge Japan’s sovereignty and administration of these disputed rocks.

For the past six months, however, China has reduced significantly the frequency of patrols it conducts within the island’s territorial waters. Before October 2013, it conducted a patrol roughly once per week, on average. Since then, it has conducted a patrol once every two weeks. In sum, the rate of patrols has dropped by half—and is statistically significant.

The reduced frequency of these patrols is noteworthy for several reasons. First, as Iain and I suggested, China may be signaling limits on its willingness to escalate, at least for now. Second, by reducing the number of patrols, China is also reducing the opportunities for an accident or incident to occur between Chinese and Japanese ships. Such an event, especially if it involved fatalities, could spark a much more intense crisis and greater incentives to use force on both sides.

Turning to Isaac’s question, the reduction in the frequency of these patrols is inconsistent with an escalation of pressure that might culminate in a decision by China to use force. Instead, China appears to have adopted a long-term view of dispute that does not involve taking them by force. Last summer, for example, a meeting of prominent Chinese government analysts concluded that China should “avoid an incident that sparks a war” over the islands. They also assessed that the dispute would persist for a long time to come and that it was therefore urgent to reduce the possibility and risk of a collision at sea.

Finally, a broader point. If China seized islands by force, they would be nearly impossible to defend from a counter-attack, as Gen. John Wissler noted; Moreover, a counter-attack to retake the islands would risk a much wider war, which China as well as the United States and Japan want to avoid.China’s leaders have quite likely anticipated such a scenario, which explains the emphasis on a long-term effort to challenge Japan’s control of the islands and surrounding waters with its coast guard and not its naval forces.

China Has Not (Yet) Changed Its Position on Nuclear Weapons

In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, nuclear expert James Actonsuggests that China may be changing its nuclear doctrine.  The principal basis for his argument is the absence of a specific repetition of China’s “no first-use” policy in the latest edition of Beijing’s bi-annual white paper on defense.  Acton, however, misreads the recent white paper and draws the wrong conclusion about China’s approach to nuclear weapons.

First, no first use has been a core feature of Chinese defense policy for decades, having been decided by Mao himself in 1964.  If China abandoned or altered this policy position, it would reflect a major change in China’s approach to nuclear weapons – and a major change in China’s international image. This would not be a casual decision by China’s top leaders but rather a radical change precipitated by a major shift in China’s security environment. Although China’s concerns about U.S. missile defense policies that Acton notes are real, these concerns have existed since the mid-1990s and shape China’s current efforts to reduce the vulnerability of its nuclear forces.

To date, China has focused on building a small but potent nuclear force with the ability to launch a secure second strike if attacked with nuclear weapons – what I call “assured retaliation.”  The relatively small size of China’s nuclear arsenal and the doctrinal emphasis on survivability and reliability are consistent with a pledge to not use nuclear weapons first.  Moreover, if China were to abandon or alter the no first-use policy, it would surely want to reap a clear deterrent effect from such an action and likely do so clearly and publicly, not indirectly and quietly through an omission in a report.

Second, the absence of the no first-use policy in the 2012 white paper does not support Acton’s contention that China is changing its nuclear doctrine. Here, Acton overlooks that this edition of China’s bi-annual defense white papers is different from past volumes in one important respect.

According to Major General Chen Zhou, one of the white paper’s drafters and a researcher at the PLA’s Academy of Military Science, the 2012 white paper uses a thematic model (zhuanti xing) and not a comprehensive one. In the past, the comprehensively-oriented white papers all had the same title, suchChina’s National Defense in 2010.  The title of the 2012 edition, however, reflects the new thematic focus:Diversified Employment of China Armed Forces.  By discussing in more detail the structure and missions of China’s armed forces, the 2012 white paper dropped a chapter found in all previous ones entitled “National Defense Policy.”  In the past editions, this chapter contained the references to China’s no first-use policy (as well as many other defense policies).  Applying Occam’s razor, the lack of a chapter on China’s national defense policies can account for the absence of a reference to the no first-use policy.

In addition, the white paper’s discussion of the use of nuclear weapons is consistent with the no first-use policy.  The white paper refers to “the principle of building a lean and effective force,” repeating language from the 2006 white paper that officially detailed China’s nuclear strategy for the first time.  Second, it states that China’s nuclear weapons will only be used under one condition: “If China comes under a nuclear attack, the nuclear missile force of the [Second Artillery] will use nuclear missiles to launch a resolute counterattack (jianjue fanji).”  Here, the 2012 white paper uses the exact same sentence as the2008 white paper, which did contain a reference to the no first-use policy.  More generally, a nuclear counterattack is the only campaign for China’s nuclear forces that has been described in authoritative Chinese doctrinal texts, starting with the 1987 edition of the Science of Strategy (Zhanlue Xue).

Acton also cites a speech that Xi Jinping gave to party delegates from the Second Artillery in December 2012.  In public reporting of his speech, Xi stated that the Second Artillery provides “strategic support for our great power status.”  Xi also did not mention the no first-use policy.  But Xi did not mention any other elements of China’s nuclear policy, either, or anything related to when and how China’s nuclear forces would be used.  Instead, the absence of the no-first use policy in this speech was likely another “false negative” regarding a change in China’s nuclear doctrine.

Furthermore, Xi in his remarks praised the Second Artillery for “resolutely carrying out the policies and instructions of the party center and Central Military Commission.”  Given that Hu Jintao re-affirmed no first use at the April 2012 nuclear summit in Seoul, these “policies and instructions” would have included the no first-use policy.

To be clear, Chinese strategists have debated the merits of dropping or altering its no first-use policy.  The debate was especially intense during the mid to late 2000s.  Some participants in the debate suggested that no first use might not apply in certain situations that would be seen as equivalent of a “first use,” including conventional strikes on China’s nuclear forces or facilities as well as strikes on strategic targets like the Three Gorges Dam or the top Chinese leadership.  In the end, however, a high-level decision was made to maintain the no first-use policy and the internal debate concluded without any change to China’s position.

Nevertheless, although no first use remains a central part of China’s approach to nuclear weapons, a certain and perhaps growing ambiguity surrounds the policy.  As the Chinese debate indicates, under some set of extreme but nevertheless not implausible conditions, the policy might not serve as a constraint on first use even if China overall postures its forces primarily to deter a nuclear attack.  Likewise, in the heat of a crisis, actions taken to deter a nuclear strike against China, such has placing forces on high alert levels, might be seen as indicating a preparations to launch first and invite a pre-emptive strike.

Thus, I agree with Acton’s policy recommendation about the need for a U.S.-China dialogue on nuclear weapons even though I disagree with his argument about China’s nuclear doctrine.  More dialogue on strategic issues is needed at the highest levels between the United States and China, an area is prone to misperception and miscalculation.  The ambiguity and uncertainty about the no first-use policy should be discussed.  Indeed, General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should the issue of nuclear dialogue when he visits China this week.

[This first appeared in The Diplomat.]

Xi Jinping and the PLA

In recent weeks, Western media has characterized Xi Jinping as a more assertive and forceful leader of China’s armed forces, including the People’s Liberation Army and People’s Armed Police.  The Wall Street Journal, for example, described Xi as “as a strong military leader at home and embracing a more hawkish worldview.” Similarly, the New York Times described Xi “as a champion of the military, using the armed forces to cement his political authority and present a tough stance in growing territorial disputes with American allies in the Pacific region.”

Such characterizations, however, may be misplaced – or at least incomplete.  Since becoming Chairman of the CCP’s Central Military Commission at the 18th Party Congress four months ago, the policies adopted under Xi reflect far more continuity with those of past leaders than is commonly perceived.

One general indicator of the relative priority of the military for China’s leaders is spending on defense.  Although China’s official defense budget does not include all defense-related spending, there’s no evidence yet that Xi has been more inclined to favor the military.  At the most recent National People’s Congress, China’s official defense budget was slated to increase by 10.7 percent in 2013.  Although budget preparations likely started before Xi became CMC chair, the figure nevertheless helps to assess whether Xi has been exerting any special influence.  Under Hu Jintao’s chairmanship of the CMC (2004-2012), China’s defense budget, on average, increased 15 percent per year.  When Jiang Zemin was CMC chair (1989-2004), it increased more than 16 percent per year on average.  Under both leaders, China’s defense budget as a share of the government budget has been declining steadily, indicating that the military was not being favored over other government spending areas.

Instead, if anything, the 2013 defense budget reflects continuity in China’s defense policies.  The percentage increase for the 2013 defense budget roughly equals the rate of GDP growth plus inflation for 2012, and is slightly lower than the rates of growth in 2011 and 2012 (reflecting the slight downturn in China’s GDP).  The growth of the defense budget is consistent with Beijing’s official policy “that defense development should be both subordinated to and in the service of the country’s overall economic development, and that the former should be coordinated with the latter.”  Thus, the military budget, roughly in line with the growth of China’s GDP and inflation, has not diverted massive funding away from important civilian projects necessary for maintaining economic development.

Xi’s statements on military affairs have attracted a great deal of attention. In the post-Deng era, all new leaders have moved early to distinguish their command over China’s armed forces from their predecessors.  The easiest way to do so is by articulating new formulations (tifa) for what are often the same or very similar general policies.  Previously, for example, in December 1990, Jiang Zemin announced his “Five Sentences” that the PLA should be “politically qualified, militarily competent, have a good work style, strict discipline and adequate logistics support.”  Likewise, shortly after becoming CMC chair in 2004, Hu Jintao called on the PLA to fulfill its “historic missions in the new phase of the new century.”  Although the historic missions called on the PLA to develop the capability to carry out non-combat operations such as peacekeeping and disaster relief, they were premised on “strengthening the ability to win local wars under modern conditions as the core.” Now after becoming CMC chair, Xi has used a new formulation of building a “strong army” (and PAP) that “obeys the party’s commands, is capable of winning wars, and has a good work style.”

Despite the different formulations each leader has used, the content and general policies have remained the same.  Both Jiang and Xi have stressed “having a good work style,” basically a call for the PLA to be a model for society, particularly in the fight against graft and corruption.  Unsurprisingly, Jiang, Hu and Xi all emphasized the leading role of the party over the armed forces.   And although the specific words are different, Xi’s requirement that the PLA be able “to fight and win” reflects a long-standing policy to enhance China’s military preparedness, especially in the context of changes in the conduct of warfighting since the Gulf War.  In the past, this goal has usually been described as strengthening “preparations for military struggle” (junshi douzheng junbei).  The PLA itself underscored the continuity with the past in a February 2013 article published by the General Staff Department in the authoritative party journalQiushi.  According to the article, “To be able to fight and win battles is also the fundamental starting and ending point of preparations for military struggle.” As a result, this directive basically is a call to improve the PLA’s operational readiness – it is not an indication of impending operations that will be executed.

Xi Jinping’s leadership has also been linked with a more assertive posture in China’s disputes with other states, especially the maritime sphere.  China’s maritime assertiveness, however, started long before Xi took office.  In the South China Sea, it can be traced back to 2007 and 2008, when China began to oppose the investments of foreign oil companies in Vietnamese blocks.  In 2011, China Marine Surveillance vessels harassed Vietnamese and Philippine seismic survey vessels while in early April 2012, China responded forcefully to a stand-off with the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal.

In the East China Sea, China’s assertiveness started at around the same time.  In 2008, a China Marine Surveillance vessel for the first time entered the 12 nautical mile territorial waters around the islands.  In September 2010, China reacted harshly to the arrest of a Chinese fishing captain who had entered the territorial waters around the islands and then collided with a Japanese Coast Guard vessel.  Between September 2010 and the purchase of three of the islands by the Japanese government in 2012, Chinese government ships entered the territorial waters around the islands almost once a month.  Although Xi is rumored to have played a role in China’s response to the purchase of the islands in September 2012, China’s response reflected a continuation of policies adopted under Hu Jintao.

What does this all mean?

On the one hand, like past top leaders in the post-Deng era, Xi is seeking to build a strong relationship with China’s armed forces, which is key to cementing his status as both CMC chair and CCP general secretary.  He’s moved more quickly than either Jiang or Hu because he has been able to assume the CMC chairmanship without a senior party figure looking over his shoulder.  Jiang became CMC chair while Deng was still very active in Chinese politics, while Hu had to two wait two years before Jiang relinquished that post.  Ironically, the relatively smooth transition has enabled Xi to move more quickly in consolidating his position as commander-in-chief.

On the other hand, China’s basic approach to military modernization remains unchanged.  It is premised on ensuring the loyalty of the military to the party and not the state.  The long-term goal is to recapitalize China’s armed forces to achieve mechanization and partial informatization by 2020 – a goal set by Jiang Zemin in the late 1990s – and to complete its military modernization by mid-century, 2049.  It is perhaps not a coincidence that Xi has set 2049 for the fulfillment of the “China dream.”  Xi is the new leader of China’s armed forces, but he is not yet pursuing new policies.

[This piece originally appeared in The Diplomat and was co-authored with Dennis Blasko.]


The PLA in the South China Sea

In early June, an article in the New York Times quoted a TV interview with Gen.Ma Xiaotian, a Deputy Chief of the General Staff in the People’s Liberation Army.  The Times, however, did not discuss the most interesting part of what he said.  The rest of the interview illuminated China’s strategy in the South China Sea, especially an emphasis on avoiding the militarization of the dispute.

As seen in the video, the interview was impromptu.  A Phoenix TV reporter was following General Ma down a hallway at a conference on cyber security in Beijing.  General Ma was speaking off the cuff, without prepared remarks.  The reporter’s question was cut from the web clip, but here’s Ma’s full response (my rough translation):

“The question you ask is very sensitive.  We have the ability to defend our waters, but at the moment we have still not prepared to use military force to go defend [our waters].  If we were to do so, it would be as a last resort.  Now we are still conducting bilateral talks, using diplomatic means and some civilian [ie, law enforcement] means to resolve the conflict.  This way is the best.”

This statement by one of China’s top generals is noteworthy for several reasons.  To start, contrary torumors that swirled in mid May, the interview suggests that Chinese forces in the Guangzhou Military Region and South Sea Fleet had not been placed on alert during the standoff over Scarborough Shoal.  An alert by definition would include preparations to use force.

In addition, Ma’s statement indicates that a broad consensus exists among top party and military leaders to emphasize diplomacy and avoid militarizing the disputes in the South China Sea.  Such a consensus was displayed when Defense Minister Liang Guanglie also underscored the importance of a diplomatic solution to the standoff in a meeting in late May with his Philippine counterpart Voltaire Gazmin.  Although PLA-affiliated media commentators such as Major General Luo Yuan have called for China to adopt a more forceful response, uniformed officers such as Ma Xiaotian and Liang Guanglie have not.

Finally, Ma’s statement highlights a central feature of China’s strategy in the South China Sea.  During the latest round of tensions, which began in around 2007 and accelerated between 2009 and 2011, China hasn’t used its naval forces to actively press its claims against other states.  Instead, China has relied on diplomacy and vessels from various civilian maritime law enforcement agencies, especially the State Oceanic Administration’s China Marine Surveillance force and the Ministry of Agriculture’s Fisheries Law Enforcement Command.  The emphasis on using maritime law enforcement agencies to maintain a presence in disputed areas suggests a deliberate effort to cap the potential for escalation while asserting China’s claims.

Of course, China will continue to assert its claims.  But the PLA’s support for a diplomatic approach and limiting the potential for escalation should be noted.

[This post originally appeared on The Diplomat]

Measuring Military Modernization

The U.S-China Security and Economic Review Commission (USCC) recently published a staff research paper entitled “Indigenous Weapons Development in China’s Military Modernization” that generated a great deal of media attention. One story noted that the report showed how the United States had “missed the emergence of significant military developments” and was “blinded by Beijing.” Another reportconcluded from the paper that “the United States has underestimated the growth of China’s military.”

What did the paper actually say?  It examined the development of four weapons systems: the Yuan-class (Type 041) diesel-powered submarine, the SC-19 anti-satellite missile, the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, and the J-20 aircraft. Reviewing U.S. analysis of these development of these systems, the paper concluded that “there are no universal trends in publicly reported U.S. government analysis on the development of indigenous Chinese weapon systems.” According to the paper, only the emergence of the Yuan-class submarine was unexpected.  As for the other systems, the paper’s main contention is that analysts miscalculated the speed or rate of the development of these systems, but not their emergence.

The actual claims of the USCC paper are much more modest and mixed than media coverage would indicate. Most importantly, as the USCC notes but doesn’t emphasize, the degree to which the appearance of theYuan-class submarine in 2004 was a surprise remains contested. The USCC paper suggests that the U.S. missed this program because it wasn’t mentioned in the Pentagon’s 2003 annual report on Chinese military power. However, the 2002 version of this same Pentagon report clearly stated that “A new advanced version of the SONG-class conventional submarine is expected to incorporate advanced air-independent propulsion.” The Pentagon may not have provided the name of the class as we now know it, but it didn’t miss the development of a new submarine with the characteristics of the Yuan boats (which shares some design similarities with the Song).  Thus, the strongest example supporting the USCC paper’s criticism of analysis of the Chinese military in the United States is wanting.

As for assessments of the pace of weapons development, many U.S. government analysts and military officers have stated that development of the DF-21D was faster than expected.  Nevertheless, the system isn’t yet operational.  Adm. Willard stated in December 2010 that the development of the DF-21D had reached something equivalent to what the U.S. military defines as “initial operational capability.” The following month, however, another senior naval official noted that although the progress that had been achieved, the PLA wasn’t yet capable of “effectively employing the system” because it had not yet conducted a test over open water or been integrated into the force.

Other claims about such miscalculations are accurate, but perhaps not as consequential as the USCC paper and subsequent media coverage indicate. To start, the USCC paper acknowledges that the U.S. government accurately assessed the development of China’s anti-satellite missile. Instead, the paper’s claim is that analysts outside of government missed the mark. Still, the U.S. government didn’t overlook the emergence of this system or its development.

As for the J-20, the paper notes that progress has been slightly faster than originally estimated. In 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates remarked that China wouldn’t have a fifth-generation fighter until 2020. The following year, the U.S. revised its estimate for operational deployment to 2018.  The first prototype was launched a year earlier than the U.S. government expected in 2011, not 2012.  Nevertheless, the U.S. government has been tracking the development of the aircraft since 1997. Over the course of two decades of development, such miscalculations are not as great or dangerous as it might seem.

To be sure, China’s unwillingness to share information about its weapons programs is a major factor affecting assessments of their development. Such unwillingness is par for the course in any competitive relationship.

Yet, other reasons for the miscalculations cited by the paper are probably exaggerated.  The paper claims that analysts have underestimated “the extent of changes in the Chinese defense industry in the 1990s and early 2000s.” But back in 2005, analysts at RAND published a report using open sources that noted the progress that China had achieved in reforming its defense-industrial base precisely during this period.  Similarly, noted PLA expert Tai Ming Cheung documented these reforms in a 2009 book, Fortifying China. (Read this summary of Cheung’s findings.)  Neither publication, however, was cited by the USCC paper.

In addition, the paper claims that China’s threat perceptions have been systematically underestimated. In particular, the paper notes that analysts “may have failed to fully appreciate the extent to which the Chinese leadership views the United States as a fundamental threat to China’s security.” Yet the 2005 RAND report made exactly this point, noting in a subheading that “the PLA Leadership Perceives United States as Greatest Threat.” Drawing on open sources, Larry Wortzel (a USCC commissioner) came to a similar conclusion in a 2007 study: “China’s leaders and military thinkers see the United States as a major potential threat to the PLA and China’s interests.”

Finally, the severity of analytical failures can only be determined by understanding the degree of success. Apart from the anti-satellite missile, the paper doesn’t examine any indigenously systems whose development was accurately assessed. On this score, the U.S. government appears to have some important successes, especially regarding strategic weapons.

Take, for example, the DF-31 series of intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Pentagon noted in 2000 that “China…is designing a new generation of solid-fuel, road-mobile ICBMs,” and in 2002 that “deployment of the DF-31 should begin before mid-decade.” The Pentagon reported in 2006 that the missile had reached “initial threat availability” and in 2008 that it had been deployed to operational units.

Similarly, the Pentagon appears to have predicted quite accurately the development of China’s short and medium-range ballistic missiles. In a 1997 report on China’s military capabilities, the Pentagon estimated that China would have “the industrial capacity” to “as many as a thousand” such missiles. In its 2008 report to Congress, the Pentagon stated that the PLA had deployed “between 990 and 1,070” short-range ballistic missiles. In short, they nailed it.

The USCC staff research paper usefully draws attention to the challenges that analysts face when seeking track weapons development in China, a country that doesn’t seek to share such information. Further exploitation of Chinese-language open sources will certainly help improve future analysis. Nevertheless, the conclusions drawn in the media can’t be sustained by the paper, which itself deserves close scrutiny.

[This originally appeared on The Diplomat.]

Open Sources and Information Laundering

At the end of 2011, a study by the  at Georgetown University on China’s nuclear forces attracted a great deal of attention, including a  in The Washington Post.  The project documented the construction of networks of tunnels by the Second Artillery, the PLA’s strategic rocket forces, and suggested that China might have as many as 3,000 nuclear warheads – a figure roughly ten times higher than the current estimates of the U.S. government and independent research organizations such as the .

Experts and analysts quickly challenged many of the study’s most provocative claims about  and .  Questions were also raised about  that formed the basis of the study’s conclusions. A key source for the study’s claim about the number of warheads was .  To track down the original source for this claim, Greg Kulacki from the Union of Concerned Scientists, traveled to several libraries, including one in Hong Kong.  He learned that  was an article by a junior American naval officer published in 1986 whose data was reprinted in a 1995 Chinese-language magazine published in Hong Kong,  and subsequently recycled through online discussion forums for the next decade or so.

The Georgetown team trumpeted their use of open or unclassified Chinese-language sources of information as a new resource for the study of China’s military.  As other scholars and I , a veritable explosion of open-source information from China about military affairs has occurred, much of it online.  These sources include the PLA’s official publications such as newspapers, journals, and books, as well as unofficial sources, including popular magazines, online discussion forums, and unofficial websites.

Still, as Kulacki’s leg-work demonstrates, the proliferation of such open sources is a mixed blessing for scholars and analysts of the PLA.  On the one hand, more information is now accessible, which should improve the quality of research.  On the other hand, more information than any one individual can digest is now available – and mostly only in Chinese.

The volume of Chinese-language information now available places a premium on verifying the accuracy and authoritativeness of data from unofficial sources, especially blogs and online discussion forums.  Otherwise, the Internet becomes a convenient tool, unwittingly or not, for “information laundering” defined as concealing or masking the origins of a piece of data.

The seriousness of information laundering is evident throughout the Georgetown study.  Glancing through the slides of the presentation, one claim caught my eye: that the Second Artillery had 12 launch brigades facing India, including eight in the Tibetan Autonomous Region.  This was curious for two reasons.  First, the Second Artillery has only about thirty brigades, the majority of which are located in either China’s hinterland or coastal provinces, not near India.  Second, there are no confirmed reports of Second Artillery brigades inside Tibet.

The sources for this claim in the Georgetown study demonstrates how easily information can be laundered online.  The first source was a segment from a military news show from the Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV network. The second source was a post from a now defunct blog,  (that only appeared to be online for the month of November 2010 according to this ).  The blog post was redundant, as it only contained a crude machine translation of the transcript of the television segment.

The , however, was based not on information from China, but instead from India.  The segment was entitled “The Indian media states that the PLA has deployed 12 missile brigades on the border aimed at India” (??????????12????????). The source for the segment was reportedly an essay in the Times of India by a former Chief of the Army Staff of the Indian Army.   Yet a search of the Times of India’s website as well as the news database Lexis-Nexis couldn’t locate this essay.  As a result, the claim in the Georgetown study about Chinese missile brigades in Tibet was thoroughly laundered.  The original source for the claim can’t even be identified, much less verified.

Open-source information holds great promise for the study of China’s rapidly changing military.  But they must be used with great care, especially if the data comes from unofficial outlets such as blog posts and online forums.  Just because a piece of information about the PLA is available on the Internet in Chinese doesn’t endow it with authoritativeness in the absence of verification and corroboration.

UPDATE (10 January 2012): Through excellent sleuthing on the web, Time magazine’s Beijing correspondent has found what appears to be the Indian source of the Phoenix television segment.  It comes from , who served as Chief of the Army Staff in the late 1990s.  The op-ed, however, appeared in the Asian Age, not the Times of Indiaas Phoenix television reported.  It provides no source for the claim that the Second Artillery has launch brigades in Tibet.

[This post originally appeared on  as “”]

[This post was reprinted on as “”]