Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Fisking Gertz

Bill Gertz of the Washington Times has written a pair of articles entitled 'Chinese Dragon Awakes' and 'Thefts of U.S. Technology Boost China's Weaponry', both of which are in serious need of a good Fisking.

Article I

China is building its military forces faster than U.S. intelligence and military analysts expected, prompting fears that Beijing will attack Taiwan in the next two years, according to Pentagon officials.
Simply put: Capability does not equal intent... not that I am trying to argue China's innocence, but I'd like the author of a piece predicting a world war to at least take a go at convincing me there is a reason for said conflict. For more on the 'faster than expected' aspect, see my previous post here.
Gertz, without wasting a minute trying to convince the reader of the legitimacy of his predictions, starts to discuss the war between Beijing and the Washington will result from this all. That China does have one way out of a war with America (Not attacking Taiwan in the first place) doesn't appear to occur to him.
After a brief regurgitation of many of the points from his previous article, in which he described scary advances without giving much of anything in the way of specifics, he jumps into the PRC's recent economic growth. He then ties all of this together masterfully:
The combination of a vibrant centralized economy, growing military and increasingly fervent nationalism has transformed China into what many defense officials view as a fascist state.
WHAT? Maybe drawing this up as a math equation will help me understand:
Vibrant Centralized Economy + Growing Military + Fervent Nationalism = Fascist State
Nope. Still doesn't click. I think I'll just stick with Wikipedia's definition.
Additionally, I wholeheartedly second Asiapundit's comment:
It disturbs me that a right-wing newspaper would buy into the concept of a "vibrant centralized economy," that should be an oxymoron.

Gertz continues:
The release of an official Chinese government report in December called the situation on the Taiwan Strait 'grim' and said the country's military could 'crush' Taiwan.
Ever thought of some 'context'? What is this supposed to tell me? That Chinese reports include lots of monosyllabic words?
Earlier this year, Beijing passed an anti-secession law, a unilateral measure that upset the fragile political status quo across the Taiwan Strait. The law gives Chinese leaders a legal basis they previously did not have to conduct a military attack on Taiwan, U.S. officials said.
How did the law 'upset' or change anything? The political status quo is the same as it was last year and the year before. If there was a change in the balance, I would argue it was the visit of Taiwan's opposition leaders to the mainland, not Beijing granting itself the authority to invade Taiwan. If Taiwan is part of China then Beijing already had the right to use force to defend itself from separatist groups. If Taiwan is independent then Beijing can't grant itself the legal right to invade a foreign country. How has anything changed?
"We left the million-man swim behind in about 1998, 1999," the senior Pentagon official said.
I would love to see any information Gertz or anyone has to support this. Everything I have seen on the subject supports David Shambaugh's analysis in Modernizing China's Military, which concludes:
At present, an amphibious landing and full invasion of Taiwan remains far beyond PLA sealift and airlift capabilities. The conventional wisdom is that, in such landings, a 5:1 numerical advantage is needed (irrespective of terrain): thus the PLA would have to land approximately 1.25 million troops on Taiwan within the first few days of the invasion. This is, of course, impossible. At present, it is believed that the PLAN only has the sealift capability to transport one or two divisions and about 300 tanks at a time, far short of the numbers necessary to establish a beachhead on the heavily fortified western approaches of the island. It would take approximately 600 landing crafts nearly two weeks to transport twenty infantry divisions to Taiwan. (325)
Granted, MCM was published three years prior to Gertz's piece, but if China has the hundreds of landing crafts required for such an invasion why hasn't Gertz just given us the numbers? Maybe he could even provide the pictures of the crafts, instead of the worthless pictures currently accompanying his articles (A, B). Later in the article, Gertz actually gives us the reason why:
[It is] difficult to penetrate Beijing's "veil" of secrecy.
So basically, he doesn't know what is really happening. One wonders if Gertz speaks Chinese. Shambaugh seemed to be able to find plenty of information and mentions repeatedly throughout his work wealth of information available.
These [referenced] books and periodicals represent just the tip of the iceberg of available material on the PLA in China, and they also belie the common belief that there is no military transparency in China. All one has to do is be able to read Chinese and physically gain access to these materials. (MCM, xxvi)
Next he starts to list all the advances the People's Liberation Army has made in the last decade or so, treating them all as if they happened last night when no one was looking. Nothing in the article is new to anyone who has made the even a slight attempt to keep up with the advances of the PLA. Among those listed:
Beijing also has built a new tank for its large armed forces. It is known as the Type 99 and appears similar in design to Germany's Leopard 2 main battle tank. The tank is outfitted with new artillery, anti-aircraft and machine guns, advanced fire-control systems and improved engines.
It is hard to nail down statistics on the Type 99 because of confusion in the classification/naming system (Some say the 90II/96/98/99 are all the same; others disagree). Whatever the stats, I fail to see why Gertz feels the need to call the tank "new" or or sees sudden cause for alarm. The tank debuted in 1999 (hence the name) and was the subject of an article in Jane's Defence Weekly in November 2000 by the name of 'New Chinese Tank,' which discussed many of the same improvements noted by Gertz five years later.
Next, Gertz rediscusses the report by the eccentric Office of Net Assessment on Chinese needs for oil. He concludes:
The [Net Assessment] report stated that China will resort "to extreme, offensive and mercantilist measures when other strategies fail, to mitigate its vulnerabilities, such as seizing control of energy resources in neighboring states.
So a combination of growing demand for oil and a failure of other strategies (would buying the oil be included in the 'other strategies' category?) for unknown reasons will lead to China attacking Russia and taking over the South China Seas. I guess I shouldn't expect anything more in the way of an explanation from a man who throws out ideas like a 2007 timeline for an invasion without any more rationale than 'analysts expect...".

Article II

This article is reminiscent of his China Threat in that it accuses China of all kinds of outrageous things that have one of two possible explanations:
  1. It is something that every country in the world does. A good example is his comment on China's foreign espionage.
    [T]he Chinese are prolific collectors of secrets and military-related information.
    What country isn't?

  2. It is a completely logical action for any country that is growing economically and seeks the international prestige to match. One clear example is China sending:
    [T]he Chinese use hundreds of thousands of Chinese visitors, students and other nonprofessional spies to gather valuable data, most of it considered 'open source,' or unclassified information.
    Basically Gertz is warning us that Chinese people are coming to America and learning as much about the country and its industry, systems, and so forth as possible short of breaking the law. I guess Gertz isn't a big fan of the 'city upon a hill' idea. When they commit espionage, David Szady, chief of FBI counterintelligence operations, (quoted in this article) will find them and expel or arrest them. When they breach copyright laws, America's lawyers (public and private) will fight them in court and make them pay. Otherwise, where is the problem?

Now that I have covered my general reaction, let me respond to a few specific sentences:
The danger of Chinese technology acquisition is that if the United States were called on to fight a war with China over the Republic of China (Taiwan), U.S. forces could find themselves battling a U.S.-equipped enemy.
'I would hate for my grandson to be killed with U.S. technology' in a war over Taiwan, senior FBI counterintelligence official Tim Bereznay told a conference earlier this year.
Clearly, this is a powerful image (aside from wondering how old this FBI agent must be if he has a grandson who will be fighing in the war that Gertz is promising will occur in two years time). I doubt anyone would argue that American servicemembers would welcome the news that China is now fielding sophisiticated American weaponry. I suspect much of this threat, however, is hype no different from Gertz's previous discussion of '
Chinese version of the U.S. Aegis battle management technology' (discussed here). A few successes in espionage doesn't miraculously give one the ability to produce weapons systems that took America decades to design and refine.
China gleans most of its important information not from spies but from unwitting American visitors to China, from both the U.S. government and the private sector, who are "serially indiscreet" in disclosing information sought by Beijing, Mr. Moore said in a recent speech.
Is it really fair to hold China accountable if an American citizen flies all the way around the world on their own initiative to chat with them and some secrets slip? At that point, I would argue it isn't even espionage (I'm not saying it is a good thing, mind you, just that we can't blame China for the incompetence of some of those with privileged information).
China's government also uses influence operations designed to advance pro-Chinese policies in the United States and to prevent the U.S. government from taking tough action or adopting policies against Beijing's interests, FBI officials said.
China (or those working on its behalf) is trying to lobby decisionmakers in order to achieve favorable outcomes relevant to its interests. Anyone who finds this alarming should ask themselves what country doesn't do such a thing. Taiwan, for example, certainly has people in Washington lobbying on their behalf.
The real danger to the United States is the loss of the high-technology edge, which can impair U.S. competitiveness but more importantly can boost China's military.
I couldn't agree more, but I would argue that counter-espionage alone won't protect us from losing our edge. The bigger threat comes from too few Americans studying in scientific and engineering fields. For more information on this, see chapters seven ('The Quiet Riot') and eight ('This is Not a Test') of Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat. The solution to this problem comes from either convincing America's youth that the fields are interesting and worth pursuing or from some more innovative approach:
People who graduate in these very technical fields [eg: photonics & optics engineering] should get a green card stapled to their diploma.[Tracy Koon, Intel's director of corporate affairs, quoted in TWIF, 273]
Personally, I think the former is a better long term strategy, but the the two ideas are not mutually exclusive and the latter also deserves serious consideration.

Update: Arms Control Wonk analyzes Gertz's article as it compares with the report Chinese Military Power from last year and makes some interesting conclusions.