#17 - 2022 China Military Power Report
Beijing Prepares for War
VERMILION: The following are highlights from the 29 Nov 2022 China Military Power Report, a document released yearly by the US Department of Defense. It is a highly valuable unclassified report that keeps Congress and the American people updated on important People’s Republic of China (PRC) military developments. The current report is the 2022 edition, which covers events principally through 2021. Vermilion condensed the 100+ page report into the most pertinent paragraphs below, lightly edited for our readers.
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People’s Liberation Army Army (PLAA)
PLAA training events and PRC media reports show that air-ground integration, multi-dimensional assaults, and manned unmanned teaming (MUM-T) are now a standard part of training. Training in 2021 also included numerous examples of helicopters executing nighttime flight operations and ultra-low altitude flying. PLAA Aviation works directly with ground units to enhance its ability to support air assault operations and conduct air strikes. Highlights from PLAA Aviation joint training in 2021 included army aviation helicopters conducting confrontational training against PLAAF surface-to-air missile brigades, and army aviation helicopters coordinating with PLA Navy landing ships. The PLAA continued extensive joint training using PLAN landing ships and civilian RORO vessels to expand amphibious capabilities.
PLAA units conducted extensive specialty exercises in 2021 [to include] coastal defense, multiple sea crossings and landings, and high-elevation plateau operations. Joint training included for the first time, ZAPAD/INTERACTION-2021, where PLAA units conducted a large-scale exercise with the Russian military in China. PLAA and Russian forces participating in ZAPAD/INTERACTION-2021 underwent theoretical and systems training, weapon swaps, and a culminating exercise to further understanding and cooperation between the two militaries.
The PLAA [implemented] changes in their recruitment strategy as the PLA implemented a twice a year conscription and increased its emphasis on the recruitment of college students majoring in science and engineering.
Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)
The PLAN will likely maintain between 65 and 70 subs through the 2020s, replacing older units with more capable units on a one-to-one basis. By the mid-2020s, China will likely build the upgraded SHANG class (Type 093B) guided-missile nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSGN). This new SHANG class variant will enhance the PLAN’s anti-surface warfare capability and could provide a clandestine land-attack option if equipped with land-attack cruise missiles (LACM).
The PLAN is improving its antisubmarine warfare (ASW) capabilities [by prioritizing] the acquisition of ASW capable surface combatants, acoustic surveillance ships, and fixed and rotary wing ASW capable aircraft. [The PLAN] continues to lack a robust deep-water ASW capability.
By the end of 2019, the PLAN had commissioned its 30th JIANGKAI II class FFG, reportedly completing the production run. However, in 2021 PRC media reported production had restarted with at least two hulls launched by the end of year and additional units likely under construction.
The PLAN recognizes that long-range anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) require a robust, over-the-horizon (OTH) targeting capability to realize their full potential. To fill this capability gap, the PLA is investing in joint reconnaissance, surveillance, command, control, and communications systems at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels to provide high-fidelity targeting information to surface and subsurface launch platforms.
In April 2021, China commissioned the first of YUSHEN class LHA (Type 075) followed by the commissioning of the second hull in December 2021. A third YUSHEN-class LHA was launched in January 2021, marking an approximately 16-month timeframe to launch the three vessels, and will likely join the fleet in the first half of 2022.
Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy Marine Corps (PLANMC)
In 2021, the PLAN Marine Corps expanded from two to six brigades and was supplemented with aviation and Special Forces. The PLANMC has started to train on the PLAN’s first amphibious helicopter assault ship (LHA). PLAN LHAs will be capable of delivering PLANMC ground and air forces, to include amphibious and non-amphibious combat units throughout East Asia, the Indian Ocean, and the western Pacific Ocean.
The PLANMC continues to conduct amphibious and expeditionary training in the Northern, Eastern, and Southern Theater Commands, to include training events in the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The most significant aspect of PLANMC amphibious training is the continued–and almost certainly expanding–use of civilian roll-on/roll off (RORO) vessels to transport PLANMC combat forces during training events. This decreases dependence on PLAN amphibious ships to successfully assault Taiwan.
Peoples’ Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF)
Production and deliveries of the KJ-500—the PRC’s most advanced airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft—continued at a rapid pace, joining earlier KJ-2000 Mainring and KJ-200 Moth variants. These aircraft amplify PLAAF’s ability to detect, track, and target threats in larger volumes and at greater distances. It also extends the range of the PLA’s integrated air defense system (IADS) network. Furthermore, China has produced at least one KJ-500 with an aerial refueling probe, which will improve the aircraft’s ability to provide persistent AEW&C coverage.
Airborne units conducted significant joint training events in 2021. The PLAAF Airborne Corps participated in the ZAPAD/INTERACTION-2021 exercise held in western China, which included paradrops from Y-20 aircraft and joint training with Russian military forces. In October, the PLAAF Airborne Corps conducted joint training with the PLAN Marine Corps off southern Hainan Island, in an effort to further their ability to execute joint force projection.
China is probably also developing a strategic stealth bomber, according to PRC state media.
Peoples’ Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF)
In 2021, the PLARF launched approximately 135 ballistic missiles for testing and training. This was more than the rest of the world combined excluding ballistic missile employment in conflict zones.
The DF-17 [hypersonic] passed several tests successfully and is deployed operationally. While the DF-17 is primarily a conventional platform, it may be equipped with nuclear warheads. In 2020, a PRC-based military expert described the primary purpose of the DF-17 as striking foreign military bases and fleets in the Western Pacific.
Additionally, sources indicate a “long range” DF-27 ballistic missile is in development. Official PRC military writings indicate this range-class spans 5,000-8,000km, which means the DF-27 could be a new IRBM or ICBM. Additionally, on 27 July 2021, China conducted the first fractional orbital launch of an ICBM with an HGV. The HGV flew around the world and impacted inside China. This demonstrated the greatest distance flown (~40,000 km) and longest flight time (~100+ minutes) of any PRC land-attack weapons system to date. According to senior U.S. military officials, the HGV did not strike its target, but came close.
Strategic Support Force (SSF)
Although state-owned enterprises are China’s primary civilian and military space contractors, China is placing greater emphasis on decentralizing and diversifying its space industry to increase competition.
The PRC seeks to enhance the PLA’s command and control (C2) for joint operations and establish a real-time surveillance, reconnaissance, and warning system, and it is increasing the number and capabilities of its space systems, including communications and intelligence satellites, as well as the BeiDou navigation satellite system. These capabilities allow the PLA to maintain situational awareness of potential flashpoints as well as monitor, track, and target adversary forces. Additionally, the PRC continues to develop direct ascent, co-orbital, electronic warfare, and directed energy capabilities that can contest or deny an adversary’s access to and operations in the space domain during a crisis or conflict. PLA writings indicate the purpose of these capabilities is to deter and counter the intervention of a third party during a military conflict.
Throughout 2021, the PLA sustained, and in some cases increased, the frequency, scale, and duration of joint exercises. The COVID-19 pandemic likely did not significantly impact the PLA’s ability to conduct joint exercises.
PLA training increasingly integrated non-military government agencies and militias. There was growing emphasis on incorporating the militia and PLA Reserve Forces into PLA joint training and operations.
Although the PLA has improved some combat proficiencies, the force as a whole still struggles with jointness, command and control, and professional military education, especially among the mid-level officers.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that significant issues remain in the mobilization of reserve forces, including which equipment should be used, what level of government pays for the mobilization, and resistance from enterprises at the sudden requisition of their employees. Chinese documents state that Reserve Force equipment is predominately antiquated; one report stated that more than 70% of air defense artillery and artillery equipment is at or beyond its maximum service life. Some of the equipment is no longer manufactured and repair requires cannibalization.
Peoples’ Armed Police (PAP)
Since at least 2016, PAP forces have likely operated in Tajikistan, patrolling the tri-border region connecting Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and the PRC.
Peoples’ Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM)
Since 2014, China has built a new Spratly backbone fleet comprising at least 235 large fishing vessels, many longer than 50 meters and displacing more than 500 tons.
Capability - Anti-Access/ Area Denial (A2AD)
PLA ground, naval, air and rocket forces are increasingly capable of projecting power at greater distances from China. However, joint service training is still in its infancy and the PLA has demonstrated limited joint operational capabilities beyond the first island chain (FIC). Instead, overseas activities are mostly conducted by single services and do not involve combat.
China views its ability to acquire timely, high-fidelity information as critical to its ability to execute precision strikes. The PLA’s information support system for precision strikes depends heavily on Strategic Support Force (SSF) assets to detect, identify, target, and conduct battlefield damage assessments. China emphasizes the importance of space-based surveillance capabilities in supporting precision strikes. In 2021, the PRC continued to develop its constellation of military reconnaissance satellites that could support monitoring, tracking, and targeting of U.S. and allied forces, while also investing in reconnaissance, surveillance, command, control, and communications systems at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels to provide high-fidelity OTH targeting information for its strike platforms.
In 2021, the Y-20U tanker entered service, supporting the continued PLAAF expansion of air refuelable fighters, bombers, and SMA aircraft like the KJ-500 AEW&C aircraft. These new air refuelable aircraft will significantly expand China’s ability to conduct long-range offensive air operations.
PRC’s outposts in the South China Sea extend the operating reach of PLA aviation forces.
PLA electronic warfare units routinely train to conduct jamming and anti-jamming operations against multiple communication and radar systems and Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite systems during force-on-force exercises.
Intelligentized Warfare (智能化战争)- The PLA is researching various applications for AI including support for missile guidance, target detection and identification, and autonomous systems. The PLA is exploring next-generation operational concepts for intelligentized warfare, such as attrition warfare by intelligent swarms, cross-domain mobile warfare, AI based space confrontation, and cognitive control operations. The PLA also considers unmanned systems to be critical intelligentized technologies, and is pursuing greater autonomy for unmanned aerial, surface, and underwater vehicles to enable manned and unmanned hybrid formations, swarm attacks, optimized logistic support, and disaggregated ISR, among other capabilities.
China has claimed that “destroying or capturing satellites and other sensors” would make it difficult for the U.S. and allied militaries to use precision-guided weapons. Moreover, PRC defense academics suggest that reconnaissance, communication, navigation, and early warning satellites could be among the targets of attacks designed to “blind and deafen the enemy.”
In the past 10 years, China has doubled its launches per year and the number of satellites in orbit. China has placed three space stations in orbit, two of which have since deorbited, and the third of which launched in 2021. Furthermore, China has launched a robotic lander and rover to the far side of the Moon; a lander and sample return mission to the Moon; and an orbiter, lander, and rover in one mission to Mars. The PRC has also launched multiple anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles that are able to destroy satellites and developed mobile jammers to deny SATCOM and GPS.
The PLA owns and operates about half of the world’s [space-based] ISR systems, most of which could support monitoring, tracking, and targeting of U.S. and allied forces worldwide, especially throughout the Indo-Pacific region. These satellites also allow the PLA to monitor potential regional flashpoints, including the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan, Indian Ocean, and the South China Sea.
In 2016, China launched the world's first quantum communications satellite (Micius) into low Earth orbit. Between 2017 and 2019, PRC scientists used Micius to send quantum keys to ground stations up to distances of 1,200 kilometers and as a trusted relay to transmit quantum keys between ground stations in China and Austria, facilitating intercontinental quantum-secured communications. In June 2020, a team of PRC scientists claimed to achieve quantum supremacy—the event that a quantum device performs a computational task that no existing or easily foreseeable classical device could perform— using a photonic quantum computer (Jiuzhang), followed by a Chinese superconducting quantum computer (Zuchongzhi), which also achieved quantum supremacy in 2021. Testing satellite-based quantum entanglement represents a major milestone in building a practical, global, ultra-secure quantum network, but the widespread deployment and adoption of this technology still faces hurdles.
China has developed quick-response Space Launch Vehicles (SLVs) to increase its attractiveness as a commercial small satellite launch provider and to rapidly reconstitute LEO space capabilities, which could support Chinese military operations during a conflict or civilian response to disasters. Compared with medium- and heavy-lift SLVs, these quick-response SLVs are able to expedite launch campaigns because they are transportable via road or rail and can be stored launch-ready with solid fuel for longer periods than liquid-fueled SLVs. Because their size is limited, quick-response SLVs such as the Kuaizhou-1 (KZ-1), LM-6, and LM-11 are only able to launch relatively small payloads of up to approximately 2 metric tons into LEO. In June 2020, China announced its intention to upgrade the payload capacity of the LM-11 in the new LM11A, designed for land or sea launches, beginning in 2022.
China plans to pursue additional ASAT weapons that are able to destroy satellites up to GEO. In 2013, China launched an object into space on a ballistic trajectory with a peak orbital radius above 30,000 kilometers, near GEO altitudes. No new satellites were released from the object, and the launch profile was inconsistent with traditional SLVs, ballistic missiles, or sounding rocket launches for scientific research, suggesting a basic capability could exist to use ASAT technology against satellites at great distances and not just LEO. [Vermilion: for a discussion of LEO / MEO / GSO / HEO]
China is developing other sophisticated space-based capabilities, such as satellite inspection and repair. At least some of these capabilities could also function as a weapon. China has launched multiple satellites to conduct scientific experiments on space maintenance technologies and is conducting research on space debris cleanup; the most recent launch was the Shijian-21 launched into GEO in October 2021. In January 2022, Shijian-21 moved a derelict BeiDou navigation satellite to a high graveyard orbit above GEO. The Shijian-17 is a Chinese satellite with a robotic arm. Space-based robotic arm technology could be used in a future system for grappling other satellites.
China conducted the first fractional orbital launch of an ICBM with a hypersonic glide vehicle from China on July 27th, 2021. This demonstrated the greatest distance flown (~40,000 kilometers) and longest flight time (~100+ minutes) of any PRC land attack weapons system to date.
China has reduced transparency in its nuclear program as its capabilities are increasing. It ceased reporting its stockpile of separated plutonium to the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2017 while still being capable of producing plutonium in reactors and separating it at its reprocessing plant at Jiuquan, judging from PRC state media and a Western think tank.
In the past several years, China’s organization traditionally associated with military uranium enrichment has expanded production capacity and likely will continue to do so. China is also working to expand and diversify its capability to produce tritium by methods such as using tritium production targets in reactors and extraction from tritiated heavy water, according to Chinese nuclear industry reporting.
In 2020, the DoD estimated China’s operational nuclear warhead stockpile was in the low-200s and expected to at least double by 2030. However, Beijing probably accelerated its nuclear expansion, and DoD estimates this stockpile has now surpassed 400 operational nuclear warheads. By 2030, DoD estimates that the PRC will have about 1,000 operational nuclear warheads, most of which will be fielded on systems capable of ranging the continental United States (CONUS).
Beijing has not declared an end goal nor acknowledged the scale of its expansion, and has declined to engage in substantive arms control discussions.
The PLA plans to "basically complete modernization" of its national defense and armed forces by 2035. If China continues the pace of its nuclear expansion, it will likely field a stockpile of about 1,500 warheads by that time.
The PRC probably seeks lower yield nuclear warhead capabilities to provide proportional response options that its high-yield warheads cannot deliver. PRC strategists have highlighted the need for lower-yield nuclear weapons in order to increase the deterrence value of the PRC’s nuclear force, though they have not defined specific nuclear yield values. A 2017 defense industry publication indicated a lower-yield weapon had been developed for use against campaign and tactical targets that would reduce collateral damage.By late 2018, PRC concerns began to emerge that the United States would use low-yield weapons against its Taiwan invasion fleet, with related commentary in official media calling for proportionate response capabilities. The DF-26 is the PRC’s first nuclear capable missile system that can conduct precision strikes, and therefore, is the most likely weapon system to field a lower-yield warhead in the near-term.
PRC military writings in 2021 noted that the introduction of new precise small-yield nuclear weapons could possibly allow for the controlled use of nuclear weapons, in the warzone, for warning and deterrence. Additional PRC military writings as of 2017 noted that while strategic nuclear weapons remain the foundation of deterrence, tactical nuclear weapons with high hit precision and smaller yield would be effective in lowering the cost of war. Such discussions provide the doctrinal basis for limited nuclear employment on the battlefield, suggesting PRC nuclear thinkers could be reconsidering their long-standing view that nuclear war is uncontrollable
The PLA is implementing a launch on warning (LOW) posture, called “early warning counterstrike” (预警反击), where warning of a missile strike leads to a counterstrike before an enemy first strike can detonate. PLA writings suggest multiple manned C2 organs are involved in this process, warned by space and ground based sensors, and that this posture is broadly similar to the U.S. and Russian LOW posture.
Despite these developments, the PRC has called upon other states to abandon similar launch on warning postures to enhance strategic stability while declining to engage in substantive dialogue on risk reduction.
The PRC is building hundreds of new ICBM silos. The PRC established a silo-based solid-propellant missile project likely consisting of at least 300 silos across three fields, judging from the size of the first field. These silos are capable of fielding both DF-31 and DF-41 class ICBMs. This project and the expansion of China’s DF-5 class silo force suggests that the PRC intends to increase the peacetime readiness of its nuclear force by moving to a launch-on-warning (LOW) posture.
Taiwan Strait Focused Capabilities
Throughout 2021, island-seizure exercises became more frequent and realistic. The PLA conducted more than 20 naval exercises with an island-capture element, greatly exceeding the 13 observed in 2020. Many of these exercises focused on combat realism and featured night missions, training in adverse weather conditions, and simultaneous multi-domain operations. The PLA is preparing for a contingency to unify Taiwan with the PRC by force if perceived as necessary by Beijing, while simultaneously deterring, delaying, or denying any intervention by a third-party, such as the United States and/or other like-minded partners, on Taiwan’s behalf. China has persistently conducted military operations near Taiwan and military training for a Taiwan contingency. Throughout 2021, the PLA increased provocative actions in and around the Taiwan Strait, to include repeated flights into Taiwan’s self-declared Air Defense Identification Zone and numerous island seizure exercises.
Tensions between the PRC and Taiwan heightened in 2021, as the PRC intensified political and military pressure aimed at Taiwan. The PRC continues its suspension of formal communication with Taiwan, which it did in 2016, and remains adamant that Taiwan must accept Beijing’s view of the “1992 Consensus” to restart formal engagement. China’s leaders have directly equated the “1992 Consensus” to Beijing’s “One China principle” which was reaffirmed by General Secretary Xi Jinping in a January 2019 address to “compatriots” in Taiwan.
The PRC continues to build and exercise capabilities that would likely contribute to a full scale invasion. In 2021, the PLA conducted joint amphibious assault exercises near Taiwan and completed construction of its third LHA. In addition to this capability, the PLA likely will augment their capabilities with civilian “roll on/roll off” ships, under the legal basis of the 2016 National Defense Transportation Law. The PLA experimented with launching amphibious assault vehicles from these civilian ships in July 2020 and summer 2021, allowing them to flow amphibious forces directly to the beach rather than disembarking at port facilities.
The PLA is capable of various amphibious operations short of a full-scale invasion of Taiwan. With few overt military preparations beyond routine training, the PRC could launch an invasion of small Taiwan-occupied islands in the South China Sea such as Pratas or Itu Aba. A PLA invasion of a medium-sized, better-defended island such as Matsu or Kinmen is within the PLA’s capabilities. Such an invasion would demonstrate military capability, political resolve, and achieve tangible territorial gain while simultaneously showing some measure of restraint. This kind of operation involves significant, and possibly prohibitive, political risk because it could galvanize pro-independence sentiment on Taiwan and generate powerful international opposition.
The PLAA continues to enhance its readiness to prevent Taiwan independence and execute an invasion. Significant reorganizations and amphibious assault training in recent years likely indicate that the Taiwan contingency is a high priority for the Army. Major PLAA contributions to a Taiwan invasion scenario likely include extensive amphibious, army aviation, and air assault operations. The PLAA fields six amphibious combined arms brigades—four in the Eastern Theater Command (nearest Taiwan) and two in the Southern Theater Command. PLAA units continued amphibious assault training as a single service and with joint service counterparts in 2021. Training events refined the tactics of rapid loading, long-distance transport and beach assault under complicated sea situations, and logistic support capabilities. Press reports also claimed extensive use of sea, air, and ground uncrewed systems in support of the amphibious assault operation. PLAA amphibious brigades reportedly conduct realistic, large-scale amphibious operations that are almost certainly aimed at supporting a Taiwan invasion scenario. Amphibious training was frequent in 2021—in one 3-month period the PLA held more than 120 maritime trainings.
The amphibious brigades also tested new platforms that would play a key role in an amphibious seizure. In 2021, the PLA debuted the YUSHEN class amphibious assault ship (Type 075) Hainan LHA, designed to improve forces' operational capabilities and vessel maneuver. Additional YUSHEN class hulls are currently under construction. It appears that the PLA is also planning to build a new class of amphibious assault ship—the Type 076. The new Type 076 reportedly will be equipped with electromagnetic catapults, which would enhance its ability to support fixed-wing aircraft and make it somewhat more like an aircraft carrier. 2021 also saw the PLA’s most advanced amphibious armored equipment, the Type 05 amphibious assault vehicle (AAV), used in large numbers for the first time. These AAVs represent an upgrade in armor, survivability, and speed from the last-generation Type 63A, and provide the PLA with a more capable amphibious assault platform.
The PLAN is improving its anti-air, anti-surface, and anti-submarine warfare capabilities, further developing an at-sea nuclear deterrence, and introducing new multi-mission platforms capable of conducting diverse missions during peace and war. New attack submarines and modern surface combatants with anti-air capabilities and fourth generation naval aircraft are designed to achieve maritime superiority within the First Island Chain to deter and counter any potential third-party intervention in a Taiwan conflict. The PRC’s amphibious fleet has in recent years focused on acquiring a modest number of ocean-going amphibious transport docks (LPDs) and amphibious assault ships (LHAs) ships. There is no indication the PRC is significantly expanding its tank landing ships (LSTs) and medium sized landing craft at this time. Although the PLAN has not invested in the large number of landing ships and medium landing craft that outsiders believe the PLA would need for a large-scale assault on Taiwan, it is possible the PLA assesses it has sufficient amphibious capacity and has mitigated shortfalls through investment in other operational capabilities— such as civilian lift vessels and rotary-wing assets— to address this gap. The PLA may also have confidence in the PRC’s shipbuilding industry’s massive capacity to produce the necessary ship-to-shore connectors relatively quickly.
The PLAAF has maintained a ready force posture for a variety of capabilities necessary in a Taiwan contingency. It has acquired a large number of advanced aircraft capable of conducting operations against Taiwan without requiring refueling, providing it with a significant capability to conduct air and ground-attack operations. A number of long-range air defense systems provide a strong layer of defense against attacks on key military installations or population centers on China’s mainland. The PRC’s development of support aircraft provides the PLAAF with improved ISR capability to support PLA operations. Additionally, the PLAAF has improved refueling capabilities, expanding its ability to operate further from China and increasing its ability to threaten third party intervention.
South China Sea (SCS) and the Eastern Theater Command (ETC)
PRC CCG blocked two Philippine supply boats on their way to an atoll in the South China Sea and employed water cannons against them, prompting the United States to warn that an armed attack on Philippine public vessels would invoke U.S. defense commitments.
Since early 2018, PRC-occupied Spratly Islands outposts have been equipped with advanced anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems and military jamming equipment, marking the most capable land-based weapons systems deployed by any claimant in the disputed South China Sea to date. From early 2018 through 2021, the PRC regularly utilized its Spratly Islands outposts to support naval and coast guard operations in the South China Sea. In mid-2021, the PLA deployed an intelligence-gathering ship and a surveillance aircraft to the Spratly Islands during U.S.-Australia bilateral operations in the region.
The PRC has added more than 3,200 acres of land to the seven features it occupies in the Spratlys. [The] outposts provide airfields, berthing areas, and resupply facilities that allow the PRC to maintain a more flexible and persistent military and paramilitary presence in the area. This improves the PRC’s ability to detect and challenge activities by rival claimants or third parties and widens the range of response options available to Beijing.
Western Theater Command (WTC)
Since early May 2020, sustained tensions along the India-China border have dominated the Western Theater Command’s attention. Differing perceptions of border demarcations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) combined with recent infrastructure construction, led to multiple unarmed clashes, an ongoing standoff, and military buildups on both sides of the India-China border. In response to a skirmish in June 2020 between PRC and Indian patrols in Galwan Valley—the most violent clash between the two countries in 45 years—the Western Theater Command conducted a large-scale mobilization and deployment of PLA forces along the LAC. Negotiations stalled throughout 2021, with the 13th round of military commander negotiations breaking down in October. Due to the sustained military development along the LAC, the Western Theater Command’s deployment will likely continue through 2022.
The 2020 Galwan Valley incident was the deadliest clash between the two nations in the past 46 years. On June 15th, 2020, patrols violently clashed in Galwan Valley resulting in the deaths of approximately twenty Indian soldiers and four PLA soldiers, according to PRC officials.
China’s Energy Supplies
In 2021, China imported approximately 10.3 million barrels per day of crude oil, which met about 72 percent of its needs, according to an industry report. China continues to build its crude oil emergency petroleum reserve (EPR) capacity to safeguard against supply disruptions with a goal to have the equivalent of 90 days’ worth of imports in storage.
China met about 45 percent of its natural gas demand with imports in 2021, and industry experts estimate that China’s natural gas imports will increase to about 50 percent by 2035.
Approximately 76 percent of China’s oil imports and 23 percent of its total natural gas imports transit the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca. Despite China’s efforts to diversify energy suppliers, the sheer volume of oil and natural gas imported from Africa and the Middle East will make securing strategic maritime routes a priority for Beijing for at least the next 15 years.
Crude oil pipelines from Russia and Kazakhstan to China demonstrate China’s interest in increasing overland fuel supply. In 2021, China imported about 600,000 barrels per day of Russian crude oil via the East Siberia–Pacific Ocean pipeline, which has a total designed capacity of 1.6 million barrels per day. China also imports crude oil from Middle Eastern— primarily Saudi—and African suppliers via a crude oil pipeline across Burma. This 440,000- barrels-per-day pipeline bypasses the Strait of Malacca by transporting crude oil from Kyaukpyu, Burma, to Yunnan Province, China, and reduces shipping time by more than a third.
In 2021, approximately 20 percent of China’s natural gas imports came from Turkmenistan via a pipeline that runs through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. This pipeline can transport 55 billion cubic meters per year; Turkmenistan and China are planning to expand it to 80 billion cubic meters per year. A natural gas pipeline connecting China to Burma can deliver 12 billion cubic meters per year, but only 4.1 billion cubic meters of gas was shipped in 2021. In early December 2020, the middle section of the China-Russia East natural gas pipeline—which is connected to the Power of Siberia pipeline—began operations. The pipeline is projected to reach an annual capacity of 38 billion cubic meters per year by 2025.
Overseas Basing and Access (OBA)
The PRC has likely considered Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Seychelles, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania, Angola, and Tajikistan among other places as locations for PLA military logistics facilities. The PRC has probably already made overtures to Namibia, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands. The PLA is most interested in military access along the sea lines of communication (SLOCs) from China to the Strait of Hormuz, Africa, and the Pacific Islands.
The PRC’s military facility at Ream Naval Base in Cambodia will be the first PRC overseas base in the Indo-Pacific. In 2021, the “Joint Vietnamese Friendship” building, a facility built by the Vietnamese, was relocated off Ream Naval Base to avert conflicts with PRC military personnel. As of early 2021, dredgers were spotted off Cambodia’s Ream naval base, where the PRC is funding construction work and deeper port facilities that would be necessary for the docking of larger military ships. Both the PRC and Cambodia have publicly denied having signed an agreement to provide the PLA exclusive access to Ream Naval Base.
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