China’s New Vassal
How the War in Ukraine Turned Moscow Into Beijing’s Junior Partner
One hundred and sixty-six years ago, a political writer on the staff of a respected journal-the Philadelphia Monthly Magazine-devoted a column to reports of a civil war then said to be raging in China. This anonymous and unpretentious commentator, unlike some who follow the trade today, admitted that his analysis was almost entirely speculative, for he wrote: "Our knowledge of that nation is very little, and that little, too obscure to be trusted."
Since 1798 this situation has not improved much, if at all, and there is small prospect that it will. Thus, any lay estimate of current Communist Chinese military capabilities, or future potential, is likely at best to be but partially correct; at worst, flagrantly inaccurate. "It is extremely important," Mao Tse-tung wrote in "On Protracted War," to keep the enemy "in the dark about where and when our forces will attack." This, he goes on, creates a basis "for misconceptions and unpreparedness on his part. ... In order to achieve victory we must as far as possible make the enemy blind and deaf by sealing his eyes and ears, and drive his commanders to distraction by creating confusion in their minds."
Even those whose primary professional concern it is to assess Communist Chinese military capabilities have made egregious mistakes. History has qualified the late General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Commander-in- Chief, United Nations Command in Korea, as an expert witness to the truth of this statement. At the Wake Island conference, on October 15, 1950, President Truman asked MacArthur what he thought of the Chinese capability to intervene in the Korean War. MacArthur was not perturbed. He viewed this as a remote contingency. He replied:
Very little. Had they intervened in the first or second months it would have been decisive. We are no longer fearful of their intervention. We no longer stand with hat in hand. The Chinese have 300,000 men in Manchuria. Of these probably not more than 100,000 to 200,000 are distributed along the Yalu River. Only 50,000 to 60,000 could be gotten across the Yalu River. They have no Air Force. Now that we have bases for our Air Force in Korea, if the Chinese tried to get down to P'yongyang there would be the greatest slaughter.[i]
Forty-eight hours before that meeting on the peaceful mid-Pacific atoll, advance elements of Lin Piao's Fourth Field Army of almost a quarter of a million men had begun to cross the Yalu, and to disappear, without a trace, in the rugged mountains of North Korea.
The secret concentration of overwhelming force in the zone of operations preceded attacks that brought the United Nations Command in Korea suddenly face to face with disaster. The episode should exert a salutary effect on all of us who in discussing the present and future capabilities of the People's Liberation Army (P.L.A.) are inclined to make dogmatic statements and to draw subjective-and therefore unwarranted-conclusions.
One need not labor the obvious fact that a nation's military potential in our age is a complex amalgam of many diverse elements. Among the most important are its size, terrain and environmental situation; its national philosophy; the number, character, standards of literacy and morale of its population; its natural resources; the capacity of its indigenous science, technology and industry to develop these resources advantageously; the quality of its leadership at directive levels; the viability of its alliances, including material and other assistance it receives from allies; its internal communications; its strategic doctrine; and the size, nature and quality of its armed forces, including the supporting establishments.
There is also the important question of how effectively a nation can, or will, apply its military power at various levels of violence in various areas, and under various conditions, in pursuit of policy objectives. For example, Peking demonstrated during the border fighting with India that it could very effectively deploy and support limited but still significant conventional land power beyond the Chinese borders under particular conditions. This it had previously demonstrated, on a much larger scale, in Korea.
China has the capability to intervene directly or indirectly in different ways in areas susceptible to so-called "National Liberation Wars." To date, it has not participated directly in such wars, even in peripheral areas, and whether it will do so will depend on a variety of circumstances, not all of which would be under its control. For instance, it is giving more than political support to the Pathet Lao, but this is principally indirect, via Hanoi.
Although China will develop an atomic-nuclear capability, it has none at the moment, and it is a very long way indeed from an indigenous capability in strategic (ballistic missile) delivery systems other than those of crude types. Still, we must remember that the Chinese may consider such refined systems as those possessed by the Soviet Union, Britain and the United States to be both uneconomical and unnecessary.
The Chinese potential for the production of atomic bombs is believed by Ralph E. Lapp, a well known nuclear physicist, to be "less than one A-bomb per month." But even with this relatively limited capacity, China will in several years have available a respectable stock of weapons. With its obsolescent aircraft, it could deliver Hiroshima-type atomic bombs on almost any target on the continent of Asia, on Japan, Taiwan or the Philippines. Hanson Baldwin has pointed out (New York Times, October 26, 1964) that while this capability presents no challenge now to the continental United States it does "pose an imminent threat" to our allies in Asia, and its existence "postulates major political and psychological problems."
Several other fundamental factors are germane to any assessment of Peking's present and future military potential. One of these is that the régime is now, and for a number of years will be, faced with many hard choices. The leadership some time ago discovered that modern arms and equipment are extremely expensive and, in an economy of scarcity, demand a disproportionate share of resources required to create and operate a flexible and versatile base for heavy industry and to speed the technical revolution in agriculture, upon which the creation of this base essentially depends.
However, one of the features of a controlled economy is the ease with which it can swing resources and support into any selected field. Central control of over-all production strategy in China is popularized under the slogan "The entire nation is a chessboard," or a "game of chess"-"Ch'uan kuo i p'an ch'i." Thus, during the past two years, the Chinese have thrown resources into enlarging the chemical fertilizer industry, as well as into synthetics, petroleum extraction and refining. It would appear that in, say, ten years' time, this principle could be applied to the development of short-range and even medium-range missiles, should the leadership feel the need to be paramount. But, should they make this decision, they could achieve their aims only by slighting productive sectors of an economy which in many respects will still be primitive, and at the expense of modernizing conventional forces. There is just not enough cake to go around.
In sum, although some factors in the amalgam of China's military potential can be broadly assessed with reasonable accuracy, we can make no objective assessment of others. The régime has not been remarkable for the consistency of its domestic economic policies, and this alone makes projections of future development of the defense industrial base difficult if not impossible. Otherwise, our knowledge is either sparse or nonexistent, for information and statistics directly relating to military matters are not published. Thus we can at best hope to make approximations; at worst, surmises which may be wildly inaccurate.
But it is no speculation that China is a formidable land power relative to those nations, including the Soviet Union, with which it has common borders. With presently mobilized manpower, it could, if it wished, literally saturate Nepal, the Northeast Frontier Area, Bhutan, Sikkim, Burma, Laos or Thailand, threaten South Korea, and hold a club raised in the direction of the offshore islands, Taiwan, India and Japan.
China's millions, frequently cited as an element of its potential power, are in fact a serious source of weakness, and if the population increases in the next 20 years at the rate demographers believe it has in the past 10 or 15-that is, at least 12,000,000 annually-this weakness could easily become critical. True, there are empty spaces in the hinterlands of Tibet and Central Asia which are now being peopled by Han Chinese sent from overcrowded cities and farm villages. But vast areas of these territories are inhospitable, and mere displacement of people to subsistence areas is no more than a temporary solution.
National morale depends to a great degree on the ability of the commodity and consumer goods section of the controlled economy to meet minimum demands levied against them by an exploding population. No one denies that the Chinese are ingenious and industrious, but, unless the ratio of population to resources is stringently manipulated, they are going to have to run very fast indeed to stay in the same place in terms of food, clothing, housing, public health, education, transportation and communications. Many amenities we take for granted will be scarce, if available at all. But morale is neither produced nor destroyed by gadgetry.
Unrestricted access to abundant supplies of iron ore, coal, petroleum and a variety of metals and minerals is an a priori requirement for any nation which aspires, as China does, to get into the great-power club. Lacking them, there is no possibility of creating the industrial base which in the contemporary world underlies the structure of military power. It appears now that China is well endowed with these primary resources. However, all are not found in areas which permit rapid and efficient exploitation. Sinkiang is reported rich in oil and nonferrous metals. But Sinkiang is a long, long way from anywhere. Better prospects are the fields in the Kansu "panhandle."
At present, China can by no means meet its minimum basic annual requirements in such fundamental items as machine tools, alloy steels, electronics, agricultural machinery, synthetic rubber, extracting equipment, petroleum products, chemicals, turbines, generators, motors, electrical transmission and control equipment, precision instruments, road- building machines, tractors, heavy-duty trucks, automatic switching and signaling equipment, synthetics in general, computers, diesel engines and electric locomotives. It can assemble, but it cannot make, either jet engines or airframes on a production basis. Jet engines, airframes and the electrical and hydraulic equipment-to say nothing of the navigational, fire- control instrumentation and weaponry which modern combat aircraft require- cannot be produced by "back-yard" enterprises, even if the catalyst is "the glorious thought of Comrade Mao Tse-tung."
Thus, although the Chinese have registered significant advances on a broad front embracing electrical, hydraulic, mechanical and chemical engineering, electronics and metallurgy, their progress, when projected against fundamental requirements, is not particularly remarkable. The picture of scientific, technological and industrial development during the last 15 years is an extremely uneven one. In many areas, the Communist Party established unrealistic goals; in others, political dogmatism has interfered. Possibly the single most important lack has been trained scientists and technical personnel. Naturally the departure of the Russians accentuated this particular aspect of the Great Slide Backward, from which the Chinese economy is only now beginning to recover.
The party is well aware of the deficiency in personnel, and is doing everything within its power to remedy it. I think it reasonable to estimate that as of 1975 China will have a respectable corps of trained scientists and qualified engineers. Scientists of international repute are today numbered in scores only. In 10 to 15 years they may be numbered in the hundreds, and engineers and other well qualified technicians in the thousands. Major educational emphasis is being placed in these specific areas.
Mao Tse-tung wrote: "Once man has eliminated capitalism he will attain the era of perpetual peace, and there will be no more need for war. Neither armies, nor warships, nor military aircraft, nor poison gas will then be needed. Thereafter and for all time, mankind will never again know war."
But this Utopia can be achieved only by force of arms: the Chinese leadership believes, as an article of faith, that struggle-and they specify violent and mortal struggle-is inevitable as long as "class society" exists. There is a corollary: it is the sacred duty of all good Communists- and particularly Chinese Communists-to hasten the demise of the competing society by whatever means possible, including war.
A "just" war is by definition any which contributes to this end. China, then, may wage "just" wars in support of claims it unilaterally defines as "legitimate." It did so to enforce its claims along the borders of India. It has "rightful" claims, listed by Mao Tse-tung, in other peripheral areas. At one time or another he has named these as Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal, the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, Outer Mongolia, Hong Kong, Macao and the former tributary states of Southeast Asia (less Thailand).
If other and less delicate means fail, the ultimate instrument available to enforce these claims is the People's Liberation Army, a force of 2,700,000 including the ground forces, Air Force, Navy and Border Guards. Headquarters, P.L.A., no longer exercises command over the People's Armed Police (estimated at about 500,000). This force is now controlled by the Ministry of Internal Security. The over-all figure, 2.7 million, is derived from the secret "Liberation Army Work Bulletins" acquired by the U. S. Government, and may be deemed reliable.
Policy control and supreme directive authority in all important matters is vested in the Military Affairs Committee of the Central Executive Committee of the Party, frequently designated by the term "Central Authorities." It appears that Marshal Lin Piao, Minister of National Defense, is concurrently Chairman of the M.A.C., which reports directly to the Chairman of the Party, Mao Tse-tung.
The nation is divided into 13 military regions, of which three-Inner Mongolia, Sinkiang and Tibet-are "Direct Control" regions. The senior officer in each region commands the armed forces assigned thereto, as well as the militia. Regions which include two or more provinces are further divided into "Districts," the boundaries of which coincide with provincial boundaries. There are 23 such "Districts."
I do not think anyone questions either the professional competence of the superior commanders or their dedication to the party. How well versed they are in application of combined arms has not really been tested. However, they are imaginative and meticulous planners. In Korea, their response to battle situations suggested that they were less intellectually flexible than we. This, if still true, is of course a serious weakness.
The bulk of P.L.A. manpower (2,000,000) is believed to be assigned to approximately 40 field armies, each basically consisting of three infantry divisions. A Chinese field army cannot be equated with a U.S. corps, which packs greater fire power and is equipped with extremely flexible and efficient communications. (Parenthetically, estimates of the number of 11,000-12,000-man infantry divisions range from 105 to 154.)
In respect to modern, standardized infantry weapons-i.e. automatic rifles, submachine guns and "burp" guns, light and heavy machine guns, light and medium (60 mm., 82 mm. and 122 mm.) mortars; 90 mm. rocket launchers; recoilless rifles (57 mm. and 75 mm.), and light and medium artillery (all of which are being produced by the Chinese)-the Army is adequately equipped. Major shortages exist, however, in heavy and self-propelled artillery, trucks and other military vehicles, heavy engineer equipment and tanks, other than the obsolete T-34. Some of these shortages were indicated in Work Bulletins. Others are inferred from Chinese "shopping lists" made available to foreign firms and governments anxious to trade.
The rocket and short-range missile picture is confused to say the least, but one must presume that since 1961, when Work Bulletins reveal at least one failure to attack a Nationalist reconnaissance plane flying over Peking, the Chinese have been working energetically on air-to-air, short- range ground-to-ground and ground-to-air rockets and missiles. The Russians are reported to have given the Chinese some rockets-precisely what sort was not made clear by the source, which was Mr. Khrushchev. Another critical sector, and one to which attention is also being paid, is that of strategic and tactical electronic communications, and radar. Here the Chinese are probably at the stage that Western armies, navies and air forces were in 1941-1942.
A major impediment to efficient operations is the scarcity and low quality of technical personnel. One finds constant reference to this in the Work Bulletins. The complaints focus on poor maintenance of aircraft, trucks and ships, due both to inexperience and carelessness of personnel, and to a critical shortage of spare parts. Accident rates in all these services as of 1960-1961 were high.
The Army's tactical mobility is excellent, but its strategic mobility is of a low order. Airlift capabilities, even if all civil transport planes were employed, are meager, and limited to lift of personnel with individual arms and light infantry weapons. Some estimates set the maximum airlift capability at two battalions. North to south rail communications are reasonably good but lateral lines are few. Railway bottlenecks are vulnerable to interdiction from the air or by sabotage. There is no such thing as a modern highway system, and even if one existed the P.L.A. would be unable to make full use of it because of a most critical shortage of automotive equipment.
In 1961, Wang Shou-tao, Minister of Communications, in a frank discussion of transport problems, observed that one-half the length of Chinese highways could not be used in rainy weather. At the time-and there has been very little change since-practically all short-haul rural transport was accomplished by animal-drawn carts, human carriers, wheelbarrows, donkeys, camels, and on lakes, rivers and canals by animal and man-pulled barges, sail and motorized junks.
A word of caution is perhaps in order here. In each military region, there no doubt are one or more fully motorized élite divisions capable of fairly rapid movement, even during hours of darkness. The Chinese have on occasion deployed troops to the southeast coastal areas with considerable speed. In Korea, under extremely adverse conditions of both weather and terrain, the troops displayed an unexcelled capability for movement. Last year, emphasis in training was devoted to night marching, and the high standards set-40 miles with full equipment-indicate that major reliance for speedy tactical movement is still, as it was in Korea, placed on the soldier's legs.
Today the Air Force numbers about 2,600 aircraft of which some 2,000 are jets, approximately 1,600 of them MIG 15s and 17s. The remainder are light and medium bombers (of which about 400 are subsonic jet types), trainers, helicopters and a few transports. Sixty to eighty MIG 19s are reported, but no MIG 21s. A small naval air arm is included.
As of 1963, jet pilots were averaging 8-10 hours a month as compared to the 20 hours that the air forces of the United States, Japan and Nationalist China consider the minimum necessary to maintain all-weather pilot proficiency. In 1961 an uncertain percentage of combat aircraft were grounded at all times because of lack of fuel and shortage of spare parts. Work Bulletins reveal that operational accident rates were high, and that pilots were forced to do much of their "training" on the ground. The figures on pilot hours can be misleading, because the Air Force can and probably does "peak" selected squadrons periodically. By reducing flying time for older, more experienced pilots, headquarters can schedule more time for younger pilots.
Rotation of units into and out of the southeastern coastal land, with "alert" squadrons getting more than average time for intercept and ground- attack training, instrument flying, gunnery and so on, could help maintain proficiency of combat pilots at a higher level than the figures suggest. (Incidentally, when the Communists tangled with the Nationalists over the Taiwan Straits in 1958, the kill ratio was 16 to 1 in favor of the latter, and the majority of Nationalists' kills were made before they were equipped with "Sidewinders.")
In order to keep their obsolete combat aircraft flying, the Chinese must resort to cannibalization-at least until they can produce high quality spare parts or procure them from outside sources. Their interest in buying machine tools and machine tool-making plants reflects these critical shortages. Reëquipment of the Air Force with modern aircraft of all types appears to be a pressing problem.
Jet fuel remains in critical short supply. Although the Chinese have recently announced "basic self-sufficiency" in oil requirements, we may view the claim skeptically. What they may have achieved is a "basic self- sufficiency" in crude petroleum at the source. This is an important first step. But there are many obstacles to be overcome before fuel in adequate quantities can be delivered to consumers. And here again they are faced with competing claims to limited resources. The design and construction of refineries and rectification plants and the creation of facilities for transportation, storage and handling of volatile jet fuels present a variety of complicated technical and engineering problems, to say nothing of a major investment of skills, materials and capital.
In sum, the combat capability of the Air Force-even in defense of the homeland-is low, and there is little chance that it will improve much in the immediate future unless massive aid from Russia were to be forthcoming. At present, the Air Force could not conduct sustained offensive operations in peripheral areas if there were any sort of opposition by high performance aircraft. In fact, there is little reason to suspect that at present it could put up an effective defense against anything but small- scale, local air attacks.
The Chinese Navy consists basically of submarines and coastal patrol craft. The exact number of long-range (9,000 miles) submarines is not known, but is believed to be about 20. Some of these (W-class) could be fitted for short-range (250-400 miles) missiles. There is a possibility that some have been modified to carry one or two such missiles. With atomic or nuclear warheads for these, the submarine force could at some future date pose a substantial terror threat to cities on the West Coast of the United States. The Navy can lay coastal mines, and its high-speed motor torpedo boats give it a capability for attacking ships which enter coastal waters. The Navy's amphibious capability, specifically against Taiwan, is primitive. The picture conjured up of thousands of junks crossing the Strait is totally unrealistic, given an effective Nationalist Air Force. And today the Nationalist Air Force is effective, as the Communists are well aware.
The P.L.A. is unique in several other respects that deserve mention. First, it assists in agricultural and industrial production, in road and railroad building, in hydraulic projects ranging all the way from construction of dams, levees and canals to local irrigation projects. The P.L.A. is a ready, disciplined, working force that can be thrown into any emergency project. It grows a high percentage of the cereals it consumes, raises its own hogs, chickens and ducks, and where conditions permit, augments its rations by hunting and fishing. It also manufactures its own uniforms, shoes, blankets and bedding, builds its barracks and other facilities, and maintains all its installations.
We might wonder when the P.L.A. finds time to train. This is apparently one of the questions which worried Marshal P'eng Teh-huai and his Chief of Staff, General Huang K'o-ch'eng. Unfortunately for them, they apparently wondered out loud.
Two important adjuncts to the P.L.A. are the militia and the People's Armed Police. The militia has been drastically reduced in size, purged, reorganized and "remolded" during the past three years. Recent reports are to the effect that it is again being expanded. The "Every Man a Soldier" movement was launched in 1958 when the Great Leap began, and the party found it necessary in the interest of increased production to regiment the rural population. The reason given for this radical policy was that the American "imperialists," allied with the Chiang Kai-shek "bandits," threatened the Fatherland.
Obviously, the militia provided the party with a built-in mechanism for disciplining, controlling and indoctrinating the masses. Considerable experience had been gained during the 1930s and '40s, when the party organized militia to extend and deepen its control in every village and county under its jurisdiction, and a clandestine militia in areas where its administrative fiat was extra-legal. The "Every Man a Soldier" movement thus seemed to party leaders a perfect instrument in the campaign to collectivize and martialize the entire nation.
But in 1960 the party discovered to its horror that its militia system was simply not functioning. In not a few areas the organization existed only on paper. A number of peasants queried by investigators did not know whether or not they were members. Work Bulletins cite several instances of militiamen who stole weapons and became bandits. Obviously, radical measures had to be taken, and as a consequence of the sorry state of affairs the party completely reorganized the militia.
At least until very recently, all youths not conscripted by the P.L.A. automatically entered the basic militia (chi kan min ping). All demobilized servicemen are automatically fed into it. All male students in technical schools and colleges are members of local basic militia companies or battalions. In the cities, all bank employees, railway workers, members of the governmental bureaucracy, etc., under the age of 26, are members of functionally organized basic militia units. Apparently, particular attention has been paid to training and indoctrinating militiamen in the southern coastal belt.
The P.L.A. exercises command over the militia, is responsible for its training and for custody of weapons. Supervision of the militia, while no doubt a burden, pays the P.L.A. direct dividends in terms of the quality of conscripts, who now enter the armed forces for the required three years equipped with at least a basic knowledge of infantry weapons, as well as an ability to adjust rapidly to service life.
Until August 1958, public security forces were under P.L.A. command. Since that time they have been responsible to party control. Very little information is available relative to their organization and equipment. One would be safe to assume that their personnel are specially selected, well equipped with individual and team weapons, and entirely reliable. Estimates of strength vary from a low of 185,000 to a high of 700,000.
If the population at large is subjected to surveillance, close control and constant indoctrination, we might assume that even more stringent measures are taken to ensure that the Chinese People's Liberation Army thinks correct thoughts and marches unswervingly under the Great Red Banner of Comrade Mao Tse-tung. If so, we would be entirely correct. The mystique of the army is unique. It was well summarized in the September 7, 1962, issue of China News Analysis, a weekly Hong Kong newsletter:
A communist army, certainly the army of China, is run in a very different way from the "capitalist" armies, at least as they were before psychoanalysis, unfortunately, was applied to the life of soldiers. In the good old days the sergeant shouted at the top of his voice, and all obeyed; the sergeant was not much interested in knowing your Weltanschaung, or whether you had one. In the Liberation Army things are different; at the company level, and it is there that human beings are encountered, the real commander is not the commander of the company; he is the political guide, a comrade whose curiosity has no limits. He wants to know, it is his duty to know, not only what you do but-and primarily-what you think, whether you think the thoughts of Mao Tse-tung. It is his business to see to it that you do.
He is not alone in his job. He is helped by men called "kanpu," cadres, who are, or should be, specialised in the job; but all others must give a helping hand. Indeed everybody, officer and soldier, must help everybody else to think the thoughts of Chairman Mao and report it if someone has kept a little private ownership in a corner of his mind. That would be a dangerous thing. A general of high authority declared that such things must be detected at their first appearance, before the evil is done; it is a kind of mine-detecting work, in the minds of men.
In October and November 1961, after a detailed country-wide investigation of P.L.A. units at all levels, the General Political Department issued a series of directives designed to correct the ideological situation in the armed forces and to ensure predominance of the party.
This emphasis is consistent with the party's views of the correct nature of the political-military relation. Many years ago Mao laid down the basic guidelines for these views. "The Party commands the gun; the gun will never command the Party," and "In war, man, not material, is decisive." We find these themes echoed constantly by members of the hierarchy.
Here, for instance, is General Hsiao Hua, Deputy Director of the General Political Department, P.L.A., in an address to the Army's "Political Work Conference" on February 14, 1963:
Although the role of weapons and technical equipment has become more important in modern warfare, man-not materials-is the determining factor in war. In the end, victory or defeat in combat depends on the courage of man, his awareness, and his willingness to sacrifice.
The decisions of the Military Affairs Committee pointed out that while the material atom bomb is very important, the atom bomb of the spirit is even more important.
A revolutionary army is not afraid of the enemy, no matter how powerful he is. It is not afraid of any weapon, no matter how strong it is. What a revolutionary army is really afraid of is political backwardness, isolation from the people, and loss of determination to fight.
Mao Tse-tung has taught us that politics is the commander and the soul. If our political and ideological work is carried out well, then other activities will fall into their proper places. Therefore, to develop a force with strong combat powers, it is first necessary for the cadres to profoundly learn the thinking of Comrade Mao on people's war-and to be guided by the thinking of Comrade Mao in all activities. The most basic tasks in political-ideological work are to raise the great Red Banner of Mao's thought, to use this thought to arm the combat commanders, to have everyone study his writings, work according to his directions, and become a good soldier of Mao Tse-tung. . . .
The question is: Are the tasks summarized in the directives, and outlined by Comrade General Hsiao Hua, being successfully accomplished? I venture to say they are. During the last three years, repeated ideological "remolding" campaigns have no doubt located and weeded out the "remnant bourgeois" and "lurking counter-revolutionary elements" of the officer and non- commissioned officer groups, together with "Russified" officers, followers of former Defense Minister Marshal P'eng Teh-huai, and other dissidents and malcontents.
The control postulated by the Military Affairs Committee is comprehensive. It is wide and deep; vertical and horizontal. Activists in platoons, squads, sections, gun crews, air crews-i.e. at the very lowest levels in the armed forces-are alert to discover signs of "wrong thoughts." Should these be discovered, or indeed imagined, to exist, remolding is in order.
A good example of how the party operates on a selected group is provided by the Hsia Lien Tang Ping ("Go down to the companies and soldiers") campaign as applied to the officer corps between 1959 and 1962. During this operation, which involved every officer from Lin Piao down to the most junior lieutenant, officers served in the ranks for stated periods and performed every menial task, including cleaning spittoons and lavatories, washing dishes, policing barracks and grounds, and so on. The purpose of this was stated by the party to be to ensure the "unity" of officers and enlisted men. Possibly. But the punitive aspect of the campaign cannot be overlooked. Undoubtedly some officers objected to this sort of remolding. If they did so vocally, they are no longer officers. As one does not now hear anything of the Hsia Lien movement, it may be assumed that this rite of purification was consummated.
Several other mechanisms are used in the remolding process. Possibly the best known of them is the "criticism" meeting. Here officers and soldiers are encouraged to reveal publicly their innermost thoughts and confess their ideological shortcomings to the group. "Before I read and studied the works of Chairman Mao, I was arrogant and bureaucratic and treated the soldiers in my platoon too harshly. But now that I have studied our revered Chairman's inspirational and illuminating essays, I am greatly enlightened." Etc., etc.
Another favored type of mental and emotional therapy is the "recollection of past bitterness, contemplation of present sweetness" meeting. At these gatherings, which are essentially "hate-meetings," the soldiers are encouraged to work themselves into a state bordering on hysteria as older men recount the outrages perpetrated before 1949 by landlords, merchants, other bourgeois elements and imperialists. On this subject the Work Bulletins state that the cadres should not "enforce" mass weeping! The clear inference is that paroxysms of enraged grief should be encouraged, but not demanded. After the wailing sessions, the soldiers reflect (aloud of course) on "present sweetness."
A third device currently in favor in the P.L.A. is the "emulation" campaign. Such campaigns were common enough in agriculture and industry, but were not applied to the armed forces until 1962. Here a particular individual or unit (some no doubt fictitious-their reported virtues and accomplishments are really unbelievable) is selected as a model of frugality, industry, "loving the people," "loving the party," or studying the works of Chairman Mao. When an emulation campaign is launched, all stops are pulled. One of the purposes of these various campaigns is to keep the revolutionary fervor of the soldiers at a high level. We see in press reports many references to the necessity for the P.L.A. to maintain the revolutionary élan which distinguished the Eighth Route Army.
Still another mechanism which can be manipulated by the party to ensure a high level of ideological commitment is the conscription process. Since 1959 the party has been much more selective than it was previously. To induct 750,000 young men a year (the current rate), the P.L.A. need only choose one from every seven or eight of the approximately 6,000,000 young men who reach the age of 18 each year. The party is thus able to ensure, during the annual draft, that only ideologically reliable youngsters with untainted family backgrounds are taken. Additionally, quite rigid mental, physical and emotional standards can be applied to them, as to officer aspirants.
For these reasons, it is not realistic to assume a crisis of morale in the P.L.A. or to entertain the hope that the armed forces, or really significant elements of them, will prove disloyal to the party. On Taiwan now it is an article of faith that the P.L.A. is on the verge of disintegration. This I believe to be wishful thinking. There may be schisms in the command hierarchy in the future. There may be occasional defectors. But the notion that the armed forces harbor important anti-party elements is illusory. The P.L.A., or the People's Armed Police, might be the decisive factor should there be a split in the hierarchy after the death of Mao. But that the P.L.A. could act independently to deprive the party of control of the state apparatus appears an extremely remote possibility indeed. If the P.L.A. were not now considered entirely "safe" we should not have it held up, which it is at present, as a model worthy of emulation on a national scale. The Chinese people today are constantly adjured: "Learn from the P.L.A.!" Learn what? Frugality, industry, implicit obedience, love of the party, reverence for Chairman Mao.
Work Bulletins reveal that the quality of leadership at lower levels has been a source of concern. Very few officers below the rank of lieutenant- colonel-that is, below battalion commander-have actually participated in combat. Hence the present emphasis on schooling and training. Politics has not taken a back seat, but has been considerably deëmphasized. The P.L.A. operates an elaborate graded school system, and there is no reason to believe that the officer corps is not rapidly gaining professional competence. The substantive question is to what degree, if any, pervasive party control affects the morale and operational flexibility of the armed forces. Certainly, in combat, situations will frequently arise in which military and political commanders find themselves deadlocked.
Theory holds that in a combat "emergency" the military commanders' view prevails. In all conditions other than "emergency," differing points of view should be presented to the next higher echelon for resolution. We know, in fact, that in Korea political officers and their military counterparts at low echelons frequently did reach just such an impasse, with the result that critical decisions were often not taken when they should have been. For instance, General Mark Clark refers to this: ". . . The system resulted in a weakness in military leadership at lower levels, and forced the Chinese to sacrifice flexibility in their operations. Individual initiative during action was rare in the Chinese Army."
This lack of flexibility at platoon, company and battalion levels was noticed by U.S. Marine officers and documented in official reports. It is true that the Chinese apparently took steps to correct the situation, but no evidence is available to me as to what, precisely, the measures were. Nor is there the slightest evidence of lack of initiative on the part of lower commanders during the Sino-Indian fighting. Indeed, the contrary seems to be the case.
Certainly, there seems to be no doubt in the minds of the top leaders that the system is effective both in peace and war, and that it is a decisive factor in promoting and maintaining very high standards of loyalty, morale and discipline.
China's capability for sustained conventional action on a major scale outside its own borders is poor. Its present military impotence stems largely from the stoppage of Soviet aid, as a result of which for the last five years it has been deprived of the military hardware, technical assistance and professional advice which was essential if a balanced defense establishment were to be created. Still, when appraising possible Communist military actions we must not, as Mao says, take "a purely military viewpoint," but must relate them to the contexts of domestic and external situations. Should the party feel that national morale needs a massive injection, the leadership might tie renewed intensive bombardment of Quemoy and Matsu to a xenophobic anti-U.S. campaign, or it might so provoke the Indians that another "self-defense counter-attack" would be in order.
Today, the P.L.A. does not have even a primitive capability for operations involving combined land, sea and air arms. In the ground forces, emphasis in training during the past few years has apparently been directed to the individual, to squads and to companies, with special attention given to night marches, infiltration, night fighting and techniques of close combat. One may conjecture that regimental and divisional man?uvres involving close coördination of the infantry-tank-air-artillery team are confined to élite units, if indeed they are held at all, which I doubt. A campaign to conserve fuel oil, coal, electric power and materials of all descriptions- including ragged garments and soles of shoes-has been applied to the armed forces across the board, and it is most unlikely that the party would encourage the P.L.A. to conduct expensive live-firing exercises on the scale required to achieve battle proficiency when so many other requirements cannot be met. However, small-unit training has distinct relevance to situations which may develop in Southeast Asia.
China's geographical position is such that it can attack her avowed enemy, the United States, only indirectly in South Korea. That it would provoke conventional hostilities in this quarter is no more than a remote contingency, but cannot be dismissed completely. China might react here to pressures in other areas, or it might stir up trouble along the 38th parallel as a distraction operation. In the context of the split with Russia, unilateral action in Korea would apparently constitute an unacceptable risk. On the other hand, such an action might be a deliberate catalytic attempt designed to involve the Russians, and so precipitate a general war from which the Chinese feel they stand to gain.
Conventional forces could be used in Southeast Asia, but again the risk would be great. In that area the United States and its allies enjoy incomparably more strategic and tactical flexibility, and thus many more options than would be available to the Chinese, who would additionally be faced with staggering logistic problems. Too, China's opponents, with carrier aircraft, highly mobile amphibious striking power, and a significant airlift capability, could strike targets of their choice along the southeast Chinese coast, or in other rear areas. The fear of a major Nationalist landing on the southeast coast, or on Hainan, would be a further, and perhaps decisive, deterrent to conventional adventurism to the south.
Military action to recover Mongolia-which Mao has claimed to be Chinese territory-seems unlikely in the foreseeable future. Sedition, subversion and support of other treasonable activities would no doubt be her policy in any attempt to influence and gradually assimilate this area. The Russians are, however, quite as skilled in these forms of activity as the Chinese. The same applies to Sinkiang, where there is no well-defined natural boundary, and where until fairly recently there was a constant ebb and flow across relatively open borders.
The Chinese could take over Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Assam should they wish to do so. Troop strength in the Tibetan area amounts to five or six acclimated, well-equipped mountain divisions, plus some separate task groups of regimental size. Over-all strength is possibly 160,000.
India can by no means match Chinese capabilities for action in the Himalayan states. It may be able to hold present precarious positions in Ladakh, but I doubt if it can regain territory already lost. Here the controlling factor for both sides is supply, and while the Indians are rapidly improving their capabilities for defense, the Chinese have been similarly engaged. The situation there appears to be a stalemate, which will probably persist for some years. There is no reason why the Chinese would be particularly interested in physically occupying Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim. And, in any case, it would not be fear of India which would discourage the Chinese from committing the P.L.A. there in furtherance of imperial ambitions.
China's capabilities for defense against conventional attack are of a different order entirely. In these circumstances, Mao's theories of nation- wide and protracted war would be applied. The vastness of China, and, with the exception of Manchuria and the northern provinces, the nature of its terrain, rules out any attempt to conquer it by conventional means.
Chinese capabilities in the paramilitary field-the entire spectrum of insurgency, of which guerrilla warfare is but a part-are high, particularly in Southeast Asia. With a relatively slight investment of resources, and at very little risk, it stands to receive a disproportionate return. China can easily exfiltrate selected young men and women for intensive political indoctrination and training as propagandists, organizers, terrorists, saboteurs and guerrillas. These agents can then be brought back as nuclei for cells. Several such training centers are said to be in Yunnan. These reports are probably correct; the procedure is a logical one, for Southeast Asia provides a target area suitable in all respects for the application of Mao's theories of protracted insurgent war.
One may suspect that when Chinese troops pulled out of the Northeast Frontier Area, they took with them a number of candidates for this schooling, and it should come as no surprise to the Indian Government if, in say 1967, it finds itself suddenly faced with this very threat in that region.
Burmese terrain is favorable to quiet insurgent organization and build-up; the northern and eastern parts of the country are remote and sparsely populated and can be supplied from China. Local take-overs in the north by puppets supported by "People's Volunteers" would give the Chinese a number of bases for small-scale infiltration and attacks on Assam from the south. The area east of the Salween River is also particularly suitable. A similar type of operation can be run from Laos against susceptible eastern Thailand along the Mekong.
How many North Vietnamese units are now in Laos under Pathet Lao cover would be difficult to estimate. One figure is as high as 15 battalions of 600 men each. Possibly we are inclined to overestimate, but, in the general context, it is only prudent to assume that there are troops present and that the Pathet Lao is receiving material aid (to say nothing of vociferous moral encouragement) from Peking. We are sure, for example, that the Chinese are building tracks for jeeps in northern Laos. There is thus a decided potential capability to "put the bite" on Thailand from two directions.
The United States, or anyone else, would find difficulty in countering directly operations of the nature and on the level described. The Chinese might calculate that we would be inhibited from a conventional response elsewhere by the spectre of escalation. However, should they commit conventional units to operations along the Mekong (a most unlikely but possible course of action) they would, of course, be inviting intervention elsewhere.
Release by the United States Government of the captured Work Bulletins gave us new insights into the Party-P.L.A. relationship. They substantiated the supposition that morale problems as of 1960-1961 were quite serious. They validated the opinions of some analysts that the combat efficiency of the Air Force was steadily deteriorating, that the Navy (such as it is) was practically immobilized because of lack of fuel and spare parts, and that the ground forces were suffering from shortages of automotive transport, heavy weapons and spare parts.
Nevertheless, in many areas of interest we lack (and no doubt shall continue to lack) specific information on which reasonably accurate estimates of Communist China's military potential must be based. Consequently, our appraisals tend to swing wildly from one extreme to the other. This has been characteristic of Western (particularly American) estimates of Soviet capabilities, which periodically are unreasonably upgraded only to be downgraded later.
In the American press, the Chinese leadership is frequently represented as a group of almost superhuman Machiavellis. But these men, and the members of the authoritarian bureaucracy over which they preside, can make mistakes. They have made serious errors in the past, and they will make them in the future. Nevertheless, of one thing we may be certain: they are determined to extend their influence, at the least risk and cost to themselves, to susceptible areas. If a limited military adventure offers a handsome payoff at very low risk, they will probably embark on it. It is part of our business to narrow the field of choices open to them and thus to deny them strategic options from which they may reap large returns on small investments.
[i] Roy E. Appleman, "U. S. Army in the Korean War," v. 1, "South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu." Washington, O.C.M.H., Department of the Army, 1961, p. 760.