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Oct. 31, 2019
Notes from the Pentagon

U.S. warned China on Hong Kong
The Trump administration has put China on notice that any large-scale crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong would spell the end of trade negotiations.

According to administration sources, Beijing officials were notified in stark terms that any repeat of the use of military forces as in 1989, when People’s Liberation Army tanks crushed pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, would spell the end of efforts to seek a resolution of the U.S.-Chinese trade war.

China has a garrison of an estimated 12,000 PLA troops in Hong Kong, according to Reuters, and massed an additional force of troops and military vehicles in nearby Shenzhen. Violence so far has been limited to what the protesters say is police brutality.

China has cast the pro-democracy protesters as “terrorists” and separatists. Police so far were unable to quell the unrest and mass demonstrations through the use of water cannon and tear gas.

President Trump is eager to reach a trade deal with China and has said very little publicly in support of the Hong Kong protesters. Top articles

The protesters for months have been staging mass demonstrations and civil disobedience throughout the former British colony in pushing back against growing mainland encroachment on Hong Kong’s freer political system.

Vice President Mike Pence, however, issued a clear statement of support for the protesters in a speech Oct. 2, noting that “as millions have taken to the streets in peaceful protest, we’ve spoken out on behalf of the people of Hong Kong.”

Mr. Trump “has made it clear from early on that there must be a peaceful resolution that respects the rights of the people of Hong Kong, as outlined in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration,” the vice president added.

The joint declaration outlines how Britain was to end its colonial rule and guarantees that Hong Kong will maintain rights and freedoms under the Beijing formula called “one country, two systems.”

Chinese encroachment on Hong Kong’s freedoms, specifically a draft law that would impose mainland legal dictates on the city residents, triggered months of protests.

Two years ago, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that the Chinese-British declaration no longer had practical significance. The comments prompted Britain’s government to say the 1984 declaration is a legally valid treaty still in force.

China’s internet continues to reveal military secrets despite tight online controls by the ruling Communist Party. The latest disclosure reveals China has built a new mobile missile launcher that analysts say could be exported to North Korea.

Richard Fisher, a China military affairs expert with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, discovered what appears to be the transporter erector launcher (TEL) in a photo from China first posted on Weibo, the popular microblogging website, this week. The launcher circulated later on Twitter.

The launcher was photographed carrying a covered short- or medium-range missile not seen previously among the People’s Liberation Army’s large arsenal of mobile missiles. According to Mr. Fisher, the mobile launcher appears similar to Chinese-made launchers that were sold to North Korea and now are being used for Pyongyang’s long-range Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missiles.

An analysis of the launcher indicates the manufacturer was probably the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp., which has been linked to North Korea’s ICBM launchers that were illicitly transferred nearly 10 years ago.

“The shape of the TEL cab is very similar to that of some of the CASIC-made TELs used by North Korean missiles,” Mr. Fisher told Inside the Ring, including the Hwasong-13 ICBM and two other ICBMs. “But it is a shorter 12-wheel TEL versus the 16- and 18- wheel TELs used for the Hwasong 14 and 15.”

The cab also contains a gap in the middle that is similar to the launcher used for the PLA DF-26 intermediate-range missile, but the wheel configuration on the new launcher is different from the one on the DF-26.

The new launcher could be an indication that “a new North Korean missile already has its TEL,” Mr. Fisher said.

Another possibility is that the launcher could be a shorter and more advanced launcher for Pyongyang’s Musudan missile.

If the weapon is destined for North Korea, then the launcher could show up in a military parade in April in Pyongyang.

“This image should be prompting high-level inquiries to the Chinese government,” Mr. Fisher said. “China’s CASIC started shipping large sophisticated TELs to North Korea in the summer of 2011, and the United States government has yet to sanction CASIC for doing so.”

Washington has leverage over the Chinese for missile proliferation since CASIC is in the process of developing several solid-fuel space launch vehicles to compete for U.S. launch services companies.

If the Trump administration imposed sanctions on CASIC for selling launchers to North Korea, then the sanctions could undermine its space business, Mr. Fisher said.

The intelligence director for the Hawaii-based Indo-Pacific Command is warning that China is a growing threat that has awakened nations in Asia to the danger.

Rear Adm. Michael Studeman, director of intelligence, or J2, at the command, outlined his concerns about China in an interview published in the electronic trade journal Signal.

American partners in the region have grown suspicious of Chinese power and the use of that power, described by the admiral as “a new form of arrogance and the use of a combination of soft, hard and sharp power.”

“We have been able to have very open conversations about the naked use of power, whether on the economic, military, diplomatic or informational fronts,” he said. “So the good guys are coming together as a result of very clear dangers that are posed by the Chinese way of governing and how they like to see the world order shift. The Chinese are driving partners into our arms.”

Adm. Studeman said Chinese President Xi Jinping is aligned with Communist Party hard-liners and has miscalculated by regarding the United States as a nation in permanent decline. The result is that Asian nations are building up their military forces, seeking closer ties to the U.S. and arming themselves to counter the threat from China.

“What you’ll see is a number of friends and partners that will be clustering for warmth with the United States and our allies as we move forward,” Adm. Studeman said. “The Chinese have made a big strategic error, all driven by Xi Jinping and the superhawks in Beijing.”

Adm. Studeman said the Indo-Pacific Command has long been focused on China but is retooling its intelligence resources to better address the threat from Beijing as outlined in the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy.

Both strategies recognized China as a major strategic competitor, a shift from earlier administrations that sought to treat China as a benign power.

“The intelligence mission always had the China account robustly followed,” Adm. Studeman said. “But the sheer number of demands on intelligence today vastly exceed what our baseline is, and so we’re in the process of looking at a number of different things, including manpower, to reenvision how we ought to be operating our J2 [Joint Intelligence Operations Center] out here.”

The admiral said the command’s intelligence resources must provide information rapidly to decision-makers and warfighters over the vast distances in the region.

“If there is a successful military offensive that China expects to be quick-flare short-burn, resulting in a change of facts on the ground that may represent an inability of the United States and its allies to respond in time to protect what we’ve sworn to protect, then that erodes our strategic credibility and changes dynamics here in ways that may affect us for many years to come,” he said. “The stakes are much higher with some of the contingency scenarios that we have to plan for and be ready to deal with.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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