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Vasily Kashin: All the participants have their own victory
A frank talk about the military sphere of the Asia-Pacific region
Vasiliy Kashin, senior researcher at the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies of the Higher School of Economics, senior researcher at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told EastRussia about how Russia benefits and strengthens its image on the arms market, the US loses partners, and China executes a high policy
- China, as it appears from the official documents of the Central Committee of the CCP, set a goal - to 2050 year to make its army the strongest in the world. In this, of course, there is a share of ideological rhetoric: earlier it was said about 2020 year, as the time to which the growth of strategic opportunities will be achieved, since in 2021 the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party will be celebrated. 2050-th year is also not chosen by chance: in 2049 year will be 100 years since the establishment of the PRC. Naturally, by the centenary of the party it is necessary to show great successes, and to win the centennial of the state - to win all. But in any ambitious plans there is always a rational grain. For today, China has a great potential in the military sphere, and if he decides that he needs strategic parity with Russia and the US, then at the end of the 2020-2030-X may well achieve such a goal. True, it is not a fact that the Chinese in general will find it necessary to move in this direction.
- Now is it too early to talk about the parity of the armed forces of China, the United States and Russia?
- In the sphere of strategic weapons, China is just beginning to rapidly build up its forces. We are equal here to the Americans. And the Russian tactical nuclear arsenal is so large that hardly any country in the foreseeable future will be able to catch up with Russia. With strategic weapons systems, it is different: the Russian Federation and the US have the same ceiling, it is established by the START III treaty. China theoretically can approach this level. All the necessary systems have already been created. But to increase production capacity for the production of intercontinental missiles and nuclear munitions in one or two years is impossible. The process will go gradually.
- And if you compare the military power of China and Russia in Asia - who has the advantage?
"In Asia, in the sphere of conventional weapons, the Chinese certainly surpass us." Even the geography of the Russian Far East and Siberia is such that we are not their rival. Almost all the population and infrastructure in these regions are concentrated in a narrow strip along the border, which puts us in a initially losing position - we can compensate for it only by reliance on nuclear weapons. Actually, our main task in the east of the country is to ensure our own security, efficiently and at the lowest cost. We do not have a strong fleet in the Far East compared to the Chinese, although we have a qualitative superiority in nuclear submarines. On the sea from China, we have fallen behind forever and will never catch up with it.
- Maybe not necessary?
- In fact, it is not necessary, although this situation slightly scratches our pride. We are generally out of this rivalry, the competition in China is with the US forces stationed in the western part of the Pacific Ocean, and with the forces of America's key allies - primarily Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. China is fighting with America for supremacy, and quite actively. The Americans take this into account and strive to overcome the Chinese numerical advantage precisely by "skill" - they are betting on new breakthrough technologies in the military sphere. This method of dealing with negative trends is reflected in the Third Compensation Strategy, a framework document that was adopted in the United States in 2014. But the problem is that the Chinese are now concentrating huge resources on the same technologies. Whoever is the first to achieve tangible success will win. How the balance of power will eventually change is now impossible to predict.
- Military power is the right thing, but sometimes much more profit is given by commerce. What is China's position on the world arms market?
- Today China ranks third in the field of military-technical cooperation after the United States and Russia. In terms of the volume of arms deliveries to developing countries, the PRC in some years outstripped Great Britain and France. Even though the NATO countries' military-technical cooperation figures are usually highly inflated due to the fact that they carry out joint programs and constantly cooperate. China has now overtaken us in a number of areas. For example, after the collapse of the USSR, Russia no longer produces medium military transport aircraft with a carrying capacity of 20 tons. We are just developing them, but China has long since launched a series and is exporting them. In addition, the rapid development of technology such as unmanned aerial vehicles began in the world in the 90s - exactly when our economy was in turmoil and chaos. We were far behind our competitors, and at an early stage in the development of this program we made a number of managerial mistakes. And although now we have made great progress in this segment of military equipment, we still do not mass-produce shock drones. We provide ourselves with reconnaissance drones and sell a small number of them. No more. Even Iran uses its own attack drones in Syria, but we do not. The Chinese, on the other hand, are a major supplier of combat drones to the world market, including to the CIS countries - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Made in China, such devices are fighting in Iraq, in Yemen, in Nigeria against Boko Haram, that is, there are many episodes of their combat use. It should also be taken into account that the drone needs a special satellite communication channel, without which it will not be able to operate outside the radius, hundreds of kilometers from the base. China is the only major independent supplier of this type of technology, which is an alternative to the United States. I think that about a dozen countries have already purchased drones made in China, and a plant for licensed assembly of such devices is already under construction in Saudi Arabia.
“But we have always been proud of our missile defense system.” For example, the famous C-400 ...
- And quite rightly proud. In such technology, China can not be compared with Russia and the United States. The PRC is moving roughly along our path with a clear lag. They are now building an echeloned missile defense system that includes a strategic missile defense system in analogy with American GBI complexes. These are systems that are capable of intercepting ballistic missiles in the middle and final sections of the intercontinental trajectory. The missile defense system in the theater of military operations China already has - such tasks are able to solve the complex "Huntsi-9". But it is worse in its characteristics than C-400, which is why the Chinese are buying it. Mass modifications of such military equipment are approximately equivalent to the C-30 complexes, but C-300 and PMU-2 are no longer sufficient.
- If we compare (at least in absolute figures) the military budgets of Russia, the United States and China, how big is the difference between defense spending and the impact of them?
- We spend on defense more than 10 times less than Americans and almost 3 times less than the Chinese. But this is not the most productive method of comparison. Each country has hidden items of the military budget - for example, China does not include any R & D (it is attributed to the Ministry of Industry and Informatization, the Ministry of Science, etc., where they are completely lost). Important are not naked figures. I would talk about something else. Expenditures for defense purposes and arms production for export should always be evaluated primarily in terms of their impact on the foreign policy of the state and the internal situation in the country. From this point of view, we get quite a lot for our modest money. In addition, the export of weapons for us means a lot in terms of image - it's not raw materials like oil and gas, but high-tech, science-consuming, demanded products all over the world. We sell it for about 15 billion dollars, that is, about 1% of our GDP - a pretty solid figure. The Chinese export is about 5 billion, and the GDP itself is much larger than Russian. In addition, hundreds of thousands of people are employed in our defense industry, and this factor is favorable for the Russian labor market. In China, it does not matter much.
Is it important for our competitors to do something else?
- The differences between the three leading countries in the field of military technical cooperation are clearly visible. Let me explain. The Americans always link any such deals with a very complex set of political obligations and try to put the importing country in a long-term dependence on themselves. If you buy Chinese weapons, there will be fewer obligations, but you will also have to indicate your position in relation to this regional superpower. Unlike Russia, MTC is important for China as a foreign policy instrument. Russia, in the military-political sense, is not a major player for the Asia-Pacific region, it does not influence global processes so much, but at the same time it has independence. No one can put pressure on her and force her to refuse to cooperate with this or that country. Therefore, for many countries, the Russian Federation is a very convenient supplier: it is possible to buy quite high-quality weapons from it, but at the same time it does not in any way limit the freedom of political maneuver in relations with regional superpowers. That is why we play an important role for India, Indonesia and many countries in Southeast Asia as a supplier of weapons and technology related to national security. For example, nuclear, telecommunications, etc.
- Does the balance of power in the APR market change? For several months now, for example, the negotiation process around the deal with Indonesia for the supply of Su-35 fighters has been dragging on. Are we being squeezed out?
- For such a transaction as this, the typical term of contract preparation alone is 3-5 years. We may not know all the difficulties and pitfalls, because of which negotiations are sometimes delayed for years. A few months of delay about anything special do not say. In addition, it is always difficult to build a mechanism for mutual settlements, we have to make amendments to a million circumstances - up to the domestic political struggle in the importing country of our weapons.
Another thing is that gradually the market and the truth is changing. There are countries (for example, Vietnam or India) that will never buy weapons from China, as they see it as a regional rival and do not at all seek to depend on it in matters of national security. However, there are countries that are flexible in this respect. And we can say that the Americans, because of their internal turmoil, have already surrendered a number of their positions, and the desolate "holy place" was immediately occupied by the Chinese. So, the United States has lost one of the most important allies in the region - the Philippines. The new leadership of the country headed by President Rodrigo Duteret is now pursuing a "multi-vector" policy. Therefore, the Filipinos have already begun to buy weapons in Russia (so far in small lots due to lack of money), and will continue to do so in order not to bind themselves with excessive obligations to America. Similar trends are demonstrated by Thailand, Malaysia, and others.
As for South Korea, it is an ally of the United States, but the Chinese influence on it is getting stronger. And the Chinese Seoul, in simple words, "broke". For example, in October of this year, Korea was forced to make political commitments not to enter into a tripartite alliance with Japan and the US, not to install a new THAAD complex, not to become part of the US global missile defense system. Actually, this is not a new thing in international politics. But if Russia tried to achieve something like this from the Eastern European countries and failed, the Chinese for one year of the action of informal sanctions, they say, "pushed" their Korean partners.
If you schematically outline the alignment of forces in the military sphere of the APR, then you can clearly see: the regional economy has now returned to its usual state, which was considered the norm over the past millennium. It consists of the core, which is China, and "offshoots" - of all other countries. None of them is able to economically survive and develop without good, productive relations with the Celestial Empire. China has only two more or less obvious satellites - Cambodia and Laos. All the rest, in theory, are pursuing their own line, and the Chinese themselves do not seek to rigidly subordinate their neighbors to their will, at least in the foreseeable future. But gradually, step by step, Chinese influence is growing. Other states will increasingly have to take into account the position of the PRC. They also have enough political reasons to buy Chinese weapons. Moreover, the United States has not been very protective of its allies in the region lately from Chinese political and economic pressure. So the strengthening of China's influence in all spheres, including military-technical, is just a matter of time.
- And what place and role will be assigned to Russia? How can we not be on the sidelines?
- We have a lot of problems, but the first and main thing is the state of the investment climate. We need to pursue a more focused macroeconomic policy in order to attract investors and create incentives for them. So far this is proclaimed only in words.
The second problem is rooted in the fact that our business and a significant part of the state management apparatus simply do not have sufficient knowledge about the countries of the region and the features of their economies. Approximately the same happened with Europe in the 90-ies, when we entered the market in many ways "groping" and made a lot of mistakes. Gradually, state officials and businessmen begin to learn from them, but not always. Care must be taken when taking political steps so as not to spoil what has already been achieved. In the field of military-technical cooperation especially. It is very important not to enter into any political or any "special" relationship with anybody and "make friends against someone". Our advantage is that we offer weapons at a winning price and are an independent supplier, to which no one can press - unless sanctions are imposed by the UN Security Council.
- Other sanctions are not terrible for us?
- Not too much, as practice shows. On the contrary, in a number of cases they allow us to act without any regard for the United States. The only difference is that the settlement system becomes more complicated, the terms for concluding contracts and transaction costs increase. But sometimes, for the sake of great luck, you can put up with minor losses. As a matter of fact, this applies not only to the military sphere, but also to practically everything in the world.