Sunday, February 26, 2012

Russian & China: partnership or donation? Part II

Continued from Part I

Resumed in the 90s military-technical cooperation (MTC) between Moscow and Beijing quickly ceased to be simply "arms trade", after becoming a certain strategic tool. With its aid Russia ensured the realization of the concept of multipolar peace. Today it is clear that further rapprochement with the Celestial Empire would only return to a bipolar situation on the planet, but our country is not prepared for the role of one of the poles.

Aviation machinery, engines and equipment between 90-2000s, were the basic nomenclature of MTC between Russia and China. Less visible in terms of information, but rather essential supplies were air-defense systems in China, as well as surface ships and submarines. At the same time, there were virtually no contracts in the field of armaments for the Army as Beijing preferred self-reliance and limited purchase to certain critical components and assemblies.

Copying, including frankly pirating, still remained hallmark of China's defense. However, the status of a "global pirate" was increasingly at odds with the geopolitical ambitions of China and the main hope for the future of the Middle Kingdom are associated with self-development, including in the production of armaments and military equipment.


The Chinese relationship with the Soviet

Borrowing of any successful solutions abroad and their subsequent reproduction can be found in the history of any industrialized state, but "Chinese case" has several features that make it a different subject to be discussed in relation with Soviet Union, with which China is often compared .

The outstanding feature, which defined Soviet’s approach to the technological adoption was copying ‘schools’. Reproduced or transferred from abroad the whole technological chain, working in the production of a particular  technology, and along with masses of useful by-products. Under the guidance of foreign experts - trained personnel capable of not only setting up production equipment, but also to train their own shift were created.

After the successful reproduction of a foreign model, independent development begins. Maintained on the one hand, the technological independence of the country in a given area, on the other - ability to borrow successful technical solutions without re-building the entire system, because necessary bases were always there. In the future, by concentrating resources and efforts on a given topic, our country is often able to create sophisticated military equipment that if not superior to our rivals, meet global standards. On the civilian sectors where it was sad, defence sector flourished quite well.


This approach was appealing for China, especially considering that its industrialization began in the late 40-50s and it was Soviet Union, which brought its technical development paradigm. In the 50 years of the Celestial Empire defense was the priority: in China there were dozens of factories, united into the production chains, which produced end product- from Kalashnikov assault rifle to the MiG-17. However, after the break with the Soviet Union, which occurred in the first half of the 60s, the "tree" of China's military industry, didn't bear "fruit". The sorry state of China's Air Force after a quarrel with Moscow have already seen in the first part of the article, as well as the current problems with the reproduction of the Soviet and Western military hardware in 80-90s. Now we are interested in the reasons for borrowing, which turned out to be technical failures.

In order to understand them, it is necessary to revisit the experience of the domestic industry. The main difference between Russia, from China was the fact that, despite the backwardness of various applications of industries, our country since the time of Peter I paid close attention to the state of basic science and basic engineering. No borrowing of foreign technical solutions and even purchasing production lines would not be able to move further up the primary samples, if the country lacked scientific school, which they understand properly and to introduce into its own arsenal.

It is the development of basic science that has provided an impressive technological breakthrough of the USSR, which enabled it to become the owner of a nuclear missile shield, make a trip into space, to construct and deliver satellites and  rover. Without a strong foundation, pledged before the 1917 revolution, strengthening and expansion of the Soviet era, would have been unthinkable especially with the presence of a perennial competition with the U.S. - the undisputed scientific and technological leader around the world during the Cold War. On this foundation of understanding, crumbling and crumbling, Russia still holds marvelous domestic defense industry.

In China, there were problems in fundamental science, in other words in 1949, it simply was not available. In the middle of last century, the Chinese started to teach future engineers and technicians, the Soviet Union avoided in helping its eastern neighbor in the training of scientists who can create their own scientific school. After the break with Moscow, the situation in China worsened along with its domestic policy - Great Leap Forward, the Great Cultural Revolution, and the consequences of these key experiments of Mao were mass starvation and mass repressions, the sad drowning Soviet faced between 20-30s. All this is by no means contributed to the prosperity of science and technological advances. Many scientists and skilled labour were persecuted – as they being the part of ‘angry mobs’.

It is not known what could be achieved without these excesses and the defense industry in China as a whole, but Maoist period formed the main features of China's machinery, including its military component. It is characterized by:


  • No individual school of technology, the vast majority of products - clones of foreign models - maximum second generation. Attempts to independently develop a technique involving high complexity tend to fail. Example - a program to create front-line bomber, JH-7, Xia SSBN-type and several others.


  • Lagging behind advance countries in relation to  parameters which depend primarily on the development of fundamental science. To overcome it one jump does not work even with the giant investment funds, for example, in engine building. However, to solve specific tactical task - from creating your own fighter or a copy of the submarine before the flight into orbit - is possible.


  • Maintaining the technological level achieved in a particular sample copied by itself does not provide for further development, but because it requires constant borrowing more and more new systems.Thus, after preparing WS-10 engine on the basis of AL-31F (borrowed in 90’s) China could not solve the problem of developing of its own contemporary gas turbine construction and it needs sequential copying and that is explained in Chinese interest in 117S (AL-41F1A) which are adopted in SU-35 & T-50 planes.


Protracted race for progress

It seems that China's leaders do not understand the problems industry is facing. And in order to assess the prospects of China's military technology, it is necessary to draw attention to a sharp increase in the fundamental scientific potential of China in the last decade. One of the essential features of this growth is the increase in the number of scientific publications, from Chinese authors – as is shown via SCOPUS (the largest bibliographic and abstract database and tools for monitoring the citation of articles published in scientific journals).

In the case of a continuous extension of this trend over several decades, firstly China will eliminate the backlog in basic scientific disciplines, and secondly, it will provide independent scientific and technological development.

However, the mere existence of such positions does not guarantee success. It is equally important to have an efficient system to introduce the achievements of their own scientists and engineers in manufacturing industries, which is particularly problematic in view of the practical tradition of borrowing. It is no accident the PRC leadership has adopted a program to improve the economy, providing among other things, increasing the share of own development used in the industry, from the current 5 to 25-30 percent within the next 30 years.


Power shifts

With the normal development of humanity ‘without’ the essential geopolitical cataclysms of the scale of the First or the Second World War (as were faced by Soviets) Chinese became mainly the recipients of modern technology and not the donors, this also applies to many third world countries.

But at the same time there are serious grounds for skepticism. The fact is, that in the future, China will inevitably trigger serious geopolitical changes, comparable only with the already mentioned disasters of the last century. Beijing is thus intricately combines the roles on the one hand, the Kaiser's Germany, which tried to challenge the hegemony of the Anglo-Saxon geopolitical civilization in peace (at first), the economic competition and on the other - the modern United States. Being associated with close economic relations, China in terms of the economy is able to play the role of the United States against the British Empire when America has inherited from her role as a global economic leader.

However, this inheritance in the 20th century was made possible only through consensus reached between global financial and political elites which facilitated power transfer to  United States. Even now, watching the behavior of the White House, we can conclude that for all administrations, Washington has consistently pursued a policy of restricting development in China, trying to "squeeze" Beijing by blocking the sources of resources and its relationship with the strongest partners (and potential allies). Thus, China is consistently increasing its influence in Latin America and the U.S. are actively converging with traditional geopolitical opponent of Beijing, in cooperation with New Delhi ...


The question for Moscow

Russia is now facing a serious question: how to fend off growing competition from China on the world arms markets, and what choice to make in the unfolding geopolitical race?

Russian government still haven’t adopted any one-sided approach: on the one hand, it reboots the relations with Washington, the expansion and strengthening of relations with NATO which is one of the priorities of Russian foreign policy, on the other - a partnership with China in the SCO framework, which is equally important to Moscow.

Quiet frankly both sides are have bad implications for Russia: a "North Atlantic" and "Far East". It means more than likely a military confrontation with China and it is possible - a war in which our country will be assigned an unseemly role of geopolitical battering. Even if we assume that based on its overwhelming superiority in missile and nuclear capabilities (and there are reasonable grounds to believe that), Russia will win this war, its losses - both human and material - are unacceptable, threatening an unprecedented degradation of the country, which still haven’t recovered from the Soviet Union break-up.

Select the "Chinese way" means the transformation of Russia into a junior partner in Beijing, the loss of all remaining positions in the world and in the worst case is also fraught with the continuation of the war, and here the enemy of Russia will have the U.S. and NATO and this war is no longer threatened with degradation and destruction, even mutual. Moreover the enemy of Russia will already be present, the USA and NATO and this war threatens no longer by degradation, but mutual destruction.

Conclusion from the aforesaid can be only one: for retaining its own independence, Russia on no account must become the member of any strategic alliance, for which Russia isn’t the leader. Tactically Russia should maximally limit military technical collaboration with China both from the economic and from the geopolitical considerations.

Today, when the state defense order is increasing from year to year, while China had long been a strategically important importer of Russian weapons, it is necessary to exclude the possibility of critical technologies falling in Beijing’s hand. We must adopt “We sell, we don't donate”. Similarly the policy of the U.S. and the EU in this direction has already been defined, and MTC between China and Japan can not be imagined as of today.

Let China reach heights of military technology on its own, as was done by West and Russia. Russia, should remember 1914, when our country could not take a leader position, being the junior partner in the Entente. Today we have all the more important domestic and economic problems to deal with, as for international threats there is an inevitable guarantee - strategic nuclear forces.

Ilya Kramnik


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