How the coronavirus is curbing China’s military modernization plans: analysis
The coronavirus epidemic broke out when the slowdown in the Chinese economy had already accelerated due to the trade war with the United States. China’s economy has now been adversely affected, and economists assess that the growth rate should be revised down to 5%. It is estimated that the country’s services sector is losing $ 114 billion a week. At least 22 Chinese provinces and regions, including Beijing, Guangdong, Zhejiang, Henan, Hainan and Fujian, have already set lower growth targets this year compared to the previous one.
This combined tension in China’s economy is prepared to dilute the Geoeconomic Belt and Road Strategic Initiative (BRI), a prestigious project of Chinese President Xi Jinping. The investment in BRI has already fallen. This will damage, if not harm, the credibility of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and President Xi, who promised to realize the “dream of China” by 2021.
The adverse impact of the coronavirus epidemic on China’s military modernization became visible earlier this month. The People’s Liberation Army (EPL) announced on February 7 that it would suspend its military recruitment program for the current year.
The new recruitment program, announced by the PLA in January and scheduled to start this year, would have had two recruitment cycles. The first phase would begin in mid-February and continue until the end of March, with the second recruitment cycle from mid-August to the end of September.
The new program also stipulates that military personnel will retire twice a year. This revised program was described as “of great importance to recruit more high-quality soldiers.” The Ministry of National Defense of China said that “it is of great importance to improve the quality and training of the enlisted and improve the combat capacity of the military.” While Li Daguang, a professor at the PLA National Defense University in Beijing, said the postponement “should not have much effect on the number or quality of potential recruits,” the decision to suspend recruitment will undoubtedly alter the plans. Long term and training programs. In addition, employment will differ, especially for rural youth, at a time when unemployment has steadily increased over the past two years.
Equally shocking is the decision of certain vital military centers to slow down production. Earlier this month, the Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai, which is building China’s third aircraft carrier, asked the employees, who traveled to other cities since the virus outbreak, not to return to work until further notice or to get in quarantine in your home during the stipulated period. This will delay the construction of the new aircraft carrier and could have more side effects.
The impact of the virus on Wuhan, where it originated, will affect China’s defense production. Wuhan is home to many Chinese weapons and equipment design and manufacturing institutes, such as the Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Group, which builds submarines, and the Naval Engineering University, which is developing advanced naval technologies such as the electromagnetic catapult , the rail cannon, the complete electric propulsion system and submarine related technologies. The research and development headquarters of most Chinese high-tech companies are also located in Wuhan.
Chinese aircraft carrier-based aircraft production has also been negatively affected, with the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation in Liaoning Province that decided to suspend production. Like other companies, it has informed its workers that they traveled to other cities so that they do not return until further notice or quarantine in their homes during the required period. Shenyang Aircraft Corporation manufactures the aircraft carrier-based J-15 fighter aircraft, which is currently the only fighter aircraft available for the PLA Navy’s aircraft carrier fleet (PLAN) and its main pillar. There is currently a deficit in the number of J-15 fighter jets available to the PLAN, which wants 36 aircraft in each aircraft carrier, but can provide a maximum of only 24 aircraft. There is also a severe shortage of naval aviation pilots and efforts have been made to train more pilots and accelerate the production of the J-15 aircraft.
The PLAN, which receives most of China’s military budget, has the task of protecting China’s maritime and overseas interests. The closure of these weapons manufacturing institutes, even if temporary, will delay the ambition of the PLAN to become an oceanic fleet and hinder its intended role in the Maritime Silk Road (MSR), considered an important part of the BRI.
The serious economic losses that are estimated and the visibly growing discontent in society could force China’s leadership to invest in promoting employment and the national economy instead of the military. There could be a reduced interest in spending on foreign ports seen as part of the MSR. This is likely to revive the debate that has taken place over the past 4 months on the number of aircraft carriers that China needs. The slowdown in military accumulation will delay the realization of the “Dream of China”.
Jayadev Ranade is a former additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat. He is currently president of the China Analysis and Strategy Center.
The opinions expressed are personal.