The independent resource on global security

11. Military technology: the case of China




s China's economic success likely to contribute to an arms build-up in China
through the strengthening of China's own technology base and its local
production? Is China likely to be able to mobilize resources quickly for
production or for rapid technological advances in the event of a change in its
security situation? The chapter concludes that the answer to both these
questions is `no'.

China has in the past been able to marshall the resources for major projects
(the development of nuclear weapons and delivery systems). There have been
recent advances in managerial methods, less formalization, better
communications and more openness, enhanced travel opportunities and greater
mobility within the scientific labour force. China is particularly strong in
the civilian software and information technology sectors, and there is at
present a renewed appreciation of the importance of science and scientists for
the advancement of the country. Nevertheless its access to imported technology
is low--only Russian and Israeli military technology has been available since
the Tiananmen Square incident. Its capacity to absorb technology is also
limited. Most of the technology which China is now gaining as a result of
economic success, for instance through joint ventures, concerns low-technology
civilian and consumer goods. China's preferred method of acquiring technology,
by copy-producing (or `reverse engineering') is not suitable for
high-technology components and sub-systems which are such a significant part of
military technology. There is little interchange with the civilian economy or
between basic research and product innovation. There are still severe
bureaucratic problems; Soviet-style management practices and structures
persist, in spite of improvements. There are signs of a divergence of view
between the armed forces and those responsible for military R&D, production
and procurement. Finally, scientists are being lost to the growth sectors of
the economy with resulting loss of skills and morale at military R&D

China will not be able to take full advantage of what it has achieved unless
the control of the Communist Party is relaxed, and even this will not be a
sufficient condition for a better exploitation of technology.

In the unlikely event of China's leadership turning to the People's Liberation
Army (PLA) for a successor to Deng, the odds are that the required additional
reforms will not even be attempted and more advanced technology will not be
forthcoming. More probably, China will eventually develop a more advanced
military technology base and be allowed access to more military imports, but
only under conditions that are consistent with a more reassuring security