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Can China successfully launch an offensive war in Asia. This question and similar ones related to China's conventional military capability are examined today by Frank Armbruster of the Hudson Institute. Mr. Armbruster spoke during a conference held by the University of Chicago Center for Policy Study. The conference was supported by the Johnson Foundation over a scene Wisconsin Mr. Armbruster presentation is the sixth in a special series of programs being broadcast by the station. We're going to talk about. Primarily about Chinese capability now. We had some talk this morning and there were. I think centered mostly on the question of Chinese intent. I will prob something about the intent of the Chinese in the conventional military field but are we speaking primarily about their capability. I think there's been enough written that you probably have seen enough and probably read it yourself. About
the size of the Chinese army. And the vast number of men who are available for the armed services. And. Probably are aware of what some of the feelings are down in southeast Asia for example about this large power to the north of them. It is important I think to indicate that the vast hordes of men that are supposedly available to China are really not there in at least at a moment's notice and the capability to arm. These large numbers of reserves and the militia forces do have large numbers of reserve soldiers who have been mustered out. But it worked arm them and put them in action takes a major effort on the part of China at the moment. The army is just the one that I mentioned. It is not that large. As a matter of fact most of the militia is not armed at all. It's an armed mass and we can talk a little bit later about some of the theories about how you would use that. Large number of relatively
lowly armed on armed citizen soldiers. I think the point of view of the United States though and the commitments it has over there we're probably more interested in the restrictions that prevent even the army of the size that we talked about from getting into areas that are of interest to United States. If we look quickly at where we have commitments I think it first when it comes to mind because we have had problems there before. Is Korea. Now. There was a problem in this area. It is the best place that the Chinese. Have to project their power over their border. In this area being very close to Manchuria and having at their disposal railroad nets which are a large extent by the Japanese. And in effect having another country if you will in the progress block approaches is a different kind of China because of the weeding Cheney would have it's an industrial area looks closer to
to Europe or the United States than any other part of China from a dire end up who looked in the harbor and they have their industrial complexes and also have their coal and iron deposits area. Most of their military industry heavy industry is up this way. So the amount of movement that has to be done from the supplier down to the front in Korea is the shortest anywhere on the periphery. Where they face forces or places where the United States might have a commitment. But even there if you recall their experience when they entered a war there was anything but satisfactory to them. I think that in this case I'd like to take the position more or less that they had this morning and look at it from the point of view of the Chinese. I think it's doubly important because our experience in this one area where we have had a head on conflict with the Chinese was bad from our point of
view. We think of Korea and we shudder at the idea that the fact is that was a question about how we can win when other Korea every time we have a confrontation with the Chinese and I think that there is a problem here in this we feared so much we may look on it as a defeat and therefore think maybe they look on it as a victory. I think the thing is that the United States thinks about when we talk about Korea is primary those two years that we fought very very frustrating position warfare in a 30 parallel roughly after negotiations had started. But I think from the Chinese point of view we have to take a different look at this. Just to review very briefly if you recall. In the spring of 950 in June I believe it was the North Koreans attacked South Korea. We sent over what forces we had in Japan and in a relatively short period of time. By that fall these this North Korean army had been more or less destroyed and
the prize was supposedly being from a South Korea seem to be worth the effort. I presume the part of the North Koreans but he ended up fleeing to their own country with the American army. After the Chinese entered the picture and again the UN forces retreated as they had earlier at the first attack by the North Koreans. But by the following May within less than a year of the attack United States forces had turned again in a classical. An. Attack with air power getting logistic lines the Chinese getting a force in a front larger to a preparation and armor driving to behind it and the result was that by early May the Chinese were a very bad shape and they were again falling back toward North Korea. Now I think you have to really look at it from that point you at that moment where the Chinese found themselves unable to stop the UN
drive. In less than a year those forces had lost the North Korean and Chinese had lost an estimated 1.2 million man million to one a thousand men. Five hundred thousand of those casualties were said to be Chinese in 8 months of being in that war in a relatively short time of heavy action they'd lost very heavily an American arm was breaking through. I want good water. Taylor has all kinds of discussion of whether we should have stopped at 38 or whether we should have. But the important point from their point of view I think is that this was a precarious situation and some of the information which came out later due to interrogation of Chinese prisoners and so forth indicates to me to my satisfaction that they were in very bad shape at that point and the war did not look so good. It's interesting to note that this these are out armies of. It came down to attack US troops were light infantry outfits and were not equipped to fight the big American divisions. They didn't have the heavy stuff which they should have had they didn't have the heavy
artillery the Russians hadn't delivered the larger guns to them yet but I have to hand the Russians had warned them not to go against American divisions with this like infantry organization this important to bring up because it's important for you going to talk about a minute. As a as a Russia is expected when the American division hit them. Those Chinese right armies would not hold together despite the fact that the Chinese had told the Russians Well you know your revolution is 40 years old you understand it you know it's the spirit of the Chinese soldier can overcome these obstacles and self-worth that the matter is that over 17000 of them surrendered in two weeks that when you start to be different. So the point was that it was a it was not a nice thing for a point of view of a military operation. And in those dark days of the spring of making 51 I don't know how those Chinese commanders felt much depended on whether we would really negotiate when Malak suggested well without getting into details. From a purely military point of view at that point I think they had second thoughts about that adventure in South Korea. And there are many indications from then on out the Chinese in fact you can
quote things the LSC has put in some of her writings. Movie in the papers they got when they say they they just don't want to count on their army anymore in that kind of a confrontation with Western forces. That doesn't mean that they haven't other ideas about how to use it. But I think that the case of Korea this is an inviting place any more or anywhere else where they run into that kind of American capability as a matter of fact. It turned out that the logistic lines from the bases around Harben and looked in were really longer in quotes and they were from San Francisco to Pusan we could beat them to the front with enough firepower to overwhelm them. So they have a problem in this area and this is the best. But just to carry they have I think the the moment says we are ready. We have a couple of divisions there. There are a much greater capability to deploy now even the Chinese army has improved considerably since that time. So as our ability to move forces in and to bring up ready combat ready forces if you will and bring up the reserves that we're
even getting into now no larger airlift capability so I'm saying that here again I think if they were there any reason why they the North Koreans would want to get into an adventure that the Chinese might be very skeptical about going to that area once more. The next area down along the perimeter of course as we come to is what we're discussing this morning. And that's the area of Taiwan Formosa and here we have. I'm a problem for the Chinese in that they have water barriers about 100 miles of water across the Straits their blue water water calls for these operations to get across there and I point out a moment ago they neither have the Navy nor the Air Force to do this. Now I said to the Air Force at large in numbers but we've we look again at their combat capability as proven in the battles that they've had. And again looking at it in the point of view the Chinese commanders who had it would have to depend on this airpower the results of their attack against Americans in Korea was as you know
to indicate that the Chinese Air Force had something to be desired before they could clash with American forces. And you all know about the numbers of kills and so forth that went on up there even were fighting in the alley up close to the hour when they could choose a time and place of fighting which in effect means they could choose how much fuel our boys have and so what they didn't do too well. They lost a very heavy rate the MiG vs. the Saber jet the rate was about 10 to one as I recall something like this. It's interesting also that not only couldn't the whole commander of the air over there just across North Korea but in the Taiwan Straits clash in 1958. And incidentally I'd like to point out now that Mr. Lewis said this morning that there was every indication that they did not intend to use force there. My statement was. That they had made
statements the effect they were going to take Taiwan. They were too explicit. But there were several reasons which would make the United States be concerned about this and cause us to build up Taiwan one was that we were attempting as I recall to get Peking and Taipei both to renounce force against either party in the Straits area Peking would not do this and in fact if you call the resolution by our Senate I guess it was going to D5 what we had with the Senate had stated and Kennedy repeated this in a debate with Nixon. Before his election that we would defend Quemoy if chemo was to be used as a stepping stone to attack Taiwan it's almost a mutation for it's almost a bribe to see to that to the Chinese Communists to renounce the use of force against Taiwan and the women you know will sort of let you have any more as there's all kinds it is not so clear about this now either it could be looked at that way the part of the Chinese the Chinese however have never had said they were not forced to take Taiwan.
In fact in 1958 Taipei under the urging of John Foster Dulles as I recall unilaterally made that promise we did too that we would not use force against the Chinese mainland. However they never had a really nice use of force against Taiwan so even though my colleague is more you're quite right. They didn't come out there with attack that they had all kinds of other means used but it would not react he was of course and we at that point did not trust him very much and I think as a matter of fact it would be a prudent statesman would have to think that there might be a danger there. And I think that the Chinese nationals were probably asking for aid. Therefore we build this area up. In any event the attack when it occurred on Quemoy there. Was anything but satisfactory from the point of view of the kindness and that this is a you know the only chemo is very close to in the our harbor of arm where you can put a machine get a ring like that actually hit companies chime it with machine gun fire from this island which is called a nationalist I think that
the commies could probably take that island I think they would suffer a great loss of manpower if they did I think they would lose more than NAPA when this is the point I like to make in the Straits crisis the Chinese Nationalist air force me control the air over the straits in fact the claim is that they shut down 31 because something like that a few weeks saw in tech had caused the Chinese quite a bit of worry about me can you control the air not only over the straits but over Quemoy in their own harbor I think is important thing to remember that. If the Chinese communist attack Quemoy there was no guarantee that the Chinese nationals would not strike military targets in the on the mainland s. They don't recognize it as a sanctuary if they escalate we retreat that Chinese men into the sanctuary have so far anyhow. We did the Korean War but the Nationals don't look at it that way. So this is something more than a fishing expedition. In other words I don't know
how much risk the Chinese will take. I agree with the analysis that my colleagues gave this morning on the other hand if you give them opportunity and there is no loss of in whatever they may lose in the try as they did in India I'm not sure they would use straight out military action provided there's no danger of escalating and there is no danger to the homeland. But in the case of the Nationals there is a danger they might strike right in that area and take out those target and take out the big bases that are around and so forth. So in other words it might be little adventurism in quotes to do that and so they don't. Now there may be other reasons and you can divert a lot of them but from a purely military point of view this is a risky thing for a relatively small prize. Now it's interesting I've seen things that have actually gone through the sensors from Taiwan to Taiwan letters came out of the mainland which are. They say that people in the fukin area when the communist leaders come around and urge them want to greater efforts for the great kindness adventure they say you know if you're so good want to take him away you know
there was there is a reason why they'd like to have the album but not that much of a reason and they're cautious and they're not going up enough with party people. I mean so this is a problem no maybe no air force to take the island. It's Southeast Asia. The. Area we're so concerned and we've been debating it for years now in this country I think is worth a little mention because so often we've heard if we go in this area and the strength that we're now in it is a matter of fact we put American forces in there that it will lead to another career. We hear talks about World War Three collision course with Red China and so forth. I think it's important to note that in this area they are probably one of the worst sections along the Pacific. Coast that they could have to take on the United States was large maybe an air force. Unless we were to go up to the Red River Valley and invade there where the roads across
the border from China and the rail route along the coast in the one going to can being allowed to bring in enough material to confront us lest we go as far north. China is faced with the same problems but there was good the means have been getting large numbers of forces going into the south. It Now. Seems like the problems are even greater because the Chinese as you all know are really into that area as the enemy is not like in the south and the bees don't like the fact that south it means hate China even the children Chinese I have a problem problem down and in that area so that they're not even if the force is small in small numbers are not even as good in quotes as the US going to be as army forces can be sent down there and at the moment I think they're using something like maybe a fifth of the divisions that they have available. Something like 75 80 percent of our army sitting back there in reserve and could be sent down to the question bringing Chinese in is always you know winds over the wire the Chinese want to do it and why would I even want the Chinese armies inside. North Vietnam because again north and I was like
it was south of my very well this is a difficult place to operate if you know those logistic routes along the coast or right of the guns of our Navy with guns we have left I mean and we have a habit of cutting a battleship with torches was going to. But they're also one of the the air umbrella we have from our carriers in from Thailand. There's one railroad that comes down along and there is a meter gauge road you have to tranship everything at the border that goes into Hanoi and the other branches that line it was up the can being is really not a through rail route it isn't connected to the rest of the Chinese railroad up there as a matter of fact. Shipments going to could make in China actually go through highways so that rail is being Bob is a rail route of the Chinese who could mean in some respects so that they can't bring in stuff and coming here they're basically forced to use that line and below Hanoi even though he's a can being in the branch line of the coast line to get in the highway patrol there. Not a kind of whole it's a
rickety meter gauge line at the end of the line there is not much of a line from there on I just got one wrote obviously is not the place to jam an army against that coast. Using a whole team in trail has all the problem which you're familiar with it means that if you send Chinese forces into that alien territory down into South Vietnam they must go without their heavy equipment and say see American forces with their heavy firepower. Precisely the situation when I'm in Korea. If they learned anything I learned that don't send it down like that that would be the height of adventurism to send like Intrade of Asians down there without their heavy equipment a facer as big American to be like again all of a spring of making 51. I do not think they're going to do this. Well no one it's been too much time and that will begin to later represent. The situation further over in Southeast Asia is similar. There's a great problem with logistics getting mass land armies down very very hard. As I said in my paper you could get. Chinese guerrillas into the northern area of Laos Burma if they cared to. But unless you could get some
indigenous force to form an alternative to the government that they already have it would be difficult for the Chinese to get down to the plea from the you know from the McConnell-Reid as falling river. Everything is down in the south the ridges are to the north the wild country the mountain countries up in there you know to conquer the heavily populated area. They would have to get through large forces or get some a guerrilla force to set up an alternative to the government and disrupt this other country from within and maybe thats what they want to do with their organized communist parties if they was talking about earlier. In any event though the conventional military capability of that area is quite limited for the same reason. When they they I think that if a country is timid however and lets them come in and gradually build up as we well know. If we dont that they dont use counter insurgency operations for example they wouldnt have a support United States it would lose heart and start to make deals with them they could take the area with very small forces but they are a large mass land army the way we think of and most people think of as a means striking force of the Chinese are not.
Easy to use now in that area. The Indian border situation I think is interesting primarily because again when the Chinese came down to the Assam plane into the chin area we again heard about hordes of Chinese. Actually there was like one division came across down there and and as you know they pulled back as a snow start to fall. It's a problem for the Chinese to come down to they are some plain independent one dirt track but they had that when he broke means it when the snow fell up there they might have to winter over down on the off some plane in one division. Twelve thousand forty thousand men is quite a bit of face the whole Indian army because they were beginning to bring people into the Pakistan border by this time and we were to supply one like weapons of what they could have been overwhelmed there and that was about all they could support was at one point division down in that area. As far as the VA doc situation is concerned the ex-engineer that's quite different. There they do have an escalation capability over the Indians primarily because they build it up on the
Tibetan side of the border incident that's what they want. As someone mentioned this morning this is where the big clash first started and they did not go back in there as you will remember. Indians have since that time not sent any of their border patrols over there to infiltrate the Chinese they had before the road. They mention this morning was the bone of contention and it was the business of looking up St. John with the Tibet Military Road in fact as we were calling Indians offered there to say look we'll let you use the road just don't use it for military purposes. Of course the Chinese would agree to this. That's one of the reasons they build it obviously it did save them a 2000 mile detour and maybe even further when the weather's bad. Are we back to lunch out to get this in Iran and there's a crisis between the Soviets and the Chinese increased I think they were concerned about seeing Iran and I think for that reason that will became more and more important. In any event the Indians found out the Chinese were not pulling in that area. They were deadly serious they did not pull back
they stayed there and the OC S.. Area but as far as in the US some plain area south of Tel on they did go back there because they obviously couldn't hold it. I think it was just a sensible logical approach for them to use. This did not however. Allay the fears of the Indians I remember talking to a high ranking Indian civil servant or other high ranking after this and say you know what he was airpower against him in the passes through the mountains and he said gee if we done that they may have hit Delhi you know they may have bombed Delhi but even today there are only reported to have two airfields in Tibet. They'll even support white bombers is a big city you know they couldn't there's was a metal iron bomb lifting to do that to them. However now that they have a nuclear weapon now you might have a great problem convincing the Indians that they're not under threat even if the Chinese never mention it because now they have what is of magnitude more striking power against that city so that I'm sure that Albert will get into this
later. But here is the situation which gives you some indication of what those weapons are good for. I'll just take a minute to talk about the Soviet Union and their border because people talk about the probability that there is going to be a clash between the communists in the service I think this is wishful thinking. I don't think it's going to her at least not in the conceivable future. If they keep going where they're going now I just can't see them you know throwing a revolution away in a you know sort of anger while all the rest of the free world is rubbing their hands in glee you know and they but them chew each other up I just can't see them doing that may come to that only you know at this point I can see it happening. But even if they were to. Do it in a sort of madness attempt to attack the Soviet Union the risk that they would begin to take the hint task that they're very weak in many many sections of their border area they lack precisely what you need to fight on the plains of Mongolia or even Manchuria they don't have enough armored divisions they got about four armored division
maybe five and the seven just have a lot of armor. A good Air Force not the best in the world but certainly plenty good enough to take care of the Chinese. They might lose their whole industrial area mentoring if they started trouble in the air and they are more use we bend area this they in this area they do have a good. Logistic capability against the arm or are going to use every bend area and as you know has a section where the railroads extend up there from Harbin up like the thinkers of a hand and they can shoot reserves in any section of the periphery while the Russians have to you know rush wildly back and forth trying to cover the move just the trouble they have. Russians have a Japanese in the thirties but the Japanese are thirty had a good Air Force good staff work good troops and the Russians didn't look anywhere near as good as the Japanese. Things have changed radically in this one area where they have some with just the capability of facing a mean tough enemy with a good air force and with the capability to take care of them on the area of armored equipment and in the area of air
attack. And they can. They might very well lose their whole industrial base up there if the Russians decided to start bombing cities and the Russians are very mean it when they want to be it the Chinese try grow work on them I think the Russians have shown in Ukraine no other place they know how to take care grows too. This is the kind of enemy he would not try a fishing expedition against. It may be very very bad and there is really no reason to think that the Russians would not consider going across the armor of an invading Manchuria in case they should have become with the Chinese on the Russian side in that area. As far as the rest of the border is concerned. Chinese very weak no capability to attack against western Siberia particularly the Soviet capability there is much greater than Chinese. So I think that just looking at this from a purely they're just thinking about their point of view their capability for all kinds of action is very very small. On the other hand the capability for defensive action is large. All the couples that you have getting out of China makes it difficult for the people to get in except for the fact of course is that some of the large navy like we have
can roam at coast and think or strike at areas. The Chinese will have very great difficulty reacting to but once you got inside China the capability of the Army and even the militia to form a very effective static defense is there. In fact here is really where they say they want to use the militia to. Fight as guerrillas while of the main army falls back the PLO falls back with a militia like a grandma to weaken the enemy and we finally we can the Pilate turns on him and you know this piece of this is the standard teachings of mounds of earth. It's like he says we bury him bury the enemy in a sea of people this is what the what the militias to be used for and you can't discount the problem you'd have a great difficult problems conquering China. However they all they keep talking about United States being the enemy and defending against our invasion. I think that it's infinitely remote everything like that would happen. I can't see the issue of which it would occur and I can't see the Chinese inviting it we don't want to either. Russians don't want it so I think it's very remote. So I think the real the real policy of the
Chinese if they want to use their military force is limited wars for limited objectives with very limited cost and in many cases use proxies of possible by proxy I do not mean that they run these these revolutionary forces. Not at all I mean they are people with whom they identify and whose cause they are more or less in favor at least compared to having the United States and their people we in this respect. They can't possibly standards for His will to lose by supplying these forces where they fight. You just heard Frank Armbruster of the Hearts Institute Mr. Armbruster an expert on guerrilla warfare discussed China's conventional military capability. This program was based on a special conference on China held by the University of Chicago Center for Policy Study with the support of the Johnson Foundation of race in Wisconsin. The next programme in the series will be devoted to China's nuclear capability. This program was produced
for radio by the University of Chicago. This is the national educational radio network.
China: Policy and perspective
China's military capability
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University of Chicago
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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This program features a lecture by Frank Armbruster of the Hudson Institute.
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A series of talks from the University of Chicago dealing with current events in China.
Global Affairs
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Producing Organization: University of Chicago
Speaker: Armbruster, Frank E.
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Chicago: “China: Policy and perspective; China's military capability,” 1967-11-14, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 28, 2024,
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