March 11, 2022-Stealth War 79: New South Korean President Seeks Closer Alignment with U.S.; Saudi Arabia and China to Co-Produce Military UAVs; PLA Jet Crash Prompts Military Drills in Vietnam’s EEZ; New National Unification Law with Taiwan Proposed at Two Sessions; China Announces a New Defense Budget With 7.1% Increase

By: Jamestown Foundation

Tue April, 2022, Age: 3 months


March 11, 2022




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Stat Du Jour 
This issue’s number to watch38
Number of times that Chinese President Xi Jinping has met bilaterally with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin since 2013. 





This Week: 

New South Korean President Seeks Closer Alignment with U.S.

Riyadh and Beijing to Co-Produce Military UAVs in Saudi Arabia

PLAAF Jet Crash Prompts Military Drills Within Vietnam’s EEZ

New National Unification Law with Taiwan Proposed at China’s Two Sessions

China Announces a New Defense Budget With a 7.1% Increase




Top Stories





(source: Yonhap)




New South Korean President Seeks Closer Alignment with U.S.




On Wednesday, Conservative Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party won South Korea’s presidential election, narrowly beating Democratic Party rival Lee Jae-myung by less than 0.8 percent. Yoon, formerly the country’s top prosecutor, will enter office in May with a mandate, including promises to adopt a more hardline approach to North Korea, a market-oriented approach to economic expansion and job growth, and the promotion of individual rights. During his campaign, Yoon addressed the country’s long-standing effort to balance a close security alliance with the U.S. with its extensive economic ties to China. As U.S.-China competition grows, Yoon made clear his desire to forge a deeper alliance with the U.S., which should “be the central axis of Seoul’s foreign policy,” Yoon wrote in February. During President Biden and Yoon’s call on Wednesday, the two leaders affirmed the strength of bilateral ties as “the linchpin for peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.” They also confirmed future coordination to address the growing nuclear threat from North Korea. Specific steps could include South Korea joining the Quad security grouping and the purchasing of an additional Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. In 2016, Seoul announced it would deploy THAAD to defend against North Korean missile threats, which led to a fierce diplomatic feud and economic retaliations from Beijing, which contended that the system is a national security threat.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to Yoon on his victory, emphasizing that the two countries are “close neighbors and cooperative partners,” and expressing his wishes to “deepen friendly cooperation” with South Korea. Yoon also met with Chinese Ambassador to South Korea Xin Haiming in Seoul, expressing confidence in the country’s relationship with China. “The diplomatic relations have been of great help to the people of both countries. It also helped develop the economy,” Yoon stated. The statement may demonstrate a dilution of previous campaign promises to adopt a tougher approach to Beijing, due to South Korea’s dependence on China and the resultant risk of economic coercion.





(source: Arab News)




Riyadh and Beijing to Co-Produce Military UAVs in Saudi Arabia




On March 6, Riyadh and Beijing reportedly signed an agreement to co-produce military drones in Saudi Arabia. Two state-owned companies, Saudi Advanced Communications and Electronic Systems Company and China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (one of the world’s largest defense firms), were the principal signatories, establishing Aerial Solutions. The deal allows for “the Chinese company to set up a research and development center and manufacturing team for various types of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) payload systems, including communications units, flight controls, camera systems, radar systems and wireless detection systems.” The project is part of Saudi Arabia’s “efforts to localize military industries and make it an important source of the economy,” with a goal of fifty percent of its military expenditure to be spent within the nation by 2030.

The signing occurred the day before Riyadh kicked off its first World Defense Show, the latter of which was widely reported on in English language Chinese media. This was in part because eight Chinese companies  participated in the event.  The deal builds on the 2017 agreement to move some of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp’s Rainbow-4 UAV production lines to Saudi Arabia. While the UAV is capable of a variety of military operations, that deal was for the rather singular production and purchase of the Rainbow-4, whereas the new deal allows for the development and production of a variety of products, likely including China’s latest generation of military UAVs. The new deal builds on the fact that China has been Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner since 2011, and a January agreement to enhance strategic collaboration and production between the two nations. Such a strategic agreement flies in the face of claims in 2020 that the nation’s relations were “functional, but not strategic.” In the bigger picture, the deals are part of Beijing’s efforts to increase economic, security, intelligence, and diplomatic ties with countries in the Middle East, which are also seeking to diversify their diplomatic relationships as the US, Russia and European partners are focused elsewhere.








PLAAF Jet Crash Prompts Military Drills Within Vietnam’s EEZ




A PLA Air Force (PLAAF) Y-8 military aircraft reportedly crashed in the Gulf of Tonkin, within Vietnam’s EEZ, according to Taiwanese intelligence officials. The crash provides a definitive explanation for China’s recent closure of part of the Gulf of Tonkin near Hainan island. The Y-8, which is manufactured for reconnaissance and transport operations, crashed earlier this month and prompted Chinese officials to carry out search and rescue operations. Publicly, the PLA has claimed its reason for banning ships from entering parts of the Gulf of Tonkin is due to military exercises. Some these drills are being conducted in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone despite the protests of the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry. Sources familiar with the crash officially claim it occurred just off the Vietnamese coastline on March 1 while the aircraft was flying over an area to the southwest of China’s Hainan Province. China has not acknowledged the incident in spite of a marked drop off in Y-8 Flights through Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) between March 2-7.

While the U.S. and its European allies are focused on the Russo-Ukraine war, China is continuing to extend its military presence in the South China Sea (SCS). China is using its naval and paramilitary maritime forces enforce an exclusion zone around “exercises”, a tactic it has repeatedly employed in past quarrels with Vietnam and other SCS claimant states. While the crash is unfortunate for the PLAAF, it has also become another excuse for China to make a demonstration of force.

All this comes directly on the heels of the U.S. Navy’s recovery of a downed F-35 jet in the SCS, which occurred on January 24. The Navy was not able to finally retrieve the aircraft until March 2, but was fortunate to reach the wreck before the PLA did. U.S. Navy service members used a “remotely-operated vehicle” to attach rigging and lift lines suitable to extreme pressure at the bottom of the ocean. If that crash is indicative of the time-period and technological requirements for a search and rescue operation of this kind, the PLA’s “military drills” in the Gulf of Tonkin may continue unabated for some time.





(source: China Daily)




​​New National Unification Law with Taiwan Proposed at China’s Two Sessions




During China’s “Two Sessions,” or lianghui, the PRC’s annual rubberstamp parliamentary sessions, Zhang Lianqi proposed a new law, which calls for punishment of anyone who violates their responsibility to support the “reunification” of Taiwan and the Mainland. Zhang, a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said that increasing cross-Strait tensions require a new law to achieve Beijing’s goal of unification with the island, claiming that Taiwanese “secessionists” need to be deterred. Zhang also criticized collusion between U.S. and Taiwan officials, specifically the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), for having strengthened the island’s independence movement. Zhang stated that the current Anti-Secession Law, adopted in 2005, “has played an important role in curbing secessionist attempts for Taiwan independence and promoting the peaceful reunification of the motherland. Facing greater risks and challenges, conditions are becoming ripe to promote the reunification of the motherland by legal means, whether in a peaceful way or not.” Reporting on China’s increased defense budgets for 2022 (see below), Chinese state media claimed the growing independence efforts are “seriously endangering the security and stability of the Taiwan Straits and undermining the peaceful reunification.”

The proposal comes amid increasing media reports that compare Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with China’s ambitions for Taiwan. Beijing has repeatedly refuted this comparison. On March 1, President Biden sent a delegation of former defense and security officials to Taipei to “demonstrate our continued robust support for Taiwan.” In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin called the trip futile and stated it will not stop the process of “national reunification.”





(source: Nikkei Asia)




 China Announces a New Defense Budget With a 7.1% Increase




On March 5, China announced a 7.1 percent increase in its 2022 annual defense spending during its 13th National People’s Party Congress. This an increase from 1.27 trillion yuan to 1.45 trillion yuan (about $209 billion to $230 billion—with some variation due to currency fluctuations). The growth rate of China’s official defense budget has stayed below the double digits since 2015, hovering between six and eight percent increases since 2016 and below eight percent since 2018, with a 6.6 percent raise from 2019 to 2020 (the lowest increase since 1988) and a 6.8 percent raise from 2020 to 2021.

As China state media was quick to point out, not only is this increase still on the lower end of its historical increases, as a percent of GDP its official defense budget is almost half of the global average of annual defense spending to GDP. Nonetheless, China is the second largest defense spender in the world, after the US, which is set to spend $782.5 billion in 2022. Furthermore, China’s official defense budget is often estimated to be significantly higher in reality, with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimating that China’s 2019 budget was in fact 40 percent higher than officially reported ($183.5 billion vs $240 billion). As a result, China has also managed to significantly improve its military power in recent years, and is projected to surpass the US economy around 2030. Whether or not it will be enough to overcome its reported military weaknesses remains to be seen.





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