Pentagon warns of risk of Chinese submarines in the Arctic

The Pentagon said in an official report released on Thursday that China would build a string of military bases around the world to protect its ambitious global infrastructure project: One Belt, One Road (OBOR) or the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

"China uses a variety of methods to acquire foreign military and dual-use technologies, including targeted foreign direct investment, cyber theft, and exploitation of private Chinese nationals' access to these technologies, as well as harnessing its intelligence services, computer intrusions, and other illicit approaches".

One exercise of Chinese power projection deemed particularly interesting by US analysts is the Arctic, where Beijing plans to establish protected shipping lanes as part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The Pentagon's assessment notes that China has increased activities and engagement in the Arctic region since gaining observer status on the Arctic Council in 2013.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will deliver a major speech Monday in Finland on the administration's evolving policy toward territorial disputes in the Arctic amid heightened US concern over expanding Chinese and Russian maritime operations there.

The Pentagon sees signs of an increased Chinese presence in the Arctic region, which could include submarines meant to deter nuclear attack.

The report also claimed China's military is making the modernisation of its submarine fleet a top priority.

The report continued: "The speed of growth of the submarine force has slowed and it will likely grow to between 65 and 70 submarines by 2020". This includes stepped-up patrols of America's advanced, sub-hunting P-8 Poseidon planes out of Singapore and Japan. Even with its upgraded military capability, China seems unlikely to launch an all-out invasion as long as the Taiwanese keep their defenses strong and do not force the issue by declaring full independence, but several lesser users of force are possible, such as China attempting to pressure Taiwan into reunification.

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New reports show increased military activity in the Arctic.

The Pentagon said the USA supports a peaceful resolution of China-Taiwan issues, and under the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), will contribute to peace, security, and stability in the Taiwan Strait by providing defense articles and services to help Taiwan maintain adequate self-defense capability.

The report also says China uses its People's Armed Forces Maritime Militia, a reserve force of civilians available for mobilization, "to achieve China's political goals" in the South China Sea without fighting.

Beijing now has just one overseas military base, in Djibouti, but is believed to be planning others, including possibly Pakistan.

The report explained that the Chinese were able to steal military equipment, including anti-submarine and aviation technology.

General Charles Brown, the head of Pacific Air Forces, said the stealthy J-20 fighter could "possibly" be operational this year, a move he said would signal "greater threat, greater capability" for China in the Pacific.

The Pentagon report also discussed Taiwan, a country China dubs as a renegade province.

The Pentagon report outlined a number of potential scenarios that China might take if Beijing decides to use military force on Taiwan, including a comprehensive campaign "designed to force Taiwan to capitulate to unification, or unification dialogue". China's economy is expanding and the Chinese Communist Party can mandate a strategy unchecked by democratic forces in the nation.

  • Sonia Alvarado