China is becoming a rising power not only in consumer technology and artificial intelligence but also in Arctic military operations and nuclear submarine construction, according to a new report from the Pentagon.
“Arctic border countries have raised concerns about China’s expanding capabilities and interest in the region,” notes the report, “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019,” published today. Often called the “China Military Power” report, it’s required annually by Congress. This year, it highlights the country’s prowess in the Arctic. In 2018, China completed its ninth Arctic expedition last year, published its first Arctic strategy document, and launched its second icebreaker, the Xuelong 2. The ship, capable of breaking 1.5 meters of ice, is the first polar research vessel that “can break ice while moving forwards or backwards,” according to the report.
The warming Arctic might also cool, or at least complicate, Beijing’s budding friendship with Moscow. The Pentagon has watched growing Sino-Russia cooperation with concern In September, China joined Russia’s held its annual strategic Vostok wargame for the first time —but there are limits to what can be shared. Russia sees possession of the Northern Sea Route that runs along its coast as critical to national security. “In September 2018, a Russian expert at the Russian International Affairs Council stated the Russian Federation was strongly opposed to foreign icebreakers operating on the Northern Sea Route, including U.S. and Chinese icebreakers,” says the report.
Still, the region offers considerable scope for commercial cooperation. The two nations are building a pipeline to bring liquified natural gas from Russia to China. They’ve also been working out details and divisions of shipping and joint commercial activity.
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“We give major attention to the development of the Northern Sea Route [and] are considering the possibility of connecting it with the Chinese Maritime Silk Road,” Russian Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting in Beijing on April 25.
Another possible Chinese use for the Arctic, the report said, is as a place to deploy its burgeoning fleet of ballistic missile submarines. China now has six Jin-class SSBNs, the report says, up from the five identified by open-source methods in November.
“China has constructed six JIN-class SSBNs, with four operational and two outfitting at Huludao Shipyard,” it said. “[They] are the country’s first viable sea-based nuclear deterrent.”
Finally, the report notes — for the first time — Chinese influence operations: “China views the cyberspace domain as a platform providing opportunities for influence operations, and the [People’s Liberation Army] likely seeks to use online influence activities to support its overall Three Warfares strategy and to undermine an adversary’s resolve in a contingency or conflict.”
Such operations are meant to persuade the world to “accept China’s narrative” on issues like the South China Sea and the One Belt One Road Initiative. Experts say China has developed a growing and largely underestimated presence on U.S. social media platforms. But the government’s influence activities exist offline as well. The report notes that China is able to exert pressure on ethnic Chinese to conduct influence operations on behalf of the government through blackmail.