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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Should we be worried?

24 June 2020

I think the world is somewhat underestimating China's desire to extend its borders.

As mentioned in previous columns, we've seen China pushing back against the borders of other countries such as India and it is always rattling its sabre in the direction of Taiwan.

So should we be worried?

Is this all rhetoric or does China have plans to start deploying its military a little more seriously than it has done in the past?

Honestly, I have no idea but I think that if such a move is on the cards then events of this week should be noted with concern. I'm not talking about any of the "skirmishes" or territorial disputes, I'm talking about a piece of technology just rolled out by China.

One of the key elements of all modern hi-tech military equipment is a reliable, robust and secure satellite-based positioning system.

No nation or alliance can really go into battle these days without having such a system available to them or their navigation and guided ordinance will simply be far less precise and effective than their opponent's.

The USA has its GPS system, Europe has Galileo and Russia has GLONASS but to date, China has had to rely on these "foreign" systems and that would be a huge vulnerability in time of armed conflict. Who would want to go into battle against an enemy that could (and almost certainly would) turn off or cripple a crucial part of your military technology in mid-battle?

Perhaps this is why China has finally completed a sat-nav network of its own: BeiDou.

According to this BBC report, China this week launched the final satellite needed to activate the BeiDou system and thus free it from reliance on US, European or Russian systems.

According to Wikipedia, this is actually the third incarnation of BeiDou, the first one using only three satellites and a later one just 10, hardly enough to provide the necessary coverage or precision to function as a tool for the Chinese military.

The latest incarnation of BeiDou however, will have 35 satellites, providing far more coverage and accuracy (millimetre precision apparently), to the extent that I am pretty sure the Chinese military will now be far more confident if it ever wishes to engage in battle against one of the other major mulitary powers in the world.

Another point worth noting is that China has previously demonstrated its ability to "kill" satellites in orbit using a range of weapons and strategies. If it were to take down competing sat-nav systems this would give it a huge strategic advantage in any armed conflict.

With this in mind, I think we should watch China very, very carefully in future.

Although not traditionally renowned for the creating the best quality or most reliable technology, China has come a long way since the early days when those perceptions were created. It has landed a rover on the moon and has been quietly modernising its military in recent years. Could the availability of a home-grown sat-nav system be the final tool needed to turn its arsenal into a very capable military threat?

Should Taiwan be worried?

Should other nearby nations be concerned?

What do readers think?

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