Friday, March 19, 2004

France and the two Chinas.

Just talked to my buddy Marc DeVore about the French joint naval exercise with China earlier this week. This got a strong negative reaction from the American blogosphere; I myself was pretty mad.

Marc, who is in Paris doing dissertation research on European military organizations, had a different reaction. Leaving aside the political or symbolic significance, he thought of the potential military-strategic importance.

You see, France sold Taiwan six Lafayette-class destroyers. The Lafayette is a "first-class advanced 21st-century stealthy fighting ship" with "ultrahigh stealth capability." It's a war ship that looks on radar like a fishing trawler. It doesn't take a genius to see the problems that such a ship could cause to the People's Liberation Army Navy.

(As an aside, I just have to say that the PLAN is the best - name - ever for a navy.)

So if France had really wanted to drive a dagger into Taiwan's back, they could have sent a Lafayette to China for the exercise. This would have given the Chinese navy and air force an incredible opportunity: a war game with the most troublesome ship in the fleet of their most important adversary. The technical data from the exercise would have been priceless.

But that's not what France sent. They sent two ships, "an anti-submarine-warfare destroyer Latouche-Treville and a light frigate Commandant Birot. " Neither of these ships are what you would call top-of-the-line. The former is a twenty-year-old heavy frigate. The latter is a twenty-five year old colonial gunship, in the truest sense of the word.

The PLAN has plenty of ships better than either one in the 'fleet' France sent out. Mexico could have come up with a ship as good as these. The US Navy would have been hard pressed to find a ship of such modest capabilities to send. We simply don't build boats this cheap.

This doesn't mean that France's participation in the exercise is of no value to the PRC-- there's a symbolic significance that must not be overlooked. But it is certainly of no military value. More importantly, the French navy could have participated in a way which would have really hurt Taiwan, strategically. They could have, but they chose not to. To me, that makes the exercise more forgivable.


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