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The Costs of Corruption

Chinese government officials are complicit in the earthquake disaster.

12:00 AM, May 20, 2008 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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Like many Chinese and Russian production centers that are located far from major cities like Moscow, Beijing, or Shanghai, Chengdu is also dotted with multiple, smaller defense enterprises that design or produce many of the on-board systems that actually make the modern-day fighter aircraft effective in combat. Among these are the chief Chinese design centre for airborne electronic warfare systems and radar warning receivers.

This enterprise, the Southwest China Research Institute of Electronic Equipment, houses the AC999 Electronic Warfare Analysis Center, which is one of the more important laboratories for all branches of the PLA. Its function is to collect, analyze and interpret all varieties of electronic emission (ELINT) signals and then distribute the results of that analysis as a finished intelligence product to commands and the user community within the PLA.

Analysis of adversary electronic emissions and development of countermeasures to neutralise them is among the most sensitive data that exists within any military establishment. It is also critical to the survival of aircraft and other platforms in an age of advanced radars and other sensors. Damage or loss of this facility could pose real problems for the PLA's future plans for modernization.

However, chances are that these defense industrial establishments were built to a higher standard and suffered less damage than the schools, apartment houses, and other buildings that have been seen in television broadcasts since the quake struck. But, how many skilled specialists or personnel critical to these enterprises who may have been lost in the quake is another issue.

One of the most important Chinese research centers that is reported to have incurred significant damage is the China Aerodynamics Research and Development Centre (CARDC) in Mianyang, which is not far from Chengdu.

CARDC was built with excessive paranoia about security and survivability from being attacked from the air in mind, so some of its wind tunnels and other facilities are located underground. Mianyang is even closer to the epicenter of the quake than Chengdu--and powerful earthquakes destroy any underground structure--so these facilities are now damaged to the point where they may be irreparable and must be rebuilt. This could take years and is a considerable setback for Chinese aeronautical science.

No government could do in the way of enforcing building codes or mandating use of exotic, shock absorbing materials that could create totally earthquake-proof designs. There is no certainty involved in designing something that can be impervious to the whims of Mother Nature. But what is certain is that the increasing corruption among local party and government officials in China has conspired to exacerbate the consequences of an already massive human tragedy.

Reuben F. Johnson is a contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD Online.