Colleagues: Two articles today that take more hard line stances on China’s growing military capabilities and increased assertion of its power and influence in the regions closest to the PRC–a “lake formerly described as an American protectorate”.
Perhaps our more seasoned China Watchers can provide me with perspectives that paint a more benign analysis of China’s growing power and intentions. But hard to find more expert analysts of China than Kaplan, Freidberg, and Haddick.
Oh, and if you are interested, a 3rd piece well worth perusing–a searing criticism of U.S. economic policy and political paralysis by the Chinese news agency, Xinhua, that demands the US cure its “addiction to debt”, and as a first step, reduce its defense budget and forward military presence!!
A power shift in Asia
By Robert D. Kaplan, Published: September 23 (Washington Post)
Washington is obsessed with decline: the upshot of the worst economy since the Great Depression, the prospect of massive defense cuts that could signal the end of the American military’s imperial-like reach, the collapse of Arab regimes with which the Pentagon and CIA closely cooperated. But nothing of late quite captures what is going on in terms of a global power shift as much as the U.S. refusal to sell Taiwan new F-16 fighter jets.
U.S. officials argue that upgrading Taiwan’s Lockheed Martin F-16 A/B jets will make them nearly as capable as the 66 new F-16 C/D models that the Taiwanese were seeking, and at a fraction of the cost. But the upgrades reportedly do not include the new engines necessary for added speed and will make it harder for the Taiwanese to retire their oldest jets as they had hoped. Clearly, the decision signifies a painful compromise for the Obama administration.
By 2020, the United States will not be able to defend Taiwan from a Chinese air attack, a 2009 Rand study found, even with America’s F-22s, two carrier strike groups in the region and continued access to the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. Moreover, China is at the point of deploying anti-ship ballistic missiles that threaten U.S. surface warships, even as Taiwan’s F-16s, with or without upgrades, are outmatched by China’s 300 to 400 Russian-designed Su-27 and Su-30 fighters. Given that Taiwan is only 100 miles from China and the U.S. Navy and Air Force must deploy to the Pacific from half a world away, the idea that Washington could permanently guarantee Taipei’s de facto sovereignty has always been a diminishing proposition. Vice President Biden’s recent extensive talks with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping (who is poised to succeed President Hu Jintao), may have reinforced the notion inside the administration that Taiwan is better defended by a closer American-Chinese diplomatic understanding than by an arms race.
Notice what is happening, though. The administration is not acting unreasonably. It is not altogether selling out to Beijing. Rather, it is adjusting its sails as the gusts of Chinese power, both economic and military, strengthen. Thus the decision to help Taiwan — but not too much — illustrates how decline itself is an overrated concept.
Decline is rarely sudden: Rather, it transpires quietly over decades, even as officialdom denies its existence and any contribution to it. The Royal Navy began its decline in the 1890s, Princeton University professor Aaron L. Friedberg writes in “The Weary Titan,” even as Britain went on to win two world wars over the next half-century. And so, China is gradually enveloping Taiwan as part of a transition toward military multipolarity in the western Pacific — away from the veritable American naval lake that the Pacific has constituted since the end of World War II. At the same time, however, the United States pushes back against this trend: This month, Obama administration officials — with China uppermost in their minds — updated a defense pact with Australia,giving the United States greater access to Australian military bases and ports near the confluence of the Pacific and Indian oceans. The United States is making room in Asian waters for the Chinese navy and air force, but only grudgingly.
Decline is also relative. So to talk of American decline without knowing the destiny of a power like China is rash. What if China were to have a political and economic upheaval with adverse repercussions for its defense budget? Then history would turn out a lot more complicated than a simple Chinese rise and an American fall.
Because we cannot know the future, all we can do is note the trend line. The trend line suggests that China will annex Taiwan by, in effect, going around it: by adjusting the correlation of forces in its favor so that China will never have to fight for what it will soon possess. Not only does China have some more than 1,500 short-range ballistic missiles focused on Taiwan, but there are 270 commercial flights per week between Taiwan and the mainland, even as close to a third of Taiwan’s exports go to China. Such is independence melting away. And as China’s strategic planners need to concentrate less on capturing Taiwan, they will be free to focus on projecting power into the energy-rich South China Sea and, later, into the adjoining Indian Ocean — hence America’s heightened interest in its Australian allies.
This is a power shift. Subtle and indirect though it may be, it is a clearer story line than what is occurring in the chaotic Middle East, a region less prosperous and less dynamic than East Asia in economic and military terms, and therefore less important. Taiwan tells us where we are, and very likely where we’re going.
Robert D. Kaplan is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and the author of “Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power.”
Comment by a friend: “I also just received Friedberg’s book and it is an interesting read. I concur with Robert that it should shake things up.”
This Week at War: Let’s Talk About China
Created Sep 23 2011 – 7:29pm
My Foreign Policy column reviews “A Contest for Supremacy,” essential reading on the geo-strategic situation in East Asia. I also explain why the F-16 upgrade deal with Taiwan may create a new problem down the road.
A Contest for Supremacy calls on America’s China-watchers to get real
In the preface to A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia, Aaron Friedberg, an international relations professor at Princeton, describes how, in the waning months of the Clinton administration, he was hired to review the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment of China. The experience, he says, left him deeply troubled about what he saw coming between China and the United States. By contrast, the “China hands” he knew in and out of the U.S. government “seemed to believe that a Sino-American rivalry was either highly unlikely, too terrifying to contemplate, or (presumably because talking about it might increase the odds that it would occur) too dangerous to discuss. Whatever the reason, it was not something that serious people spoke about in polite company.”
Like tossing a dead skunk into a garden party, A Contest for Supremacy aims to shake things up among the foreign-policy elite inside the United States. Friedberg presents all of the arguments employed in favor of optimism and complacency regarding the trends facing the United States in East Asia then systemically shoots them down. His book is the most thorough wake-up call yet regarding the security challenges presented by China’s rise. It is also a plea to have an honest conversation about the difficult questions facing the United States in Asia.
The book’s straightforward organization bolsters Friedberg’s arguments. The first four chapters summarize the history of China’s dealings with the West and explain the origins of the Middle Kingdom’s rivalry with other great powers, including the United States. Thucydides and Bismarck would quickly recognize Friedberg’s description of a rising China that has growing interests and that sees that it must take action to defend its position. The unfortunate fact that China’s new interests overlap with those of the current dominant power is nothing new in the history of great-power collisions.
The second section of the book discusses China’s view of its strategic situation. Friedberg draws extensively from Chinese sources to describe Beijing’s view of the United States and the Chinese leadership’s conceptions of its long-term interests and probable grand strategy. According to Friedberg, China’s leaders view the United States not as a status quo power, but as a revisionist force determined to one day overthrow one-party rule inside China. This argument may come as a surprise to those in the United States who thought a revisionist China was challenging the status quo United States.
Friedberg analyzes why, in addition to its economic potential, China is such a difficult challenge for U.S. policymakers. It has been two centuries, with its struggles against Britain, since the United States faced a strategic adversary that was simultaneously a broad and deep trading and financial partner. Friedberg catalogs the numerous business and academic interests inside the United States that profit from their relationships with China and who seek to downplay the strategic rivalry.
Finally there are China’s tactics, which emphasize patience and outwardly profess modesty about China’s intentions and capabilities. Meanwhile, according to Friedberg, China seeks “to win without fighting” by establishing alternative networks and alliances that will eventually supplant and replace those global institutions created and defended by the United States and its allies.
After conducting a net assessment of China’s and America’s hard and soft power, Friedberg concludes with an analysis of the strategic options available to U.S. policymakers. He has little regard for the idea that being firm with China’s leaders will merely catalyze an avoidable conflict. For Friedberg, China’s rulers are tough and thick-skinned realists whose decisions will benefit from a firm U.S. approach and who, by contrast, could tragically miscalculate if they perceive American vacillation. He recommends reinforcing conventional military deterrence, reaffirming U.S. alliances in Asia, and taking steps to maintain U.S. research and technological advantages. Perhaps most important is Friedberg’s plea for U.S. policymakers and citizens to openly discuss the adverse trends facing the United States in East Asia and to reject the idea that merely discussing these issues will create a confrontation.
The fragility of China’s internal situation and the cresting in two decades of its demographic advantage do not escape Friedberg’s scrutiny. Although Chinese leaders have displayed caution and patience, the window will close on their ability to take advantage of their growing power. With the next decade or so possibly being the most dangerous, there is all the more reason for both U.S. policymakers and the electorate to engage the difficult arguments presented in his book.
Upgrading Taiwan’s F-16s avoids a problem now but may create another one later
Obama administration officials no doubt knew that their compromise package of arms sales to Taiwan would end up angering everyone involved with the issue. The White House passed on a proposal this week to sell 66 new F-16 C/D fighter-bombers to Taiwan, an aircraft assembled at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas plant. Instead, Taiwan’s old fleet of 145 F-16 A/B models will get an extensive upgrade including the latest generation radar, and much improved navigation, electronic warfare, and targeting electronics. Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) are leading a congressional push to pass a bill requiring the administration to sell the new airplanes to Taiwan. For its part, China’s Foreign Ministry registered a strong protest at the decision and called in Gary Locke, the U.S. ambassador to Beijing, for a dressing down.
The administration’s path was calibrated to avoid the regular ritual of provoking Beijing to cut off military-to-military contacts with the United States. With concerns over China’s military buildup rising, U.S. officials have placed a high priority on military exchanges, with the hope of preventing miscalculations. This time around, the gambit may be working with China yet to invoke another suspension. Having left the possibility of an F-16 C/D sale in reserve, Washington gave Beijing an incentive to refrain from blowing up the relationship again. Should Chinese officials opt to escalate, the United States would have little to lose by then approving the sale of the new aircraft.
Lost in the discussion of the F-16s was the decision to supply Taiwan with 96 smart-bomb precision-aiming kits and 64 cluster bomb dispensers. Combined with the navigation, electronic warfare, and bomb-targeting upgrades, this package will significantly improve the offensive strike capability of Taiwan’s F-16 fleet.
This offensive strike capability would permit Taiwan to hold at risk important targets in Southeast China. The package thus enhances conventional deterrence and could boost strategic stability across the Taiwan Strait.
But this would require the F-16s to survive a Chinese missile barrage aimed at Taiwan’s airfields and then get into the air. As discussed in the Pentagon’s latest report on Chinese military power, China’s large and ongoing buildup of land attack ballistic and cruise missiles threatens to shut down Taiwan’s Air Force before it can take off.
Without a survivable second-strike capability, Taiwan could find itself in a “use it or lose it” dilemma during a crisis. Rather than wait for a Chinese missile barrage to either destroy or ground its Air Force, in extremisTaiwan might find itself compelled to attack pre-emptively in order to make use of its F-16s and in an attempt to minimize the damage it might think it would inevitably suffer.
This is obviously an unstable and undesirable situation. In a previous column, I argued that what Taiwan really needs is its own inventory of mobile and concealable land-attack missiles, a force that could deter a Chinese attack.
Alternatively, Taiwan could acquire strike aircraft that don’t require fixed air bases for their operations. The United States is developing just such an airplane for the U.S. Marine Corps, the short-takeoff vertical-landing F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. It should thus come as no surprise that a Taiwanese defense official suggested that if Taiwan can’t get the F-16 C/D, maybe it should get the stealthy F-35 instead. An Obama administration official scoffed at the idea: “It’s like not getting a Prius and asking for a custom-built Ferrari instead.”
Instead of scoffing, White House officials should instead think about what is required to prop up strategic stability in the southwest Pacific. With China’s military spending galloping higher and the Pentagon’s about to crash, the United States will need all the help from its allies it can get. In addition, simply repeating past practices without taking account of the dramatically changed circumstances over the Taiwan Strait could make things less rather than more stable. Policymakers on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue would benefit from assessing the Taiwan situation with a clean sheet of paper.
About the Author
Robert Haddick is Managing Editor of Small Wars Journal. He writes the “This Week at War” column for Foreign Policy. Haddick was a U.S. Marine Corps officer, served in the 3rd and 23rd Marine Regiments, and deployed to Asia and Africa. He has advised the State Department and the National Intelligence Council on irregular warfare issue.
Oh, my–how cheeky of those impudent Chinese. Lecturing the great U.S…….Maybe they have a point!
China tells US to tighten its belt, deal with debt ‘addiction’
BEIJING — China, the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt, demanded Saturday that America tighten its belt and confront its “addiction to debts” in the wake of Standard & Poor’s decision to downgrade the U.S. credit rating.
China currently owns $1.2 trillion of U.S. Treasury debt, the largest stake of any central bank. The commentary carried by the state-run Xinhua News Agency was Beijing’s first official response to the S&P decision.
“The U.S. government has to come to terms with the painful fact that the good old days when it could just borrow its way out of messes of its own making are finally gone,” Xinhua said.
It said the rating cut would be followed by more “devastating credit rating cuts” and global financial turbulence if the U.S. fails to learn to “live within its means.”
“China, the largest creditor of the world’s sole superpower, has every right now to demand the United States to address its structural debt problems and ensure the safety of China’s dollar assets,” it said.
Xinhua said the U.S. must slash its “gigantic military expenditure and bloated social welfare costs” and accept international supervision over U.S. dollar issues.
Last month, China’s top general, Chen Bingde, also linked America’s financial woes to its military budget and asked whether paring back on defense spending wouldn’t be the best thing for U.S. taxpayers.
Such comments reflect Beijing’s desire that Washington reduce its military presence in Asia. The U.S., rattled by China’s military buildup, also routinely chides Beijing for its fast-growing defense spending.
Xinhua also suggested a new global reserve currency might be necessary to replace the dollar, a position China has frequently advocated.
“Mounting debts and ridiculous political wrestling in Washington have damaged America’s image abroad,” Xinhua said. “To cure its addiction to debts, the United States has to re-establish the common sense principle that one should live within its means.”
Jitters over the U.S. handling of its debt problems were also being felt elsewhere in Asia, said Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore’s former ambassador to the United Nations.
The dean of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School for Public Policy said the last-minute agreement by the U.S. Congress to lift the debt limit and avoid default has policymakers in Asia questioning the stability of U.S. global leadership.
“It’s definitely undermined U.S. credibility,” Mahbubani said late Friday. “Everyone is wondering if you have such a dysfunctional political process, how can you provide global leadership. It’s very dangerous for the world.”