Tuesday, December 20, 2005

China Threat Redux

Quirkyalone writes in comments:
Please look at the article Commentary: China Signals War - China threatened the U.S. with nuclear war for the thrid time already.
and then links to an article in the Epoch Times. Now, first of all I should point out that the Epoch Times has a pretty bad rep among Chinabloggers, known for particularly hysterical rantings about all things Chinese. That said, this did really happen:
On July 14, 2005, a top Chinese general threatened nuclear war against the United States, noting that China would destroy “hundreds of cities” in America if the U.S. honors its commitment to defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack:

“… we will have to respond [to the U.S. defense of Taiwan] with nuclear weapons.” “… the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds of [their] cities will be destroyed by the Chinese.”
Okay, first of all it was a Major-General, specifically Zhu Chenghu. He's not exactly in the Chinese equivalent of the Joint Chiefs or anything. (Specifically, he is not a member of the Chinese Central Military Commission.) He is however a senior analyst, and a dean at the National Defense University. In any case, he was quickly rebuked by the Party for his comments. He very quickly ammended his remarks - no doubt at Beijing's insistence - to say that he was only hypothesizing, not presenting policy.

But let's take Zhu at his word for a moment. Does China even have the means to destroy "hundreds" of American cities? Categorically, unambiguously no. China has a grand total of 18 ICBMs capable of reaching America - all of them almost 30 years old now, with their warheads in storage - no aircraft carriers, and one (or possibly two) nuclear missile submarines incapable of operating away from the mainland for long periods of time.

There is no nuclear threat from China. End of discussion.

It is not, however, the end of that Epoch Times article. First off, any article which makes numerous comparisons between Nazi Germany and present-day Beijing isn't worth reading, but I'll go on anyway.

One of the first accusations that Beijing is prepared for war is this: "And, in 1998, a Chinese Defense White Paper boldly stated that China should “lead the world into the twenty-first century." If that's supposed to be scary, please consult, oh, every document issues by the US departments of State and Defense for the last fifteen years. Hell, Canada says crap like this all the time. I don't think anyone's worried about the Canuck peril.

Then we get this attempt at wit:
In August of 2005, China and Russia held their first-ever joint military exercises, signaling a profound strengthening of their military relationship. China used diplomatic doublespeak to explain the exercises, saying their purpose was to train China’s military to counter “terrorism.” China failed to clarify whether its anti-submarine warship or its amphibious landing exercises were designed to deal with the naval forces of Islamic Jihad, Al Qa’ida, or any other land-locked terrorist group.
Okay, that's kind of funny. But here's the thing - conventional military forces are asked to combat terrorism. Look at Chechnya. Not too closely, mind you - it's pretty awful. The US Navy and Marines are playing a role in counter-terrorism across southeast Asia. If you're skeptical of China's claims, fairness demands that you be equally skeptical of US claims.

Regarding China's so-called "buildup", we need to remember that China is still making the transition from a lightly armed "People's Army" to a modern fighting force. China is spending nowhere near the same kinds of money that the US is, and China has a much, much larger burden of pensioners to provide for. Anyone who talks about China's "buildup" without acknowledging those two simple facts is being either stupid or dishonest.

As for the claims that "no nation threatens China", this is patently absurd. Between hysterical articles in the Washington Times and the words and deeds of the last three Defense Secretaries, China has every reason to feel threatened by the US. The US military has been explicitly anti-Chinese for the last ten years. US diplomacy has recently begun attempting to "contain" China, a la Cold War. To expect China to do nothing would be absurd. But China didn't start this dustup, the US did. If the US backed off a bit, we'd have a testable hypothesis. Either things would calm down, and we could all breathe a bit easier, or China would become more agressive and we'd know we had to be on our guard.

In short, while this article makes a whole bunch of grand claims, the author desperately needs to take a remedial course in Chinese Military Affairs. Perhaps Maj-Gen Zhu would be willing to tutor him.


Anonymous said...

China has been working against American interests all over the globe. It has hooked up with Cuba to counter US efforts to promote democracy there. It worked to have the US excluded from the recent Asian summit.
IN case you forgot, China is a brutal totalitarian regime that does not allow freedom of religion. It is also imperialistic--ever heard of Tibet?

john said...

Do any of those things merit a military response from the US? Is there any reason to believe that US sabre-rattling is making those things better?

Please dump the snark. I'm not defending China's human rights record, but nothing on the record today justifies a US military threat.