Friday, December 16, 2005

China Is Not Our Friend

Not yet, anyway. The Chinese, on the other hand, could very well be. (I think I know all of one person born in the PRC.) Thomas P. Barnett has some excellent points about the US's sinophobia and how damaging it is - to international relations, to the US's own military, and therefore to the war on terror.
The greatest threat to America's success in its war on terrorism sits inside the Pentagon. The proponents of Big War (that cold-war gift that keeps on giving), found overwhelmingly in the Air Force and Navy, will go to any length to demonize China in their quest to justify high-tech weaponry (space wars for the flyboys) and super- expensive platforms (submarines and ships for the admirals, and bomber jets for both) in the budget struggles triggered by our costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

With China cast as America's inevitable enemy in war, the Air Force and Navy will hold off the surging demands of the Army and Marines for their labor-intensive efforts in Southwest Asia, keeping a slew of established defense contractors ecstatic in the process. How much money are we talking about? Adding up various reports of the Government Accountability Office, we're talking about $1.3 trillion that the Pentagon is locked into spending on close to a hundred major programs. So if China can't be sold to Congress and the American people as the next Red menace, then we're looking at a lot of expensive military systems being cut in favor of giving our troops on the ground the simple and relatively cheap gear they so desperately need not only to stay alive but also to win these ongoing conflicts. ...

Do the Chinese have a trillion-plus dollars locked up in huge acquisition programs like we do? Are you kidding? We spend more to buy new stuff each year than the Chinese spend in total on their entire military. In fact, we spend more on operations in the Middle East each year than China spends on its entire military. Prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist strikes, the China threat was being successfully employed to win congressional support for all manner of Big War toys that logically had no real application in the 4GW scenarios that U. S. ground forces routinely found themselves in in the post-cold-war world. (Think dirt-poor Haiti or Black Hawk Down Somalia.) But 9/11 changed all that, and the Bush administration's global war on terrorism and resulting Big Bang strategy of transforming the Middle East inadvertently shifted the budgetary argument from the capital-intensive Navy and Air Force to the labor-intensive Army and Marines....

[Robert Kaplan outlined] "how we would fight China," which is the title of the article. Not why, mind you, just how . Kaplan takes such an indirect route because the "why" argument on China frankly sucks. I mean, we're going to fight China to prevent it from becoming our biggest trade partner? ...Kaplan avoids all such arguments for just that reason—they defy logic. Instead, he simply flips the Taiwan card on the table and then he's off to the races, or, should I say, the many wars—both hot and cold—that he imagines America must inevitably wage against China in the coming decades. Why? Let Kaplan tell you himself in what constitutes the stunning thesis of his argument: "Pulsing with consumer and martial energy, and boasting a peasantry that, unlike others in history, is overwhelmingly literate, China constitutes the principal conventional threat to America's liberal imperium."

Got that?
That, I think, is the most important point to make about any so-called China threat. It doesn't exist. There is, as yet, no conceivable argument to make that China poses a military threat to American interests. (The extent of America's attachment to Taiwan is bizarre when you really think about it. As lamentable as a hypothetical conquered Taiwan would be - and I don't underestimate or discount it - American interests would not be threatened one iota.) The threat that China does pose is an economic one. By definition, if China becomes even moderately wealthy their consumption of resources will escalate dramatically, and China's gross economic weight will give it a kind of power that America has by sheer mass.

Only in the most paranoid, fevered delusional states could any of that be construed as a "threat" that necessitates military force. Unfortunately, the US department of defense is currently run by the feverishly paranoid.

As a final note, the economic potential of China is often described in superlative terms, but some quick math shows us just how large the potential really is. South Korea's per capita GDP is something like $20,000 US. Taiwan's is more like $25,000. Even if we take the lower range of these numbers, a China that was as proportionally wealthy as South Korea is today would have an economy roughly twice that of the US. A "Taiwanese" China would have an economic power three times the size of America's. And of course, an "American" China would have an economy something like 5 or 6 times America's economic output.

It's worth pointing out that both Taiwan's and South Korea's experience of economic growth led directly to the downfall of military or one-party rule in those countries. I'm not saying the same is guaranteed in China, but anyone who thinks that a rich China will also be a Communist-ruled one has a high evidenciary bar to meet.

That economic growth, both present and future, is what is driving China's grand strategy, aptly summed up in the same article:
Here's another good example of this queer logic: The Wall Street Journal recently ran a front-page story that laid out—in rather breathless detail—China's "broad push into Africa." The Chinese are accused of courting African dictatorships to gain access to strategic resources, including—God forbid!—oil. Good thing America could never be accused of similar motivations and tactics.

But the Chinese aren't waging war in Africa, nor are they establishing military outposts like we are. No, China's "indirectness" comes in the form of building dams and laying roads and "cultivating desperately poor nations to serve as markets for its products decades down the road.”

My, that is scary, reflecting, as the Journal story points out, "Beijing's policy of actively encouraging its companies and citizens to set up shop in Africa at a record pace.”
Again, only the absurdly paranoid could call this A Bad Thing. Investment in Africa, aside from helping China's image, will do wonders for African economies. If the American government chooses not to invest in Africa, fine. I think that's cruel, but whatever. But to object when other large economies do invest in Africa, and scream about the "threat" it poses is insane.

The rise of China is first and foremost a good thing for the Chinese. It will also be a good thing for Canada. It will undoubtedly be a good thing for the developing world, who will have more customers to sell to at higher prices. It will also be a good thing for America, if their government is intelligent enough to use this moment properly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

>> That, I think, is the most important point to make about any so-called China threat. It doesn't exist. There is, as yet, no conceivable argument to make that China poses a military threat to American interests. <<

I disagree with you here. Please look at the article Commentary: China Signals War - China threatened the U.S. with nuclear war for the thrid time already. From the article:

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.”