The greatest threat facing the United States in the twenty first century is the risk of war with China. That issue is rarely discussed in the popular media.
Rather, our military obsession is with the three ongoing wars: Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. We agonize over whether those wars are “winnable,” when can we reduce our troops and military expenditures, and whether these wars are spreading our army too thin, driving the country further into debt, and producing unacceptable casualties in view of the benefits. In fact, none of these wars poses an existential threat to the United States.
We do have an enormous concern with China. However, economic issues predominate. It is only a question of time, decades at most, until China surpasses the United States as the world’s largest economy. Chinese universities are graduating five times as many engineers as the United States. They are now our bankers holding the treasury bonds and notes which keep the United States afloat.
History is change. Unless the United States does something radically different or unless the Chinese miracle of operating a booming economy in a repressive society implodes, the question is when China will surpass us economically. Not whether.
Last month, I was having dinner in Washington with a couple who had just returned from their first trip to China. They spoke about what they saw: The enormous building; the overnight development of huge factories and mega cities; and the incessant energy. I imagined that similar conversations took place a hundred or so years ago in London when a couple returned from a visit to the United States.
It would be convenient to view China’s competition with the United States in purely economic terms. But that would be naive and foolish. We can no longer close our eyes to the growing Chinese military and to the risk that the United States and China could be drawn into a large scale war with horrendous consequences for both nations.
The March/April 2011 issue of the respected Foreign Affairs had on its cover: “Will China’s Rise Lead to War?” And I know from a source in the Pentagon that a special unit is dedicated to carefully monitoring China’s military expansion, while at the same time playing war games that pit the United States against China.
Recent developments underscore this looming threat. In January of this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited China with the objective of improving defense ties. While he was there, China’s military conducted a test flight of a new stealth fighter jet. This bold, in your face, show of force was bad enough. What made it even worse was that the civilian leadership, including Chinese President Hu Jintao, claimed that they were uninformed that this test would be taking place. But were they? Was this really a rogue operation?
What occurred is so close to the plot of my newest novel, The China Gambit, which will be published in January, that I had to remind myself the book was completed. The plot wasn’t stolen from the headlines.
Then on June 4, Defense Secretary Gates had a response to the Chinese provocation. Gates was in Singapore addressing a high ranking delegation of Asian defense ministers and military commanders, including China’s Minister of Defense, Gen. Liang Guanglie. Gates threw down the gauntlet to China by declaring that the United States would not be denied access to key sea routes and lines of communication by “new and disruptive technologies” being developed by China. And that the United States was developing a new air-sea battle strategy “in defense of our allies and vital interests” in Asia.
Secretary Gates’s comments do not suggest that a military confrontation between the United States and China is inevitable. However, it is certainly possible. Our “vital interests,” using the Secretary’s term, could collide with those of China at a multitude of potential flashpoints. One is Taiwan.
Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade Chinese province, not an independent nation. And the Chinese have reserved the right to retake Taiwan by force. On the other hand, the United States not only has treaty commitments to defend Taiwan, but continues to sell arms to Taiwan despite Chinese objections.
It is possible that the decisionmakers in Beijing are biding their time on Taiwan while their military continues its exponential growth and the United States reduces its defense budget. Under this scenario, some time in this decade Beijing may launch an attack to retake Taiwan. Then the United States President will have a choice: Going to war to honor our commitment to Taiwan, or backing down and virtually ceding military dominance in Asia to China.
A second potential flashpoint is oil. China has surpassed Japan as the second largest consumer and importer of oil. For both the United States and China, oil is the lifeblood of the economy, and oil is a limited resource, which moves on the seas and often through narrow straits.
Beijing has cultivated increasingly close ties with Iran, our avowed enemy, with both oil and military components. This is part of China’s larger effort to tie up oil supplies around the world in a throwback to mercantilism. A war over oil supply or its movement on the seas could easily occur. All it would take is a bellicose Chinese leader who wants to hasten their economic domination by limiting the United States’ oil supply.
A third potential flashpoint is Japan. The Chinese still have a score to settle with Japan for World War II, and there are plenty of issues between those two nations, including such topics as fishing and navigation rights. Moreover, a Chinese attack against Japan would be a way of asserting Chinese hegemony in Asia. At the same time, the United States has treaty obligations to Japan. Thus, the United States could be drawn into the conflict.
In these and in other scenarios, war between the United States and China is not inevitable. However, it’s time we began confronting the risk of this occurring and revising our military preparedness and diplomacy to deal with this possibility.
The views in opinion pieces and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of Glenn Beck or Mercury Radio Arts.
* Allan Topol’s newest thriller novel, The China Gambit, will be published in January 2012. Visit his website at www.AllanTopol.com.
 New York Times, A5, June 4, 2011.
 For a discussion of the Taiwan issue, see Glaser, Charles, Will China’s Rise Lead to War?, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2011, pp. 86-88.
 For a discussion of the pending squeeze of oil supplies, see Deffeyes, Kenneth S., Beyond Oil, Hill and Wang, 2006; and Simmons, Matthew R., Twilight In the Desert, Wiley, 2005.
 For a discussion of China’s aggressive approach to tying up world oil supplies, see China’s Energy Industry Makes a Bold Push Into Developed Markets, New York Times, B7, March 15, 2011.
 For a discussion of the depth of animosity between China and Japan, see, Chang, Yung and Halliday, Jon, Mao, Globalflair Ltd., 2005.