The China Threat
By Allan Topol*
President Obama’s trip to the Asia Pacific Region in mid-November of 2011 demonstrated that at long last leaders in the administration recognize the military threat posed by China. Unfortunately, Obama’s language and his actions are not sufficient to persuade China and other nations of the Region that the United States is a credible counterweight to China’s growing military power.
For five decades after the end of the Second World War, the United States has been far and away the dominant power, militarily and economically, in the Pacific. While the U.S. maintained bases in Japan, Guam, and South Korea, except for the wars in Korea and Vietnam, no one threatened American interests or military superiority. The U.S. and Japan have had an effective economic partnership; and Tokyo hasn’t made an effort to rebuild its military following the disastrous conclusion to the Second World War.
The United States was also the largest trading partner with the nations in the region. American Naval vessels moved freely in the Pacific. The U.S. was the de facto policeman to ensure freedom of navigation throughout the entire area, including the critical navigation lanes of the South China Sea. United States Admiral Robert F. Willard, Commander of the United States Pacific Command, has stated that these navigation lanes “account for $5.3 trillion in bilateral annual trade, of which $1.2 trillion is American.”[i]
All of this has changed in the last decade with the emergence of China as a Superpower. The Chinese economy has been growing at roughly a ten percent annual rate. China has become the largest trading partner with most of the countries in the region, undercutting American economic influence. At the same time, the Chinese have undertaken one of the largest military expansions in history. China’s defense spending has risen by twelve percent or more a year during this decade.[ii]
The Chinese now have 2.29 million active duty forces compared with 1.56 for the U.S. Moreover, the Chinese arms expansion is characterized by quality as well as quantity, leaving no doubt that Beijing will be able to challenge the United States for military control in the Pacific.
In January of 2011, at the time of then U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates’ visit to Beijing, the Chinese, in a bold in your face move, tested their new stealth jet which will rival the U.S.’s F-22 Raptor, the world’s only operational stealth fighter. Larger than the F-22, with bigger fuel tanks, the Chinese jet will fly higher, faster, and with less chance of detection.[iii]
On the seas, China has created the largest force of submarines and amphibious warfare ships in the Pacific. It has launched its first aircraft carrier and is developing long range anti-ship missiles.[iv]
Moreover, China has been using its new military prowess for commercial advantage. The Chinese Navy has destroyed oil and gas exploration equipment being used by Vietnam and the Philippines in maritime areas in which China is making a power grab for these natural resources. The Chinese have also fired threatening missiles in the direction of Taiwan, which the United States has a duty to defend.[v]
Against the backdrop of these developments, commentators have warned of the risk of war between the United States and China.[vi] In my new novel, The China Gambit, a Chinese General’s attempt to cut off the flow of oil to the United States, sets China and the U.S. on the path to war.
Despite all of this, the Obama Administration has until the President’s November trip to the Asia Pacific Region, been surprisingly mute about the increasing Chinese military threat in the Pacific. Then suddenly, Obama focused on the issue. Unfortunately, his rhetoric was weak.
Despite efforts by Administration officials to strengthen the message, here is what Obama said: “The notion that we fear China is mistaken. Rather, the United States wants a clear set of principles that all of us can abide by so all of us can succeed.”
Then later, “If Beijing does not respect international rules, we will send a clear message to them that we think that they need to be on track in terms of accepting the rules and responsibilities that come with being a world power.”[vii]
This mumbo-jumbo was accompanied by equally weak action. The United States will be sending 250 Marines to Australia for 6 month tours starting next summer. No American base will be established. They will be housed in Australian facilities. Their mission was not specified. Sounds like a vacation.
The size of the American force is so small that the move didn’t even evoke a strong rebuke from Beijing. Instead, a Chinese spokesman merely questioned whether this “is in line with the common interest” of countries in the region.
It is unfortunate that Obama wasn’t stronger. The Chinese leaders have watched the United States withdraw from Iraq leaving behind an unstable country. They are following the ambivalent U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, which is increasingly criticized by a growing war weary American populace.
As our largest creditor, Beijing is following the United States financial travails, which are likely to result in a reduced defense budget. In order to send a credible message to Beijing, Obama had to say more. He had to do more than he did on his November trip.
We are dealing with the same party in Beijing which perpetrated the harsh massacre in Tiananmen’s Square. The Chinese leaders are tough minded people who will not back down as a result of wishy-washy language and meaningless symbolic acts.
They will consider Obama’s words and action a green light for full steam ahead in their arrogant Pacific expansion. They will never believe that the United States is prepared to go to war in the Pacific in defense of our allies and comme
* Allan Topol’s newest thriller novel, The China Gambit, will be published in January 2012. Visit his website at www.AllanTopol.com.
[i] New York Times, November 16, 2011, p. A14.
[ii] Barron’s, June 27, 2011, p. 21.
[iii] Barron’s, June 27, 2011, p. 22.
[iv] USA Today, July 28, 2011, p. 2A.
[v] USA Today, July 28, 2011, p. 2A.
[vi] Glaser Charles, Will China’s Rise Lead to War?, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2011, pp. 86-88.
[vii] The quotes of Obama’s speech are from the Washington Post, November 17, 2011, p. A10.