Saturday, May 27, 2006

Conflict and China


A warning from the Joint Chiefs of Staff a couple years back, reminded Congress that the U.S. Military optimally needed to be able to fight two major wars simultaneously, and still have a reserve for the unexpected, a condition which has rarely been achieved by any nation. The reason, though unstated, was the risk that a major opponent of the U.S. might wait for us to become committed to a conflict, then make an aggressive move on its own, counting that the Americans would not be able or willing to also oppose them. Specifically, the most likely opponent considered to take such an action is the People’s Republic of China, although recent events have suggested that other nations also see an opportunity because of difficult conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The reasons the PRC is considered the most prominent threat rise from several factors, not least the fact that America is commonly viewed by most nations to be on the ascent. At the end of the 1970s, the U.S. appeared to be in sharp decline, but beginning with Reagan, the nation has rebounded in all sectors, so that today the United States is viewed as a threat to create an effective world hegemony. This is because the U.S. not only owns a military so far ahead of anyone else that one-to-one conflicts are considered suicide, but also runs an economy which is growing at a rate once considered impossible to maintain for its size and scope. The worries about deficit spending are real, but other nations see it as a proportion of the GDP, well under control relative to other nations. Or to put it another way, while the PRC has boasted of some strong growth recently, the fact that Beijing refuses to allow independent auditors to confirm the financial statements released by Chinese companies compromises any confidence in those numbers. The United States’ reputation for strength and stability is better than ever.

In contrast, the regime in Beijing is facing some hard realities. Communism does not blend well with anything but hard-line militarist policies and a police state mentality. And of course, the rather sudden death of the Soviet Union caught the Party Boys by surprise - yes the Warsaw Pact had actually been seriously ill for some time, but the Politburo is not in the habit of looking for bad news, or listening if someone is brave or rash enough to tell them what they do not want to hear. State projects to make Hong Kong and Shanghai appealing to foreign investment has met with limited success, but again the refusal to allow independent confirmation of Beijing’s claims to success have soured a portion of the interest.

A number of commentators have remarked on the growth of spending on the Chinese military, especially the development of offensive weapons. However, when examined in greater detail and context, it becomes apparant that these weapons are being developed independent of a fully functional support system. China has long desired to develop a true blue-water navy, but has not been willing to make the massive investment necessary to develop a true Pacific Ocean fleet - the Communists have been fascinated, for instance, with building or acquiring an aircraft carrier, but have not developed the support structure which a carrier group would need. This includes the development of agreements for foreign ports to serve the group’s needs, both material and security. China, therefore, appears to be pursuing military goals on a basis of convenience rather than aggressive doctrine. That is, the military is placated by the pursuit of its favored projects, but the nation has not created a plan comparable to SIOP, and no wonder - the bane of any oligarchy is the risk of military overthrow, so a strong leash must be kept on any force. Instead, China has pursued a more indirect approach, developing consular ties and commercial agreements, best evidenced by recent programs to bring foreign investment to Hong Kong and Shanghai. The problem for China rests with its determination to retain central control - Beijing’s Politburo continues to ignore the need to allow independent audits of Chinese businesses, which naturally damages its claims to strong growth. Even so, China has been largely successful in bringing industrial growth to its coastal cities, creating markets for its finished products, and establishing confidence in the Yuan. A reasonable conclusion from this condition would be that China does not present an immediate threat to the U.S. by its military, but that its economic plans must be watched.


The Macker said...

DJ, Thoughtful comments.

The hope is that China's success in world trade will make it dependent on the good will of its trading partners and lock it into a more peaceful posture.

Nixon also deserves some credit here.

Steve Falcon said...

Your final comments that China must be watched are spot on, DJ. But remember, with the right allies, China doesn't need a naval fleet.

If they were to team up with a like-minded nation that has considerable naval power (like say, Russia) their goals of hegemony in the region could still be met.

The country to watch is Russia. It's become increasingly more authoritarian under Putin's reign. Something tells me ol' Putey Pute hasn't lost his appetite for Communism. With that in mind, China could become a very close Russian ally in the near future.

USMC Pilot said...

China and the USR were allies, and they spent more time squabling than agreeing. War comes when someone has something that someone else wants, usually wealth. Increased economic ties with China have lessened tensions with China, and should continue to do so. Russia is an economic basket case, and we are lucky people can't swim the Berring Straits, or all the illeagal alliens would be speeking Russia, not Spanish.

Mark L said...

China does not need a fleet any more than, say 16th Century Netherlands "needed" a fleet. They were making a lot of money providing manufactured goods to Europe, most of which were being carried on Haseatic bottoms. Of course, the Netherlands achieved its century of greatness in the 17th century by taking over the role of the Hansa, so the fleet that was unneeded int he 16th century, when the Dutch began building it, was a necessity by then.

Similarly at the end of the 19th Century, the United States was wealthy enough to become a world power despite lacking a fleet. (In the 1880s the USN was mainly wooden vessels with auxillary sail.) But we developed a fleet because we became a world power.

One thing a lot of people miss is that except for a brief period -- which happened to coincide with the European Age of Exploration -- China has always been a maritime nation. In the 12th through 15th centuries they were sending fleets with hundreds and thousands of ships and tens of thousands of sailors on voyages as far as Australia and Africa. China as a land power is an abberation, forced on China by the Manchu (horse barbarians from the Steppes of Asia), in an attempt to strangle the economic strength of the Ming Dynasty that they supplanted.

A lot of what we are seeing in China is a return to its traditional role as a world player.