China's global strategy

Thursday, October 13, 2011

China not only is a strategic threat to the United States but has long-term plans to challenge us in every conceivable arena. With a massive defense buildup, ambitious space program and growing economic leverage, it will soon have the means to confront this nation at points of its choosing. Absent a coherent countering effort by the United States, we will soon be forced to recognize China as not just a regional impediment in Asia and the Pacific but a global force dedicated to displacing us as the sole superpower. However, China's leaders have no intention of making war against the United States. Their preference, made clear through statements public and private, is to gradually supplant the United States in key areas, hoping at the same time to become so indispensable that no other nation would dare to challenge them for fear of economic blowback.

Anyone concerned about the "military-industrial complex," a term made famous by President Eisenhower in his farewell address, should be distraught by the economics of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, a behemoth that not only controls China's armed forces but owns entire industries. Chinese military expenditures are now second only to those of the United States. The Chinese deploy three major fleets in the Pacific, have begun sea trials of their first aircraft carrier, are approaching parity with the U.S. in their submarine fleet and are building stealth aircraft. The Chinese are aware that they will never need to engage the entire combat power of the United States, as our global commitments mean we can never turn our entire attention to them, even if hostilities emerge over Taiwan, the South China Sea or Korea.

In space, China is rapidly developing its capabilities. With recently successful manned and unmanned launches, the Chinese government has an ambitious plan to dominate near-Earth orbit and beyond. China plans to build its own space station, send astronauts to the moon and establish a lunar base contrast with the current U.S. inability even to send astronauts to the International Space Station without begging for rides on Russian spacecraft.

While the Chinese economy has been struggling in the current crisis, like the rest of the world, its long-term growth has exceeded all other major nations. Second only to that of the United States, the Chinese economy will surpass the U.S. in size in the next decade. While China has many economic hurdles, including bad internal debts, a massive gulf between rich and poor, catastrophic environmental conditions, social unrest and the danger of inflation, the communist regime has proved highly resilient in the face of great challenges.

History has shown the Chinese to be adept at making strategic errors -- abandoning their fleets in the 15th century, attempting to ban foreign influence and trade in the 18th century and launching the costly and brutal Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution in the 1950s and 1960s -- decisions that brought catastrophic results. As tempting as it may be, however, the United States cannot count on Chinese mistakes. Instead, we must maintain our vigilance against China, build on our regional alliances and strengthen new partnerships, such as with India. Most importantly, we can encourage internal Chinese movements that crave democratization and economic reform. A democratic China could be a real partner for the United States rather than a rising adversary.

Wayne H. Bowen, professor and chairman of the Department of History at Southeast Missouri State University, is also a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.

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