War with China

How Primed for War Is China?

Don’t want to spoil your weekend, but the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has picked Foreign Policy (FP) magazine’s article, How Primed for War Is China, as a top commentary. AEI states: “The likelihood of war with China may be the single-most important question in international affairs today.

FP knows how to start an article and capture attention ─ start with words that startle the audience.

If China uses military force against Taiwan or another target in the Western Pacific, the result could be war with the United States—a fight between two nuclear-armed giants brawling for hegemony in that region and the wider world. If China attacked amid ongoing wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, the world would be consumed by interlocking conflicts across Eurasia’s key regions, a global conflagration unlike anything since World War II. How worried should we be?

Not worried about war at all. I am concerned that FP and AEI circulations of fabrications may lead to China deciding it’s had enough of the trashing, cash in its treasury holdings that finance U.S. trade debt (already started), use reserves to purchase huge chunks of United States assets, diminish its hefty agricultural imports from Yankee farms, and enforce its ban of exports of rare earth extraction and separation technologies  (China produces 60 percent of the world’s rare earth materials and processes nearly 90 percent). In short, we should worry that by not cooperating with China, the Red Dragon may decide to no longer bother with Washington’s inanities and use its overwhelming industrial power, with which the U.S. cannot compete, to sink the U.S. economy.

Another question comes to mind. “What will a war with China resemble?”

Will the U.S. military load ships in Los Angeles with soldiers and ship them across the Pacific to land on the shores of China? Things have changed since May 1840, when the British fleet proceeded up the Pearl River estuary to Canton and occupied the city. I doubt another D-day landing will be possible.

Will the U.S. Air Force pound the Chinese mainland into submission? Will a nation, knowing that China will retaliate, permit the U.S. to launch aircraft from its soil? Hardly likely.

Will it be a nuclear war? Mutual mass destructions are not advisable.
Could be a cyber war, but who cares if computers get hurt?

To buttress its rash assumption, FP introduces an assortment of unproven and ambiguous statements, passed off as facts.

Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing is amassing ships, planes, and missiles as part of the largest military buildup by any country in decades.
China is abetting Russia’s brutalization of Ukraine and massing forces on the Sino-Indian border.
Beijing now outspends every other country in Asia combined.

By FP’s admission, which appears later in the article, it was about time China started building (not massing) its military forces. FP states that with “a pathetic air force and navy prior to the 2000s, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would have amounted to a ‘million-man swim.’” China had a weak military and, with Washington rattling the saber, it was wise to strengthen armed might.

Notice that unlike the U.S., which is aiding and abetting in the genocide of the Palestinian people by assisting Israel, FP only accuses China of abetting Russia in brutalization. Score a big one for China. FP is confused. On December 20, 2022, Times (of London) scare headlined: Indian army (not Chinese) masses on Chinese border after soldiers clash. It is possible that Beijing sent 100 soldiers (mass number) to reinforce those who had fought the small skirmish with Indian troops.

The dishonorable manner in which “authoritative” commentators present their arguments bothers me They frame all reporting to suit agendas and satisfy their audiences. It shows in the sentence, “Beijing now outspends every other country in Asia combined,” making it seem that China is doing something unusual and must be doing it for nefarious reasons. The “objective” FT commentators omit significant details of their argument.

  • Except for India, China has a population almost equal to all of the Asian nations that need a strong military force.
  • China has a GDP almost equal to the GDP of all the Asian nations that need a strong military force. Besides,
  • Unlike other Asian nations, China has a GDP that can afford a stronger military force.
  • China borders 14 countries and already has had small wars with a few of them — Russia, India, and Vietnam — and friction with others in the area.
  • Unlike other Asian nations, China faces constant U.S. threats.

The historical graphs on military buildup describe the “military buildup” differently.
Note: Watch the scales in the left graph, some from the right, others from the left.

  • In proportion to GDP, Chinese military expenditures have remained constant.
  • In proportion to GDP, Chinese military expenditures are the least of the surveyed nations.
  • The U.S. already had a superior fighting force when China started its buildup and the U.S. is still spending three times that of China.

The sentence, “Personalist dictatorships are more than twice as likely to start wars as democracies or autocracies in which power is held in many hands,” intrigued me. Making a controversial statement without backup data is not credible. Apparently, FP does not have a demanding customer base. Nor is the statement true; the United States, the world’s foremost democracy has fought wars almost every year in its existence, and big ones. Two thriving democracies, Great Britain and France have been involved in great wars. Who and where are the personalist dictators involved in wars?

What reasons does China have for going to war? FP cites four factors.

These four factors—insecure borders, a competitive military balance, negative expectations, and dictatorship—help explain China’s historical use of force, and they have ominous implications today.

Insecure borders? Some frictions, but presently well contained. Who is going to war over a bunch of rocks in the ocean and fishing rights? The parties may hurl invectives, throw stones, or use water cannons, like teenagers at beach parties. No cannons with munitions, that’s for sure,

FP claims that because the military balance in Asia has shifted to China that could make Beijing perilously optimistic about the outcome of war. FP does not realize what China realizes ─ it will also suffer losses in a war and its military balance is a defensive strategy.

The negative expectations mean that as “China’s short-term military prospects improve, its long-term strategic and economic outlook is darkening — a combination that has often made revisionist powers more violent in the past.” Nations, revisionist and non-revisionist, and mostly the former, have waged wars during times of severe economic decline — depression, lost markets, depleted resources, and ultra-high unemployment. A “darkening economic outlook” — couched words ─ is far, far from a depression, not unusual for any country and certainly not for China, which has had almost uninterrupted growth for 40 years. Darkening economic growth for China is welcome growth for most nations.

“China turned into a personalist dictatorship (more dubious and couched words) is of the sort especially prone to disastrous miscalculations and costly wars.” A previous paragraph contested this argument. Add to the refutation the observation that several American presidents have declared small wars without permission of Congress and large wars based on false information. Spanish-American War (sinking of the ship, The Maine), Vietnam War (North Vietnam attacked U.S. warships in Tonkin Bay Resolution), and Iraq War (Iraq had weapons of mass destruction) are a few examples.

When in doubt, bring in Taiwan, which FP does.

In short, the United States must wield a credible ability to defend Taiwan and, at the same time, offer a credible pledge that it aims to prevent either side from unilaterally changing the status quo.

My subjective opinion is that if Chinese troops slipped into Taiwan overnight and recaptured the province, the Taiwanese in the countryside would hardly notice. Urban dwellers may sense something different and wouldn’t be bothered — government officials would be Chinese, police would be Chinese, everyone would be speaking Mandarin, all signs and media would be in Mandarin, all foods would be Chinese, Taiwanese would see no change in their TV preferences, and Chinese would fly back and forth between Taiwan and the mainland. One big difference ─ no American military advisors and no signs of Yankee go home.

FP concludes with an inspiring message.

A powerful but troubled China is heading in a bad direction. It will take all the strength and sobriety the United States and its friends can muster to prevent a slide into war.

The sentence begs word changes.

A powerful but troubled America is heading in a bad direction. It will take all the strength and sobriety China and its friends can muster to prevent America from pushing China into war.

The reason the revised sentence has more legs is that capitalist nations have waged wars during times of severe economic decline — depression, lost markets, depleted resources, and ultra-high unemployment — in efforts to regain markets and resources. Unable to overcome the competition, war has previously happened and can happen again.

I have a suspicion that the authors of the article own a factory that produces nuclear bomb shelters. Can anyone confirm?

Dan Lieberman publishes commentaries on foreign policy, economics, and politics at substack.com.  He is author of the non-fiction books A Third Party Can Succeed in America, Not until They Were Gone, Think Tanks of DC, The Artistry of a Dog, and a novel: The Victory (under a pen name, David L. McWellan). Read other articles by Dan.