Is China a peaceful nation that only wants to turn out Apple iPads and iPhones? Or is the Middle Kingdom bent on attacking the U.S.? Beijing is the long, and strong, pole in the tent for the U.S. military – and they know it. China is the new Soviet Union, and perhaps it should be.
But is there a downside to view Beijing through such a lens? (Congress has created the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission to track China’s growing clout [remember when the CIA was our chief threat exaggerator?] It also compels the Pentagon to report annually on Chinese military threats [remember when, for good or for ill, we counted on the Defense Intelligence Agency to keep track of such things?])
Do such assessments only create a self-fulfilling prophecy (self-fulfilling prophecy: something that allows the self-licking ice-cream cone, with apologizes to John Cameron Swayze, to keep on licking)? Perhaps not. After all, former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s multi-colored annual editions of Soviet Military Power — which portrayed the Soviet Union as a military superpower during the 1980s as the Pentagon, DIA and CIA missed its internal rot — hardly strengthened the Red Army.
Two contrary views:
In the Chinese government’s China Daily newspaper, Luo Yuan, the executive director and deputy secretary-general of the Chinese Society of Military Science, writes:
Every cent that is spent on the Chinese military is to safeguard its citizens and its territory and help maintain peace. Last year, China spent $75 to protect each of its citizens, and $9.72 to protect each square kilometer of its land. The US on the other hand spent $2,201 to protect each of its citizens and $75.3 to protect each square kilometer of its territory. It is not difficult to see which country is the real threat.
Some have alleged that China’s military budget has outgrown its demand for self-defense, but it should be pointed out that China has never staged any military exercises off the coast of another country or carried out any close reconnaissance of another country. And it is worth remembering that China has never seized a single inch of another country or region’s territory. On the contrary, others are occupying its reefs and isles and plundering its resources. China is justified in spending money on its military to keep its territory intact.
Commentary magazine’s April cover story on the other hand, is all about the coming war with China. Long-time China-watcher Bill Gertz writes:
…the U.S. military [in November took] off the gloves as part of a major war-fighting initiative to counter new Chinese weapons that might succeed in enabling its weaker forces to defeat the United States in a regional war.
The Pentagon will press the defense industry for new ideas, as one defense official put it, “about how to go into China.” Public discussion of [the new Pentagon strategy known as] Air-Sea Battle has been focused largely on operations outside China, such as anti-submarine warfare, mines and countermine warfare, and defending carriers 1,000 miles from Chinese territory. Internal military operations against China under Air Sea Battle will include special forces commando raids on missile forces and bases and, most controversial, covert action and aid to ethnic groups, such as the Uighurs in Xinjiang, anti-regime elements inside Tibet, and ethnic Inner Mongolians seeking to reunite with independent Mongolia.
It’s a safe bet that Luo Yuan’s argument is too benign (no mention of Taiwan or Tiananmen, for example). But it’s fair to suggest that Gertz’s is too menacing (no mention, for example, that nearly everything in every American Walmart is made in China).
We pay the U.S. military to survey the horizon for threats, and prepare to deal with them. China bears watching: its actions makes its neighbors uneasy, and the fate of Taiwan will have to be resolved one way or the other. But, interestingly, as each side focuses on wars that might come, they all seem to erupt in China’s backyard, not ours.
That’s probably a good thing, most Americans would say. But it sure doesn’t look that way to the Chinese.