It's that Time of Year Again: Assessing China as Threat


We have a Reuters story up in the Defense Channel entitled China Submarines To Soon Carry Nuclear Weapons, Draft US Report Says.

That is to say, the annual report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission will be presented to Congress in the next week.

To me, the first question we should be asking is: "What does it mean that we annually assess our security with respect to China, something we don't do for any other individual nation?"

It smacks of being a Cold War holdover: since we don't seriously regard Russia as enemy #1 any more (Mitt Romney's campaign rhetoric notwithstanding), we need to have someone to measure ourselves against toe to toe.

Our relationship with China is much more complicated and interdependent than our relationship with the USSR ever was. China has financed much of our debt. China has built many of the consumer goods we Americans seem to need (simultaneously desiring the lowest price, decent living wages, and products made in America).

It can only strain our relationship with China -- and it may be the most important relationship between two nations in the world today -- to be annually, publicly assessing their threat to us.

Please remember: we have spent and will continue to spend more on defense than China can dream of spending. About the best they can do is possibly threaten our ability to do exactly what we want everywhere in the Pacific (the Taiwan Strait is ground zero in this regard).

Aside from that, they can harass Japan and the Philippines relative to some rocks in the South China Sea. This does not constitute a considerable show of force.

One of our major concerns about China needs to be their economy. Their major national plan is to continue to grow their economy at such a rate that the almost 1 billion poor people in inner China can have hopes and prospects for a better life, say in a relatively decent factory job, and not become disaffected. Lately, the economy has slowed a little. Consequently, Chinese leadership has agitated over the South China Sea, giving the common person something to think about, including their ancient Japanese foe, beside the state of the economy and the lack of some important political and social freedoms.

Do I think we should just give China a pass on all of their behavior? By no means. I think we should focus on the most important things and approach peacefully in areas where we can. Some priorities to consider:

1. Rapprochement relative to China as threat. We could start by not doing this security review in public every year. We can still discretely shift to the Pacific, but not expressly with China as our opponent. We could do more exchanges, visits and some small joint exercises as part of this step.

2. Chinese cyberattacks are really a problem and this needs to be addressed diplomatically. The draft report says China is "the most threatening" power in cyberspace and that is undoubtedly true.

3. I would like to see more diplomatic progress in the South China Sea issue. The material point, of course, is not little islands of rocks but things like fishing and mineral rights, not to mention national sovereignty.

4. The Commission's draft also says China "presents the largest challenge to U.S. supply chain integrity." This, obviously, is our own fault. We need better data about where stuff gets sourced from, and that has to start with contractors and subcontractors. China could be more helpful with this if we had a better diplomatic relationship.

The last thing we want to do is get into an arms race with China. China's rise does not have to be a zero-sum game. Yes, rising China will mean relatively less influence for the U.S., especially in Asia and the Pacific, but that eventuality is assured. With a little vision, the U.S. could help China to rise peacefully and we could share more influence and prosperity between us than either one of us could hope for in competition with the other.

Again, remember: thanks to its one child policy, every Chinese young person will eventually have to support two parents and four grandparents. Does that sound like a recipe for a nation that will want to go to war to you?

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