What is the United States to do?
By Evan Dudik
We’ve established in this series that China is a behemoth to be reckoned with.
If you believe, as I do, that China’s drive for hegemony represents a steadily less speculative and ever-clearer danger to the United States, the West and the world, it’s worthwhile to analyze how best the US should respond.
Of course, the US is responding, with policy statements, technology initiatives, military re-configuration, sputtering attempts to re-weld alliances and the like. A strategist, however, will look for the big fulcrums which provide the greatest leverage.
To do this, it’s useful to identify the bedrock assumptions China’s has built its strategy on.
Once identified, the US can develop counter-strategies that address these assumptions. Attack the bedrock and the building falls. The alternative is to respond piecemeal to China’s strategic ploys. This is costly, inefficient, resource intensive, and likely ineffective.
Here are the key assumptions:
- The CCP can keep its Home Base secure:
- China can keep a sufficient lid on internal dissent to avoid deployment of resources and attention significantly detracting from its goals to isolate the U.S. and achieve global hegemony. The PLA including the PLA Navy , which today is focused domestically needs to be freed up to at least credibly threaten foreign adventures. This is the goal of the emerging tyranny-by-surveillance ‘social credit system’.
- The Communist Party of China can maintain control of itself without, for example, a ‘conservative’ backlash turning to the good ol’ days of Mao, or the emergence of a less imperialistic faction within the CCP.
- Diplomatic/Military: China can divide and Conquer
- China assumes the U.S. can’t be everywhere, every-when militarily—in particular, covering with sufficient force all maritime chokepoints, space and the multitude of venues contemplated by China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Or handling Iran’s provocations, the Afghani civil war, a resurgent Russia and who knows what additional crisis simultaneously.
- China guesses the U.S. can be isolated in spirit as well as materially from its allies and coaxed into its orbit or at a minimum herded into neutrality or indifference to the U.S.-China struggle; the U.S.’ allies aren’t allies through thick and thin. As an example, as of this writing, Israel has inked a deal for a Chinese government-owned corporation to take over commercial operations at the major port of Haifa on eastern Mediterranean and a base for the U.S. Sixth Fleet.
- China can neutralize or even ally with Russia along with other troublemakers such as Iran and North Korea. The idea is that the more trouble for the United States, the greater the diversion of U.S. resources and attention, regardless of the ultimate outcomes of those ventures.
- All or most of the other countries in the world play their assigned roles. China is like an aggressive, high-speed highway driver weaving in and out of traffic: she hopes and expects everyone else to obey the rules. In other words, China has correctly gauged countries’ unwillingness to engage and contribute money and people to a China containment strategy rather than ally or submit to the Middle Kingdom. In particular, China is betting that grizzled, controversial strategist Edward Luttwak’s estimate that China’s aggressiveness is provoking a sufficiently strong defensive reaction by its neighbors that will keep the cork in the bottle of Chinese ambitions . Ambiguity permeates the situation today. For example, the Philippines’ current regime seems willing to play footsie with China, partly because it has reason to think the U.S. doesn’t have its back, while Japan and Australia reassess their military capabilities.
- Economic and Technology: China can throttle the demands of its high commercial debt load while maintain its technology and manufacturing prowess:
- China’s internal debt-ridden state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and inefficiently allocated capital, spent on low-return but high employment infrastructure projects can be managed and the day of reckoning postponed beyond the date when China achieves hegemony.
In particular, China can sufficiently fund all military, BARI, diplomatic and technology ventures despite its growing domestic government and commercial debt, now 266% of GDP . At least until recently, China’s total debt approached that, proportionately, of economic standouts Spain, Greece and Portugal . Then there’s China’s $6.0-4.5 trillion in off-budget local government debt . President Xi Jinping has mandated an effort to work off this debt load.
- China can maintain at least technology parity and often superiority over the U.S. through aggressive investment and espionage.
- China will keep its low-cost manufacturing advantage. There’s plenty of emerging competition from Vietnam, India, Pakistan and Indonesia and for access to the U.S. market, Mexico.
- China will “get rich before it gets old”—China as dealing with a rapidly aging population and the pernicious results of the “one family-one child” policy including 27-50 million males who won’t find mates by 2030 , absent polyandry.
- There emerges no disruptive technology dispositively favoring the U.S.
These fundamental assumptions—the granite on which China’s has erected its grand strategy—suggest immediately steps the U.S. and its allies could take to keep China’s hegemonic ambitions in check:
|Chinese Strategic Premise||Potential U.S./Western Response|
|1. The CCP can keep its Home Base secure||
|2. Diplomatic/Military: China can Divide and Conquer||
|3. Economic and Technology: China can stifle the demands of its domestic and international debt; China can maintain its technology and manufacturing cost advantages||
Academic and other naïve China watchers hoped that the turn of China toward its version of capitalism would of its own nature lead to a democratization of the state. Those who still hold fast to this hope should heed the words of President Xi Jinping in August 2019, in which he said that China “must never follow the path of Western constitutionalism, separation of powers, or judicial independence.” .
Notes/References for China Strategy
- China’s artificial islands in the south China sea: geopolitics versus rule of law, Swaran Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Lilian Yamamoto, University of São Paulo. Dickinson Law Review, Vol. 122, Iss. 3 (2018)
- Sing and Yamamoto, op. cit.
- New York Times, 11/26/2018
- New York Times, 7/25/2018
- Ep. 38: Beyond South China Sea tensions, Part Two: “The CCP vision and the future of Chinese history,” DefenseOne, February 19, 2019
- “US Military Capabilities and Forces for a Dangerous World”, RAND, 2017
- For the numbers, see Red Star over the Pacific, by James R. Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara
Naval Institute Press, 2018 and Seth Cropsey, Mayday: The Decline of American Naval Supremacy, Harry Abrams (Publisher), 2014]
- See, for example, Tanner Green, Foreign Policy, Taiwan Can Win a War with
China, September 25, 2018. In this article, Greer states that not only is Taiwan no pushover, the absurdly named People’s Liberation Army (PLA) knows it.
- See https://www.heritage.org/asia/report/the-complicated-history-us-relations-china for a relatively balanced, short synopsis of China-US historical relations
- See “Japan expanding GSDF’s presence on southwestern islands with new bases and missile batteries,” https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/03/16/national/politics-diplomacy/japanexpanding-gsdfs-presence-southwestern-islands-new-bases-missilebatteries/#.XJGVarh7m00
- source: Eurostat, 2017
- See: Institute for Strategic and International Studies, China Power project: https://chinapower.csis.org/military-spending/
- Evan Dudik, academia.edu, 2018
- Mackinder, Halford, “The Geographical Pivot of History,” The Geographical Journal, 1904;
Spykman, Nicholas, The Geography of the Peace, New York, Harcourt, Brace and Company (1944) and America’s Strategy in World Politics: The United States and the Balance of Power, New York, Harcourt, Brace and Company (1942)
- All World Bank 2016 and 2017 data
- www.bts.gov, “By the numbers: Maritime Trade and Transportation”, data 2011-2012
- Source: Globalsecurity.org, quoting U.S. Department of Defense, “U.S. Lifelines and Transit Regions,” no date
- Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018”
- Reuters, May 8, 2015
- “China secretly tested an anti-satellite missile,” The Diplomat, March 19, 2014
- “Space Threat Assessment 2019,” Todd Harrison, Kaitlyn Johnson, Thomas G. Roberts, Center for International and Strategic studies, April 2019
- Andrea Gilli and Mauro Gilli ,”Why China has not Caught Up Yet: Military-Technological Superiority and the Limits of Imitation, Reverse engineering, and Cyber Espionage,” International Security, Winter 2019
- Statement for the Record of the Rail Security Alliance before the US Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, 1/18/2018; Could a Chinese-made Metro car spy on us? Many experts say yes, Washington Post, Jan 7, 2019
- “Huawei, 5G and China as a Security Threat,” Kadri Kaska, Henrik Beckvard and Tomáš Minárik”
- CNBC, March 4, 2019; article by Arjun Khapol
- https://www.broadcastingcable.com/news/sens-seek-report-on-chinas-impact-on-5gstandards, March 1, 2019
- South China Morning Post, Feb 21, 2019, Explained: Belt and Road Initiative; Defense 360-Center for Strategic and International Studies/ CISI.org, Oct 19, 2018
- https://www.kcur.org/post/chinese-firms-now-hold-stakes-over-dozen-europeanports#stream/0; https://www.scmp.com/article/478561/cosco-signs-antwerp-terminal-deal; https://www.scmp.com/article/614718/cosco-pacific-acquires-20pc-suez-terminal; https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/2165341/why-china-buying-portsworrying-europe;\https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4481618/president-clinton-cedes-longbeach-naval-base-cosco-company-owned-chinas-communist-government; https://www.nytimes.com/1997/03/13/us/senators-ask-for-inquiry-on-leasing-of-californiabase-to-chinese.html; https://www.nytimes.com/1997/03/13/us/senators-ask-for-inquiry-onleasing-of-california-base-to-chinese.html
- [https://www.freightwaves.com/news/chinas-belt-and-road-looks-like-giant-debt-trap, 08/28/2018]
- “The forgotten victims of China’s Belt and Road Initiative,” Washington Post, 4/23/2019
- [DefenseOne, op cit].
- The Panama Canal Could Become the Center of the U.S.-China Trade War, Mat Youkee, Foreign, Policy Magazine, May 7, 2019
- “Russia-China Relations: Assessing Common Ground and Strategic Fault Lines,” Robert Stutter, editor, NBR Special Report, no. 66, July 2017
- https://panampost.com/sabrina-martin/2019/08/08/china-plans-to-revive-venezuelascollapsing-petroleum-industry/?cn-reloaded=1; https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/11/19/usmilitary-targets-growing-russian-and-chinese-influence-in-latin-america/; https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2019/01/29/us-risking-military-clash-china-russiabelt-road-investments/
- China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative, Andrew Chatzky and James McBride, Council on Foreign Relations, Feb 19, 2019
- Louis-Vincent Gave: China- myths, propaganda and realities | SKAGEN New Year Conference Jan. 26, 2018