China’s Grand Strategy: Part 8

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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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 [63]. 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.
  1. 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 [64]. At least until recently, China’s total debt approached that, proportionately, of economic standouts Spain, Greece and Portugal [65]. Then there’s China’s $6.0-4.5 trillion in off-budget local government debt [66].  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 [67], 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 PremisePotential U.S./Western Response
1. The CCP can keep its Home Base secure
  1. Invest in technology and communications that promote pluralism inside China
  2. Assist Hong Kong and China in getting the word out there is another way than the CCP to run a country through means overt and covert
  3. Expose the social surveillance system and such initiatives as China’s Uighur concentration camps
  4. Encourage universities to provide broadening experiences to Chinese students; likewise encourage hosts of Confucius Institutes to be aware of this espionage avenue (15 major US universities have already shut their CIs) [68]
  5. Point out via social and traditional media that China is straying wildly from Maoist ideals. And the converse; point out the gap between the CCP’s claims to be ‘for’ the ordinary Chinese citizen and the true oligopolic character of the system The purpose is to sharpen divisions inside the CCP
  6. Publicize concern for dissenters; urge a new Helsinki Accords for Asia
  7. Analyze and understand the social surveillance and social credit system well enough to support overtly or covertly initiatives that destroy its credibility and create fear of its arbitrariness. As a first step, make tools available to the programmers to help them protect their own social credit and surveillance data. Find and support those who wish to infiltrate the system and help them sow confusion.
2. Diplomatic/Military: China can Divide and Conquer
  1. Reduce the number of threats to which the U.S. is responding, potentially by efforts to keep the U.S.’ opponents off –balance but choosing not to “win”
  2. Encourage both confirmed allies and those neutrals to make their own choices. It is particularly important to assist Vietnam, India and Indonesia maintain their autonomy—in ways they wish that assistance to take place. Example: instead of selling arms, it may make sense to help these powers develop indigenous arms manufacturing capabilities.
  3. Decide how to make a stand in the South China Sea when the time is ripe; determine the conditions that make the time ripe to e.g. support the Philippines. This will involve carefully titrated brinkmanship and contingency plans
  4. Support directly, indirectly, public or covertly, the movements toward self-determination by China’s autonomous territories, e.g. Tibet, Guangxi, Mongolia)
  5. In any event, there will come a time when the U.S. will have to show backbone. The sooner the better, as China’s salami technique increases the price the U.S. will eventually pay
  6. Coordinate current Western aid programs to countries subject to BARI suborning. This has already started in Europe but needs more robust support. The U.S.’ current response, which is to help countries negotiate better deals with the Chinese is obviously too insubstantial to have much effect. The countries generally need the projects. The demand must be satisfied with appropriate supply. [70]
  7. Encourage Russia-China economic (and possibly military) competition. If the Russians want to tie their future to BARI initiatives, so much the better. The crucial thing is early warning of a deeper Russia-China rapprochement so there’ time to formulate a cost-effective response. This could mean support of Russia in some issues while keeping a wary eye on its Ukraine/Black Sea military build ups.
  8. Support Central Asian nations’ autonomy from both powers
  9. Make plans to implement a Kissingerian triangulation strategy, not taking a China-Russia rapprochement as inevitable. The West has a lot to offer a becoming-desperate Russia.
3. Economic and Technology: China can stifle the demands of its domestic and international debt; China can maintain its technology and manufacturing cost advantages
  1. Interfering directly with China’s debt markets, even if feasible is probably not desirable. However, making sure that Federal Reserve stress tests of major banks operating in the U.S. properly weight the dangers of a China debt collapse and the winding down of China’s current credit bubble are not only advisable but necessary.
  2. Crackdown on Chinese purchases of U.S. assets. China is the largest international purchaser of U.S. residential property, for example—allowing Chinese investors and companies to escape the consequences of their government-fueled monster debt. Ditto for U.S. farmland.
  3. Take a harsher stand on technology transfer. For example, U.S. headquartered chip icons Intel and Micron are working to get around U.S. restrictions on selling high-end chips to Huawei by claiming they are produced by foreign subsidiaries [70]. Publicize China’s abrogation of its required when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. A model is the way the West treated the Helsinki Accords with the USSR.
  4. Encourage U.S. and other Western countries to relocate their manufacturing to friendlier nations, e.g. Vietnam and India. Assist those countries to develop the educational, technical and physical infrastructure that makes the relocation feasible. Loan the needed expertise. (Tariffs and the threats thereof as wholesale, top-down imperatives are unlikely to yield the desired results).

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.” [71].

Notes/References for China Strategy

  1. [https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2018/10/21/chinese-foreign-policy-under-xi-jinping/]
  2. https://www.usni.org/magazines/naval-history-magazine/2018/december/analyzinggermanys-downfall
  3. 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)
  4. https://www.economist.com/asia/2018/06/21/china-has-militarised-the-south-china-sea-andgot-away-with-it
  5. Sing and Yamamoto, op. cit.
  6. New York Times, 11/26/2018
  7. New York Times, 7/25/2018
  8. Ep. 38: Beyond South China Sea tensions, Part Two: “The CCP vision and the future of Chinese history,” DefenseOne, February 19, 2019
  9. “US Military Capabilities and Forces for a Dangerous World”, RAND, 2017
  10. 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]
  11. 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.
  12. https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2019/06/us-wants-sell-taiwan-wrongweapons/157630/?oref=d-mostread
  13. https://thediplomat.com/2018/08/taiwans-growing-diplomatic-isolation/
  14. https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/12/28/18/scrap-ph-us-treaty-lets-see-lorenzana
  15. See https://www.heritage.org/asia/report/the-complicated-history-us-relations-china for a relatively balanced, short synopsis of China-US historical relations
  16. https://www.defenseone.com/threats/2019/06/exclusive-satellite-photos-detail-russianmilitary-buildup-crimea/157642/?oref=defenseone_today_nl
  17. 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
  18. source: Eurostat, 2017
  19. See: Institute for Strategic and International Studies, China Power project: https://chinapower.csis.org/military-spending/
  20. Evan Dudik, academia.edu, 2018
  21. 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)
  22. All World Bank 2016 and 2017 data
  23. www.bts.gov, “By the numbers: Maritime Trade and Transportation”, data 2011-2012
  24. https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat
  25. Source: Globalsecurity.org, quoting U.S. Department of Defense, “U.S. Lifelines and Transit Regions,” no date
  26. Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018”
  27. ibid.
  28. Reuters, May 8, 2015
  29. “China secretly tested an anti-satellite missile,” The Diplomat, March 19, 2014
  30. “Space Threat Assessment 2019,” Todd Harrison, Kaitlyn Johnson, Thomas G. Roberts, Center for International and Strategic studies, April 2019
  31. 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
  32. 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
  33. “Huawei, 5G and China as a Security Threat,” Kadri Kaska, Henrik Beckvard and Tomáš Minárik”
  34. CNBC, March 4, 2019; article by Arjun Khapol
  35. https://www.broadcastingcable.com/news/sens-seek-report-on-chinas-impact-on-5gstandards, March 1, 2019
  36. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/25/technology/who-owns-huawei.html].
  37. 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
  38. 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
  39. https://thediplomat.com/2017/12/one-belt-one-road-and-one-big-competition/
  40. https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/chinas-belt-and-road-initiative-why-the-priceis-too-high/
  41. [https://www.freightwaves.com/news/chinas-belt-and-road-looks-like-giant-debt-trap, 08/28/2018]
  42. Ibid.
  43. “The forgotten victims of China’s Belt and Road Initiative,” Washington Post, 4/23/2019
  44. [DefenseOne, op cit].
  45. https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/expansion-panama-canal-and-global-shipping
  46. The Panama Canal Could Become the Center of the U.S.-China Trade War, Mat Youkee, Foreign, Policy Magazine, May 7, 2019
  47. https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/05/01/china-belt-road-partners-serbia-belarus-debt/
  48. “Russia-China Relations: Assessing Common Ground and Strategic Fault Lines,” Robert Stutter, editor, NBR Special Report, no. 66, July 2017
  49. 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/
  50. China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative, Andrew Chatzky and James McBride, Council on Foreign Relations, Feb 19, 2019
  51. Louis-Vincent Gave: China- myths, propaganda and realities | SKAGEN New Year Conference Jan. 26, 2018
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1 Response to China’s Grand Strategy: Part 8

  1. China does not want war – a least not in the near term. We need to stand up politically as well as militarily to them. FON operations alone are not going to 2in the pre fight.

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