China Threat?

Fred Kaplan has a good piece in Slate on the role the China threat plays in American defense politics:

Every day and night,
hundreds of Air Force generals and Navy admirals must thank their lucky
stars for China. Without the specter of a rising Chinese military,
there would be no rationale for such a large fleet of American nuclear
submarines and aircraft carriers, or for a new generation of stealth
combat fighters—no rationale for about a quarter of the Pentagon’s
budget. In Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s Quadrennial Defense Review,
released this past February, the looming Chinese threat is the explicit
justification for all the big-ticket weapons systems that have nothing
to do with fighting terrorists or insurgents.

Read the whole thing for an assesment of China’s true capabilities.  Even more important is that rich, capitalist nations are much less dangerous than poor, communist nations.  Consider how well China has treated Hong Kong.  Moreover, democracy will not be long in coming to China.

Thanks to Fred Hamden for the pointer.


when you are a dictator like bush you need an
army to keep you in power but bush wants to be
world dictator and this takes an army with big
money for weapons,USA has no money and is using
money from the couinties he is treatening,I
believe it will not be long before America goes
belly up when every one will use the euro
instead of the green back,it is americans
everyone hates not China,Americans torture,
murder children,women.lie like there is no
tomorrow,and make war with just about the
whole world,I believe and love China,Americans
can go to h....


Alex, I can see why you don't generally open comments. Let's try and increase the S/N ratio here.

First, I enjoyed your podcast on health insurance costs (although there was an annoying crunching sound the first few minutes). Simple, straightforward, but an important discussion to have when pundits and politicians are throwing around rhetoric.

Second, I'd like to hear more from you on why you think China is headed for democracy, soon.

I don't see democracy in China any time soon either.

I hope Alex is correct; some time ago I invested some money in a China-region mutual fund. The returns have been good over the past year or so. I didn't bet the house on it though, because there are still uncertainties and possible worst case scenarios. Still, with China hosting the Olympics in the near future I think it is a reasonably safe bet at the moment.

China isn't a problem right now. The problem is that so much of their expansion is based on loans from badly insolvent banks and currency manipulation. If they continue to make market reforms, those state-backed loans are going to fail, and the yuan will plunge in value. And sooner or later, they'll have to make those reforms.

When China's economy hits that first big post-reform burp, how will China react? That's what worries me.

Of course, as an isolationist, I recognise that China can do very little to the US. Its messes are pretty much confined to the region. If China messes up Taiwan, that's a shame, but it's no threat to America, and I don't see why we should concern ourselves with it militarily.

- Josh

China is a fascinating country that is changing rapidly, but two points in this post are completely off, and one is moderately off: (1) A rising Chinese military is not a specter; it's a fact. (2) The CCP is not going to allow democracy anytime soon. And (3) the Chinese economy is only part capitalist--the state-controlled share of the economy is still the largest.

You can disagree with the US response to 1, but you can't deny the fact. Kaplan tries to play it down now, but it was only last June that he wrote in Atlantic Monthly that China will be a more formidable adversary than Russia ever was. Stratfor has a much better ~~~~ysis of China's military rise and the US strategic response to it. Kaplan is a political ~~~~. And regarding democracy, the CCP is doing all it can to avoid the result of economic properity bringing democracy. Hong Kong is a great example of how the CCP is NOT bringing democracy. And the internet... The CCP sure doesn't seem to be moving toward openness. These are just a few obvious examples. Finally, about the economy, the Chinese people seem to be more in favor of capitalism than the US according to a recent survey, but the CCP is in charge of far more economic activity than you seem to realize. Sorry Alex, but you need to take your rose colored gl~~~es off. I'm not saying that China is necessarily a terrible threat to US interests; I'm just saying let's not ignore the reality of what China is and is doing. Focus instead on the US response to China. That's where there's room for serious disagreement.

A democratic China is not significantly less worrisome to me than an undemocratic China. I find the Chineese to be a very nationalist people and they are expanding their military. When coupled with the amount of young men in excess of young women I can see the attraction of large scale military adventurism under any form of government. Add in the huge spikes in consumption of non-native natural resources I think China is a real threat if not to the United States itself to its international interests, but I wouldn't be willing to write off direct military conflict with the United States.


Read the whole thing for an assesment of China's true capabilities.

Really? 'True capabilities'? We know this at what confidence level? Seems like we might be better off underestimating Chinese military capabilities in the long run ---- si vis pacem, para bellum.

"China holds hundreds of billions in dollar-denominated assets. If they start cashing them in to prop up their banks."

I dont think they actually hold them. As much as I don't like Larry Kudlow, he stated that the bonds are 'held' for China at the NY Fed. Now, I don't think they are bearer bonds, and even if they are, if push came to shove, we're just going to say, sorry, we don't owe you that money, and we just don't pay them back. "China, You are now bankrupt. Thanks for playing."

This whole China thing is a little strange. We aren't really threatend by them in a Military way, but they the largest military threat out there. Theoretically, our financial liability and exposure to them is huge, but all indications are they want to be good capitalist citizens of the planet, so they are hugely likely to play by the rules. Democracy is probbably pretty far away, but they seem to be treating their citizens a little better each year, and we can really do anything about that in any case due to the financial and military situation.

So we are spending roughly $100B a year on something that isn't going to happen, and we have better ways of dealing with the situation. Hmm..

Now, once we stop making these awesome military weapons, we won't be able to startup the program and just start making them again. They are just too complex. It would be somewhere around a decade before we regained our expertise, and its possible we may never be able to regain it. So there is a decent argument to be made that keeping these programs going on life-support is a good way to insure perpetual military superiority.

Does this justify our current situation and behavior? I don't know.

They now own 4 carriers as amusement parks???

Via Rantburg:

The Minsk, a Soviet-built aircraft carrier-turned-theme park, has been sold to a state-owned Chinese company for 128m yuan (£8.6m) and will continue to operate as an amusement venue, the buyers said yesterday.

Prof. AT,

The concern is not that China will be an actual military rival to the U.S. ANY increase in military spending by a country will have a proportional increase in the influence and respect that that country will garner in negotiations and political discourse.

For the U.S. to be the ‘world’s superpower’, it has to be football fields ahead of all others in military spending. Far enough ahead so that the spending itself will overwhelm potential adversaries without a single shot being fired. Remember, ‘superpower’ status means the ability to police and confront not one or two states simultaneously but rather many states if required.

This strategy is derived from the behavior of nation states. Terrorism is a whole other matter.

> "China, You are now bankrupt. Thanks for playing."

If you say that, what you're really saying is "We declare war on you." Seriously, when have we ever done this except against Germany and Japan? Maybe the freeze on Iranian assets in the 80s counts, too.

This would break all kinds of treaties and accepted internationl law. You don't just refuse to honor debts because you don't like the economics of China holding so much debt. Or because a bunch of Chinese banks are failing. If anything, you do the opposite, like the US bailout of Mexico in '94.

And "thanks for playing?" This isn't a game. To do someting like this invites massive retaliation against companies like Dell, Coca Cola, GE and everyone else who manufactures there - that is, practically every major company in America. If you put them in a desparate situation, don't be surprised when they act desperately.

My bet is that China (people-rich, resource poor) goes to the mat with Russia over Siberia (people-poor, resource rich).

I've read articles before that makes the case that the main reason for the US to maintain overwhelming military superiority in East Asia is to prevent a Cold War among the various countries of Asia. Even if the United States didn't get alarmed at the prospect of Chinese regional military dominance, it is very unlikely that China's immediate neighbors would not be alarmed. It is a lot easier to be ambivilant about rising Chinese might when you are thousands of miles away and virtually untouchable in your own hemisphere, as the US will likely be forever. Japan, Russia, Indonesia, India, South Korea, and other countries could concievably raise military spending considerably if the US was no longer balancing China's military. Though I realize the US probably will not be able to afford it forever, it is truly a more more peacefull world the more the US dominates all regions on earth.

You seem to by saying that China has treated Hong Kong well. What basis do you have for this? The people that I know in Hong Kong haven't been thrilled with the way things have gone since the Handover. China doesn't want to look as if it's interfering, but of course Hong Kong knows that it's in big trouble if it does something that the Chinese Communist Party doesn't like, so essentially Hong Kong has had to drift leaderless through some difficult times. Meanwhile, the rule of law is being eroded.

And I agree with others that democracy is a long way off in China.

"Do either Alex or any of the readers think it possible that the outgoing Communist regime, in an attempt to hold on to power/support, would start a war?"

If it comes to the point where it's a choice between democracy and a war that can distract everyone and justify a crack-down, I can't imagine that there's much doubt that China will attack Taiwan. They might also stir things up on the Senkaku/Daioyu or Spratley Islands again, but I think they'll go for Taiwan before Japan or even the Philippines.

Comments for this post are closed