China is not an evil em­pire fac­ing US

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - Doug Bandow The au­thor is a se­nior fel­low of Cato In­sti­tute.

The col­lapse of the Soviet Union left the United States alone at the pin­na­cle of power. That was good for world peace but bad for the Pen­tagon. Since then much of the US for­eign pol­icy es­tab­lish­ment has searched for a new en­emy to jus­tify a mil­i­tary buildup.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump doesn’t ap­pear to think much about geopol­i­tics, his pri­mary in­ter­est seems to be trade. But there are many hawks in the US who are pre­sent­ing China as the next big threat.

Yet the Pen­tagon’s lat­est re­port on the Chi­nese mil­i­tary sug­gests this is not for the pur­pose of pro­tect­ing US ter­ri­tory, pop­u­la­tion and lib­er­ties, but rather to pre­serve Washington’s dom­i­nance in Asia.

The lat­ter may be ad­van­ta­geous, though

US pol­i­cy­mak­ers do not al­ways do the right thing. But it’s not worth the price of pre­serv­ing an over­size mil­i­tary, let alone go­ing to war.

In its re­port, Mil­i­tary and Se­cu­rity De­vel­op­ments In­volv­ing the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China 2017, the Depart­ment of De­fense noted that China had im­proved its ca­pac­ity to un­der­take joint op­er­a­tions and fight short con­flicts fur­ther from the main­land. More­over, the re­port noted that “China has lever­aged its grow­ing power to as­sert its sovereignty claims over fea­tures in the East and South China Seas” and “used co­er­cive tac­tics, such as the use of law en­force­ment ves­sels and its mar­itime mili­tia, to en­force mar­itime claims and ad­vance its in­ter­est in ways that are cal­cu­lated to fall be­low the thresh­old of pro­vok­ing con­flict”.

Per­haps most sig­nif­i­cant, the Pen­tagon noted that, “China’s lead­ers re­main fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing the ca­pa­bil­i­ties to de­ter or de­feat ad­ver­sary power pro­jec­tion and counter third-party in­ter­ven­tion in­clud­ing by the United States — dur­ing cri­sis or con­flict.” That in­cludes lim­it­ing the US’ tech­no­log­i­cal ad­van­tage.

None of which is sur­pris­ing, or par­tic­u­larly threat­en­ing to the US; of course, Washington would pre­fer a docile China which ac­cepts the US’ lead. But ris­ing pow­ers rarely agree to re­main a vul­ner­a­ble sec­ond.

Nev­er­the­less, the US has a much larger mil­i­tary and spends roughly four times as much on its armed forces. The US has more than six times as many nu­clear war­heads de­ployed and more stock­piled. The US pos­sesses 10 car­rier groups, while China has one rudi­men­tary air­craft car­rier.

Most im­por­tant, Bei­jing has only mod­est abil­ity to project power, es­pe­cially to at­tack the con­ti­nen­tal US. In con­trast, the US mil­i­tary has mul­ti­ple means to strike China.

Fi­nally, Washington aug­ments its power through al­liances with most of the world’s other in­dus­tri­al­ized states and projects it by means of mul­ti­ple bases along China’s eastern pe­riph­ery. China is es­sen­tially alone and is sur­rounded by coun­tries with which it has been at war over the last cen­tury. Some ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes could turn vi­o­lent. In short, in the near- to mid-term, at least, in any real sense US has lit­tle to fear from China. Even if Bei­jing de­sired to threaten the US home­land, con­quer US ter­ri­to­ries, or in­ter­dict US com­merce, it has lit­tle abil­ity to do so. What China seeks is to end Washington’s dom­i­nance along the for­mer’s coast, an ob­jec­tive more de­fen­sive than of­fen­sive. And eco­nomics is on Bei­jing’s side. It is far costlier to project power than de­ter its use. How much is Washington will­ing to spend to main­tain the over­whelm­ing mil­i­tary su­pe­ri­or­ity nec­es­sary to im­pose its will on China through­out the lat­ter’s own re­gion. Such a mil­i­tary is go­ing to grow less af­ford­able over time. The Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice pre­dicts tril­lion dol­lar an­nual deficits within a decade, and ris­ing out­lays on en­ti­tle­ments in fu­ture years. Are Amer­i­cans pre­pared to sac­ri­fice do­mes­tic needs for de­fense not of their own na­tion, but of al­lied states which un­der­fund their own mil­i­taries? The US and China will in­evitably have dis­agree­ments. How­ever, they have no vi­tal in­ter­ests in con­flict. In­deed, there is no se­ri­ous cause for con­flict if Washington is will­ing to ac­com­mo­date China’s rise. The US gov­ern­ment’s pri­mary duty is to pro­tect Amer­i­cans’ in­ter­ests, not Washington’s in­flu­ence.

ZHAI HAIJUN / FOR CHINA DAILY

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