At a time when Islamic terrorism captures the headlines,
another equally ominous threat to our national security is quietly on the rise.
China is undergoing a sustained effort to strengthen its military. So much so,
in fact, that their annual defense spending has tripled over the past decade.
China already has the largest standing army in the
world. And since no nation threatens them, why are they growing their military
so fast? Well, because they can. And secondly, because they intend to become a
dominant world power.
By mid-century, China will likely surpass the United
States to become the world's largest economy. Their rapidly expanding economy
has enabled them to finance a rapidly expanding military.
They already consume more industrial resources than any
other nation, and they are the world’s second-largest user of oil. This
enormous thirst for raw materials is changing the direction of their diplomatic
and military strategy, and it may be cause for us to change our diplomatic and
military strategy as well.
Extensive investment in a Chinese blue-water navy will
soon enable the projection of power far beyond their shores. That, and their
strategic relationships with countries along their sea-routes from the Middle
East to allow passage of ships through choke points suggest concern about
protecting their energy supply.
China already breaks copyrights and many other trade
protocols. It isn't difficult to imagine scenarios in which Beijing would offer
military hardware to Iran in exchange for favored rights to their oil.
The Chinese leadership see themselves as a power on the
rise, and the U.S. as a power on the wane. Many in the military hierarchy,
moreover, see the U.S. as their inevitable enemy, and are preparing accordingly.
We once believed Beijing would not attack Taiwan knowing
such action would endanger their relationship with America. As their power
grows, our relationship may be of lesser importance to them.
For Washington, independence of Taiwan remains vital,
but the consequences of China's ravenous appetite for raw materials and growing
military power have become equally important.
What if China's power grew so dominant that all the
other countries in the region began to acquiesce to it? Japan and South Korea
are probably already concerned the U.S. might back away if armed trouble with
Beijing has established an integrated economy with
surrounding Asian nations equal in size to that of the U.S. They have the
technological and financial advantages of a modern economy, and with their huge
population, the cost advantages of a developing one.
What's more, they sell more than 40 percent of their
exports to America, and own more than $200 billion in U.S. debt. While the
Chinese save as much as 40 percent of their GDP, our savings rate is less than 2
percent of our GDP.
Domestic U.S. manufacturing companies, moreover, must
deal with labor rates, health care and retirement plans, and environmental and
regulatory burdens that are not found in China. In ever more sectors,
consequently, competing against them has become a losing proposition.
Perhaps we have been a bit na´ve to believe we can
hasten democratic reform in China by opening to our markets to them. Over time,
we have developed huge trade deficits with them, and have become ever more
dependent on their capital to finance our federal debt.
We have also assumed that greater access to information
technology and free markets would move them toward democracy. Instead, they have
used the internet and other technologies to expand surveillance over their
Individual autonomy and elective government must go
along with free markets, and in the case of Mainland China, that just isn't
happening. Our economic interaction cannot be a substitute for their political
How we respond to the Chinese challenge will be
difficult to formulate. We can always hope that our past strategy will
eventually come to fruition. We must be open, however, to the possibility that
present policy is not working and only strengthening a regime that represses
their people and threatens other nations.
We need to develop a strategic response that addresses
our economic competitiveness in terms of debt-based growth and domestic
manufacturing. And we will also need to strengthen our relationships with Japan,
India, and even Russia to ensure a balance of power in the region.
We cannot assume Chinese and American interests are the
same. No one knows when some chance incident might trigger a showdown over
control of Taiwan, or another Tiananmen Square type bloodbath.
With every passing day, China's economic and
military power continues to grow. It may become an unmanageable problem. Now is
the time for American policy-makers to plan accordingly.