America needs to abandon the dream of dominating realms halfway across the globe.
By Richard Walker
China’s massive military and naval expansion in the South China Sea and beyond means it may soon possess the capability to win a war against the United States in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
China has become increasingly confident that its building of a third aircraft carrier and the militarization of island chains in the South China Sea, as well as its growing ability to use a massive arsenal of short-range, long-range, and intermediate missiles to strike at all American bases in the region as well as U.S. carriers, could give it a military edge. If rumors are true that it is developing hypersonic missiles and its stealth aircraft are on a par with America’s F-35 Lightning II, it will have a strike capability of enormous potential. A Congressional Research Service study says China’s hypersonic missile is “a big deal” because it could out-range any U.S. air-to-air missile.
Forgotten in much of the mass media coverage of China is that it has moved at an amazing pace to develop a naval force that, within a decade or less, will equal America’s. Not mentioned by news reports is that, even if the Chinese do not possess America’s naval might, it still has a massive navy. It built over 100 warships from cruisers to frigates and submarines in the last few years alone.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom President Donald Trump has consistently praised as his friend, has driven China’s insatiable desire to build a navy and air force to rival and outstrip America’s. He has told Chinese generals that, with more emphasis on technology, China can become the dominant military power of the future.
Chinese strategy for a war in the Indo-Pacific has been in place for over a decade and, despite promises by Xi to President Barack Obama in 2015 that China would not militarize the South China Sea, the Chinese military has done just that. The Chinese have converted uninhabited islands into forward bases with missiles, runways, and surveillance facilities to fight a war off its shores. The surveillance would be used to provide targeting information to on-land missile sites that would be tasked to take out U.S. carriers. To do that, China has developed some scary anti-carrier missiles called DF-21s and DF-26s that have a long-range capability. To take them out, the U.S. would have to hit bases on mainland China, transforming any naval conflict to a full-blown war on all fronts.
So how did China move this fast militarily? Aside from stealing America’s military secrets over three decades of cyber intrusions, it has used its considerable resources to develop weapons. While it may not spend as much as the U.S. on defense, it has eliminated corruption in its defense sectors whereas the U.S. wastes over tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars annually in its defense budgets. Also, it does not admit how much it really spends on its military, and, unlike America, it is not cash-strapped by fighting conflicts across the globe.
It could be said that China has used stealth and cunning to develop a powerful military with many frightening weapons, but how it has succeeded in doing so is shocking.
While it has been busy preparing for a naval war with the United States fleet, Congress has been all but blind to its progress. While the Trump White House talks one day about tariffs against China, and another day about how wonderful relations are between XI and Trump, China’s military machine grinds on.
America’s generals know what is going on, but their voices have not been loud enough to shift congressional focus on the issue. One is also left to wonder if Trump even read the National Security Strategy document from last November 2017 before or after he signed it. It has a stark warning of the threat China poses:
“Its efforts to build and militarize outposts in the South China Sea endanger the free flow of trade, threaten the sovereignty of other nations, and undermine regional stability. China has mounted a rapid military modernization campaign designed to limit U.S. access to the region and provide China a freer hand there.”
The former commander of America’s Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, told Congress this year that he is convinced China is preparing for war with the United States and the country ignores the threat at our peril. He also stressed that China could soon match the U.S. militarily in every sector. Such a stark warning has not served to drive the White House and Congress to address the threat.
A sign of China’s buildup is that its fleet has only 34 fewer vessels than the U.S. fleet. It now has 60 submarines compared with five that it had 20 years ago. In the air and on the sea it has made massive strides, and experts cannot decide if America would win a limited war with China on the high seas.
The costs for the American military and personnel, with long supply lines so far from home, could be enormous, and there might not be a political will in Washington to fight such a war.
That is something China is counting on. Meanwhile it prepares for war, sending out aircraft in March 2018 to probe American defenses in what it has called rehearsals for war.
Richard Walker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.