This is a follow up to my “next conflict on the horizon.” And let me begin by stating I am not advocating a military buildup (although America does have to maintain a realm of competitiveness).
There is no larger threat to world peace than the growing imbalance between China and the United States.
Nothing. No larger threat. (just want to be sure everyone knows my point of view on this).
In the economic sense it is US, European Union and China (sure. You could throw in a couple of others but let’s call it the Big Three at the moment). In a military sense the EU drops out because they don’t have a combined military (and in fact I tend to believe a couple of the EU countries would love the opportunity to kick the other’s ass if given half a chance). So. It comes down to USA and China. C’mon. Let’s face it. Unless we have global pluralism or a “global country” (which we are not going to have) global peace, or alignment, will be dictated by balance.
And the balance is starting to get out of whack.
Economically it is way out of line:
The US has built up a massive trade deficit with China. The US argues that this is partly because China has kept its currency artificially weak, which makes its products cheaper overseas. I don’t buy the argument (although it could make up some of the deficit). China has a stranglehold on our economy. While some things may be complex this is black & white. Some things are just what they appear to be.
And the trade balance takes on even more perspective when you start factoring in population (which eventually translates into production and/or military capabilities).
China’s huge population gives the country’s economy a vast workforce from which to draw.
Thirty years ago, the “one child policy” was introduced in cities to limit the size of families, and this was reaffirmed recently when the population reached 1.3 billion.
One result of the recent economic boom has been a growing middle class, demanding a higher standard of living based on perceived Western standards.
Analysts predict this is likely to further stretch already limited food, water and other natural resources.
While the population is stretching important resources the good news is that it isn’t stretching geography (because if they were geographically bursting at the seams we would be in a world of hurt). But. 1.3 billion and growing is a really really big number. And envision if they eliminated the ‘one child policy.’ Yikes.
The Troubling Scenario
So. Beijing is building up its military forces. They have a very very large army with a whole bunch of missiles and stuff like that.
And combine that with a growth in popular nationalism (the belief that your country should maybe have more than it currently does … on any level you would like to ponder that).
Military. In recent years China has embarked on a rapid military build-up, acquiring the ability to project its power far beyond its borders. (hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm … and you would do that because … well … gosh … because maybe you want something outside your borders? Nah. Couldn’t be.)
We need to assume one day very soon China will be in a position to challenge the US as the dominant power in Asia.
China’s leaders say their nation’s rise will be a peaceful one. So. How much do we believe China?
US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg recently called on China to reassure other nations about its intentions.
“Just as we and our allies must make clear that we are prepared to welcome China’s arrival as a prosperous and successful power, China must reassure the rest of the world that its development and growing global role will not come at the expense of the security and well-being of others,” Mr. Steinberg said.
Well. That sure makes me feel a lot better about the situation if they reassure us (didn’t Hitler say something about not taking anything but what was theirs in the first place?).
Now let’s think about military strength and this national populism thing.
One of Mr. Steinberg’s predecessors, Susan Shirk, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian affairs under President Bill Clinton, says the combination of China’s growing military and growing popular nationalism presents dangers. “It creates the risk, not a high probability, but a risk, that one day China’s leaders could feel that to look strong in the eyes of their public they have to make a threat to Japan or to Taiwan and that they will feel that they cannot back down from that threat without jeopardizing their own domestic support or even their own survival in power. So I think that is a very dangerous scenario.”
In the world of relative understatements I tend to believe “that is a very dangerous scenario” is about a 15 on the understatement Richter scale.
In addition, what was once a radical fringe in national populism is now shifting slightly more mainstream (and we know how these things work … with a little nudge it becomes very mainstream). If you are looking for an example of what I mean, let me use a couple of quotes from one of the leaders in China’s national populism ‘fringe’:
“I am not just targeting Japan but all those who threaten the interests of the Chinese people,” says Li Nan. “Maybe even the United States and some others, I would see them all as enemies.” And Li Nan offers a view of how a future crisis, such as one over energy supplies, might spur on nationalist sentiment in China. “In the future, energy supplies will become more and more scarce. Today each American consumes 10 times as much energy as each Chinese person. So every nation will have to think about their own survival. At that time, nationalism will be the mainstream.”
Ok. I admit. I had to take a minute and ponder when I read this. It is the kind of vision that should give some in America pause for thought.
Anyway. I will leave you with a last thought from our government:
The US National Intelligence Strategy this year described China as presenting a complex global challenge.
There you go. A complex issue but we are on top of it.
I am feeling good. (slight gasp).