12 Apr Red Storm Rising (with a bow to Tom Clancy)*
No, it’s not about a pending war with Russia.
It’s about China’s current war – its Stealth War – against America. And no, it’s not simply a Trade War.
The U.S. and the Soviet Union waged a Cold War for 45 years. It took focused effort by the U.S., a wellthought-out strategy and huge military expenditures to win that War without it becoming a Hot War. It’s not difficult to analogize the Cold War waged between the U.S. and the Soviet Empire to the Stealth
War being waged by the Chinese Empire against the U.S. – and to the grave potential for it becoming a Hot War. It’s also not difficult to see that China has been winning the War … because China has been the only combatant fighting that War. Focusing on its long-term goal of global dominance, China has crafted and is executing a multi-faceted strategy utilizing a broad range of military, economic and social tools.
Historically, this situation is not unique. It has ample precedent whenever a rising power like China seeks to overtake a declining power like the U.S. The current Trade War being waged by the U.S. is not a response. Its political motivation does not begin to address the China challenge. It is not focused on China’s hegemonic goals and does not positively impact America’s waning global supremacy. To the contrary. The Trade War is evidence of America’s decision to isolate itself, which it is doing economically, militarily and politically. Therein lies risk.
As a recent Rand Corporation study explains, Chinese armed forces are not merely seeking to compete with the U.S. military. Their goal is to be in a position to defeat it. China is building its army, navy, air force, nuclear and cyber forces specifically for that purpose. As an example among its multiple initiatives, China has invested more in hypersonic weapons’ technology than any other nation precisely to counter America’s aircraft carrier forces.
On the ground, China started building artificial islands in the East China Sea and the South China Sea in 2014 in violation of international law. Military bases on those islands have made the Western Pacific a sovereign Chinese lake, creating a buffer against American naval and air forces. The existence of the islands and military bases also undercuts America’s co-defense alliances with Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and The Philippines, a fact each country well-understands (and one which The Philippines has explicitly acknowledged by moving closer to China).
China’s enormous Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is intended to tie Asia’s, Europe’s, Africa’s, and South America’s economies to China – economically, militarily and politically – and away from America. It’s an ambitious, ingenious scheme which many believe to be an effort to create a vassal-like relationship between China and client countries – in the Middle East, those client countries would be called “satrapies,” the term used to describe tribute-payers. As the U.S. has moved to isolate itself, China has become the friendly financing globalizer.
To do so, China is funding construction of the BRI, committing trillions of dollars to be used to build and connect infrastructure in 152+ countries – employing primarily Chinese workers and contractors exported for this purpose, a clever way of invigorating China’s economy by running money from the Chinese government through client nations and then to Chinese companies that are controlled by the Chinese government. The web of contractual arrangements thus far has created a Debt Trap for recipient countries where superficially attractive, highly ambitious, overpriced infrastructure projects have been financed by loans that have left many beggared to China. China has used the resulting economic leverage to obtain strategically important military and commercial concessions across the globe. China already has secured major port facilities in Sri Lanka (providing it with a gateway to the Indian Ocean), obtained major port facilities and bases in Djibouti (a tiny country on the northeast edge of Africa past which almost one-third of the world’s shipping travels en route to and from the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean – and the location of a major U.S. military base), acquired the Mediterranean port of Piraeus in Greece, made investments in Trieste on the northern Adriatic Sea, and in Genoa, Italy’s biggest seaport, and is building a railway and highway through the Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor that will connect China with an enlarged Gwadar Port Complex on the Arabian Sea as well as with the Middle East and Europe.
Of course, references to “China” are not the same as references to market-oriented countries. China is a centrally-managed, State-run monolith where all aspects of domestic and international commerce, communication and relations are controlled by the Communist Party. All data collected and disseminated are under its control. All Chinese businesses are under its control. All cultural activities are under its control.
An informative example of China’s coordinated global strategy is the Confucius Institute, a “not-for-profit public educational organization” that operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China. Its stated goal is to promote Chinese language and culture, support local Chinese teaching internationally, and facilitate cultural exchanges. However, because it is an arm of the Chinese government, its mission is also to gather intelligence and spread Chinese political, economic and cultural influence. To quote a Politburo member, the Confucius Institute is “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.” The related Confucius Classroom program partners with local secondary schools and school districts to provide teachers and instructional materials. There are currently over 500 Confucius Institutes which operate in 142 countries. They are having quite an impact.
Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd is a Chinese multinational telecommunications equipment manufacturer that is at the forefront of cutting-edge 5G networking technology. Huawei also is constructing or improving nearly 100 underwater communication cables around the world, having underbid its competitors because it’s supported by Chinese government subsidies. The U.S. has determined that Huawei as well as other Chinese companies are is a security threat because Chinese security laws require all Chinese companies, including Huawei, to provide information on demand to Chinese government officials. In Huawei’s case, this would allow China to gain access to all data that travels over Huawei’s cables and 5G networks, giving China a free hand to spy on companies, individuals and governments that use those cables and networks. For that reason, the U.S. belatedly has tried to persuade other countries not to do business with Huawei, thus far with limited success.
The Lonely Realist is not the appropriate forum to list even a significant number of China’s hegemonic initiatives. It’s worth noting, however, that China also has committed itself to “Made in China 2025,” a plan adopted in 2015 to make China competitive preeminent in a wide range of high-tech fields, including pharmaceuticals, automobiles, aerospace, semiconductors, IT, AI and robotics, making its universities preeminent world-class and a magnet to attract foreign students and thereby spread Chinese values and influence; corporate China’s acquisitions of strategic technological companies in Europe and the U.S. and of strategic mineral companies and assets primarily in Africa, though selectively elsewhere as well; using its substantial expatriate population to influence governments and their economies (particularly in Asia and the West Pacific); making its currency preeminent competitive with the U.S. Dollar (its currency became the first emerging market currency to be included in the International Monetary Fund’s “special drawing rights” basket in 2016); inaugurating an alternative to the U.S. SWIFT global payment system (the “China International Payments System”); constructing sophisticated stock, fixed income and derivatives markets that have attracted significant volume (the Shanghai Stock Exchange already is the fourth largest in the world behind the NYSE, NASDAQ and Japan); and maintaining its preeminent status as the world’s principal producer and stockpiler of gold. China also has been increasing its mercantilist impact on global trade, leveraging its influence through the BRI, is constructing a second aircraft carrier to enhance its ability to project power globally, and has been the only supporter of North Korea, distracting America from greater military threats and stymying America’s efforts to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program through sanctions.
Meanwhile, America has been executing policies that evidence an intent to retreat from the global stage. The U.S. has renounced globalization, withdrawn from several international treaties, ratcheted down its alliances and their commitments, initiated trade disagreements with former allies, threatened to close its border with Mexico and to immigrants and foreign students, threatened to reduce its financial contributions in defense of Europe and Asia, canceled military exercises with South Korea, and has begun the process of withdrawing all its troops from Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The U.S. and China indeed may be Destined for War as Graham Allison warns in his book. Chillingly, that is the most likely outcome unless the U.S. develops a coherent strategy to address China’s goals and tactics. The problem in Washington is that foreign policy and strategic thinking has no political imperative or constituency. The Cold War tactics that avoided nuclear war with the Soviet Union began when George Kennan highlighted the rising Soviet hegemonic threat. President Obama casually brushed off the need for a 21st Century Kennan saying “I don’t really even need [a] George Kennan.” He was wrong. The Trump administration’s policies have significantly multiplied that wrongness. History teaches that the unilateral abandonment of the post-WWII Pax Americana has an enormous potential for disastrous consequences.
Finally (from a good friend)
We are about to enter the summer BBQ season. It therefore is important to refresh your memory on the etiquette of this sublime outdoor cooking activity, as it’s the only type of cooking a “real” man will do, probably because there is an element of danger involved. When a man volunteers to do the BBQ, the following chain of events are put into motion:
- The woman buys the food.
- The woman makes the salad, prepares the vegetables, and makes dessert.
- The woman prepares the meat for cooking, places it on a tray along with the necessary cooking utensils and sauces, and takes it to the man who is lounging beside the grill – beer in hand.
Here comes the important part:
- THE MAN PLACES THE MEAT ON THE GRILL.
- The woman goes inside to organize the side dishes, plates and cutlery.
- The woman comes out to tell the man that the meat is burning. He thanks her and asks if she will bring him another beer while he deals with the situation.
- THE MAN TAKES THE MEAT OFF THE GRILL AND HANDS IT TO THE WOMAN.
- The woman prepares the plates, salad, side dishes, bread, utensils, napkins, sauces, and brings them to the table.
- After eating, the woman clears the table. She then does the dishes.
And most important of all:
- Everyone PRAISES the MAN and THANKS HIM for his cooking efforts.
- The man asks the woman how she enjoyed “her night off.” Upon seeing her annoyed reaction, he concludes that there’s just no pleasing some women.
*┬® Copyright 2019 by William Natbony. All rights reserved.