US China rivalry

A Westerner’s Guide to China

China’s reincarnation to superpower status is well in swing. Its economy has overtaken Japan’s as the second largest on Earth after only the U.S, its industrialisation has been utterly unprecedented in swiftness and scope, and it is currently engaging in the largest military buildup in the World. To give proper perspective to the spectacle going on, China consumed as much concrete in the past four years as the U.S. has in the past fifty. Its economy is growing at the rate that adds new France to it every four-to-five years. By 2020 it will outnumber the U.S. Navy in terms of surface combatants, and it has constructed over 2,000 acres of artificial islands in the South China Sea. It is now the largest consumer of energy in the World and is constructing 24 nuclear power plants with more on the way. It is engaging in thoughtful international positioning to sure up the resources and markets needed to fuel the blazing growth. China is on a path to lead the World and the U.S. is not prepared for battle.

The United States of America is circling an adversary in a ring that is patient, calculating, and above all else, prepared. For the first time since 1812, the United States is going to have to face off against a contender with an economy larger than its own – even at its height the Soviet Union boasted an economy half the size of that of the United States’. There is a profuse assertion circulated by dilettantes that China is focused solely on regional independence and little else. Make no mistake, China’s ambitions are not self-limiting and are not aimed at leaving the U.S.’ primacy on the World stage uncontested – they’re bent on nothing less than global domination. Call it global leadership if you will, the job descriptions are the same.

They have been engaging in thoughtful positioning in the Ukraine and Belarus to gain a foothold in Europe and diminish the leveraging capability of Russia. China has returned to Africa in Force with heavy investments in Ethiopia totalling over $900 million and over $1.3 billion in trade. Following the Paris climate talks, President Xi Jinping travelled to South Africa and Zimbabwe where he made deals worth billions, and on a stage closer to the U.S., the Panama Canal is owned almost entirely now by Chinese firms. Even the buying up of Australian agricultural land is less about savvy Chinese entrepreneurialism and more about calculated strategy. Two factors influence where they are seeking allies and trade partners. The first is that unlike the United States which relies on the free market to conduct its trade, the Chinese Government is involved in direct investments, and so can act on its political agendas through its economic clout with precision. The second comes as a result. Again, unlike America, the Chinese do not care who they do business with or whether their partner is engaged in human rights abuses or corruption. Factors that would typically dissuade Western investors like corruption or a lack of respect of property rights are fair game for the Communist Part of China (CPC).

America, for all its flaws, is driven by the fire of liberty. As John Tierney, Jr. writes in his piece for the Institute of World Politics, leaders of the U.S. from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson to John Kennedy have spoken of “the fire of liberty” with President George H. Bush even alluding to the flame. What Tierney writes it absolutely true. Liberty is not a uniquely American value and America does not operate with it being the sole consideration all of the time, but it is a strong guiding force in the moral compass of America and the World is better for it. You will find no such kindness in the Politburo, and there are over a million Falun Gong who could attest to that were their organs not harvested from their living bodies. America is not perfect, but it is the best contender as leader of the World that exists, and as far as History shows, this is a damn good leader.

America is, however, woefully underprepared for the looming showdown. The White House’s strategy in the Asia Pacific region has been one of under appreciating the ambitions of China while simultaneously being largely passive in standing up for America’s needs and interests. Cyber attacks and espionage against U.S. firms were left unabated until recently. It is easy to look at examples such as the attacks on Lockheed Martin – the World’s largest defence contractor where an estimated 50TB of data on the (hideously mismanaged) F-35 program was stolen resulting in the almost identical Chinese twin, the J-31. Procurement incompetency is a post unto itself but I will say here that the direction the U.S. has been taking with respects to defending itself against a Chinese cyber army has been one of torpor.

The NSA has held the primary responsibility of conducting U.S. cyberwarfare and cyber espionage since the the 80’s, yet has seen five consecutive years of budget cuts in spite of exponentially growing demands being placed on it to counter a belligerent China, a megalomaniacal Putin, and a steadily advancing North Korea. As if all that wasn’t enough, the Snowden leaks have given the Chinese, Russians, and caliphatists a front-row seatof the American intelligence community and done irreparable damage to America’s security. It gave China a window into the mind so to speak of what America knows and doesn’t know, and how America spies. The Chinese have been swift to act on the knowledge and sure up their own defences, leaving America blind.

To talk about the sequestration on America’s military which was partly necessary and advisable following two expensive wars, it no longer in the best interest of the U.S. as China continues its march to military might. You may have heard the incorrect statement that America spends the same on its defence as the next 10 nations combined. I ask of you to counter that fallacy wherever you encounter it because it is simply not true. The decision to procure the littoral combat ships has been a confusingly bad choice of resource allocation, as has the ‘one ring to rule them all’ mentality that was applied to the f-35 (more on that one in another post). The decision to purchase the flight III Arleigh Burkes to house the highly capable AMDR leaves little room for upgradability in the future, and the concurrency procurement strategy that has so grotesquely plagued the f-35 is being applied now to the Gerald R. Ford class of carriers with the results already showing.

The important question, and possibly the only question that really matters is this: who will win? It is easy to look at the limited powers of the U.S. Government and see it as weak. It is an easy thing to watch as the Government is concisely beaten in a court battle against a business and think it a sign of weakness but the truth is precisely the opposite. It is because of the liberties that are enjoyed that the U.S. and its ilk that make them so powerful.

The corruption in the Brazilian legal system has cut away their capacity to grow. With corrupt courts it is impossible for a person or corporation to defend themselves against the illegal onslaughts of other predatory entities. If peaceful avenues to retrieve lost money are nonexistent then businesses are unwilling to engage in R&D and banks are unwilling to loan money. The result is impossibly high interest rates above 10.5% or higher. Nothing gets done, nobody gets work, people go hungry and Brazil’s position on the World stage is consigned to bystander.

In the U.S., if you are wronged by the government then you have the ability to take your case all the way to the Supreme Court and be heard. The Chinese enjoy no such luxury. Unlike in the United States where the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government are divided thereby limiting the power of the constituent parts, the Chinese Politburo is a single entity. It is left to write the rules based on its own terms and is accountable to itself. The Chinese government lacks respect for private property rights and so is hindered by the very same economic caps that Brazil struggles with. It is easy to look at GDP growth rates of 7, 8, or 10% and say that China is doing something right. In truth, the staggering growth rates come from moving peasants from the country side to the cities. Once the mass forced migrations are complete, maintaining economic growth will become challenging. When the government has no respect for property rights and takes from you what they wish, companies are unwilling to conduct business in the country and people are unwilling to pour their blood, sweat, and tears into something that will be taken away from them. Without reforms, China cannot continue to grow. That’s not entirely good news however.

With a huge population being transformed from peasantry to the middle class, the politburo is under a crushing pressure to relinquish some of its power. When the people have an income, naturally the next thing they want are political rights. Although there have been moves to democratise the CPC from within, it is a fiercely totalitarian regime that is not looking to give up its absolute authority in the near term, and so quelling feelings of discontent from within requires looking to enemies from outside. With no less than 180 museums dedicated to reminding the public of the Japanese war crimes in WW2 and state media and political rhetoric consistently self victimising China in the face of U.S. actions, the CPC walks a razor’s edge. It is not unprecedented for a situation like the one at the Senkaku Islands to flare into open combat and for combat to thereafter erupt into a war. To see the March of Folly (as are Barbara Truchman’s words) in action, we need only look at the downing of Russia’s Su-34 Fencer which was shot down after violating Turkish airspace earlier in the week.

Where did it begin? back in 2012. When Turkey had one of their RF-4E’s shot down without warning losing two pilots, they amended their Rules of Engagement (RoE). In essence, trespassers would be shot on sight. Since the event, Turkey has shot down a Syrian Mi-28, Mig-23 and several UAV’s which unmistakably demonstrated that they’re serious about enforcing their border. When Russia was dragged into the conflict and started to attack the FSA personnel backed by Turkey right beside the border, they were pushing their luck. Even after losing an unmanned aircraft in October they continued tiptoeing further to test the limits of what they could get away with. Emboldened by the might of NATO at their heels and angered by the attacks on their Turkmen, Turkey did not hesitate to shoot down the Russian fighter-bomber as soon as they were given an excuse.

So how does this relate to China? The point I’m trying to make is that situations escalate on their own. It might be in nobody’s best interest for a war to break out but history can sometimes have a pesky habit of writing itself. We cannot know if or when incidences like the downing of the Russian warplane or the Gulf of Tonkin attacks will take place. What is a certainty is that when giants collide, sparks will fly. What is imperative is that we stay vigilant in the face of a rising power and do not allow ourselves to blunder into a war that could have been prevented with proper preparation and lucid mindfulness of the situation. Having false ideas about what’s going on and where things are headed will only serve to get us all in deep shit. In the age of nuclear weapons, we don’t have the luxury of making mistakes.

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