The confrontation between China and the United States is growing in intensity day by day, and clearly the war drums are being beaten in Washington.
According to a statement made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in November, the United Stated had never before faced such a threat from a country with as large a population and as big of an economy as China’s. He also said that China posed a “multi-faceted” challenge. The US Secretary of State pointed out that Washington had engaged in confrontations with authoritarian regimes before but none of them had such powerful economies so closely intertwined with that of the USA or a population 5 times the U.S. one. Mike Pompeo also highlighted that the Communist Party of China engaged in activities that were “deeply inconsistent with” what he or America thought was best for the world.
And on 30 January, during his trip to London, the US Secretary of State once again declared “the Chinese Communist Party the central threat of our times”.
Reuters reported that during a speaking engagement with his UK colleague Dominic Raab, Mike Pompeo reiterated that China’s ruling Communist Party was “the central threat of our times”, which is why the United States and its allies needed to have the necessary military and technological resources to ensure China was governed in accordance to Western principles. The US Secretary of State also added that, in such a climate, the relationship among allies within Five Eyes was deep and strong (Five Eyes is an intelligence alliance comprising 5 Anglophone nations: the USA, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), and that the cooperation would continue with the aim of closely monitoring China’s policies and actions.
Stephen A. Orlins, the President of the National Committee on United States-China Relations, stated that the Sino-US relationship had reached a low point in September, at the opening of the international Taihe Civilizations Forum in Beijing.
The Council on Foreign Relations, an influential US think tank, prepared a voluminous report, entitled “Implementing Grand Strategy Toward China: Twenty-Two US Policy Prescriptions”. The document points out that if the USA “is not to lose its strategic struggle with China in Asia and globally, the United States needs to develop, along with its allies and partners, an integrated grand strategy that competes with the PRC across many integrated domains—diplomacy, the global economy, defense, digital technology/artificial intelligence (AI), the cyber sphere, public information, and ideology”.
One of the many recommendations, made by analysts from the Council on Foreign Relations, is for Washington “to substantially strengthen its military power projection into Asia” (and to even possibly move the continental US force structure to the West (Pacific) Coast) by ensuring there are more frequent and formidable naval activities, more robust air force deployments, and more capable expeditionary formations — as well as greater partner capacity in the region. The United States should thus reinforce its cooperation with partners in Asia, with Japan being “Washington’s most important ally in the world and the cornerstone of US strategy in Asia”.
In addition, the report recommends that the USA take advantage of “the presence of a robust democratic power” such as India in the region “that is willing to and capable of independently helping balance China’s rising influence in Asia”. Still, the authors admit that Washington ought to “abandon the idea that India will join an alliance with the United States”, and instead “craft and articulate the importance of” their “unique relationship that is short of an alliance yet enables closer information sharing and diplomatic and military cooperation”.
The document also points out that since member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have become a “major target of China’s geoeconomic coercion, not least regarding issues in the South China Sea”, Washington needs to improve these countries’ capabilities of countering such pressure.
It is also worth noting that despite the fact that the United States (with its multi-billion US dollar defense budget) will continue to dominate in all military spheres for many years to come, American strategists have, for some time now, viewed China as the main threat to their nation. During his speech in the summer of 2019 at the Aspen Institute: Aspen Security Forum, Philip S. Davidson, the Commander of United States Indo-Pacific Command, called China “the greatest long-term strategic threat to the United States”. According to military analysts, PRC’s push to boost its military might began relatively recently, i.e. approximately 15 years ago. Before, the People’s Liberation Army had focused only on national security. The quality and quantity of its weapons and military equipment left much to be desired, and the army engaged in activities such as planting forests, fighting natural disasters, collecting harvests, etc. The nation’s economic growth led to the reduction in size of the military, and its modernization and improved combat readiness. Defense spending increased with rising GDP, which grew by 8-9% over a number of years. In addition, China’s armed forces took advantage of achievements, stemming from technological progress, in spheres such as informatics, communication, electromagnetic and laser technology, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology.
Due to the need to strengthen opposition to China’s activities, recently, officials in Washington have begun to understand more clearly that an even more serious challenge for the United States could arise if Russia and China were to decide to combine their efforts, and to try and counter US leadership or even eliminate it altogether. The ties, based on cooperation, between Moscow and Beijing, have already twice helped significantly shift the balance of power in the Asia Pacific region. Hence, the possibility of a third phase of such a collaboration is of great concern to Washington since it really could precipitate a global transformation and lead to a different power structure in the region and the entire world.
In order to prevent this from happening, American troops have already taken several concrete measures to “contain” China. For instance, high-level US military leaders recognized the “usefulness” of stationing medium-range missiles against China in Asia for the very first time. And at the end of December, General Charles Brown, the air component commander for United States Indo-Pacific Command, stated that it would be “a good idea” to have tactical and theatre ballistic missiles in Asia-Pacific. Such statements, made by staff from operations command of the US armed forces, imply that plans to station short- and medium- range ballistic missiles in this region are already being made by them. And it appears as if the political rationale behind such a scheme had been described earlier but not publicly. China views the plans to station missiles in the vicinity of its borders as a direct national security threat.
In addition, according to recent reports by Bloomberg, the United States plans to base a special operations force, aimed at countering threats posed by China and Russia, on islands east of the Philippines and Taiwan. The media company also added that the military unit would have the capacity to launch highly accurate long-range missiles (which could strike at land and sea targets), and to conduct cyber operations from there too. Ryan D. McCarthy, the US Secretary of the Army, said that such a move would help partially neutralize the capabilities of Russia and the PRC in the region. This special operations unit will be created in partnership with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), an agency also in charge of designing and launching America’s intelligence satellites.
The increase in tensions spurred on by the United States is more and more reminiscent of that during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and this could lead to serious unwelcome consequences if Washington continues to pursue such policies.
Vladimir Odintsov, expert politologist, exclusively for the online magazine ‘New Eastern Outlook’.