By Greg Smith
For going on two decades Americans have viewed China as a serious military adversary. While the U.S. could defeat China without breaking a sweat, the global economic fallout of such a war would be severe, so the best strategy is to avoid it in the first place. The Obama administration’s response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea is not helping.
When a Chinese fighter aircraft collided with an American P-3 surveillance plane over international waters south of China in 2001, the U.S. response was surprisingly tame and muted. Since then angst has grown over our place in the world, or at least in Asia. In 2009 U.S. media outlets discovered the existence of China’s DF-21D “carrier-killer” anti-ship ballistic missile. The response in the media and Internet was somewhat hysterical, as if the Navy’s aircraft carriers had never faced a threat from other nations.
If war between the U.S. and China were to occur even in China’s best-case scenario it would be defeated by the U.S. In China’s best-case scenario it quickly defeats any other militaries before the U.S. Navy and Air Force could deploy, and also China’s missiles are able to keep U.S. naval surface forces 1,000 miles from China’s shore. Neither of these is close to certain.
China’s is an export-driven economy with a heavy dependence on imported oil from South America and the Middle East, iron ore and copper from Australia and many other raw materials. In turn, products are shipped by sea around the world. Considering routes from China’s coastline are largely hemmed in by Japan, the Philippines, Australia and the Straights of Malacca, the U.S. would not even need aircraft carriers to effectively blockade commercial shipping from China or petroleum bound for it.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy is not capable of projecting power beyond the range of land-based aircraft. U.S. submarines and aircraft alone would be able to sink any ship departed from China. American forces could asphyxiate the Chinese economy. The U.S. needn’t bomb China back to the Stone Age when it could instead blockade it back to 1999 in economic terms.
The downside is such a blockade would negatively affect much of the world economy – including the U.S. economy — and cause an unnecessary rift between two of the world’s most economically powerful nations. Both nations have too much to lose.
China’s economic maturity should act as a deterrent to recklessness, as her actions have the capacity to cause large drops in stock prices, and more importantly price increases on the raw materials on which her economy depends. Yet Beijing continues aggressive stances toward its maritime neighbors, claiming wide swaths of ocean and training for offensive military operations. Mutual prosperity doesn’t seem to be a certain road to peace.
If U.S. foreign policy makes it appear to Beijing it can act with impunity, China’s actions make it clear it will only be a matter of time before an actual war breaks out. The Obama administration’s “pivot” of a relative handful of military assets to the Pacific is not a replacement for decisive engagement by the U.S.
Considering how the Russian invasion of Crimea was handled the Obama administration should make it clear, in no uncertain terms, that U.S. response to an Asian conflict would be instantaneous and unflinching. To demur is to temp an outcome in which all sides lose. ©
Greg Smith is a freelance writer and political consultant who lives in Bantam, CT. His blog is found at www.betterfatthanfascist.com