View Full Version : The Pentagon looks at China, and blinks (II)

News Update
06-08-05, 03:00
The report also details China's programs to upgrade its intercontinental ballistic missile force with new solid-fuel, road-mobile missiles and new sea-based, submarine-launched systems. The net effect will be a more survivable, more accurate, and more lethal nuclear strategic capability--aimed primarily at the United States. As General Zhu Chenghu, dean of China's National Defense University, not so subtly reminded American visitors recently: Should the United States intervene in a conflict between China and Taiwan, "the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds . . . of [their] cities will be destroyed by the Chinese" nuclear weapons.

Combine the PLA's fascination with "carrier killing," its ability to degrade severely the operational utility of U.S. air bases in Japan through missile strikes, its aggressive pursuit of space and counterspace capabilities, and its upgraded nuclear arsenal, and you have a military that believes it has or is close to having the means to make any American president think twice before going to Taiwan's rescue.

LAZILY, the U.S. government has accepted the Chinese propaganda line that these trends in Chinese military modernization are first designed to deter Taiwan "from moving toward de jure 'independence.'" Never mind that only a small minority in Taiwan supports taking that step (so even the most pro-independence politician in Taiwan would probably be unsuccessful in pushing the idea), China almost certainly would not be seeking these military capabilities to support a policy of mere deterrence. A few hundred missiles aimed at Taiwan could do that.

Obviously, China is interested in deterring Taiwan from declaring independence, but, more significantly, it is interested in pursuing its stated goal of "reuniting" Taiwan with the motherland--and it is in relation to this goal that the PLA's actions and plans make sense.

The Chinese Communist leadership has made clear time and again that it will not tolerate a prolonged separation of Taiwan from the mainland, and it has tasked the PLA, as earlier Pentagon reports indicated, with providing real military options. As this year's report notes (and as China's recent adoption of the Anti-Secession law essentially codifies): "The Chinese Communist Party came to power on its credentials as a defender of Chinese sovereignty; its leaders appear to see progress--or perhaps, the absence of failure--on the Taiwan issue as affecting the legitimacy of their rule."

But rather than face the facts presented in the report about the character and scope of China's military buildup, the tendency in the senior ranks of the administration is to wash over them with sound bites about our relationship with China being "good but complex." Or worse.

The day after the report was issued, in response to a question about the cross-strait military balance, Marine general Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said, "There's lots of countries in the world that have the capacity to wage war," but "very few have the intent to do so. . . . There's absolutely no reason for us to believe there is any intent on [China's] part." Absolutely?

For one thing, as these annual Pentagon reports have repeatedly pointed out, China shrouds its military plans and senior decision-making in secrecy. But what we can observe could hardly lead anyone to think that we should be so confident about China's intentions. After all, this is the country that now ranks third in the world in overall defense spending, and the one that has increased its military budget fastest over the past decade, with growth in military expenditures outpacing even China's own remarkable growth in GDP. General Pace had better hope his statement doesn't go down in history alongside George Tenet's now infamous, "It's a slam dunk, Mr. President."

One theme that was added to this year's report is that China is at a "strategic crossroads." It faces one path leading to peaceful integration with its region and the world, the other to competition with the other significant powers in the region and with the United States. In one respect, this is a truism: Theoretically, any power, at any time, can choose to alter its relationships with the outside world. But the data at the heart of the Pentagon's report suggest that China is not at any crossroads; rather, it is already headed down a path previously taken by other autocratic, rapidly rising great powers. And until China undertakes major political reforms, it will probably stay on that path.

In reality, it is more accurate to say that the United States is at a strategic crossroads when it comes to China. With our plate full around the globe, we are understandably reluctant to raise publicly the prospect of a new great power competition. Nevertheless, the administration is doing quite a bit to contain Chinese military power--our upgraded relations with Japan, India, Vietnam, Singapore, and Australia are cases in point. But our reluctance to admit this publicly to ourselves or to our allies, and our rosy rhetoric about our "constructive" relationship with Beijing, leave us at a disadvantage as China ratchets up the competition. As a practical matter, this attitude often leaves us a day late and a dollar short when it comes to matching new Chinese initiatives.

Nor is our position sustainable. Beijing is not blind to our reaching out to the powers in the region. For it, the competition has already begun. The Pentagon's report provides ample evidence that this is the case, but then ducks the obvious conclusion. Preparing the Congress and the public for that competition should be a priority of the administration. Unfortunately, this year's report, for all its substantive merit, fails the test.

Gary Schmitt is executive director of the Project for the New American Century. Dan Blumenthal is resident fellow in Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute and former senior director for China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Mongolia in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

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