Don’t look now, but a serious conflict is brewing with China, infinitely more dangerous than anything regarding Russia or Iran. The problem? China may have developed the ability to militarily defeat the United States and control the Far East.
“U.S. policy between the end of the Cold War and 2017,” former Trump National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster recently stated, “was based on a flawed assumption: that China, having been welcomed into the international order, would play by the rules, and, as it prospered, would liberalize its economy and, ultimately, its form of governance.”
China’s aggressive approach towards India, China, and Taiwan in recent months, along with the increased police state of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leads McMaster to believe “that ‘strategic competition between the United States and China will persist, owing to the divergent nature and goals of our political and economic systems.’”
This budding crisis revolves around China’s claim to possess most of the South China Sea and the rich resources that exist there, which include an estimated 11 billion barrels of undeveloped oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The sea-lanes that traverse the South China Sea are the busiest in the world, and satellite imagery revealing China’s increased efforts to reclaim this area through naval base expansion and military fortification threatens the many countries that rely on these waterways.
Yet one internal factor must be considered, namely, opposition to Xi Jinping from within the CCP, as well as from parts of the Chinese population at large. This opposition arose in March 2018 when he abolished term limits for top posts, allowing office holders to essentially rule China for life.
With opposition to Xi Jinping and his coterie mounting, Xi has ordered the People's Liberation Army to enhance its combat readiness, likely as preparation for an invasion of Taiwan. Taking over Taiwan and making the South China Sea a virtual Chinese lake would generate patriotic pride for the Chinese people and renew support for Xi Jinping. Under Xi, China is returning to its Maoist past, as he has declared, “If we lose Mao, we lose the party’s glorious history.”
Although the United States has provided Taiwan with top-notch defensive weaponry, the island nation would not last for long in a war against China without significant help from the U.S. It would only take China three days to overwhelm Taiwan, several former Obama administration officials recently noted. Similarly, analysts such as Ian Easton, senior director at the Project 2049 Institute, have studied the scenario of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan for years. Most of them also believe China would defeat Taiwan before the U.S. could provide any significant aid.
Is President Joe Biden up for this challenge of Churchillian proportions?
Biden relies heavily on his longtime advisers, one of whom is Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Blinken was a hard line supporter of the war on Iraq in 2003; was a strong proponent of U.S. intervention in Libya’s 2011 civil war, even though Biden opposed it; and has advocated for far greater U.S. military involvement in Syria’s civil war and opposed withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country.
In his first days as U.S. Secretary of State, Blinken engaged in discussions with his counterparts in Asia, the Pacific, and Europe, which included defending against China in the South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific. Blinken emphatically rejected Chinese claims to the South China Sea, which was also the position taken by Trump’s last Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.
On Feb. 10, Biden announced the creation of a Pentagon Task Force to review China policy, which would be led by Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense Ely Ratner, a longtime Biden staffer and China hand. Ratner had been working at a hawkish think tank, the Center for a New American Security. Despite the Trump administration’s hardline approach toward China, Ratner considers it insufficiently tough. In September 2020, he co-authored an op-ed titled “Trump has been weak on China, and Americans have paid the price.”
The U.S. is the only country that could stand up to China, excluding Russia, which is a friend to China. But what could the U.S. do? It would not dare to lob missiles into Chinese cities, which could cause the Chinese to launch nuclear missiles at the U.S. The U.S. Navy might try to blockade China to paralyze its trade, but this is doubtful as China could sink much of the U.S. Navy via waves of land-based bombers.
The problem for the U.S. is that China seems to be ahead of our country in its space capability. China is progressing with the development of missiles and electronic weapons that could target satellites in low and high orbits. In fact, China already has operational ground-based missiles that can hit satellites in low-Earth orbit, according to a U.S. Department of Defense report released in September 2020.
“China has the most active ballistic missile development program in the world,” Forbes recently noted. They also “used stolen U.S. technology to develop at least three types of high-tech weapons to attack the electric grid and key technologies that could cause a surprise ‘Pearl Harbor’ attack that could produce a deadly blackout to the entire country.” There is no nation more dependent upon its satellites for its national, economic, communication, and navigational securities than the United States.
What would happen if Taiwan became part of China? “Despite its limited international presence it is difficult to overstate Taiwan’s strategic importance to both the United States and an increasingly assertive China,” a 2019 article from The Atlantic notes.
The island’s location, economy, and security are all essential to American interests, and if Taiwan were to become part of China, as Beijing has insisted it must, China would instantly become a Pacific power, control some of the world’s most cutting-edge technologies, and have the ability to choke off oil shipments to Japan and South Korea—leverage it could use to demand the closure of U.S. military bases in both countries. In effect, Beijing would likely be able to achieve its goal of forcing the U.S. out of Asia.
With the conquest of Taiwan, China would become the most powerful country in the world. Instead of the “American Century,” the 21st Century would be the “Chinese Century.” Will Americans have to learn to kowtow?