Monday, January 3, 2011

China Competes

Yesterday the New York Times editorialized about the threat to US security being posed by China's recent improvements to the design of one of their intermediate range ballistic missiles. The NYT implied that this improved missile might pose a threat to US carrier battle groups prowling the waters of the western Pacific Ocean.

        Beijing’s drive to extend its military and territorial reach is making America’s close allies in the region  nervous and raising legitimate questions about American diplomacy and future military  procurement. The commander of America’s Pacific forces recently revealed that China could soon deploy a ballistic missile capable of threatening American aircraft carriers in the region.”

The Times also expressed concern about China's long-term naval strategy in the region.

        “The Pentagon has a long history of hyping the Chinese threat to justify expensive weapons purchases, and sinking well-defended ships with ballistic missiles is notoriously hard. But what should rightly  concern American military planners is not so much the missile but the new Chinese naval strategy behind it.”
        China seems increasingly intent on challenging United States naval supremacy in the Western Pacific. At the same time it is aggressively pressing its claims to disputed offshore islands in the East and South China Seas. Washington must respond, carefully but firmly.”

Therefore, said the Times editor, in order to better resist an apparent Chinese desire for more freedom-of-action in the western Pacific (its own backyard).

        “The Pentagon must accelerate efforts to make American naval forces in Asia less vulnerable to Chinese missile threats by giving them the means to project their deterrent power from farther offshore.”

But, let's be reasonable, said the editor.

        “The Obama administration must also redouble its diplomatic efforts to persuade Beijing that great power cooperation is far better than a costly and dangerous military rivalry. Dealing with a rising China could be Washington’s biggest challenge in the decades ahead. The United States has no interest in heightening tensions. A rapidly developing China has better uses for its new wealth than weapons. But when China pushes, as it is doing now, America needs to push back with a creative mix of diplomatic suppleness and military steadfastness.” 

Hmm! Didn't the Times editor opine that: "A rapidly developing China has better uses for its new wealth than weapons." But, what about the US? Doesn't it have better uses for its wealth than weapons? Well, apparently not!

According to SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute): During 2009, the US led the world in weapons expenditures, having paid out $663 billion in national wealth, present as well as future ( or 4.3% of GDP), at a annual rate of $2141 per capita. Somewhat amazingly, this American investment amounted to 43% of the total military expenditure for the entire world. The next largest military expenditure was indeed that of China, with $99 billion (2.0% of GDP), but at an annual rate of only $75 per capita. As a fraction of the total world military expenditure, the Chinese contribution was just 7%.

The Times editor suggested that China's "new" wealth might find a better use than military expenditures. But, in terms of a wealth of cultural experience, who's the real parvenu here? Modern Chinese culture extends back to the Xia dynasty of ~2000 BC, while American culture extends back to ... the Declaration of Independence of 1776? the first settlement at Jamestown in 1607? the founding of St. Augustine in 1565? Perhaps a better measure of the rate of military expenditure might be dollars spent annually, per year of accumulated cultural experience?

Anyway, what's the problem here? Is China just moving its shoulders around in order to gain more breathing space, while the US insists on continuing in its role of unrivaled hegemonic superpower? Or is it that China aspires to be a superpower, but at the expense of an all too well-meaning and altruistic America?

For more on this theme see: "The Big (Military) Taboo"
By Nicholas D. Kristof
NYT December 25, 2010 

For a related lesson in real-politik see: "How to Stay Friends With China"
By Zbigniew Brzezinski
NYT January 2, 2011  

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