What Should the U.S. Do About China?

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Mon, Apr 13 - 9:00 am EST | 4 years ago by
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Lines of Departure - US vs China

So what are we supposed to do about China, presuming we have to do something? I don’t know, not for sure, and anyone who claims to have all the answers is most unlikely to have any of them. Still, I think there are (at least) two broad areas we have to consider, namely, what China is not and what China is. These things, not dogma, should guide our approach. I’m going to restrict myself to what China is not, because I think it holds a key to our peacefully controlling and coercing it.

The big thing to remember about what China is not is that it is not the Soviet Union. It doesn’t seem to have a great deal of concern with world revolution, with exporting communism far and wide, with the plight of migrant widget pickers in Eastern Westfuckistan, or anything similar. It is not doing much in the way of supporting Venezuela.1 It isn’t subsidizing Cuba (though I suppose we’ll soon be doing that, ourselves). It does provide a certain amount of equipment and training to the armies of various sub-Saharan kleptocracies, but one suspects that it is much, much tighter in the bribery department than anyone else involved there except perhaps for us.

China is also not a very serious nuclear power. It appears to have about 40 ICBMs, none of them apparently MIRVed.2 3 They appear to have some MIRVed SLBMs (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile), perhaps a couple of dozen.4 However, MIRVing is hard. Getting accuracy sufficient to allow the smaller warheads to hit something close enough to destroy it is hard. And China is new at this.

They have some bombers – Badgers, basically – that won’t reach our mainland. Tough on Honolulu and Fairbanks? Possibly, but the folks there can take some small degree of solace in the knowledge that we’d avenge them about a thousand times over. Of course, there is some aerial refueling potential with some versions, and they could also launch nuclear armed cruise missiles. Even so, we’re still talking a small fraction of the damage we can do to them in return.

France is, in nuclear arms, more impressive. Israel is possibly more impressive. China impresses really not at all. If China became more impressive, impressive enough to deter us from upholding our various guarantees, expect Japan to field nukes in very short order and perhaps very large numbers.

Surprise attack? Dumb, really box-o-rocks dumb. You launch a surprise nuclear attack when you have reason to believe you can disarm your enemy thereby, not when you have reason to believe you can only piss him off enough to make him want you extinct, and especially not when he has the ability to go a long way toward making you extinct.

“But they’re building an ocean going navy!” Yes…well, maybe. Large navies are very expensive. Moreover, if we decide it’s getting too big to tolerate, we have a long time to get ready to take it out, and five hundred years of tradition inherited from Great Britain and comingled with our own traditions: English speaking peoples do not lose naval wars except to other English speaking peoples. It doesn’t even matter if it’s valid; it’s the history and they have seen the results too long to ignore that history.

“But they’ve got this huge army of high quality human material!” Indeed they do, exceptionally high quality human material, but one doubts they could support much of it at any distance from a railhead, and not overseas for so long as we decided to prevent it. Look guys; they got what they wanted strategically from their various military adventures on their borders, but tactically and operationally, performance left something to be desired, even where the typical Chinese troop did all that was asked of him to the utmost of his ability.

Short version: The People’s Republic of China (excuse me while I laugh over that last; “People’s Republic?” You guys kill me) is not much of a threat now, and we have a long time to decide how to react if it starts to become one. There is no need to panic, yet.

Moreover, not only is China not the Soviet Union, it isn’t even communist:

Article after article pores over the potential economic reasons for the increase in income inequality in China. We ignore the fact that of the 3,220 Chinese citizens with a personal wealth of 100 million yuan ($13 million) or more, 2, 932 are children of high-level cadres. Of the key positions in the five industrial sectors — finance, foreign trade, land development, large-scale engineering and securities — 85% to 90% are held by children of high-level cadres.”5

In other words, whatever China is, communist it is not. Rather, I think it’s fair to call it a corrupt, kleptocratic, nepotistic oligarchy masquerading – poorly – as a socialist state.

I wonder how the average Chinese factory worker or farmer, or the average Chinese soldier or sailor, feels about that. Rather, I wonder how he would feel if he knew that Mao’s dream is dead and the name “People’s Republic” was a joke in poor taste.

Way back in October of 2014 I gave a theory on why and how gunboat diplomacy still worked, back in the day, quite despite the fact that the amount of damage a gunboat could do was really fairly trivial.6 The short version of that is that, by demonstrating the powerlessness and ineffectuality of the government of the state one bombards with gunboats, you also undermine its legitimacy and face it with the prospect of being bloodily overthrown by the peasantry and middle class that no longer believe in it.

That, I think, has some non-kinetic potential with regards to China. Note, here, that though it was my functional area (a sort of secondary MOS for officers) for a while, I don’t really normally have a lot of faith in psychological operations, or PSYOP.7 In this case, though, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that China is uniquely vulnerable to PSYOP. We have lots of Chinese speakers available. Picture China bombarded morn and night with the extravagant and decadent lifestyle of its rulers and their spawn. “Comrade workers and comrade peasants, the Great Helmsman’s revolution and the people for whom he launched it have been betrayed yet again…you starve while Mrs. X feeds her Tibetan Mastiff on filet mignon…no wife for you, young man, nor even a cheap whore, but Mr. Z has a harem of 15-year-olds…” and closing with, “Rise up ye victims of privation…”8 except when we broadcast the translation of Madame Guillotine.9

Tugs at the heartstrings, doesn’t it?

They’d shit themselves, I think, at the mere threat.

Be sure to read Part I and Part II in this series about China.


1 Which owes them money: http://www.scmp.com/business/china-business/article/1211846/china-railway-groups-project-venezuela-hits-snag

2 http://fas.org/nuke/guide/china/icbm/index.html

3 A MIRV is a Multiple, Independently-targeted Reentry Vehicle.

4 http://fas.org/nuke/guide/china/slbm/index.html

5 Carsten A. Holz, Have China Scholars All Been Bought, Far Eastern Economic Review, April, 2007, http://ihome.ust.hk/~socholz/HaveChinaScholarsAllBeenBought-FEER30April07.pdf

6 http://www.everyjoe.com/2014/10/13/politics/random-terrorism-useless-why-some-groups-keep-trying-it/

7 No, not PSYOPS, PSYOP.

8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28WbSInXDPA

9 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHVo0hJhnK4

Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.

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  • Ming the Merciless

    whatever China is, communist it is not. Rather, I think it’s fair to call it a corrupt, kleptocratic, nepotistic oligarchy masquerading – poorly – as a socialist state.

    That’s what the Soviet Union was, too, and we had no problem calling it communist.

    Heck, even in the USA we have a corrupt, kleptocratic, nepotistic oligarchy masquerading as socialists (or progressives, or social justice warriors, or whatever they call themselves today).

    That’s pretty much what socialism is, at all times, everywhere — a vampiric oligarchy that transfers wealth from the politically unconnected to itself.

    • Tom Kratman

      What if it isn’t? What if the continuing and continuous parading of Mao’s image still resonates with the masses? Is there a good reason to think that it doesn’t, or that the ruling junta in China continue to parade it knowing it doesn’t? One doubts. Moreover, how far does China being number one carry you if your hungry, or sick, or suffering from terminal lackanookie?

    • James

      I do know this if it goes bad it has the ability to make the Arab spring and ISIS and its consequences look like nothing but a slight Allah akbar celebration with a .22 rifle.

    • Neil

      Being on the winning team can make up for a lot of deprivation. That’s why Beijing likes to talk periodically about “respect” and gin up a crowd to go throw rocks at an embassy every once in a while. As long as they feel they’re on their way up, the Chinese will put up with a lot, especially since they’ve never expected much out of their government.

      I think you’re on the right track, though. China’s only real weakness is Beijing’s heavenly mandate.

  • Harry_the_Horrible

    I take a sort of paranoid stance on it. I don’t think the Chinese people would be all that shocked or upset about the decadent lifestyles of their leaders. “Mao’s dream” was pretty much BS even while Mao was alive.

    1. Don’t piss ‘em off. China may only be a regional power, but they can reach anything to which they are adjacent – Korea, Taiwan, China, Vietnam, the Sov, er, Russian Federation, have huge land-based forces, are not sensitive to casualties, and don’t particularly give a piss about “the Laws of War.” Their interest in asymmetric warfare is also disturbing. If they take a swing at us, it might involve a whole bunch of unpleasant surprises.
    2. Maintain a good, up-to-date Pacific fleet to support and defend our allies, and otherwise uphold our treaty obligations. The PRC has to cross water to get at most of our allies. If we can prevent this, and protect our commerce, then we’re probably in good shape.
    3. Keep in mind that the PRC has lots of highly educated folks in sensitive places here in the US. Stuff is constantly flowing back to the PRC from the US. What they don’t know about US technology is probably not worth knowing. They may or may not understand Americans, but the sure as heck understand our technology – and they make a fair amount of it, too. They could probably do some nasty stuff, or just leave stuff in place for later exploitation.
    4. China has a reputation for playing long diplomatic games with payoffs a decade or more down the road. Dunno if this true of a “kleptocratic, nepotistic oligarchy masquerading – poorly – as a socialist state” but it is something to think about.

  • Lawrence F. Greenwood

    The main problem with China is that it has economic clout. The have most of the manufacturing we sent overseas and we have very low tariffs to anything we bring over from China. Even with the added cost of putting anything made on a ship and the fuel cost involved. Together both are still cheaper than producing something in the United States. Simple economics. Solution? Increase the Tariff’s for every import so much that its just cheaper to produce in the United States and get rid of NAFTA completely so they can’t just ship to Mexico or Canada and get around the US Ports. Given enough time and manufacturing will move back to the US as it will be cheaper. And China will become a minor annoyance as its economy falls apart.

    • Bordeaux Vixen

      manufacturing isn’t coming back to the US. people here do no want to pay what american made costs!

    • KenWats

      You’d be surprised. Some is coming back presently – mostly for quality and delivery issues. The jobs associated with them aren’t all coming back – you’re right, too expensive. So, we automate and get productivity up- just like what happened with agriculture.

    • Bordeaux Vixen

      but everything overseas is automated better faster cheaper.

    • Lawrence F. Greenwood

      No its mostly sweat shops and very old equipment run on essentially low paid unskilled labor that cuts corners like there going out of style. That’s why its cheaper, they pay the workers peanuts. But if the cost to import goods were to rise, and it was cheaper to produce goods here by even by a penny manufacturing will return.

    • http://batman-news.com Rick Randall

      Protective tarriffs don’t actually work for the economy as “common sense” would think – they tend to trigger an inflationary effect that offsets the advantage. Matching tariffs can work, sometimes.

    • Lawrence F. Greenwood

      Matching Tariffs are something we should have for every country we trade with. And if there are proviso’s and such they should also trade off as well. Its very easy for say Japan to export a car to the US but next to impossible for a car made in the US to be shipped to Japan. That’s an imbalance, and one that should have matching rules.

    • http://batman-news.com Rick Randall

      Matching tariffs would be ideal. Punitive tsriffs can be a tool to convince another nation to modofy some behavior.Just not protective tariffs – protective tariffs don’t work the way they are always claimed.

  • gaige

    There is no way in Hell I believe that the PRC’s nuclear arsenal, in both warheads and delivery systems, is as small as they publicly claim it to be. The opinions of one retired Russian general named Victor Yesin seems to be supported by the Karber study out of Georgetown.


    • Tom Kratman

      Look again at the title: “Tacitcal and Theater.” We, as in the US, itself, are not tactical or theater.

    • Ciarog

      …though if you really wanted to ruin America’s day (or Russia’s, or Europe’s, or China’s, or really anyone’s), you don’t have to shoot missiles from one side of the ocean to the other. Just stuff a few nukes into some container ships or delivery trucks and Jericho your enemy. All of the effects of a normal nuclear first strike, plus you *might* not see your own homeland reduced to radioactive ash.

      China probably won’t actually do that any time soon. No one who cares about the global economy would ever do that—nor would anyone who cares what would happen to their country if the element of surprise was lost. But it does make me wonder if maybe there’s a good reason for them to keep a token force of ICBMs, even if they know that it is and will probably always be strategically insignificant. Kind of like how for couple of decades now they’ve been playing around with that silly aircraft carrier when they know that an ocean-spanning navy won’t be in the works for them for at least another generation.

    • Ciarog
    • gaige

      Ah, my mistake. Good catch, sir.

      But I still am very skeptical that America still has effective nuclear deterrent. I don’t think we do, simply because the Chinese (and likely, also the Russian) arsenals are bigger than conventional wisdom says they are.

    • Tom Kratman

      I think we still have more than the rest of the world combined. Although delivery systems have been cut a lot, all around, the biggest cuts were in warheads.

    • clark myers

      No. PA-043-15
      May 08, 2015
      DoD Release of the Report of Military and
      Security Developments in China
      of Defense released the “Military and Security Developments Involving
      the People’s Republic of China”. This annual report informs Congress of
      the Department of Defense’s assessment of military and security developments
      involving China.
      stipulated by law, the report is a DoD product and is transmitted to Congress
      by the secretary of defense. It is coordinated with other agencies and
      departments across the U.S. government and is the authoritative assessment
      from the United States government on military and security developments
      involving China.
      report is available here. http://links.govdelivery.com/track?type=click&enid=ZWFzPTEmbWFpbGluZ2lkPTIwMTUwNTA4LjQ0ODI5ODYxJm1lc3NhZ2VpZD1NREItUFJELUJVTC0yMDE1MDUwOC40NDgyOTg2MSZkYXRhYmFzZWlkPTEwMDEmc2VyaWFsPTE3MDA1MzE0JmVtYWlsaWQ9Y2xhcmtlbXllcnNAbXNuLmNvbSZ1c2VyaWQ9Y2xhcmtlbXllcnNAbXNuLmNvbSZmbD0mZXh0cmE9TXVsdGl2YXJpYXRlSWQ9JiYm&&&101&&&http://www.defense.gov/pubs/2015_China_Military_Power_Report.pdf?source=GovDelivery pdf

  • Mark Andrew Edwards

    Good article, sir.
    I don’t think China can project military force outside of its region…yet. I agree, I don’t see them exporting revolution. Expanding influence? Oh yes, ten times yes. They would not mind having a hand on the tiller of the world or being able to shove it from time to time.

    And still…and still…an increasingly-weak US Navy might be a tempting target. I can forsee an invasion of Taiwan. I can even see the outlines of how they might think to hit us and take our influence away in the Pacific. That kind of limited aim might lead to a US/China war. As long as they think we’re weak enough not to retaliate with all our might. 1941 come again, but with a weak and soft American unhardened by the Great Depression.

  • tweell

    Kipling said it: And the epitaph drear: “A Fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.”
    Whatever they do, our Smart Diplomats will be clueless.

    • Tom Kratman

      That seems likely.

  • Neil McCray

    I agree with most everything that was said in this series. China, if it is a threat, its mostly an economic threat. But in that sense its a threat of our making.
    You mention the old saw about who has the problems re debt. If its small, its you, if its large its the bank. That’s very true and it is a brake on China’s economic threat. But interestingly, China is taking steps to reduce it’s US dollar reserves. It’s slowly trying to sell this debt off. Much of it, it appears, for gold. The Chinese, I believe, no longer believe we are a very good credit risk. So, by slowly selling our debt, they hope to maintain their wealth while reducing their exposure.
    An area which I think is interesting is the Chinese move to remove the dollar from it’s current status as the world’ reserve currency. The Chinese would like to do this for several reasons. 1) it enhances their relative status on the world stage. 2) it reduces their risk vis~a~vis a potential US default and/or dollar devaluation. 3) It puts them in line to become the world’s reserve currency. Either outright or as a major component of SDRs.
    Being the World’s reserve currency has enormous advantages for the US. Almost all international trade occurs in US dollars. Given that we renounced gold as a backing for dollars and now engage in a fiat currency system, we are able to export much of the price inflation that results from our endless money printing. If we were to lose our status as the world reserve currency, a very large proportion of those dollars which are overseas would come back to our shores. Other countries would only need to maintain sufficient dollar reserves to engage in trading directly with the US. All, other trading would occur in the new reserve currency. The result would be that we would be awash in dollars and the value of the currency would very likely collapse.
    China has taken the lead amongst other countries in negotiating various trade deals that involve direct exchange of the trading country’s currencies. A few months back, they even negotiated such an arrangement with Australia. Meaning of course, that US dollars are no longer necessary to conduct the transaction. This arrangement of direct exchange treaties seems to be accelerating. That’s a problem for us. At some point, whether because of these direct exchange treaties or general concern with the dollar, the US loses its reserve status, things become dicey. China is clearly planning for this and is making a push for it to happen.

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