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.
1 Which owes them money: https://www.scmp.com/business/china-business/article/1211846/china-railway-groups-project-venezuela-hits-snag
3 A MIRV is a Multiple, Independently-targeted Reentry Vehicle.
5 Carsten A. Holz, Have China Scholars All Been Bought, Far Eastern Economic Review, April, 2007, https://ihome.ust.hk/~socholz/HaveChinaScholarsAllBeenBought-FEER30April07.pdf
7 No, not PSYOPS, PSYOP.
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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