Thursday, September 16, 2010

America and China: “Frenemies” to the End

I was reading a blog in which the author suggested China is actually gearing up for World War III. That may very well be true, but it is certainly not an immediate threat. As concerned as I am about Chinese expansionism and eventual intentions (and my readers have heard me sound warning bells often), I do not believe the Peoples Republic of China intends to start a war in the near future. Having said that, I think it is wise to consider a few facts and keep a very close watch on what they are doing.

Regardless of any other considerations the inescapable fact is that our fortunes are economically closely intertwined. China is America’s largest creditor but, by the same token, we are their largest market. The economic welfare of each relies heavily on the success of the other. Even so, China has been developing modified Dong Feng 21 missiles which are capable of extremely long range. The potential of threat to American interests certainly has not gone unnoticed by our government.

On the industrial and military fronts, China has shown itself to be a major cybersecurity threat. They have conducted numerous penetration tests against U.S. computer systems and networks.

We also know that China has large, well organized cybercriminal community, with people conducting phishing attacks against Americans. Of course, the People’s Republic of China (mainland China) isn’t the only China phishing on Americans, so is the Republic of China, better known these days as Taiwan, but it’s the PRC that concerns us most.

When considering the question of “China”, one obvious consideration must be about the country’s population. China has 1.3 billion people, more than four times America’s population. China gives birth to more babies each year than Canada has people — and that’s after China’s incredibly draconian jìhuà shengyù zhèngcè polic (the policy where China only allows one child per family).

The second thing you need to know is that China has become an economic powerhouse, growing its GDP by about 10% per year. This year, China blew past Japan to become the world’s second largest individual economy, after the U.S.

China also consumes a tremendous amount of energy. It is a sobering statistic to realize that China’s cows, alone, will be consuming more than one seventh of the world’s oil supplies within 10 years. Just their cows. That’s not counting what their 1.3 billion people need.

China already consumes slightly more oil and gas than we do. What makes China particularly interesting is that they’re consuming more and more each year. While our demand increases only 0.34% annually, China’s demand is increasing at 8.68%. Even the rate of increase is increasing. Back in 2000, China’s demand only increased by 2.46%. If China manages to “middle class” most of its citizens, China alone would then consume 10.1 billion tons of oil equivalent per year, or 78% of the world’s total output.

If India were to grow at the same rate (and India is growing fast, as well), China and India combined would consume 1.5 times the world’s total energy supply. In other words, those two countries, alone, will need more oil that the world actually has. This could be a serious problem.

The Chinese government is aware of all of this. The more they build, the more they consume. This is why China has become “frenemies” with the United States. We provide a market for their goods and a source of money for all that energy they consume.

Let’s leave the economic considerations and consider the more political and military aspects of our budding relationship. First off, China absolutely hates that Taiwan isn’t part of the PRC. They absolutely hate that the United States has been defending Taiwan and has been standing in their way to repatriate Taiwan, to bring Taiwanese citizens under mainland control. In fact, to many PRC government minds, Taiwan is now part of mainland China. It’s just that America is blocking their rightful governance.

So, just think about this. China has four times our population. They very strong and growing economy, but will need more oil than exists on the planet, and they have an irrational anger at us for our role in keeping Taiwan out of their clutches. Oh, and add to that the fact that we owe them trillions of dollars. It makes for a potentially volatile situation.

There are 21 aircraft carriers in service today. Of those, America has 11 — more than half of the world’s total. In addition, we have one in reserve and three more under construction, which will give us a total of fifteen to vs. the rest of the world’s ten.

Russia has the Admiral Flota Sovetskovo Soyuza Kuznetsov and India has the Viraat. China currently has no carriers. Of course, they’re trying to remedy this. They recently bought the Kuznetsov-class carrier Varyag from the Ukraine at an auction (no, really) for a mere $20 million. Although shrouded in secrecy and originally thought to be intended as a floating casino, it appears the Varyag is being prepared for actual service as an aircraft carrier.

In today’s world, carriers are the embodiment of military might. Carriers are what allow a nation to project force across the world. In a very real sense, and even more than our nuclear arsenal, our carriers are what makes America the world’s sole remaining superpower.

All of this brings us back to China and the “frenemies” thing I mentioned. It seems China now wants to develop some carrier-killer missiles. –And this may explain what they are thinking: AFP reports that an editorial appeared in the Global Times, a Chinese state-run press organ. As translated by AFP, the article states:
China undoubtedly needs to build a highly credible anti-carrier capability. Not only does China need an anti-ship ballistic missile, but also other carrier-killing measures. Since US aircraft carrier battle groups in the Pacific constitute deterrence against China’s strategic interests, China has to possess the capacity to counterbalance.

Trying to see into the mind of China’s leaders is not an easy thing. Interpreting the tea leaves of Chinese government actions is always a dark art. However, it’s clear that an article like that wouldn’t appear in a publication like the Global Times if it wasn’t intended to be read internationally. So what is China trying to say? What are they trying to accomplish? Is China planning to start World War III? No. I do not believe that is at all what they have in mind nor even what they want. The simple fact remains, however, that China will act in what it considers its best interests and it is clearly thinking about the future –one where the world’s oil supply will be unable to meet the world’s needs and natural resources will be demanding a premium. A future where China intends to be in a very, very strong position. We, Americans, must plan our own future with these facts clearly in mind.

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