Friends of China?

Posted: Aug 21, 2001 12:00 AM
This just in: The retired four-star admiral who formerly commanded all American forces in the Pacific (a job known as CINCPAC) and served until recently as U.S. Ambassador to China announced last Friday that a "rising China is okay" and, from a military perspective, "not really" a threat. According to the South China Morning Post, Joseph Prueher told an audience in Seattle that the PRC's "People's Liberation Army was 'not very potent' as a fighting force, even though China yearned for a strong military that matched its standing in the world." This analysis supports the effort now being made by "Friends of China" and others who want Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to solve the Pentagon's present budget conundrum by cutting the American military's force structure. They are urging him to use such an approach rather than press President Bush for additional funding authority needed to do the job of "transforming" the armed services for the future while fixing what ails them today. They contend that divisions can be safely cut from the Army, carrier battle groups from the Navy and air wings from the Air Force since the United States no longer need worry about the danger of fighting two simultaneous major regional conflicts around the globe. There is only one problem with the Prueher analysis. It is wrong. A "rising China" is not "okay" because its ambitions are at odds with American interests. The Communist regime in Beijing is under no illusion on this point and, therefore, it routinely refers to the United States as "the main enemy." Party cadre and military leaders declare war with the U.S. to be "inevitable." And, when it suits their purposes, Chinese officials threaten this country with nuclear attack -- threats that, unfortunately, have to be taken seriously in the absence of any deployed defense against the PRC's "not very potent," but still potentially devastating, long-range nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. While it is certainly true that the PLA's conventional forces are today no match for their American counterparts, it would be foolish to take undue comfort from such a snapshot in time. For one thing, history is full of instances in which weaker countries have taken on stronger ones. What is more, China is rapidly modernizing every facet of its military, thanks in no small measure to the PRC's "strategic partnership" with Russia and the advanced arms and training in their use, maintenance and manufacture that flows from it. Beijing is also aggressively pursuing unconventional or "asymmetric" means of dealing with a superior American military. These techniques include cyber-warfare, electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) weapons and anti-satellite capabilities designed to attack and neutralize the electronic and information technologies upon which that U.S. superiority critically depends. Most relevant to the question of whether the United States can responsibly abandon the force-structure requirements mandated by the so-called "two-war" strategy, however, are the steps China is taking with its clients around the world to confront America with at least two simultaneous conflicts if ever the two nations come to blows. Alternatively, Beijing may be calculating that far-flung crises involving U.S. allies and interests would allow it to secure its strategic objectives -- notably, conquest of Taiwan -- without any interference from this country. Consider developments in two candidate regions. The intensifying conflict between Israel and her Arab neighbors may metastasize at any time into a wider war. If so, it is entirely possible that weapons made available by China to her customers in the Middle East -- both directly and indirectly via her proxy, North Korea -- will be used not only in attacks against the Jewish State but to establish effective control over the oil lanes of the Persian Gulf. Such attacks could run the gamut from those involving ballistic missiles bearing conventional warheads or weapons of mass destruction to the use of deadly Silkworm anti-ship missiles. Meanwhile, dynamic forces are at work in East Asia. North Korea's thoroughly weird despot, Kim Jong-Il, has just completed a lengthy visit to Russia in which those two nations affirmed their friendship and solidarity. (Kim's inveterate deceitfulness was on display in the course of his travels as he treated dignitaries to his favorite dish of donkey meat while representing it as "Heavenly Cow.") It seems likely that the backing North Korea enjoys from both the Russians and Chinese will make Kim more intractable in ending the abiding threat his army and regime pose to South Korea. This is all the more worrisome insofar as South Korea's former political prisoner-turned-President, Kim Dae Jung, seems prepared to adopt anti-democratic practices to silence critics who fear that, under present circumstances, his so-called "Sunshine Policy" for normalizing relations with the North is increasingly dangerous. He is using trumped up tax investigations and arrests to suppress opponents in the media; he is denying an American request for a top North Korean defector and prominent skeptic about Kim Jong-Il's intentions to take his warnings to the United States. Members of Congress, led by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, are among those who fear that such developments could come to imperil not only to South Korean democracy but its security and stability on the Korean peninsula. China has also been at work in our own hemisphere, making a concerted effort to open trading and strategic ties with Communist Cuba and Venezuela's Castro-wannabe, Hugo Chavez. In addition, the PRC has secured facilities from which it could disrupt or deny at will American use of the Panama Canal. In the event of two widely separated conflicts, these ties could impair free U.S. exploitation of the sea lines of communications through the Caribbean and Panamanian isthmus, seriously exacerbating any inadequacies in the size, capabilities and location of our forces. Left to his own devices, Donald Rumsfeld is certainly smart enough to understand that -- like the People's Liberation Army -- we should pay heed to the teachings of the ancient Chinese strategist, Sun Tsu. Sun observed that it was far preferable to accomplish your objectives without a war than by having to fight one. Former CINCPAC Joe Prueher may not understand that a "rising China" is bent on creating strategic and other circumstances that will enable it to do just that. (An interesting question is whether his successor in that job, Adm. Dennis Blair -- who is reportedly under consideration to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- is under a similar illusion.) It behooves the Bush Administration to ensure that America has sufficient forces, with the requisite capabilities and forward deployed in the right places so as to ensure that we can, in fact, deal with and, thereby, deter the two conflicts we don't want to have to fight.