The Atlantic November 1, 2021 |IDEAS| “What Will Drive China to War?” “A cold war is already under way. The question is whether Washington can deter Beijing from initiating a hot one.” By Michael Beckley and Hall Brands
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China is determined to recapture territory lost previously on all borders and waterways. Taiwan and dominating the South China Sea are currently the biggest concerns. America and in some cases America’s allies are aligned with Taiwan as an independent state and in keeping sea lanes open to all.
President Xi Jinping’s rhetoric is high as he “declared in July that those who get in the way of China’s ascent will have their ‘heads bashed bloody against a Great Wall of Steel.’”
China has been building its military and navy at an alarming rate, having spent “ $3 trillion in the last three decades.”
China has reason to believe it must strike by 2025 when its military technology might be superior to the aging American and Allied fleets.
China, although relatively peaceful in recent decades, has a history of acting out militarily, regardless of the cost, when it feels threatened. China does not wait to be attacked. In the past targets have been smaller countries like Vietnam and Korea as a way to “teach other states a lesson.” In both cases, these were acts of beating down American forces operating in those countries. Beijing “celebrates these interventions as a glorious victory that warded off an existential threat to its homeland.” The idea being that America or the Soviet Union would have secured closer bases to attack China.
China, could be planning a rapid strategic hit to which America and allies might be slow or loath to counter if unprepared.
China is increasingly falling out of favor in the court of global public opinion as fear and mistrust are at the highest levels.
Trading partners, attracted by low prices of Chinese materials and goods, in the past sought stronger bonds with China and fractured their alliances with Taiwan. “Britain handed back Hong Kong in 1997, Portugal gave up Macau in 1999, America fast-tracked China into major institutions, such as the World Trade Organization. Half a dozen countries settled territorial disputes with China from 1991 to 2019, and more than 20 others cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan to secure relations with Beijing.” But now China must worry that trading partners will find other sources. While China’s economic growth has been remarkable it is now slowing. Alarmingly, “China’s population is aging...from 2020 to 2035...it will lose 70 million working-age adults and gain 130 million senior citizens.”
China is seeing a broad coalition-building to defend sea lanes against Chinese territorial aggression by America, Japan, South Korea, The Philippines and Australia. More worrisome Taiwan is “revamping its defences...Japan [is having its] largest military buildup since the Cold War...India is massing forces near China’s borders and vital sea lanes. Vietnam and Indonesia are expanding their air, naval and coast-guard forces. Australia is … acquiring long-range missiles and nuclear-powered attack submarines. France, Germany and the United Kingdom are sending warships into the Indo-Pacific region.”
Experts suggest a cold war is underway between America and China and that America and its building coalition should quickly put in place a number of actions that would cause China to reconsider military aggression. Actions should include “drastically speeding the acquisition of weaponry and prepositioning military assets in the Taiwan Strait and East and South China Seas...to ensure that China can’t easily knock out U.S. combat power in a surprise attack.” The allies should firm up “multilateral plans, involving Japan, Australia and potentially India and Britain” to signal Beijing “how costly...aggression might be.” All this requires a mindset change that “the United States and its allies need to rapidly shut China’s windows of military opportunity” now.