War With China
"China - the sleeping giant - has awoken." - Favourite cliche of journalists in the 1990s
"Yeah, but unfortunately it got up on the wrong side of the bed and is
grumpy at having missed breakfast."
Philip Cassini, professional cynic
Neon Twilight may be a fictional world, but it's firmly grounded in current details,
which is why analysing the actions that the People's Republic of China will take in
the next century are crucial to what the world will look like in 2037. Many pundits
, businessmen, and journalists were engulfed by the self-perpetuating hype surrounding
China's spectacular growth during the 1980s and most of the 1990s. The fabled '1.2
billion market' that so many corporations drooled over was an incredible temptation
and the primary reason why Foreign Direct Investment flows into China trebled in the
1990s. However, economic development always diverges from political development,
and the naive assumption that trade would 'open up' China to Western standards of
political diversity and human rights were misfounded, and lead to continual
disappointment in diplomatic circles. What the politicians and diplomants failed
to grasp was that the Chinese method of thinking was so fundamentally different
from the Western liberal tradition that any expectations borne of past experiences
in Europe and the Americas were bound to fail in China. China is on a collision
course with the West in a much more subtle, but ultimately more dangerous, fashion
than Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union ever were.
The whole problem lies in the vast gulf between Chinese and Western perceptions of
the world. Westerners, and especially Americans, nowadays see the world as a vast
global network of economies, each crucially interlinked with each other in a growing
web of prosperity and cooperation. The Cold War has been won, and the West is now
gently persuading the remaining nations that the liberal-capitalist mode of production
and democratic institutions are the most efficient way of building a modern nation-state.
Note the word efficiency. The morality of democracy has been subsumed into the
efficiency argument, and this leaves it wide open to attack from dictatorial governments
such as Singapore and Malaysia who can provide great efficiency while stifling
creativity and political expression. Nevertheless, the economic imperative in the
West (after the shock of the 1990 recession) has supplanted all geostrategic considerations
in a warm-fuzzy feeling that strong commercial ties make war impossible. After all,
Taiwan is the biggest investor in China, so why would China ever invade?
The key point
to remember is that war is irrational, not based on logical calculations of
commercial costs and benefits. War is an emotional experience caused by human nature,
as the Europeans found out in the Great War. In 1914 all experts and diplomats thought
that war was impossible because European economies were so tightly intertwined
and there were so many 'co-operative' agreements and protocols. Yet the unthinkable
happened because each country was in a paranoid arms race and felt threatened by
the others. Commercial interests were blown away by the winds of war.
who have less to fear from a belligerent China than Americans, continually send
trade delegations that promote 'peace through trade' and sincerely believe that
if economies are tightly linked then conflict can be resolved on amicable terms
through negotiations, resolution groups, and presidential meetings.
Contrast this with the Chinese worldview. The Chinese believe that America is a global
hegemon whose decadence and lack of ambition make it weak, and who will eventually
be replaced by a Greater China, first in the Pacific, and then globally. The Chinese
openly nurture ancient wounds inflicted by the Americans and Europeans and indoctrinate
their children to believe that CHina has always been victimized by vicious foreigners
and greedy white merchants. On a geostrategic level the Chinese plan to eventually
overtake America's GDP (at least in Purchasing-Power Parity) and are modernizing their
military while vehemently denying any such thing. China believes in the old Asian
adage that 'a strong economy makes for a strong military'. After all, finance is the
sinews of war, and historically all economically-powerful nations have had powerful
militaries. The lone exception is, of course, Japan because it remains under the
military shield of the United States and continues to benefit from this arrangement.
Only two months ago the Chinese and Russians issued a statement that surprised
everyone except traditional geostrategists and political scientists. They stated
that both countries opposed 'the domination of the world by any one power [meaning
the USA, of course] and both would work together to achieve a global balance'. This
is a predictable statement made by a weaker coalition made against a hegemon in
classical Balance-of-Power theory. What they mean by 'balance' is that they would
like to replace America as the world's superpowers. China will now be looking for
allies to 'balance overbearing American power' or some such contrivance. The Chinese
still see the world in traditional (some would say Cold War, but the idea predates
that conflict) terms in which nation-states compete against each other to secure
self-interest, no matter the commercial, diplomatic or economic costs. That last
point is crucial, and highlights the difference between China and the West.
The Chinese would go to war even if their economy suffered greatly, while the
West is loth to start any conflict that might mean even the slightest amount of
pain in commercial or military terms. This is a natural product of a democracy's
aversion to anything that harms the polity, but it makes power projection
extremely difficult. Would anyone really believe the Americans if they said
they would defend Taiwan to the end?
The Europeans are even worse. Anything that smacks even slightly of political
or military risk is completely off-limits unless organized by the Americans.
Even sententious initiatives such as censuring China in the UN for human rights
violations meets incredible resistance in European political circles, each
nation afraid that it might offend China and lose access to a 'huge' market.
What makes this stance even more ridiculous is that the 'giant' Chinese market
is smaller than Italy's, and that the corruption and statism rampant in China
makes profits by multinationals nearly impossible. Everyone trumpets how they
have operations (or a 'presence') in China, but no multinational
corporation will admit that they're almost all losing money. Yes, three-quarters
of international ventures in China are losing money, and the only reason they
stay is in the hope that some day the profits will magically appear. Meanwhile the
Chinese government sucks up their money and secret technology, local politicians
plunder their assets and Chinese bureaucrats make fools of them by changing the
law (what little exists) every month. China's 'opening-up' is nothing more
than a ploy to garner Western technology and make stupid foreigners pay for
modernizing China's antique factories and infrastructure. China promises new
investors high returns on every project, then cuts those returns when the
project is finished by introducing new 'financial regulations'. It would not
be surprising to see China nationalizing all those shiny new VW and Ford
factories once the foreigners' usefulness has expired. And yet despite all this
the American government is happily promoting the export of critical high
technology such as nuclear reactors, semiconductors, airplane engines and
The only thing that China currently lacks is access to a stable supply of
energy. Projects such as the Three Gorges Dam notwithstanding, China's
energy needs will soon outstrip even its capacity to mine polluting coal.
The safest energy routes lead through Central Asia towards the giant Tergiz
oil field in the Caspian, as well as several other sites in Turkmenistan
and Uzbekistan. Siberia (or rather Sakha/Yakutia) and Sakhalin offer the
other alternative, but this is Russian territory, and although China has
plans to annex this region, it would be folly to expose such ambitions at
a time when Russia's nuclear arsenal outnumbers the Chinese one by 100:1.
So the great game will be played in Central Asia between competing Russian,
American and Chinese interests, each eager to secure the volatile region's wealth.
In the case of America, it will try to keep the region open, while China
will attempt to gain exclusive rights over whatever it can. It is this region
that could spark the next war, if a resurgent Russia decided to reinvade
those countries that once comprised its empire and cut off China's crucial
oil supplies at a time when tensions with America were high. The Chinese
would feel the same pressure that the Japanese felt in 1939 when its oil
supplies were endangered by a looming American embargo. If such a situation
were to occur, the Chinese would naturally choose to fight the weaker
opponent, Russia, but it couldn't possibly win a short war if its vital
coastal regions were threatened by 'belligerent' American allies such as
Taiwan and (united) Korea. In Chinese eyes, the only solution would be to
capture a 'defensive line' of islands which would act as a buffer against
invasion for the Chinese mainland. This buffer naturally includes Taiwan,
Senkakus, Spratlys and possibly the Philippines. As China's might grows
in the early New Century, it will grow weary of Taiwan's stalling tactics
and will probably declare a fixed timetable for unification, say about 2020.
Failure to apply the schedule would be a sufficient excuse for invasion
under a planned Grand Reunification strategy relying on Chinese nationalism
and sense of pride to reclaim 'The Homeland'.
If 'forced' to fight Russia and American protectorates in the Pacific,
China would doubtless employ the 'terror' option. The strategy is simple
but very effective in some situations: China would completely destroy
a single chosen opponent with conventional or possibly ABC weapons to
show an example to the West that if it fought with China they would
suffer horrendous casualties. At the same time Chinese diplomats would
try to persuade Western governments that its quarrel wasn't with them
but with these 'upstart' and insignificant countries such as Taiwan
or Kirgystan. The lesson would be clear: fight China and plunge the
world into horrible war; let China create a buffer zone and things will
return to normal and peace will prevail. Many weak-willed Western governments
will doubtless be persuaded to follow this pattern in the hope of
avoiding a costly global war. The result will be disastrous; China would
be poised to capture the Central Asian oil fields in a surprise attack
on Russia while being relatively insulated from conventional attack on
the Pacific side.
The powerful overseas Chinese would quickly convince
their respective governments in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam
and Singapore that it is better to cooperate with China than face
invasion or economic ruin during a regional war. So without great military
sacrifice the Chinese will have effectively secured Asia as their playground.
The only question is whether at this juncture Russia will decide to use
nuclear weapons to win in Central Asia. At that time China may have reached
nuclear parity with the ailing Russian Strategic Rocket Forces (if not with
America), so the nuclear option would be less than useful to the Russians.
Nevertheless, this is the great gamble in Central Asia, and China would
probably win it. The other gamble is whether America would acquiesce to
annexation of countries in the buffer zone once shown the 'great pain' lesson.
This, of course, depends on America's mood during those years. America did
not interfere in Japan's invasion of China during World War Two even though
this threatened America's strategic position and British allied territories.
Threats are usually not enough to spur America to fight, and China would
be very careful not to provoke America excessively by attacking anything
directly on American soil. A complete conquest of the Philippines might
provoke America to declare war, but a partial invasion followed by a
'negotiated' withdrawal which insured Filipino 'neutrality' probably would not.
Following this Asian imbroglio the West would undoubtedly begin to seriously
re-arm, but the chance to contain Chinese ambitions would have been lost.
Each act of self-defence by the West would be called 'provocative' by China,
and tensions would escalate. The use of nuclear weapons somewhere in Sakha
or Central Asia might be the final straw in a world highly dependent on oil
and plunged into recession by sky-rocketing oil prices. Once war is declared,
the Chinese will quickly move against American naval units with missiles,
destroying American power projection. Ships are extremely vulnerable to
sophisticated missiles, and that's why the Chinese are today concentrating
on this field instead of greatly expanding their blue-water navy. Draining
excellent Russian technology in this field, the Chinese will have undoubtedly
perfected ship-killing missiles by 2020. Once shipping in the Pacific is interdicted,
Japan will beg for negotiations because it is highly-dependent on open lanes
for crucial raw materials of all kinds. Thailand and Indonesia will be offered
concessions by the Chinese, such as Australian territory or some such arrangement.
The American coalition in the Pacific will collapse, and America will have to
make a decision of fighting alone or agreeing to some sort of negotiated truce.
The price would be American withdrawal from the Pacific, and the Chinese threat
will be neverending war in the Pacific. American resolve might wither, especially
if Europe refused to send combat troops to the Pacific to fight 'an American war'.
NATO would be torn asunder (if it isn't sooner), and world opinion might favour
a temporary peace rather than justice against China.