Saturday, October 10, 2020


President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have espoused similar positions on China, but whoever wins the election will have to deal with the stubborn facts of the threats it poses.

China’s actions — from its naval expansion to its bifurcation of the Internet — make clear its intention to dominate the Pacific region beginning with its neighboring nations.

China’s aggressiveness is manifest. For example, as The Washington Times reported on Oct. 5, China is pushing aggressively to take over the major bodies of the United Nations. It occupies one of five permanent seats on the Security Council entitling it to veto any UNSC resolution. China has, along with Russia, exercised that power to prevent the renewal of the U.N. arms embargo against Iran, which expires this month.

China’s actions at the U.N. are just business as usual. But the regime of Chinese President Xi Jinping is more eager to exercise its power than any since that of Mao Zedong.  

Hong Kong was supposed to remain a free market democracy for 50 years after the British left in 1997, but China has crushed it under its totalitarian boot. China often threatens democratic Taiwan with invasion and holds large war games in nearby waters to emphasize those threats. 

The Internet is supposed to be an unlimited global marketplace for ideas and products. But China has built a “Great Firewall” around itself limiting anyone in China, citizen and foreigner alike, to Chinese government-controlled and monitored websites for access to news and marketing as well as equally supervised communications apps such as “WeChat.” The spread of Chinese-designed 5G networks in Europe and elsewhere is other means for China to conduct espionage and limit the Internet.

China’s aggression in the South China Sea is so well-known that it is mostly ignored by the media. Building islands where none were before and arming them with missile and naval installations, China’s expansion there is unchallenged except for the “freedom of navigation” operations by the U.S. Navy. 

Japan, India and Australia — all of which are directly threatened by China — have joined the U.S. in the “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue,” which seeks to plan jointly to contain China. Though India usually shuns military alliances, the “Quad Countries” could — and should — evolve into a treaty alliance effective against China. 

China’s cyber-aggression is equally well-known and ignored. Every day, Chinese attacks on the Pentagon, its contractors and U.S. commercial interests result in the theft of hundreds of billions of dollars in military and commercial secrets every year. That China’s conventional espionage is ubiquitous was evidenced by the arrest last month of a New York City police officer who is charged with spying for the Chinese on Tibetan immigrants. 

Perhaps China’s most direct challenge to the United States is the expansion of its navy. According to a September Pentagon report, China’s navy now has more ships than the U.S. Navy, which had been the world’s largest since World War II. It now has almost 400 ships while the U.S. has 296. Defense Secretary Mark Esper wants to rebuild the fleet to 500 ships and to include among them a considerable number of unmanned combat vessels. 

Naval strength is not measured only by the number of combat ships but in their capabilities and how they are deployed strategically. Judged by its current and projected naval shipbuilding China intends to project its power widely. 

Our military used to speak derisively of China’s threats to invade Taiwan as the “million-man swim.” Now, China could mount an invasion of Taiwan and — after a considerable fight — probably conquer the island nation. It’s unlikely that the U.S. would enter such a war for several reasons, not the least of which is China’s naval and missile power is designed around the strategy of barring U.S. access to the region.

Aircraft carriers — and their battle groups — are used to project power. China now has two carriers and is rapidly building more. Its Type 004 carriers will be nuclear-powered and have features, such as the electromagnetic launch systems, that are innovations in our newest Ford-class carriers. 

Our Navy is too small to meet its global responsibilities. It is stretched thin by these requirements, with ships — particularly nuclear carriers which require about six months in a shipyard to be refueled — at sea for long periods which put enormous pressures on both the ships and their crews. 

In February, Mr. Esper held back from sending Congress the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding program. He likely did so to force the Navy to think more clearly about the Chinese naval threat and include more unmanned combat ships in its plan.

America will need much more than an expanded Navy to deter or defeat the Chinese threats. As the Defense Science Board reported recently, the Chinese and other threats will require greater “Gray Zone” warfare capabilities, including better cyberweapons, information warfare capabilities, economic and commercial warfare tools and new “multidomain” military systems that can combine operations in space, on the ground, at sea and in the air. 

Congressional Democrats are already talking about their desire to cut defense spending if former Vice President Joe Biden is elected. If he is, and they go forward with those plans, China will not be deterred and we may be unable to defeat it if war comes.

• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of Defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”

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