The Department of Defense and other government bureaucracies, along with the media, are increasingly worried about Chinese bellicosity and imperial growth. Previous administrations have responded with a series of anemic gestures towards Chinese aggression: joint military exercises with Asian-Pacific “allies”, strategic “pivots” towards Asia, glass-house stone throwing Twitter condemnation of human rights abuses by our politicians, and attempts to keep other countries holding US dollars rather than banking with China. Recent DoD gray literature suggests our government has begun to accept we are no longer the power we once were and might not be able to beat China and Russia in military contest between these great powers. This essay will attempt to give a realistic picture of great power competition with China from the perspective of a technologist and former naval officer.
The Chinese Threat:
Buying American politicians, businessmen companies, assets and real estate
Rich, corrupt Chinese are buying American real-estate in an effort to protect their money from Chinese Communist Party anti-corruption investigations. This is pricing Americans out of homes in areas with “good schools” in California, Oregon, Washington and other parts of the country where Chinese form enclaves. The fewer Americans living on American soil, the smaller America becomes. Just ask the Canadians.
They’re also buying Hollywood. The Chinese can certainly propagandize Americans more easily by using Hollywood studios. This is a time-honored tradition of global Communists.
In addition to Hollywood, they’ve been buying disloyal American businessmen and politicians, ports, and other assets and governments around the world, particularly in Africa, South America and Asia. Manufacturing and hard work have made them rich and they’re diversifying their assets.
What they don’t feel like buying, they steal. Chinese H1B visa holders easily transfer technology to the motherland. According to a federal law enforcement acquaintance, Chinese enclaves are also, unsurprisingly, hotbeds of Chinese IP theft. The agent I know is constantly investigating and arresting middle-aged Chinese men in these enclaves. The truth is that Chinese often have two jobs: one for Globo Tech MegaCorp and the other for the Chinese Communist Party.
They don’t have to come here to steal, though. Google and Apple manufacture in Foxconn in China. These corporations are completely dependent on Chinese goodwill for their manufacturing since Foxconn – a quasi-governmental entity – owns all the manufacturing processes and equipment. Apple is rumored to be trying to regain control over their manufacturing so they can bid one manufacturer against another. Mostly, these megacorps’ new plan is to move production to Southeast Asia (Vietnam). Qualcomm is a big chipset company that manufactures in China. They believe they keep control over their IP through an army of Chinese lawyers who pay the right bribes. I am skeptical that this strategy works.
They’ve been squeezing our industrial base for a long time by subsidizing their own steel, manufacturing, shipbuilding, electronics and rare earth metals industries. They keep prices artificially low because they do not have to pay non-recurring engineering costs for IP they steal and because the government subsidizes industrial costs as part of China’s industrial policy. We don’t have an industrial plan. When you fail to plan, you plan to fail. We could at least improve the business climate and protect our industries through tariffs. Trump understands this and has been the only president to protect American interests from modern China.
The Chinese, as near as I can tell, view war in a decidedly non-Western way. Sun Tzu was the world’s first military theorist of record and, correct me if I’m wrong, he viewed war as far more than physical conflict. Chinese military doctrine towards the United States is probably best explained in a book by two Chinese called Unrestricted Warfare. I haven’t read this book so I can’t comment on the strategy. I can only comment on the improvements in their weapons.
The Chinese are highly interested in defeating our navy since we use our Navy to police the world’s oceans and dictate the terms of maritime trade, so we will first focus on Chinese threats to US surface ships. The Chinese have invested heavily in antiship missiles that can be launched by aircraft, guided towards a carrier, and perform maneuvers in the terminal phase to evade our close-in weapons system (CIWS) and rolling airframe missiles (RIM 116). There is no way of knowing how good these missiles are except the hard way. Even if they lack capability, they can use many of them and some will get through.
Aside from their anti-ship missiles, their ballistic missiles and targeting have improved greatly since the ’90s when our scientists inexplicably began collaborating with Chinese weapons scientists which may have resulted in a kickback to Slick Willy’s favorite charity. Remember Wen Ho Lee? Given the US-assisted improvements in Chinese warheads, it’s quite possible that the Chinese could destroy our carriers with tactical ballistic missiles. We’ve developed Aegis-based theater ballistic missile defense. It reportedly works, but I wonder about the assumptions that went into field testing. Ultimately, the only way to find out if it truly works is to try it in war. This is true of most weapons systems.
Then there is the Chinese submarine threat. Chinese submarines have gotten quieter and their commanders and crews more capable. Their torpedoes have improved. Over the past 10 years, there have been numerous reports in American newspapers about Chinese submarines stalking and surfacing near US carriers suggesting they’d have no problems hitting a carrier with a torpedo.
Taken together, these threats would probably result in most of our carriers being neutralized before they could launch enough aircraft to make a dent in their air defenses which will operate in conjunction with their own air forces. Their air defense systems have gotten a lot better along with their aircraft, though they don’t seem to be any good at flying. Even if their pilots aren’t good, they have a lot of them while we have no industrial capacity to rebuild our carriers and aircraft at the same rate we did in WWII.
All this is to say that we would not win a regional war in China since it would depend heavily on our navy and the Chinese have built effective technologies to neutralize our navy quickly.
Economically, the Chinese can only get so far through stealing, piracy, and graft and it’s not far enough to enrich the rest of their population before it ages and succumbs to economic and social problems of its own. For decades, China has maintained a foolish one-child policy based on Darwinian and Malthusian calculus about the effects of their population growth. None of the Malthusian fears have materialized, but now they have an aging population with a severe gender imbalance: many of the female babies were aborted. Young single men must compete for eligible women under absurd Chinese marriage customs and expectations exacerbated by the scarcity of women and feminism.
Chinese corporate rentier capitalism has resulted in the destruction of Chinese households just as it did in the West. This is discouraging married couples from having kids which will sap China’s industrial and military strength. Expeditionary warfare and empire require young men to conquer territory and administer it. China became an industrial power in part because China had an untapped reserve of hundreds of millions of cheap, quality workers. Chinese wages are now sky-high compared to the rest of Asia and young Chinese are becoming rare. In fact Chinese birthrates are lower than American birthrates (1.6 vs. 1.7) and dropping
Baby talk has become hot in China. When the one-child policy was officially replaced by a two-child policy in 2016 – the Population and Family Planning Law in China now grants married couples the right to have up to two children – the official number of births grew by less than anticipated (an extra 1.3 million, to 17.9 million, against 16.6 million in 2015); in 2017 the number dropped (to 17.2 million).
Low birthrate has caused the usual pathologies in child-rearing such as too much attention being placed on spoiled “Little Emperors” resulting in a masculinity crisis. This downward trend could be reversed by legalizing Christianity since Christians tend to have kids, but Chinese Christians are currently suffering the greatest persecution since Mao under Xi Jinping.
Recommendations for policy makers
Given China’s internal troubles, I recommend we focus on containing China’s theft, meddling and expansion on US soil rebuilding our own nation. It’s difficult to tell whether the West or China are collapsing more quickly, but we have no control over China nor any interest in an unstable China. The best thing is peace between both nations and positive-sum prosperity.
The first recommendation is to stop letting corporations dictate immigration policy – which amounts to importing low-talent Chinese to work for low pay and enabling them to steal IP – and industrial policy – which has resulted in offshoring our manufacturing and technical base to China. Corporations are not people, nor nations, nor governments but subordinate to and dependent on all three. Rather, the government should be setting immigration policy based on the greater good of the nation and its effect on all citizens instead of on the needs of corporations and business interests. Corporations that can’t find American talent should be expected to develop American talent because they’re using American soil, institutions, security, and taxpayer money. We should continue to use tariffs against China to encourage American corporations to onshore production while we encourage new, organic growth of American manufacturing. This is definitely possible, and it can begin in our own households and neighborhoods.. We need to start making things again.
The second recommendation is to halt the growth of Chinese territorial expansion within the United States. Chinese corporations and nationals should be restricted from buying our ports and real estate. Birthright citizenship – which encourages Chinese birth tourism – should be ended immediately. Chinese nationals should be encouraged to leave just as the Chinese government is encouraging Western nationals to leave. The growth of Chinese enclaves in the US has already pitted some state governments against the federal government and vice-versa in terms of business, trade, finance and foreign treaties. Ultimately, a foreign people begets a foreign government. Look no further than California for proof.
The third recommendation is to stop using our Navy to police the waters near China and defend “allies” like Taiwan and South Korea who steal so much of our IP to resell to China. We may help Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and the Phillipines when they ask for it, but it is not our job to defend them. It’s their job.
The final recommendation is for the government to get better technically to realistically assess threats. For example, articles like this are just absurd – there is no such thing as a “quantum computer” or “quantum technology” other than every computer is a quantum computer because it uses semiconductors which are designed using quantum mechanics and chemistry. The list of threats inflated by our military industrial complex (MIC) is too long to list here. The government is advised by our MIC and needs to find better, neutral advisers whose incomes are de-coupled from MIC profit motives as far as possible. A realistic assessment of threats like China, such as the above, will focus our collective will on more-productive endeavors.
Recommendations for Americans (and Chinese)
Should war arise between the United States and China, and “we” are asked to pour blood and treasure into it, ask “Who is we?” The current battle between China and the United States is a war between elites of both countries over which country will be the hegemon of the 21st century. The Chinese have gotten rich and will no longer bow to Westerners. Credulous Western businessmen are discovering that the Chinese never really respected them but only wanted their money and stuff.
Recently, for example, a private group of American economists and trade experts with long-standing experience in China traveled to Beijing, expecting their usual technical give-and-take with Chinese government officials.
Instead, a member of the Chinese Politburo harangued them for almost an hour, describing the U.S.-China relationship as a “clash of civilizations” and boasting that China’s government-controlled system was far superior to the “Mediterranean culture” of the West, with its internal divisions and aggressive foreign policy.
My long-term bet is that neither the United States, nor China, nor Russia will be future powers. All three have life-threatening internal problems that will result in their accelerating collapse and fragmentation. If the elite insist on war, they can send their own sons (if any) to fight it.