Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Here They Come
With China’s new role as the new global economic power – the superpower that has taken over the pro-globalization mantle now abandoned by United States – comes a reversal of a long-standing commitment to avoid international confrontations outside of her borders. Even before their very recent ascension to the top spot in global economic leadership, there were strong signs that China was already planning a new expanded role under the leadership of President Xi Jinping (who assumed his leadership role on November 15, 2012). Donald Trump’s withdrawal or announced withdrawal from numerous global accorded and trade agreements simply allowed China to accelerate her plans and simply step into the shoes vacated by the United States.
Xi has been different from his PRC predecessors. While he still struggles with corruption and pollution issues back home, when the United States pulled out of its commitments under the Paris climate change accords, he jumped at the opportunity to replace the United States as environmental leader under that almost uniformly-accepted commitment (195 nations signed, 3 nations – Syria, Nicaragua and the United States refusing to accept that accord). A chemical engineer by training, President Xi stepped up his country’s commitment to manufacturing alternative energy power generators.
As the United States has pulled back its foreign aid commitments, reducing State Department staffing and budgets while leaving major appointments in that agency unfilled, China has redoubled its global outreach. It has stepped in to replace U.S. aid commitments – sometimes getting lucrative economic access (with some military overtones) in exchange – and has become the largest builder of global infrastructure as part of that effort. China has even assured Mexico that if the United States and its NAFTA renegotiation create economic shortfalls, the PRC would make up the difference.
While China has had its share of territorial disputes – the last major struggle was in 1958 between Taiwan and the PRC over two small islands (Quemoy and Matsu) in the Taiwan Strait – it’s recent foray to enhance land mass by manmade expansion of an island (within the Spratly chain) in the South China Sea has become both an international and regional bone of contention. Now built to handle military aircraft, “China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all have competing claims. China has backed its own claims with expansive island-building and naval patrols.” BBC.com, June 28th. The United States periodically tests the limits of PRC control with flyovers by U.S. military aircraft and penetration of nearby waterways by U.S. naval vessels.
That PRC Spratly claim represents a major military turning point for China. And with the rather clear withdrawal of the United States from many levels of international responsibility – despite having a military that constitutes over 40% of the global military budget – China has every reason to accelerate the growth of its military to parallel its newfound economic power… still far behind U.S. expenditures.
“Beijing's defence budget still remains smaller than that of the US though… While China plans to spend about 1.3% of its projected economic output in 2017 on defence, the US spends roughly 3% on the military. Given that the US economy is larger, the dollar value difference is enormous… US President Donald Trump has also proposed a 10% increase in the military budget.” BBC.com. But that PRC military spending is accelerating, and some of the new weapon systems – including PRC’s April launch of its first domestically-constructed aircraft carrier (pictured above) – are ultra-modern and startlingly effective.
China is strongly asserting that their part of the Pacific Rim, including all the regional waterways, is now their arena of exclusive sphere of influence and that the United States can no longer claim that supremacy in their own backyard. It is enhancing its naval capacity to deter air, sea and under-sea military deployment against their interests. What is essential to their naval power is a fast-attack, stealth capacity with the latest in ship-to-ship, anti-aircraft and subsurface weapons, the definition of a modern destroyer.
Well, PRC fans, China has developed its own, home-grown version of this vessel, first with smaller modern 52C/D class destroyers… and now with a craft that is very competitive with our best. A small ship with a huge punch. Launched in late June, “China's new 10,000-tonne destroyer will undergo extensive testing… The warship ‘is equipped with new air defence, anti-missile, anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons,’ China's official news agency Xinhua said… According to the state-run Global Times, the vessel type is thought to be the first type 055 destroyer - a successor to the smaller type 052D destroyers.” You can expect a whole lot more of these vessels along with more carriers. Fortunately, China is not ramping up to match U.S. levels or capacities, but then they are not yet globally deployed like U.S. forces. Yet.
As Donald Trump pulls back from trade agreements and global commitments, as China and Russia now step into our place, these non-U.S. superpowers literally have to expand their military to cover this growth. We’re are effectively motivating their expanding that capacity. Their military industrial complexes will grow, military trade with their global partners will increase, and in the end, we will either slip further down the global power and influence ladder or, at some time in the future, force ourselves back into an infinitely more expensive competitive struggle to reassert our economic and political power everywhere. It’s not enough to have a huge military – not to mention that the cost of sustaining a large military does require parallel global economic reach, which we are rapidly abandoning. But that would require a long-term view of political analysis and an understanding of history… and we know those components are rather lacking in the Trump administration.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I keep repeating that George Santayana quote that “those who do not study history are condemned to repeat its mistakes”… like us.