China in 2008

Every news channel I watched tonight had a package on how China, and her economy, will be the big story of 2008. Did anyone notice how China has avoided economic calamity? Did anyone notice the change of laws earlier this year allowing China to invest in US and UK banks?

Many people forget that the biggest discussion in politics before 9/11 was not terrorism, but rather US-Sino relations, especially following the Hainan island incident.

In my opinion, September 11 simply shifted the focus away from a problem that still remains: the growing threat China poses to US interests. While the US is embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan, with her military severely tested, we have to ask has the China ‘problem’ disappeared. Clearly the answer is no. It has simply taken a back seat.

John Ikenberry, who is Albert G. Milbank Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University, writes in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs about this subject.

He is less afraid of growing Chinese power, but more concerned with how the US will cope with the changes over the next 20 years. He concludes:

The key thing for U.S. leaders to remember is that it may be possible for China to overtake the United States alone, but it is much less likely that China will ever manage to overtake the Western order. In terms of economic weight, for example, China will surpass the United States as the largest state in the global system sometime around 2020. (Because of its population, China needs a level of productivity only one-fifth that of the United States to become the world’s biggest economy.) But when the economic capacity of the Western system as a whole is considered, China’s economic advances look much less significant; the Chinese economy will be much smaller than the combined economies of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development far into the future. This is even truer of military might: China cannot hope to come anywhere close to total OECD military expenditures anytime soon. The capitalist democratic world is a powerful constituency for the preservation — and, indeed, extension — of the existing international order. If China intends to rise up and challenge the existing order, it has a much more daunting task than simply confronting the United States.

The “unipolar moment” will eventually pass. U.S. dominance will eventually end. U.S. grand strategy, accordingly, should be driven by one key question: What kind of international order would the United States like to see in place when it is less powerful?

This might be called the neo-Rawlsian question of the current era. The political philosopher John Rawls argued that political institutions should be conceived behind a “veil of ignorance” — that is, the architects should design institutions as if they do not know precisely where they will be within a socioeconomic system. The result would be a system that safeguards a person’s interests regardless of whether he is rich or poor, weak or strong. The United States needs to take that approach to its leadership of the international order today. It must put in place institutions and fortify rules that will safeguard its interests regardless of where exactly in the hierarchy it is or how exactly power is distributed in 10, 50, or 100 years.

Fortunately, such an order is in place already. The task now is to make it so expansive and so institutionalized that China has no choice but to become a full-fledged member of it. The United States cannot thwart China’s rise, but it can help ensure that China’s power is exercised within the rules and institutions that the United States and its partners have crafted over the last century, rules and institutions that can protect the interests of all states in the more crowded world of the future. The United States’ global position may be weakening, but the international system the United States leads can remain the dominant order of the twenty-first century.

He argues that the US needs the West – Europe etc – in order to survive in a new political order. We shall see, I guess. Can the US stomach a return to liberalism? A Democratic White House in 2008 would be a good start.

I do know investing in Asia Pacific and China over the next 25 years will pay rewards. It’s just figuring out how to do it properly.

China surprise

What we can probably expect from China in the near future is specific demonstrations of strength—like its successful forcing down of a U.S. Navy EP-3E surveillance plane in the spring of 2001. Such tactics may represent the trend of twenty-first-century warfare better than anything now happening in Iraq—and China will have no shortage of opportunities in this arena. During one of our biennial Rim of the Pacific naval exercises the Chinese could sneak a sub under a carrier battle group and then surface it. They could deploy a moving target at sea and then hit it with a submarine- or land-based missile, demonstrating their ability to threaten not only carriers but also destroyers, frigates, and cruisers. (Think about the political effects of the terrorist attack on the USS Cole, a guided-missile destroyer, off the coast of Yemen in 2000—and then think about a future in which hitting such ships will be easier.) They could also bump up against one of our ships during one of our ongoing Freedom of Navigation exercises off the Asian coast. The bumping of a ship may seem inconsequential, but keep in mind that in a global media age such an act can have important strategic consequences. Because the world media tend to side with a spoiler rather than with a reigning superpower, the Chinese would have a built-in political advantage.

And so it has come to pass. Robert Kaplan wrote that in the Atlantic in June 2005. Just over two years later we have this:

American military chiefs have been left dumbstruck by an undetected Chinese submarine popping up at the heart of a recent Pacific exercise and close to the vast U.S.S. Kitty Hawk – a 1,000ft supercarrier with 4,500 personnel on board.

By the time it surfaced the 160ft Song Class diesel-electric attack submarine is understood to have sailed within viable range for launching torpedoes or missiles at the carrier.

According to senior Nato officials the incident caused consternation in the U.S. Navy.

The Americans had no idea China’s fast-growing submarine fleet had reached such a level of sophistication, or that it posed such a threat.

One Nato figure said the effect was “as big a shock as the Russians launching Sputnik” – a reference to the Soviet Union’s first orbiting satellite in 1957 which marked the start of the space age.

You can draw your own conclusions from the Chinese action.

Liam Casey in China

James Fallows congratulates Liam Casey on his winning of the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. Casey was featured in the recent China special edition of the Atlantic Monthly. Fallows:

Casey informs me that in the last day or two he has received a number of congratulatory messages from contractors and business associates. These are not just about the august E&Y award but also about a long, detailed report on Casey’s company and the larger Shenzhen economy, which has just appeared in the local Guangzhou newspaper. It’s all in Chinese; it is illustrated with elegant photos by Michael Christopher Brown; in fact it is written by me; and it is a word-for-word translation of our original article. China’ cavalier approach to copyright and the whole notion of intellectual property: this time it’s personal.**

Chinese space weapons

Meanwhile, in Foreign Affairs two writers weigh up the recent Chinese anti-satellite missile test. Bates Gill holds the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and is the author of Rising Star: China’s New Security Diplomacy. Martin Kleiber is a Research Assistant at CSIS.

Curiously and worryingly, they argue that the recent test was carried out without the consent of the regime, but was done independently by the PLA.

Why did Beijing act when it did? Why would China carry out such a provocation when it has so painstakingly built up its image as a “peacefully rising” country and a “responsible great power” seeking a more “harmonious world”? What kind of a counterpart is China?

The real answer may be simpler — and more disturbing. Put bluntly, Beijing’s right hand may not have known what its left hand was doing. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and its strategic rocket forces most likely proceeded with the ASAT testing program without consulting other key parts of the Chinese security and foreign policy bureaucracy — at least not those parts with which most foreigners are familiar. This may be a more troubling prospect than anything the test might have revealed about China’s military ambitions or arms control objectives.

They believe that the same applied in the recent past:

In April 2001, soon after a Chinese fighter jet and a U.S. EP-3 reconnaissance plane collided, it became apparent that the Chinese military was not fully disclosing what it knew about the incident. Military authorities on Hainan Island, where the EP-3 was forced to land, did not provide full or accurate details of the incident to Beijing — especially not to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs — frustrating efforts by U.S. and Chinese diplomats to resolve the crisis.

Similarly, in early 2003, the PLA at first suppressed information about the spread of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), even though military doctors in the Guangzhou Military Region had been aware of an outbreak in southern China since January. Even when SARS spread to major military hospitals in Beijing in late February and early March, the PLA did not report these cases to civilian authorities. The news broke out only after a whistle-blowing PLA doctor informed the media that one hospital had 60 SARS patients and had had six SARS-related deaths. The information appeared in Time magazine in early April, prompting the Chinese government to mobilize to confront SARS and deal with the PLA’s cover-up.

Any new US administration will find it hard to deal with a regime who has ASAT tests such as the recent one – not only did it come completely out of the blue, it also is thought to be the bigget man-made creation of space debris:

For years, Chinese nuclear strategists had been quietly warning their U.S. counterparts that the PLA was working toward acquiring an ASAT capability. The most recent test was part of an ongoing series of ASAT trials, including one involving laser weapons that blind satellites. But the 2006 Pentagon report on the PLA’s modernization appears to have underestimated China’s capabilities: it claimed that China could destroy or disable a satellite only by attacking it with a nuclear-armed missile. In January, the PLA successfully tracked and destroyed a satellite with a direct, kinetic impact, suggesting that it was further along than the U.S. government had assumed.

This realization surely will prompt more scrutiny of China’s aerospace programs. The ASAT incident has already breathed new life into U.S. missile defense projects and the development of advanced technologies to counter the threat that China and other countries may pose to U.S. space-based assets. And it will strengthen arguments for proposed regulations that would impose tough export controls and further restrict high-tech trade with China, particularly in aerospace and information technologies.

The ASAT test has also cast doubt on China’s reliability as a global partner. China’s move, many informed observers believe, has generated and thrown into orbit more space debris than any other single human event, putting at risk China’s own satellites and those of other countries for decades to come. In performing the test, Beijing not only demonstrated its capacity to threaten U.S. military assets in space but also showed a lack of concern for other countries’ interest in the safe operation of satellites for day-to-day civilian activities, such as weather forecasting, financial transactions, and telephone calls.

They conclude:

For Beijing, preventing miscommunication will require better controlling the signals it sends to its neighbors and the United States. It is up to the leadership in Beijing to decide how to do this — by showing a greater willingness to break through the country’s legendary stovepiped bureaucracy, by establishing a more effective interagency process, by bringing more key players from across the security and foreign policy bureaucracy to engage with international partners, by strengthening the hand of state ministries and reining in the PLA. All of these would be difficult undertakings. But China’s growing weight in world affairs means that Beijing must do more to demonstrate its stated intentions. In the meantime, the United States — and much of the rest of the world — will be left wondering what kind of partner China can actually be.

I had not realised the PLA were such a rogue element within the regime. Military coup anyone?

War with China

Holy fuck. I genuinely had no idea that US nuclear missiles had increased in accuracy by such a degree in the last 15 years. Assistant professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame Keir Lieber and Daryl Press who was a consultant on military analysis projects for the U.S. Department of Defense for 13 years, write in the Atlantic’s China special about any war between the US and China. The statistic:

During the Cold War, U.S. submarines posed little danger to China’s silos, or to any other hardened targets. Each warhead on the Trident I missiles had little chance—roughly 12 percent—of success. Not only were those missiles inaccurate, their warheads had a relatively small yield. (Similarly, until the late 1980s, U.S. ICBMs lacked the accuracy to carry out a reliable disarming attack against China.) But the Navy’s new warheads and missiles are far more lethal. A Trident II missile is so accurate, and the newer W88 warhead so powerful, that if the warhead and missile function normally, the destruction of the silo is virtually assured (the likelihood is calculated as greater than 99 percent).

In reality, American planners could not assume such near-perfect results. Some missiles or warheads could malfunction: One missile’s rockets might fail to ignite; another’s guidance system might be defective. So a realistic counterforce plan might assign four warheads to each silo. The U.S. would “cross-target” the missiles, meaning that the warheads on each missile would each go to different silos, so that a silo would be spared only if many missiles malfunctioned. Even assuming that 20 percent of missiles malfunctioned—the standard, conservative assumption typically used by nuclear analysts—there is a 97 percent chance that every Chinese DF-5 silo would be destroyed in a 4-on-1 attack. (By comparison, a similar attack using Cold War–era Trident I missiles would have produced less than a 1 percent chance of success. The leap in American counterforce capabilities since the end of the Cold War is staggering.)

And casualties from any US first strike on Chinese silos could be quite low:

Improved accuracy now allows war planners to target hardened sites with low-yield warheads and even airbursts. And the United States is pushing its breakthroughs in accuracy even further. For example, for many years America has used global-positioning systems in conjunction with onboard inertial-guidance systems to improve the accuracy of its conventionally armed (that is, nonnuclear) cruise missiles. Although an adversary may jam the GPS signal near likely targets, the cruise missiles use GPS along their flight route and then—if they lose the signal—use their backup inertial-guidance system for the final few kilometers. This approach has dramatically improved a cruise missile’s accuracy and could be applied to nuclear-armed cruise missiles as well. The United States is deploying jam- resistant GPS receivers on other weapons, experimenting with GPS on its nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, and planning to deploy a new generation of GPS satellites—with higher-powered signals to complicate jamming.

The payoff for equipping cruise missiles (or nuclear bombs) with GPS is clear when one estimates the civilian casualties from a lower-yield, airburst attack. We asked Matthew McKinzie, a scientific consultant to the Natural Resources Defense Council and coauthor of the 2006 study, to rerun the analysis using low-yield detonations compatible with nuclear weapons currently in the U.S. arsenal. Using three warheads per target to increase the odds of destroying every silo, the model predicts fewer than 1,000 Chinese casualties from fallout. In some low-yield scenarios, fewer than 100 Chinese would be killed or injured from fallout. The model is better suited to predicting fallout casualties than to forecasting deaths from the blast and fire, but given the low population in the rural region where the silos are, Chinese fatalities would be fewer than 6,000 in even the most destructive scenario we modeled. And in the future, there may be reliable nonnuclear options for destroying Chinese silos. Freed from the burden of killing millions, a U.S. president staring at the threat of a Chinese nuclear attack on U.S. forces, allies, or territory might be more inclined to choose preemptive action.

I guess this would beg the question as to why the US needs missile defence. If they can take out the entire Chinese arsenal in one go, how hard would it be to take out the whole of Iran’s future arsenal?

China delays space walk for six months

China are holding off on a space walk – but their prowess (regardless of reliance on Russian technology) is increasing.

China’s planned space walk mission has been put back by six months and will not now take place until 2008.

The scheduled launch of the Shenzhou VII rocket will be the country’s third manned mission, but senior consultant to the country’s space programme, Huang Chunping, admitted that “Shenzhou VII was a complicated program that needed careful tests and trials”, New Scientist reports.

China and the US

This week’s Economist carries a special report on China, I thought this map to be quite interesting. It details US troop deployments in countries within China’s reach.

china

In Central Asia, the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), a security forum comprising four Central Asian states plus China and Russia, is increasingly challenging America’s military presence in the region. In July the SCO, prompted by China and Russia, demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from member states. In August, China and Russia staged their first joint military manoeuvres since the cold war. “Peace Mission 2005”, billed as a counter-terrorist exercise, looked far more like preparation for a Chinese assault on Taiwan.

On the Korean peninsula, China and America have been drawn together by a common desire to prevent tensions over North Korea’s nuclear programmes from turning into a full-blown crisis. America has praised China’s role in hosting talks aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its projects. But China has also deftly used the process to boost its ties with South Korea, a participant in the talks whose conciliatory approach to the north is often closer to China’s than America’s.

Despite tensions between South Korea and America over how to handle North Korea, their defence relationship remains solid for now. But China has an eye on the longer term when, if relations between the two Koreas improve sufficiently, greater uncertainty will arise about the need for American bases in the south.

China countdown to space launch

Events like this might not seem all that important right now. But the next big area up for grabs is space, and whoever dominates space will dominate the planet. Hence the rising American interest in both protecting it’s existing assets in orbit, and it’s plans to stop anyone else from having as much dominance as they do. It’s what any hegemon in it’s right mind would do.

It might seem in the realms of science fiction now, but it really is inevitable that space-based weapons will become a reality, treaties will be ignored. And think about it, whoever controls an orbital array can strike anywhere in the world at any time, with a non-nuclear weapon that can and would be used. It’s a ticket to global dominance that would be quite difficult to overcome, and Russia and China would not be up to it combatting it alone.

New Scientist has more here.