The threat to US is rising China, rising Asia

That uproar you’re hearing over the South China Sea?  Is it war klaxons?  Or dinner bells?

US Navy is not in the “peaceful coexistence” business in Asia anymore

US Navy is not in the ‘peaceful coexistence’ business in Asia any more

Over at Foreign Policy, J. Randy Forbes, Representative, Virginia, and Chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, opined on June 17 : “As of now, the military component to the rebalance amounts to shifting 2,500 Marines to the region while increasing America’s naval presence by three ships per year, to a total of 67 ships by the end of the decade. That response is so modest that, even if it is achievable, it is more a sign of weakness than strength.”

As to what an adequately muscular response would be, on June 23 Mark Thompson, Time magazine’s national security correspondent tweeted: “Navy finally decides how many ships it needs.”

And he reproduced testimony from Rear Admiral Paul Fanta before Forbes’ committee: If we had a choice, we would walk across the Pacific on the deck of a destroyer, occasionally stubbing our toes stepping down onto a submarine, and up onto an aircraft carrier.”

US, not PLAN, warships, it’s safe to assume.  Indisputably, the pivot is the Navy’s chance to shine and justify its massive Asian footprint by doing something bigger and better than facing down Kim Jung Il and chasing tsunami and typhoon relief.

As part of the new pivot regime, the new head of PACCOM, Admiral Harry Harris, has ditched the conciliatory stylings of the previous office-holder, Admiral Locklear, in favor of a more pro-active middle-finger posture to emphasize that the US Navy is not in the “peaceful coexistence” business in Asia any more.

The Marines also have a big pivot role thanks to their island-assaulting-and-conquering experience in the Pacific.  Even though the U.S. Marines are compared to the Harlem Globetrotters in terms of their abilities to run rings around their opponents in the amphibious warfare biz, there’s always cause for concern and room for improvement, per Reuters : “With some 80,000 personnel or almost half its strength in Asia, the U.S. Marines are the biggest amphibious force in the region. Most are based on Japan’s Okinawa Island on the edge of the East China Sea. …With around 12,000 marines, China is a formidable potential foe, say military experts.”

How to deal with this “formidable potential foe”?  More funding needed, as their commandant, General Joseph Dunford, stated : “Of particular concern is the disaggregation of forces in the U.S. Pacific Command area of operations. Once the ‘preferred laydown’ in the Pacific is fully implemented, the Marines will have a presence on mainland Japan and the island of Okinawa, South Korea, Guam and Australia – all falling under the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force structure.

“On a day-to-day basis, that kind of distribution will provide us more effective theater security cooperation, working with our partners and so forth. But conversely, providing the lift capability so the Marines aren’t stranded on an island will be a challenge, given the shortfall in amphibious ships.

“My priority right now would be, we’ve got over a thousand Marines in Australia; I would like them to have routine access right now to a platform that they can use to conduct engagement in the area,” he continued. “But it isn’t just about one ship and it’s just not about one location; it’s about dealing with a logistics challenge, a training challenge, a war-fighting challenge in the Pacific with a shortfall of platforms.”

Unsurprisingly, Commandant Dunford was sharing his anxieties with the Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus.

The Air Force would also like a word, per a Reuters article under the heading ‘China aims to challenge U.S. air dominance: Pentagon : “China is mounting a serious effort to challenge U.S. military superiority in air and space, forcing the Pentagon to seek new technologies and systems to stay ahead of its rapidly developing rival, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said on Monday.

“The Pentagon’s chief operating officer, speaking to a group of military and civilian aerospace experts, said China was ‘quickly closing the technological gaps,’ developing radar-evading aircraft, advanced reconnaissance planes, sophisticated missiles and top-notch electronic warfare equipment. Work said the United States has relied on technological superiority for the past 25 years, but now ‘the margin of technological superiority upon which we have become so accustomed … is steadily eroding.'”

If the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is as big a boondoggle as its critics say, and its best use will be as a gravity bomb dropped from a USAF dirigible, maybe our air superiority is really eroding. However, if the PRC stealth fighters are really built on a foundation of stolen F-35 technology, maybe we don’t have that much to worry about.

And the Army, too?

US Army Chief says their #SouthChinaSea presence maintains normalcy amid China’s ‘disruptive’ behaviour.

Actually, General Brooks was talking up mil-mil engagement with the PLA, not another land war in Eurasia, a good thing since the Army’s over-the-top mission-and-budget hogging over the last two decades is apparently a source of some jealousy and resentment in the other uniformed services.

And the chances that the PRC will continue its island-building ways until the South China Sea is paved over so the U.S. Army can drive an armored division across it seem rather remote.
There are, I think, three factors at work here.

First, everybody likes money.  Now that the PRC has been officially designated as the big threat, it’s time to muscle up to the “better-safe-than-sorry” limit in Asia, it’s up to the Pentagon to grow the budget pie, and it’s up to every armed service to fight for the biggest possible slice.

Second, threat and budget-inflation imperatives aside, the PRC is big and it’s getting bigger.  Right now, the US occupies 22 percent or so of global GDP, and the PRC’s down at 14 percent.  Unless the PRC spectacularly and catastrophically falls on its behind, those numbers will flip-flop and the PRC’s economy will account for 20 percent of the world’s GDP in 2050, as opposed to 14 percent for the US.

Keeping up with PRC military expenditures in its own backyard will be expensive for Mr. and Mrs. American taxpayer over the next few decades, so better get used to it.

The third, less obvious factor is that the pivot to Asia is, in my mind, fundamentally flawed because it is built upon the premise of US leadership in Asian security, and ‘US leadership’ looks to be a wasting asset.

It’s not just the PRC.  Everybody’s getting bigger, and the US’s relative share is shrinking.
PricewaterhouseCoopers took the IMF’s 2014 GDP numbers and worked the spreadsheet magic using projected growth rates.

In 2050, here’s how they see the GDP horserace playing out, in trillions: China 61; India 42; USA 41; Indonesia 12; Brazil 9; Mexico 8; Japan 7.9; Russia 7.5; Nigeria 7.3 and Germany 6.3. Poodlicious Euro-allies UK, Italy, and France will be out of the top ten in 2050.  Australia drops from 19th place to 28th.

Put it another way, the US will have 14 percent of the world’s GDP and Asia, the region we’re purporting to lead, will have 50 percent.

Don’t just look at the US vs. PRC numbers, 41 trillion vs. 61. Look at India+Indonesia+Japan+South Korea+Malaysia+Philippines+Thailand+Vietnam, the ‘pivot partners’ actual or aspirational that neighbor the PRC. Their cumulative GDP today: about the same as the US. In 2050: 77 trillion. More than the PRC. Way more than the United States.

And no, you can’t add those numbers to the US ‘anti-PRC’ coalition total for a big, reassuring number. Not even today.

To be unkind about it, the experience of the Middle East has not shown the US to be a particularly reliable and responsible steward of local well being in a volatile region. Countries with sufficient wealth and opportunities are unsurprisingly working to assure their own security futures instead of relying on the U.S.

All of the pivot partners are already feeling their Asian oats and most of them are pursuing hedging strategies between the US and the PRC as a matter of enlightened self-interest.  US says ‘TTP’, most say ‘TTP + RCEP’.  They are happy to take arms and military assistance from the US, but they also buy from Russia and France.

The only country that’s close to all-in on the pivot on the US side is the Philippines.  And it is deepening its engagement with Japan, not just the United States.

In a Guardian article  titled, ‘We have short memories’: Japan unites with former foes to resist China’s empire of sand, a bilateral Japanese-Philippine patrol in the South China Sea is described and it is clear — perhaps worryingly clear to US military planners — that the Philippines is not about to put all its eggs in the American basket:

“The Philippine defence secretary, Voltaire Gazmin, said this week that Japan should become further involved with Manila’s military, arguing for a visiting forces agreement which would allow Japanese troops to be stationed in the Philippines, similar to a deal with Washington, which has naval ships in Filipino ports.

“It would be ironic if we cannot do exercises with Japanese forces when Japan is one of the only two countries – the other one being the United States – which are strategic partners of the Philippines,” Gazmin said on Wednesday.

Japan, the linchpin of the US pivot strategy —  and a source of orgasmic pleasure to US China hawks when it revised its defense guidelines to permit joint military operations in East Asia with the United States — already plays its own hand in Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Myanmar, as well as the Philippines.

Historically inclined readers might note 1) these are all countries that Japan invaded and/or occupied as a matter of national interest in World War II and 2) Japan is run by the spiritual heirs—or in the case of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the direct heirs — of people who ran Japan back then and implemented that policy until the United States defeated them.

People with long memories will also recall that, when the PRC was a small, weak player, the justification for the US presence in Japan was to restrain Japanese militarism for the sake of Asian peace of mind … which is why the PRC kept harping on the Potsdam Declaration, the World War II victor’s justice dispensation, and the implications for the US leadership position in Asia when Shinzo Abe took office for his second term and started nibbling away at the “Peace” Constitution imposed by MacArthur.

Nowadays, US pretensions to act as “honest broker” in Asia as an alternative to Japan have been subordinated to the need to construct a PRC-containment regime. When you anoint Japan as a theater-wide anti-PRC military ally, you’re not getting the same ally you had when Japan’s main job was hosting US bases and poking around in its own territorial waters and airspace.

Nope, America’s Pacific Century (Hillary Clinton’s term) is not going to be pushing around overmatched, grateful, and anxious allies like the UK, Poland, and Germany while trampling on small borderline failed states in the Middle East.  It’s going to be contending with half a dozen rising Asian nations, all with experiences of empire and aspirations to at least local hegemony…and on top of them, there’s China.

So the urgent threat to US leadership in Asia isn’t just rising China; it’s rising Asia.
And I think US planners have also looked at the numbers and decided there’s a limited time window for the United States, during which it can use its military superiority, its wealth, the economic, technological, and cultural vitality of its system, and its domination of international financial and security institutions to occupy a central position in Asia…

…and avoid confronting the possibility that the United States will no longer enjoy recognition as the world’s leading military and economic power, a title it has enjoyed during the living memory of almost every living person on the planet, and a role that is an existential folly for any American politician, pundit, or military officer to question.

But to me, hyping the China threat in order to muscle up the Pacific presence, leverage American strengths, and prolong US predominance is something of a Hail Mary. It may postpone the US decline to “one among equals”, but I don’t think it can prevent it.  And it’s going to make the process very expensive and, perhaps, very messy and painful.

Peter Lee runs the China Matters blog. He writes on the intersection of U.S. policy with Asian and world affairs.

(Copyright 2015 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)



Categories: Asia Times News & Features, China, South Asia, Southeast Asia

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  • originalone

    And it’s going to make the process very expensive, and perhaps, very messy and painful. Probably quite right, though the powers to be in the U.S.. both in the Military as well as the Government, seem to still be wearing those rose colored glasses of invincibility. At some point, the money runs out to keep the wars going, so, the sooner that becomes a reality, then the sooner rational minds might reset and lead the way? Time will tell, but those old stalwarts of the past, still live in the past, need to retire.

  • George Silversurfer

    It is called China containment and not Asia containment mainly to facilitate the recruitment of the willing in Asia…though Washington would be surprised it would not have made that much difference.

  • Rafasa Arandas

    The PRC as it is today is a genuine threat to all of Asia, not just to the United States.

  • vox3non

    It’s a response to the US “pivot to Asia”. Except for the north, China is surrounded by US bases. What’s more, the SLOC from China to the middle east is lined with either US bases or states friendly to the US. No surprise that China is pushing back.

    The “threat” is a just hyped-up version of the “yellow peril” exercised by the US media. The sad part is that countries that should be wary of US shenanigans are joining the US.

    To digress – this is similar to the NATO creep up Russia’s western flank (which NATO promised that they wouldn’t do), and then the US and NATO acts all huffy when Russia snaps back.

    Why be surprised when all this blows back in your face.

  • Kenington

    US cannot stand any country rising. As soon as India gets more developed and prosperous, it will be the next target. Ditto for Brazil which is already being targeted. And Mexico, etc.

  • Mordan Castro

    China if unchecked will devour smaller countries (in fact it already did), communist ideal is purely simpleton, barbaric and no intention to get along smaller nations to gain on its interest. There is no “strategy”..it is just a “just stop me if you can” mindset disrespecting International Laws. A bigger force has to act.

  • China Lee

    China’s YJ-18 anti-ship missile has a Mach 3 terminal-stage Maneuverable Warhead
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3taU59z05A

  • teddyfromcd

    freedom of navigation means from the USA ;;

    usa freedom to interdict,blockade, economically strangle, intimidate, threaten, invade, land forces anywhere, ”direct traffic”,

    in a region and continent and its maritime highways
    THE USA has NO business being in – in the first place.

    OBAMA proclamation early 2015:

    “A) we are a pacific nation —
    B) and THEREFORE — also an asian nation.
    C) and we intend to be the leading ASIAN power”.

    A -not equal to or same as B — is turned into

    B equal to and same as C.

    A BAD LOGIC. of using a negative to prove it is positive.

    CHINA editorials :

    “we disagree with the president of the USA:

    A) america may be a pacific nation ——-
    B) but that does NOT mean it is also an ASIAN nation,
    C) and therefore has no role in trying to be an asian POWER”.

    A) is not the same or equal to B and therefore
    A) can not be the same or equal to B, and if B can be equal to C
    A) , not being the same as B …
    also can not be the same or equal to C.

    correct logic.

  • teddyfromcd

    USA – LEFT UNCHECKED has been devouring and destroying countries.//////////

    the world prefers china.

  • teddyfromcd

    no — some countries are just jealous — because china succeeds where THEY fail with their own people and economies.

    they have spent most of their ‘democracy’ licking the ASS of america and western countries — that they couldn’t do what china has demonstrated — bring greater prosperity to its people — and other partner countries besides…..

    so they spend their time poking at china’s imperfections or failures — while they scratch their behinds bragging about their ‘freedom from china’ — except they can;t free themselves from enslavement to uncle sam and their own poverty for their people..

    and they know who THEY are.

  • teddyfromcd

    if – for example – INDIA wants to be a leader in asia for others to gravitate to?

    FIRST SHOW THE MODEL by bringing up its tens of millions from poverty …and freedom from the effects of UNCLE SAM and west’s ”economic rules”.

    THEN they can start opening their mouths about how bad china is.

    i say this as asian – neither indian or chinese, but filipino.

    and if i have to look at BOTH great ancient civilizations — from as objective an eye as i can — setting aside ”nationality” —

    i see china as the one that has done WELL not just for itself but for the economies it does business with.

    what have countries like india, or japan really done for ALL of asia in comparison? to present themselves as ‘models?”

  • teddyfromcd

    the governments of india, indonesia, malaysia, japan, philippines have done BETTER?

    have ANY of them brought from poverty 700,000,000 people?

    have ANY of them LED asia in becoming the world’s MOST IMPORTANT ECONOMIC BLOC with rising prosperity for its nations?

    did india do that? did japan do that? did philippines , thailand, indonesia do that?

    please tell us a list of these things that the great governments of these other nations did to compare with what the PRC has done…….FOR china and FOR asia.

  • Rafasa Arandas

    The PRC serves only its own interests in the long term, not the interests of “Asia” as a whole, and you know this. It gathers other Asian nations to its side because realistically it has no choice, and because it wants them firmly within its own sphere of influence for the next century or so.

  • teddyfromcd

    yes yes yes — the PRC ”only looks after itself and china” …

    and venezuelas government only looks after itself and venezuela…and the US government only looks after itself…and RUSSIAs government only looks after russia…etc. etc etc…

    NOW — please answer my question:

    what HAS INDIA’S government done for the HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF ITS POOR? nevermind ASIA…since india and its government apparently can’t generate enough money to actually do as china does everywhere – build railroads useful to economies…..build ports, build industries….

    heck — even the AFRICAN minister of economics in zimbabwe — a resource rich country said months ago:

    “in only over a decade of engagement with china — our economy — and that of many in africa have benefited …..this can not be said of the western nations for hundreds of years ….i speak with confidence that i express the conclusion of other economic ministers of this continent”.

    AND IF you are unhappy or cynical about china – that it only has its interests — please show how its engagement with countries IMPOVERISHES THEM instead of the rise of the economies along the ‘SILK ROAD” THAT comprise the general rise of ASIA’S economy?

    china’s self-interest must be so bad that RUSSIA — under extreme sanctions from the USA AND west — designed to ‘render russia’s economy in tatters” – as obama BRAGGED just 4 months ago — but FAILED —

    is suffering or not finding alternative ways to SURVIVE the sanctions because of china’s self-interest alone?

    WHAT HAS INDIA DONE in the face of russia’s NEED TO find STRONG alternative – economically and security wise ?

    surely india — as you seem to imply — might be A BETTER MODEL ?

    if so — please show us WHERE?
    was it INDIA THAT managed to provide an economic and financial stability to ALL OF ASIA – during the 1990’s currency collapse instigated by Wall STREET?

    WAS IT INDIA that produced the stability for all of asia — and the world — in the face of the wall street created 2008 global economic disaster?

    my my — if that is china’s self-interest — then it must be GOOD!!!

    WHAT HAS INDIA DONE? .

  • Mordan Castro

    teddyfromcd- which planet are you from?

  • teddyfromcd

    it conversation about ME? or about events ?

    anyway — i’m from plain old planet earth…
    some people apparently are from some Bizarro world named :

    USA …. u know folks that seem to think the universe revolves around ” america ?”

    s

  • Mordan Castro

    Basically, the commies thinks all the murders and oppression is justified by the wealth they have gained.Commies also think that the theft and massive hackings they did is justified by the wealth they have gained. Prosperity is not a justification to mass murder. Who wants to follow these kind of people? China is hell on earth now..they don’t even have Facebook.

  • ted

    To be honest.Its a bigger picture.First,the US for over 200 years has been at war.From the Revolution to the present.The US spends about almost $900 billion dollars a year on the military.That’s according to StratRisks.The 16 other emerging powers that includes China,Russia,Saudia Arabia,France,UK,India,Pakistan, to name a few.All together do not spend that amount on their military combined.And yes.That’s on borrowed money.Alot.The US goes to War because of Greed.The greed that comes from the IMF and World Bank.Also,the Central Banks,Oil Companies, and BIS.An example.In a town Austria.If remember right.The US was fighting the Nazis.Where both sides were engaged in deadly fight.Dying all over.A few miles from there. BIS was having there annual bank meeting.Where the US,Germany,France, England,China,Japan,and others. Now these meetings are closed and not opened to the public.But,they are one of the PTB that decides the fate of the world.After WWII things changed for the worst.And PTB began running the world.The two locations where BIS has there main offices is Mexico.The other how ironic is China.Yes.China does have a Central Bank like many the west and the Middle East.Before Saddam Hussein topple.There was no Central Bank in Iraq.Before Gaddfi downfall.There was no Central Bank.Before the US invaded Afghanistan.There was no Central Bank.The only Country in the World that does not have a Central Bank.Is………North Korea.And Yes.The Central Banks is one of the Problems in Greece.

    For many years.If you look at any conflict in the world.The US is behind them.They are desperately trying to hold on to power.Whether it is Petro/Dollar or Military Supremacy.You can see this any city in the US City.Data collection,Mass Surveillance,Stripping Constitutional,and Civil Rights.Police out of control.Prison State.Let alone a Police State.Its almost to a point of no return.Yes.The US has committed horrible atrocities.On there on citizens and abroad.If you look back to World History.Many countries have committed atrocities with other countries let alone there own citizens.US is no exception.So is China.I don’t give both them a free pass.Another would be Israel.There are others.You trading one for the other is going to make things better.

    Really, nobody wants war.Only Bankster’s,and War Mongers on both sides.But,if it happens.There always be profiteers.IMF,World Bank,Central Banks,and BIS.Greed will bring nothing but death and destruction.Not you and anybody else in world who are 99%.Just the 1%.

  • vanisle1

    After WW2, I thought we realized that the only way forward to lasting peace lay in increased international cooperation and shared authority. Otherwise, new aggressors would certainly arise. But the US seems more and more to want to run the world on its own terms — not that it can.

    The rise of China should be an opportunity for great countries to work together for the benefit of all. But it seems that real cooperation is in short supply. The US feels it has to go unchallenged in Eurasia, and China feels disrespected and endangered, and so we drift toward armed conflict.

    I still agree with Teddy Roosevelt’s “speak softly and carry a big stick,” but the speaking softly comes first, and the stick is something to hold in reserve. I really believe that a respected and accepted China would help the US to stabilize Asia, to the benefit of almost everyone.