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United States Potent Existential Crisis- 2018- The China Threat
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Dr Subhash Kapila | Date:19 Jan , 2019 0 Comments
Dr Subhash Kapila
is a graduate of Royal British Army Staff College Camberley and combines a rich & varied professional experience in Indian Army (Brigadier), Cabinet Secretariat and diplomatic/official assignments in USA, UK, Japan, South Korea, and Bhutan.

The ‘China Threat ‘emerging in 2018  in comprehensive and diverse manifestations poses an existential crisis challenging not only the continuance of United States as the global unipolar Superpower but also targeted with intended consequences of prompting the United States to retreat into isolation within its continental confines.

The United States has long ignored the China Threat to the detriment of United States own national security but also to the security of US Allies and strategic partners. The acid test of a nations’ strategic greatness lies not only in checkmating a threat in existence to its national security but also being vigilant to a ‘Threat in the Making’, as I would put it. The United States is guilty of the latter in relation to China.

China has reached this stage of posing a potent existential challenge to the United States mainly due to United States own acts of strategic omission and commission. United States misreading of China’s long range intentions has not only facilitated the emergence of a China Threat to United States but also United States permissive attitudes on China facilitated to create two ‘rogue nuclear weapons state’ of Pakistan and North Korea as its proxy cats-paws against US Allies and strategic partners.

China is unlikely to succeed in achieving ‘strategic equivalence’ that it seeks with the United States in the foreseeable future nor are the Major Powers of the world, including Japan and India, likely to accede ‘American Exceptionalism’ to China despite its burgeoning military power. This for the simple reason that I have been stressing in my writings for two decades and that is China has no Natural Allies like the United States.

For detailed analysis on the subject, kindly read my Book, “China-India Military Confrontation: 21st Century Perspectives” (2015) Chapter 13 ‘China’s Giant Leap for Superpower Status in 21stCentury: Geopolitical Implications’.

However, China will in the 21st Century with great persistence, and unmindful of the prevailing reality, that China is besieged today from both within and without, China will continue to challenge United States global predominance and specifically Indo Pacific predominance with greater potency.

The United States has belatedly woken upto the reality that what they attempted to market globally for decades that China can be co-opted as a responsible stakeholder in global security and stability was a mirage. Long years of United States ‘China Hedging Strategy’ and ‘Risk Aversion Strategy’ made China only more recalcitrant and fed Chinese misperceptions that United States global power is on the decline.

United States policy formulations of this decade of a ‘Strategic Pivot to Asia Pacific’ and the recent emphasis on Indo Pacific Security Blueprint are seemingly belated but welcome steps to checkmate China’s unrestrained flexing of its military muscle as evident in the South China Sea.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call on Chinese Armed Forces to prepare for an all- out war are not defensive calls by a besieged nation but like Hitlerian Germany, these are offensive calls of a revisionist power. Annexation of Taiwan by use of military force seems to be China’s aim today. This has a larger aim of challenging United States resolve and determination to maintain its Superpower status. China has placed the United States on the horns of a strategic dilemma where the United States will be damned if it does not militarily intervene to defend Taiwan and if it does so it risks a full-fledged war with China. China is gambling on the United States shying away from the latter option.

Right from the turnover of the 19th Century till today no major power, not even Nazi Germany, has dared to challenge the United States predominance, geopolitically and strategically, as China is now engaged in doing so.

Even at the height of the Cold War 1945-91 when the United States and the Former Soviet Union were involved in a bitter ideological struggle one did not witness the unfolding of the type of China’s ‘Grand Strategy Blueprint’ decades in the making and operationalising, to initially unravel United States security architecture in Asia Pacific, and graduated now to a  more vividly clear reality in 2019 that China is on the avowed path of emerging as the ‘sole challenger ‘of United States  predominance and exceptionalism.

That China could geopolitically and strategically engage in the execution of such a blueprint unchallenged arose fundamentally from United States flawed policy decisions spread over many US Administrations. Such flawed  US policy decisions sprung from misconceived American readings of China’s long range strategic intentions and short-term American geopolitical expediency subjugating and distorting United States strategic vision of the ‘China Threat’ to United States national security.

The United States ‘original sin’ in relation to the latent China Threat to US national security can be placed on shoulders of US President Truman who ignored General MacArthur’s dire warnings on China and petulantly dismissed General MacArthur from the command of UN Forces in Korea. If Japan today after decades since 1945 continues as the United States most enduring and steadfast Ally, it has a lot to do with General MacArthur’s visionary zeal.

The second most serious sin in relation to flawed US policy decisions was inflicted by US President Richard Nixon in 1972 egged by his Sinophiles Secretary of States Henry Kissinger. To spite the Former USSR the United States in 1972 endowed an unwarranted international legitimacy on China despite its disruptive credentials and thereafter followed as to what could be termed as a China Appeasement policy.

The third sin was committed at the turn of the Millennium when US President Bush in his messianic zeal to tame President Saddam’s Iraq left untended both Afghanistan and more significantly Asia Pacific security. China made full use of the decade ending 2010 for its exponential military power expansion and with emphasis on a well-calibrated buildup of Chinese naval power for ‘naval operations in distant seas’.

China’s latest strategic-economic enterprises of One Belt One Road and Maritime Silk Route are nothing but an attempt to control maritime chokepoints along the global commons to United States disadvantage and as strategic pressure points against regional peer competitors.

China could not have emerged as a Major Power with threatening contours but for the United States munificence strategically and economically by massive infusions of FDI in the vain hope that the vast Chinese market would be open for US investors. The situation in 2018 is that with massive economic growth rates fuelled by United Sates it was possible for China to build up a threatening military profile. Unlike Japan and South Korea similarly built up by the United States have continued as enduring Allies of the United States the picture presented by China is the opposite. China has ungratefully turned into a ‘China Threat’ militarily and economically against the United States. Hence US President Trump being forced into initiating trade wars with China.

Contextually, what are the United States options available to the United States to checkmate the serious potent existential crisis heaped by China? Since the China Threat to the United States encompasses the entire spectrum ranging from geopolitical, strategic, military, economic and technological, the United States has to come out with a matching blueprint encompassing this entire spectrum.

Contextually therefore, imperatives exist for the United States to exhibit a national will to checkmate China without hedging and with a clear vision that China in its present mould and configuration offers no scope to the United States that China will emerge as a responsible stakeholder in global security and stability. China’s national aspirations clash with United States continuance as the unipolar Superpower.

Geopolitically, if the China Threat to the United States is to be diluted then the United States has to reset its Russia-policy formulations. Washington has to decide that in its 21st Century strategic perspectives which is the greater and more potent threat to United States national security—China or Russia? Even if the United States perceives both China and Russia as threats to US security, then too, the United States has to decide whether it would be profitable to wean away Russia from its strategic nexus with China or the other way around?

Strategically, no US President in view of unfolding global landscape can tamper with diluting or dispensing with security mechanisms and security alliances crafted since 1945 and which have proved to be in good stead for the United States——NATO and its bilateral spider- web of military alliances with countries of the Asia Pacific and Australia. To reinforce and ensure the longevity of these security architectures, the higher call is on the United States.

In relation to the China Threat, as I have advocated in my earlier Papers the United States must not only confine its Forward Military Presence in Japan and South Korea but also establish a similar Forward Military Presence in Afghanistan. The latter would enable the United States to have a military presence on the ringside of Heartland Asia

Militarily, the United States should not only maintain its cutting edge in military superiority over China and Russia but also cater for advanced weapon systems being introduced by China and Russia. Cyberwarfare and Space Warfare are two spheres where China is attempting to displace the United States.

China has virtually edged out the United Sates from the vast South China Sea maritime expanse and in a position to interdict US Navy deployment in the Western Pacific. Its marked increase in intrusive presence in the Indian Ocean has similar designs in mind. The United States needs to lay emphasis on the naval capacity building of South East Asian Navies and integrate India and Japan in the overall maintenance of ‘freedom of the high seas and the airspace above them’.

US President has initiated a trade war with China to remedy the gigantic lopsided imbalance in US trade deficits with China. Short of war, the United States can certainly tame China’s brinkmanship and aggressive instincts through restrictive trade practices not applied on China by preceding US Administrations.

China has for decades been misappropriating advanced technologies of the United States by intellectual property thefts, forcing US companies to share advanced technologies with China in return for trade openings and by placing Chinese researchers in US centres of technological excellence thereby enabling unrestricted access to advanced US technologies.

In Conclusion, it needs to be strongly stressed that the United States learning from its past misreading of China’s long range intentions recognises at least in 2019 that the China Threat to United States national security and to the security of its Allies and vital strategic partners is real and no complacency on this score will historically be forgiven.


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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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