Time for the U.S. to Face Up to the China Challenge

Article excerpt

There are compelling reasons to oppose renewal of "most favored nation," or MFN, trade status for Communist China. But there is one overarching factor that demands such a step: China is utilizing much of the huge trade surplus that it enjoys thanks to this privileged trading status to mount a strategic threat to the United States and its vital interests in Asia, the Middle East and beyond.

To be sure, MFN is a blunt instrument affecting, if it is denied, millions of innocent Chinese workers, the economy of Hong Kong, U.S. jobs associated with exports to and imports from China, etc. Yet, it is the only measure currently on the table remotely proportionate to the magnitude of the danger Beijing is creating to a considerable degree with resources it is garnering from trade with the United States.

As Ross Munro and Richard Bernstein put it in their critically acclaimed book published earlier this year, The Coming Conflict With China: "Before, Beijing saw American power as a strategic advantage for the PRC; now, it has decided that American power represents a threat, not just to China's security but to China's plans to grow stronger and to play a paramount role in the affairs of Asia."

The enormous impetus behind China's determined effort to acquire a modern military capable of decisively projecting power derives from this zero-sum view of the U.S.-PRC relationship. The Chinese leadership believes, after all, that it must be able not only to dominate the nations of East Asia and the South China Sea. It sees China as having to exercise control across the Pacific Ocean, out to what the Chinese call "the second island chain" -- the Philippines, Japan and even the U.S. territory of Guam. The broader purpose appears to be even more ambitious: to render the United States incapable of exercising influence in Asia that would compete with, let alone counter, Chinese hegemony in the region.

The Chinese are pursuing a multifaceted campaign to accomplish these strategic objectives. The following are among the means the PRC is pursuing toward such ominous ends:

* Strategic force modernization: The Washington Times recently reported that China is expected to begin deploying an advanced intercontinental-range ballistic missile, designated the Dong Feng-31, by the year 2000. This missile will give Beijing the ability to deliver nuclear warheads with great accuracy throughout the Pacific and parts of the Western United States.

A taste of the use to which China may be willing to put such a capability can be seen in the willingness of some senior Chinese officials to engage in "nuclear blackmail" against the United States by suggesting that American interference in China's coercion of Taiwan could result in an attack on Los Angeles. In the absence of any deployed U.S. ability to intercept a Chinese ballistic missile launched at Los Angeles -- or any other target in the United States -- such threats well may have the desired effect.

* Buildup of other aspects of China's military: Beijing also is pouring billions of dollars into what might be called a "great leap forward" for other elements of the People's Liberation Army, or PLA, notably its power-projection capabilities (long-range aircraft, blue-water naval units, precision-guided munitions and unconventional weapons). Such capabilities pose, most immediately a danger that China will be able to control transit in the South China Sea and access to its energy and other strategic resources. …

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