A Possible China-US Confrontation in the Far East?

By Hughes, James H. | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

A Possible China-US Confrontation in the Far East?


Hughes, James H., The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


China's rising military and economic power and its perceived need for a secure source of oil are causing it to put pressure on its Pacific neighbors, with a view to securing control of assumed oil resources in the South China Sea and other potential undersea oilfields. The Obama administration is responding by diverting a significant proportion of U.S. naval resources to the Asia Pacific as a deterrent to further diplomatic and military threats by Beijing. This article explores the possibility of a confrontation between the U.S. and China stemming from China's increasing assertiveness.

Key Words: Military strategy; Territorial claims; Oil and natural gas resources; Asia Pacific; China; Vietnam; Philippines; Scarborough Shoal; South China Sea; Arctic Ocean.

Under the Obama administration, the United States began to shiftits strategic planning in response to how China's rising military and economic power has let it increasingly assert claims to most of the South China Sea and other areas of the Asia Pacific.

A change in U.S. planning is seen in the recent publication of various articles and books about the implications of China's rising military power and changes in the Pentagon's effort to plan for future conflicts and the deployment of forces to the Asia Pacific. This follows from President Obama's "pivot" toward the Asia Pacific region when he remarked, "As we end today's wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and mission in the Asia Pacific a top priority." 1

Specifically, for the analysis in this paper, in June 2012 the Institute for National Strategic Studies of the National Defense University published an article titled "Offshore Control: A Proposed Strategy for an Unlikely Conflict" by T. X. Hammes that examines U.S. defense strategy and assumptions regarding the possibility of a conflict with China, which marks a distinct shiftcompared to the preceding Bush administration. This shiftis premised on the view that the United States has an intrinsic interest in the Asia Pacific. The United States has maintained a presence in the Pacific Ocean for nearly two hundred years, beginning with the settlement of Oregon and California and movement of missionaries to Hawaii in the 1800s, and its current possession of Guam, the Northern Marianas, and other islands.

In contrast, the preceding Bush administration treated U.S. relations with China in a less adversarial way that did not perceive a trade war or threat from China's increasing military power. As a result, the Bush administration did not prepare a strategy based on the possibility of a conflict with China. Nor, consistent with its free trade ideology, did it take responsive measures against Chinese imports or seek a change in China's undervalued currency.

A major component of China's trade policy is its use of an undervalued currency compared to the U.S. dollar to increase exports around the world. This apparent undervaluation, which various economists believe is from twenty to forty percent below what it needs to be to produce balanced trade, has a significant effect in propping up China's exports. China, in addition, uses trade barriers to force manufacturers to relocate manufacturing plants to within its borders.

In July 2012, economist Peter Morici noted how China exports to the United States four times more than it imports because of its undervalued currency and trade barriers against U.S. goods. For example, where China maintains a 25 percent tariffon automobiles, the U.S. tariffis less than 3 percent, and China generally requires U.S. companies to venture with Chinese companies to gain access to its markets. Faced with choosing between the United States and China to locate their manufacturing plants, manufacturers often locate to China to give them access to both markets.2

The undervaluation of its currency lowers the price of its goods in American stores. China offsets the excess demand for the yuan, which would force its value higher, by printing and selling yuan to importers for dollars and euros, and uses the proceeds to invest in U. …

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