Thursday, April 28, 2011

We Should Be Worried About China

The United States has plenty of things to worry about at the moment. A string of terrible storms killed almost 300 people in the South yesterday. Fighting season is about to kick off in Afghanistan while soldiers are still dying in Iraq. For months, revolution has taken hold across the Middle East creating all sorts of problems, not the least of which is energy security. The war in Libya is teetering on the edge of stalemate. Japan is still in crisis and will be for some time. They keep finding bodies in Mexico. And we're about to run out of money on the credit card. I mean, seriously, thank God Prince William and Kate are getting married tomorrow; otherwise there would be no reason to go on living at the rate things are going.

In the midst of all this worry we must not forget to add China to the list. To forget about China would certainly be a mistake for many reasons. Economically, China overtook Japan this year as the second largest economy in the world with a GDP of $9.9 billion (in 2010 figures). The Chinese economy is currently projected to overtake the US economy in 2016, just 5 years from now. The Yuan has been undervalued for years, prompting repeated threats from Washington to label China a "currency manipulator." China continues to expand its search for natural resources and energy, in many cases putting it at direct odds against US firms. And of course, let's not forget that China holds an estimated $1 trillion in US debt.

Militarily, there is much to worry about as well. The People's Liberation Army and Navy have both undertaken extensive modernization programs over the past decade. In 2007, during a US carrier strike group exercise in the Pacific, a Chinese Song-class submarine popped-up next to the USS Kitty Hawk which just really freaked everyone out (especially the US Navy). Even worse, there is now a Chinese missile system out there that can sink a carrier. When SecDef Gates visited China this past January, President Hu Jintao put his thing on Gates' forehead by having the new Chinese J-20 stealth fighter tested hours before their official meeting. And folks have written books about whether the US would go to war with China over Taiwan, many scenarios putting the timeline to war soon rather than later.

Politically, relations with China have been strained over human rights, intellectual property rights, Taiwan, the Yuan, extensive espionage, along with every issue mentioned above and much more. Indeed, the list could go on and on.

So yes, there is much going on in the world at the moment. And there will continue to be much going on in the world; that is the way the world works after all. However, we must be careful not to forget about China or push it to the back burner. In doing so, we risk elevating short-term distractions and much noise at the expense of the long-term, serious, strategic threat.

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