By Peter Navarro
Will there be war with China? That may well be determined by which presidential candidate wins the White House this year, and what policies the new administration adopts.
The threat of conflict is real. Cambridge University’s Stefan Halper does not wish to “alarm people,” but he soberly notes the “profound differences” that China is “prepared to settle by force.” Harvard’s Graham Allison likewise warns of a “Thucydides Trap,” in which a rising China plays the upstart Athens to America’s Sparta, and fear leads to an arms race and war. Michael Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies hedges this bet: “The US has to contemplate a future with China that will probably be benign but could very well be difficult, intense, and, in the extreme scenario, hostile.”
If a rapidly militarizing China seeks only to protect its homeland and the global trade routes it needs to prosper, the world can probably relax. But if China is also committed to expansionism and seeks to push the US military out of the Asia-Pacific region and take territory and resources from its neighbors, there may be conflict on the horizon.
Beijing’s sense that a rapid military buildup is necessary to defend its homeland is rooted in China’s “Century of Humiliation.” From the 1830s until the end of World War II, foreigners, from the British, the Russians, and the Japanese to the Germans, the French, and the Americans, committed brutal acts—rapes, beheadings, port seizures, land grabs. To Toshi Yoshihara of the US Naval War College, “the historical lesson the Chinese have learned is ‘never again.’ Never will China be weak because this is what invited foreign aggression.”
That China’s military buildup is necessary to defend its trade routes is likewise historically based. Even as Deng Xiaoping began China’s remarkable transformation in the 1970s from a socialist, autarkic, and continental power into the global trading force it is today, his naval commander, Admiral Liu Huaqing, began to build the modern navy Deng’s new mercantilist China would need. In this sense, Liu was what Yoshihara and his coauthor James Holmes from the US Naval War College have called a “Mahanian” figure, an allusion to Alfred Thayer Mahan, the 19th-century American military theorist who pioneered the concept of global naval force projection as critical to economic prosperity.
Picture: Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen (USAF) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons