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If we are not yet at war with a rapidly militarizing China, we may soon be. This is an obvious conclusion to draw if we simply connect the flood of news dots now coming out of Asia.
Just consider this sampling of last week's news clips from two of my favorite China compilations (besides Real Clear Defense!) - Jim Fanell's Red Star Rising blog and the Caucus Brief from US Congressman Randy Forbes' office.
In Fanell, we read some old news - that China is buying a squadron of advanced Sukhoi SU-35 Russian fighter jets. The new analytical twist was Vassily Kashin's observation that: "Even a single regiment of Su-35s may be enough to affect the balance of power in Taiwan. [The fighter's] Irbis radar systems can detect airborne targets at a range of up to 400 kilometers, which will allow Beijing to monitor Taiwanese airspace from Mainland China."
A report in the People's Daily also claimed China's Phased Array Radar is now able to detect America's premier jet fighter, the F-22 - a key chess piece to ensure air dominance in a theater like the Taiwan Strait. A related report featured in the Caucus Brief quoted Pacific Air Forces Chief General Lori Robins as warning that China's military is closing the technology gap with the U.S. How many times do we have to hear that before we believe it?
This last week, we also were besieged by a dirge of articles about China's surface-to-air missiles in the South China Sea. In one, Beijing threatened to introduce even more missiles and planes into the theater after the US sent a destroyer within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in a second "freedom of navigation patrol."
Even more shrilly, a research fellow at Peking University urged Chinese forces to "fire warning shots or even deliberately collide with American warships that sail close to the Paracel Islands in the disputed South China Sea" in order to "teach the US a lesson" while a high-ranking Chinese military officer called for dredging deep-water ports and building more airstrips in the Spratlys and Paracels.
In their sobering counterpoint, Michael Green, Bonnie Glaser, and Zack Cooper waxed eloquent in the Caucus Brief on two strategic implications of Chinese SAMs running amuck in the Parcel Islands:
"First, it shows that Chinese leaders are militarizing South China Sea features despite efforts to convince Beijing to do otherwise. Second, recent history suggests that Chinese developments on disputed features in the Spratly Islands often mimic those on Woody Island, indicating that similar steps may be ahead in the more strategically important Spratlys.
In last week's news flow, Fanell's blog also reminded us of China's "growing empire of ports" - Colombo in Sri Lanka, Gwadar in Pakistan, Chittagong in Bangladesh, and various ports in Myanmar. The eternal question - the answer to which will likely come too late for effective US strategic action - is whether this "string of pearls" is merely a boost to peaceful trade or part of the globalization of China's navy.
On the hacking front, we likewise saw a report from the Internet security firm CrowdStrike. This two-alarm fire indicated a significant expansion of Beijing's state-sponsored cyber espionage in the wake of a US-China "truce" on the cyberwar front. The Christian Science Monitor described Beijing's two-faced brazenness in this way:
In the first three weeks after the US and China agreed to halt economic espionage, CrowdStrike in October detected several Chinese attempts to steal intellectual property and trade secrets from American companies in the technology and pharmaceutical sectors - including those by Deep Panda, a hacking group that has been linked with the military.
In this same week, Bill Gertz broke yet more news. This time of Beijing's new plan to further build up its cyber warfare capabilities in response to the buildup of US cyber forces - which of course are being built up because of relentless Chinese attacks. Can anybody spell "escalatory spiral"?
And how about connecting this news dot: The Naval Academy is once again teaching its officers to "sail by the stars" in the event of cyberattacks. Could that have anything to do with the growing skills and capabilities of "usual suspects" China and Russia?
As for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) - that's the Kleptocracy in the North, not the real democracy to the South - China's unruly vassal fired a rocket that buzzed Okinawa; and the satellite it carried wound up passing over Levi's Stadium in San Francisco shortly after Super Bowl 50 ended. Message received.
The North Korean army also fired an artillery round into the sea near a disputed maritime border with South Korea while a report in the Korea Herald warned of impending DPRK terror attacks on South Korea.
Children in diapers have more discipline then Kim Jong-un, and Beijing's old men at Zhongnanhai Communist Party headquarters are certainly no "Tiger Moms" when it comes to reigning in their wild DPRK child. What may be most escalatory is Beijing's propaganda response to the possible deployment of America's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) in South Korea.
In particular, in the Global Times - the tabloid version of the People's Daily - we got this spin: "The push to deploy the THAAD missile system and other strategic military tools into this region is not only aimed at deterring North Korea but at the bigger target, China."
Incredibly, we also learned from Fanell's blog that North Korea has restarted its plutonium reactor and expanded a nuclear enrichment facility capability of generating weapons grade fissile material. These proliferations will not only help replenish Kim Jong-un's basket of nuclear tricks. The facilities will generate fissile material that will likely spread to other rogue nations and possibly terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS.
In another news items - and in a tip of the cap to its "Three Warfares" doctrine - Beijing coercively urged the Aussie government not to buy a new batch of Soryu submarines from Japan but instead opt for the German or French alternatives. Beijing's gambit here is obvious: it seeks to deny the Japanese defense industry the ability to benefit from the economies of scale that would come from increased submarine production - while bolstering Japan's own defense capabilities.
In fact, this decision should a "no brainer" for the Aussies. The Japanese Soryu submarine is undeniably "best in class," and the purchase would help strengthen the Asian alliance. That's why the US is supporting that choice - but oh so meekly in the style the Obama administration has led us to become accustomed to.
And speaking of America's lame duck, the Obama administration last week also announced its opposition to a bill by Senator Ted Cruz to rename the area in front of the Chinese embassy "1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza" in honor of the Nobel Laureate now rotting in a Chinese prison. Don't want to ruffle any authoritarian feathers, now do we?
And how about this on the Chinese political front from Fanell's blog: It highlighted an opinion piece warning of a back to a Maoist future of one-man rule by the emerging strong man President Xi Jinping. The military catch here is that Xi may be pushing to place China's nuclear forces on alert, meaning that the "weapons would be ready to fire on command." Explained author Michael Sheridan: "That would be a shift of position for a nation that affirms it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in any conflict."
All of this news was reported in just a single week -- and this is just a partial list compiled by two blogs. Moreover, in terms of the flow of news, it was a "normal" week in the Asia-Pacific -- as any careful read of Real Clear Defense on a regular basis would confirm.
Here's the broader point and very big problem: When looked at in its totality, the news gestalt coming out of Asia paints a very clear picture of rising Chinese aggression and belligerence; a North Korea that is rapidly spinning out of nuclear holocaust control; a Goebbels world of spin, counter-spin, and escalatory spirals; and a steadily shifting of the balance of power in a region of the world where more than half the population lives and 70% of future economic growth will likely occur.
The underlying message should be this: We as analysts, journalists, and scholars must do a much better jobs of connecting the China news dots than we are currently doing. Otherwise, we will not fulfill our mission of informing the public, policymakers, and political leaders we purport to serve. Nor will our coverage ultimately help keep the peace.
Peter Navarro is a professor at the University of California-Irvine. He is the author of Crouching Tiger: What China's Militarism Means for the World (Prometheus Books) and director of the companion Crouching Tiger documentary film series. For more information and to access film interview clips, visit www.crouchingtiger.net or see his book talk on CSPAN2.