China Strategy

Charles A. Kohlhaas | July 31, 2023
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Along with everyone else trying to evaluate the effects of the one-day Russian revolution, China is probably re-thinking its partnership with Russia. Bad Vlad is distracted trying to figure out who his friends and enemies are at home. He just might follow Stalin’s policy: Kill everybody and let God sort them out. 

Xi Jinping is a student of history. He refers to the period from the 1840s to the Communist takeover in 1949 as its century of humiliation, during which European colonial powers, with “unfair” treaties, whittled away Chinese land, wealth, independence, and pride. He considers the period from 1949 to 2049 as the century of rejuvenation, during which China’s pride and world domination will be restored by strong Communist rule. He is dedicated to achieving this by 2049 marking 100 years of Communist rule. In speeches and writings, he is clear he considers a key part of this rejuvenation is re-establishing China’s historical boundaries. He has asserted tight control over Hong Kong in violation of China’s agreement with Britain, built military bases in the South China Sea, and spread trade and financial relationships worldwide. He has focused attention on his desire to assimilate Taiwan.

A Taiwan takeover is particularly timely. Despite Biden’s assertions the U.S. will defend Taiwan, the U.S. military is in poor shape to do so. It is in a low state of readiness due to mismanagement and low morale. The Navy and Air Force are severely behind with repairs and maintenance; the number of operational planes and ships are drastically reduced. Munitions are dangerously depleted by shipments to Ukraine and a low manufacturing capability. A recent review estimated it will take the U.S. 15 to 20 years to replace the shipments to Ukraine with current manufacturing capacity.

Secondly, current U.S. semiconductor manufacturing capacity is inadequate for the economy. Plants now under construction in the U.S. will not be operating until 2026-7 and it was just announced a large one in Arizona will be delayed. An attack on Taiwan and destruction of its semiconductor manufacturing capability before then will inflict severe negative impact on the U.S. economy. 

An additional consideration is that the consistently incompetent Biden Administration may be replaced in January 2025.

With current disarray in Russia, whether Taiwan is Xi’s next priority or a diversion is open to question. Maps of China from the 1820s and 1830s show China’s northern boundary much farther north, north of Mongolia and stretching northeast toward the Pacific Coast. Southern Siberia and the southern part of Russia’s Pacific Coast, (all the part that does not freeze) including Sakhalin Island, were part of China. Russia was the colonial power which took the most from China with “unfair” treaties in the 1840s and 1850s. 

Although busy taking over Prigozhin’s Wagner empire, Putin may be wondering how reliable is his new best friend Xi. His no limits partnership with Xi may be a little suspect at this point. Master Schmoozer Xi may consider the partnership only a delaying tactic to lull Putin and keep a Siberia takeover on ice until after he deals with Taiwan. Xi may be re-thinking his schedule. What Russia took from China dwarfs Taiwan or what any other colonial power took. China considers those old treaties as unfair, because they were imposed by coercion during a period of Chinese weakness; therefore, Xi does not consider it necessary to honor them or, obviously, new ones either - witness Hong Kong. Xi can also be sure the United States would not take action to defend Russia; nor would anyone else.  

We know what China’s strategy and objectives are - Xi and various officials make speeches and write papers and tell us what they want to do. 

What is the U.S. strategy to counter China? That is not so clear. The U.S. has not had a clear, effective, coherent foreign policy since George W. Bush over-reacted to the 9/11 attacks, lashed out indiscriminately and de-stabilized the Middle East - to our long-term detriment; it is still a mess. 

At the beginning of the Cold War with Russia in the late 1940s, George Kennan proposed a strategy of containment of the Soviet Union which was adopted and followed for over 40 years. That strategy was successful partly because the Soviet Union largely confined itself and its satellite countries behind a delineated boundary, Churchill’s “Iron Curtain”. China cannot be contained. It is in open trade, finance, business, and investment relationships with other countries worldwide, including the U.S. That horse is out of the corral.

A U.S. strategy for dealing with China will need to be one of diversion, dispersion, dismemberment, and deterioration. Formulating an effective strategy might be futile, however, with an administration and military incapable of implementing it. 

The Biden Administration deserves credit for strengthening relations with India, establishing military basing rights with the Philippines, and expanding military relations with Australia, South Korea, and Japan. But why does it undermine its own credibility by sending Anthony Blinken, Janet Yellen, and John Kerry to Beijing as obsequious supplicants to a dominant power? - with no results except embarrassment. Why does Lloyd Austin repeatedly ask for meetings with the Chinese Defense Minister and get turned down? Xi personally and the same Defense Minister were very warm and hospitable for recent meetings with Henry Kissinger; that sends a clear message to the Biden group. 

Over the past couple of years China made it clear it is not interested in improving relations. John Kerry admitted they told him at the meeting they were not interested in what anyone else wanted to do about climate - so why did he go? This is all consistent with Biden’s counterproductive supplicant trip to Saudi Arabia to beg the Saudis to increase oil production. We know how well that worked out. In response they did the opposite: cut production and declared they no longer needed to please the U.S. 

Negotiations and relations with Asians, in general, and Chinese, in particular, can be quite interesting - and fun. But one must have credibility and then it is largely about relationships.  The Biden Administration seems to have neither.