China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world.” Napoleon Bonaparte
France’s future emperor never saw China, but he was wise enough to understand its immense latent strength and future importance. Two centuries after making this prediction, China has proved the Corsican correct.
Last week, China feted the 70th anniversary of the Communist takeover of the mainland. It was a gala demonstration of the nation’s military and social power. I recall watching the 60th anniversary celebration in Hong Kong and wondering at how amazingly far China had come since I first went there in the early 1980’s.
At that time, China was a vastness filled with poverty, suffering and primitive conditions. Red Guards were on the rampage; everything was grim, dusty and backwards. Today, the ‘Great Leap Forward’ predicted by Chairman Mao Zedong and engineered by the equally great Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai has transformed China into the world’s second economic power and a first rate military force.
Over a decade ago, I wrote in my book, `War at the top of the World,’ that America’s greatest geopolitical challenge would be to negotiate a peaceful withdrawal from the mainland of North Asia. China, I predicted, would never allow the US to continue its total domination of the western Pacific. The Koreas, Japan and the chain of islands stretching south would become the key battlegrounds between the US and China. I also foresaw a major land conflict between India and China over parts of the Himalayas and Burma (today Myanmar).
China showed last week that it has serious offensive military power. Gone are the Korean War days of vast infantry armies launching human wave attacks with bugles and burp guns. Today, China’s ground forces look hi-tech and effective. More important, China’s military aviation looks deadly and very modern, though one can never really judge effectiveness until war is joined.
This is particularly true of China’s rapidly expanding blue-water navy which will one day challenge the mighty and highly proficient US Navy. In naval warfare, experience and tradition are of paramount importance. Even the courageous, well-trained Imperial Japanese Navy was totally defeated by the US Navy in titanic battles across the Pacific. China’s naval forces have not waged a war since 1894 when they were trounced by Japan.
But in a US-China war, the Chinese would be fighting almost at home. The US would have to sustain a major conflict many thousands of miles from its home ports. America is the world’s genius when it comes to logistics and mass operations, but even so great distances are punishing. It would prove a bridge too far.
Most alarming in China’s 70th anniversary display was its new DF-41 ICBM heavy missile. Solid-fueled, road mobile, and with multiple warheads, this big beast of a missile is said to be able to reach anywhere in North America within 30 minutes from launch. This means the DF-41 now puts all of the United States at risk.
China’s recently deployed DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile may be able to hit a moving carrier if targeted by satellites, drones or submarines. Add to this threat numerous new Chinese high-speed anti-ship missiles fired from air, land and submarines that now pose a significant threat to US aircraft carriers. They might prove as deadly to capitol ships as Gen. Billy Mitchell’s bombs did to battleships in 1921.
China is a world leader in electronics. The US should be very concerned that it will develop systems that can interrupt or even block the satellite data that it increasingly uses to target its missiles and detect enemy forces. Remember how the US Stinger missile put the Soviets on the back foot in Afghanistan. Today, the US Air Force, Marines and Naval aviation run on electronics. Jam them and offensive US power would be crippled.
US strategic planning increasingly deals with a Sino-American conflict. But not sufficiently. The Pentagon is still too embroiled in petty Mideast and African conflicts to face the Asian music. The Chinese are coming. They are the only people to make communism (or a version of it) work. China has indeed awakened. Beijing’s next targets will be the US Navy, Taiwan, Japan, Burma and part of India.
While Washington fiddles and burns, Chairman Xi Jinping, the new Chinese emperor, is fast making China great again.