The United States remains a Pacific and Asian power. Japan is a Pacific power. India is rising as an Asian power and China is forging ahead to become an Asian power with ambitions to superpower status.
The Great Game is underway in Asia and we must play:
It is no longer enough for a lightly engaged Washington to support Japan reflexively, coax China warily to be more responsible and pay lip service to a "strategic partnership" with India. The administration must now decide whether U.S. interests will be best protected by trying to maintain the present rough equilibrium of forces in the Asia-Pacific region, or by intervening to alter the balance of power.
The Russians are already playing the game and have been successful in keeping China pointed towards Taiwan and therefore America, Taiwan's ally. As a reader noted, the Russians did this once already in Operation Snow, which succeeded in getting Japan to go south in World War II instead of north into the interior of Asia where the Soviet Union was.
We have reacted by trying to arm Taiwan with better weapons and to whip the Taiwanese military into shape to actually fight off an invasion. We've pulled Japan into the arena with a commitment to defend Taiwan and we are making a major play toward incorporating India into our alliance system. We have Australia on board and our forces are based in Central Asia.
While all this looks good for building an alliance to fight and defeat China, this is not playing the Great Game. This is making the best of a worst case scenario--war with China. Sure, if we must fight I'd rather win, but just going to war is going to cost us in lives and money.
One can say that we hope that by becoming strong enough we deter the Chinese but this is still only second best. A deterred China will always be on the verge of attacking, just waiting for the moment when we cannot stop them for one reason or another and so cannot deter them for even a short window of opportunity.
No, defeating China makes the best of the worst case and deterring China makes the best of the second worst case. We need to shovel the Snow back north. We need to play the Great Game in Asia to achieve our best case--a China pointed away from the south--Taiwan and the United States and our other allies--and pointed toward the north and the interior of Asia.
So how do we do this? Well, China has one great weakness that we must use to move China north. China needs imported energy:
Service stations across China are starting to run short on diesel this spring, while electricity blackouts here in southeastern China are growing worse as power stations cut back on purchases of fuel oil.
The Chinese, as part of their southern strategy, are trying to build a navy that can protect their lines of supply to Middle East oil supplies. Bases in Burma and Pakistan plus friendly relations with Iran, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia are part of the effort. This effort is, however, quite futile. The Chinese simply cannot secure oil tankers travelling from the Middle East through our Fifth Fleet, get by India's navy, transit Indonesian waters without friendly Thailand, Singapore, Malaya, Indonesia, and Australia, and then get by Taiwan and the American Pacific Command with Japanese assistance. In any long war with America, the American Navy with the Air Force in support, could throttle China's oil imports even if every potential ally of ours bowed out.
China must know this yet they still look south and they still seek sea routes for oil imports. Taiwan is part of the draw, too, of course. As long as they are building a navy to take Taiwan why not try to secure oil lines of supply.
But what if we could get China to look north for oil supplies? Not to Russia mind you. I'd rather have Russian oil go to Japan as it looks like it will rather than south to China. If China gets dependent on Russian oil, China will get nervous that Russian controls this vital resource and will think of securing the supply. They will be able to conquer the Far East of Russia. With a Russian-Japanese oil link, Japan will have an interest in defending Russia and Russia will have an interest in keeping their customer more secure. Perhaps this will help get Russia to slow their arms sales to China that feed Peking's southern strategy.
But to get China looking north to Asia for oil supplies, perhaps we should try to encourage oil pipelines throughPakistan to Iran and through Central Asia to the Caspian Sea regoin. If China gets oil through this route, paying for a navy with no task other than taking Taiwan may not make as much sense as it did when the navy was needed for oil supply security too. This could suck China into Asia and perhaps make the Europeans nervous enough about the Chinese coming up a new silk road that Europe will feel they need America again as an ally.
We might even be able to work out something with the EU which desperately wants to sell arms to China. What if we can figure out a list of arms that will encourage the Chinese to look to Asia's interior while still banning EU sales of arms that propel the Chinese south to the sea? Europe won't look ahead 50 years to worry about the Chinese in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea. Europe will be happy to sell arms with our blessings.
And I think our air power would be able to disrupt these new oil routes just as our Navy can savage the sea lines of supply. As long as we retain our influence in Central Asia and the Middle East, we will still retain leverage over China in the event of a long war.
Of course, we must still make Taiwan a hard target and our response an iron clad defense of Taiwan to add further reason for China to go north. But just preparing for war with China is only making the best of a bad situation.
Like I said, we need to start shoveling the snow back north. The Great Game is on and we need to play to win the game and avoid war; and not just play to win the war that we should avoid fighting.