Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Price of Power

China grows more powerful as Peking builds up its economic might and translates it into military strength. It is easy to view the increase in Chinese military power and contemplate the challenge of beating the Chinese should it come to war. But we should remember the increased vulnerability of China as the nature of their power changes. At one time, China was a vast lump of proletarian fury that seemed invulnerable to our power. Nuke them? Kill 300 million? The Chinese seemed not to worry since they'd have a whole lot more. Invade them? The Japanese tried in the 1930s and in World War II yet could not swallow the country. With modern weapons and a modern economy, Peking would be orders of magnitude more formidable, right?

Well maybe not. Chinese strength has come at the price of reliance on imported energy. Oil must be shipped from the Middle East through the Indian Ocean, through Indonesian waters, and up the Pacifice past Taiwan. The Chinese are building bases (via Hugh Hewitt) along this route to protect the oil tankers:

"China is building strategic relationships along the sea lanes from the Middle East to the South China Sea in ways that suggest defensive and offensive positioning to protect China's energy interests, but also to serve broad security objectives," said the report sponsored by the director, Net Assessment, who heads Mr. Rumsfeld's office on future-oriented strategies.

I've written before that should it come to war, I would not want to change strategic positions with China. Even as it must look landward to potential land opponents from Vietnam clockwise to India, Russia, and South Korea, it must protect sea lines of communication to Middle East oil supplies that lie far beyond China's capability to defend. Should it come to war, our Navy and Air Force will choke off Chinese energy imports. Indeed, India has gained quite a bit of leverage over China since the Indian navy alone could choke off the flow of oil to China traveling the Indian Ocean. China may be building bases but Peking has a long way to go, however, in protecting these sea lines of communication:

Chinese specialists interviewed for the report said the United States has the military capability to cut off Chinese oil imports and could "severely cripple" China by blocking its energy supplies.

Once, our nuclear and land power seemed insufficient to defeat China. Now our naval and air power can cripple China in war. This is a great step up for us strategically in the conventional war area.

Oh, and one last point:

China believes the U.S. military will disrupt China's energy imports in any conflict over Taiwan, and sees the United States as an unpredictable country that violates others' sovereignty and wants to "encircle" China, the report said.

Just another reason why China will go for Taiwan's throat when it comes to war. The idea that China would try a leisurely naval blockade with slowly fired missiles to choke Taiwan's trade and squeeze Taiwan into submission is wishful thinking. The Chinese will throw everything they have at Taiwan, absorb the casualties, and try to win fast.

And the 2008 Olympics are fast approaching. Have I mentioned that this would be perfect cover for Peking to finally solve the Taiwan problem?