Monday, February 22, 2010

The Middle--Not Top--Kingdom

I have consistently written about the China threat while tempering worries about what China can do in their own region to harm our allies and interests with reassurance that we are far stronger than China and are likely to remain far stronger for a long time:

The fundamentals of China’s economy are stronger than those of the old Soviet Union. It has the world’s largest population, a rapidly expanding middle class and a frightening amount of US bonds — but again, in comparison with America, its weaknesses are legion. The one-child policy has created a rapidly ageing population and, in common with the old Soviet leaders, the Beijing elite is painfully aware of simmering ethnic tensions on its own border regions.

Beijing faces periodic riots in Xinjiang and Tibet, daily worker unrest, unruly provincial leaders, and mounting ecological catastrophes. It has three enduring rivals (Japan, India and Vietnam) as neighbours. Its allies — North Korea and Myanmar — are sources of international embarrassment. And for all the fuss about Chinese cyber-attacks, internet experts agree that the United States possesses more ‘online offensive capabilities’ than any other country in the world. Even more than the old Soviet Union, China is both a great power and an extremely poor country.

The positive assessment of our cyber-war capabilities is heartening. But more broadly, recall all these problems that could hobble China, and hold off on handing off the leadership of the world to China until they actually take it from us.

Indeed, I don't assume we will ever relinquish our lead to China. At worst, we will be the leading power simply because we will always retain the most uncommitted miltiary power on the planet:

I don't lose sleep at night over China's rise in power and wouldn't change places with them. Oh, if China is able to focus their power on a localized area, like Taiwan, they can generate local superiority for a short time--perhaps long enough to win that battle--but if we are able to mobilize and deploy our power, we can beat China on any battlefield. And we'd likely have powerful local allies to help us. China is a threat to our interests even now, but only if they catch us off guard.

Remember that geography (and our completely dominant Navy) means our power is free to deploy worldwide while China is hemmed in by hostile or potentially hostile neighbors. It's the Expeditionary Kingdom versus the Trapped in the Middle Kingdom.

Why some analysts have man-crushes on the Chinese government is beyond me.