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Life With China
Threats have consequences...

[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 7/29/05

Brisk trade and mutual prosperity can go far toward dissolving tension and animosity between nations at odds. In the case of China and the United States, that is an outcome devoutly to be wished because our futures are linked, though the divisions are deep. We are the world’s most powerful nation and China is the most populous. China finances much of our enormous debt and our addiction to cheap Chinese exports results in a huge imbalance of trade. On the other hand, China seems content to hold vast sums in dollars and treasury securities that yield little interest. Imagine the effect on the U.S economy if that situation changed suddenly.

J.F. Kelly, Jr.

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

So far, the current arrangement seems to work to our mutual satisfaction. China has the huge U.S. market for its cheaply produced exports, Americans continue to enjoy low interest rates and investment opportunities for us in China abound. It would appear that many of the problems between the two nations have faded into the background. Surely, war with China would be unthinkable. It’s such a huge country containing about a third of the world’s population. Can’t we just get along? Aren’t Chinese leaders mellowing as prosperity and globalism spread and China regains its rightful place as one of the world’s great economies?

I hate to disturb this tranquil reverie, but let’s recall some unpleasant realities. China remains a harsh Communist dictatorship that maintains tight control over personal freedoms. That may be changing but don’t expect democracy to bloom there soon. The Tianamen Square massacre, after all, happened only sixteen years ago. Nor should we quickly forget the regime’s barbaric population control measures under which female babies were regarded as expendable. China is one of the world’s worst polluters. Its industries are largely state controlled and piracy of intellectual property is widespread. China’s offensive military capability is expanding at a rapid rate while our force levels are at the lowest point since the Great Depression. They are building a blue water navy for purposes known best by them while our fleet is shrinking.

But much of the harsh anti-American rhetoric of China’s leaders seemed, for a while at least, to be receding and a new peaceful era, devoid of belligerence, seemed to be settling in. Well, maybe not totally devoid of belligerence.

At a meeting of foreign correspondents recently in Beijing, intended, ironically, to enhance China’s international image, People’s Liberation Army Maj. Gen. Zhu Chenghu commented to Danny Gittings, a deputy editor of the Asian Wall Street Journal, that U.S. military interference in a conflict over Taiwan could lead to a Chinese nuclear attack on the U.S. In Gittings’s report, he quoted Gen. Zhu as saying, “According to the balance of power between the United States and China, we have no capability to fight a conventional war against the United States. If the Americans interfere into the conflict, if the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition (sic) into the target zone on China’s territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons.” The general then spoke of targeting “hundreds” of American cities.

Are these fighting words or what? Pure bluster, perhaps, but this was not the first high-ranking Chinese military official to threaten the use of nuclear weapons if America interferes with China’s efforts to prevent a breakaway by Taiwan which they regard as part of China. Gen. Xiong Guanghai pointedly remarked in 1995 that Americans care more about Los Angeles than about Taipei.

The United States has a longstanding treaty with Taiwan to defend it against any use of force by China in asserting its control. The island nation, a staunch ally of the U.S., has a highly developed and prosperous economy and a population of 22 million, few of whom have ever lived under Communist rule. Originally called Formosa by Portuguese explorers, it was under Dutch rule from 1624 until 1662 when it fell to a Ming general. The island was ceded to Japan in 1895 and Japanese influence there remains strong. After Mao Ze-Dong’s Communists took over the mainland, Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists took control of the island, which grew into a thriving democracy.

The claim that Taiwan is part of the People’s Republic of China is open to serious debate to put it mildly. But not with China, whose leaders turn purple at any suggestion that the Taiwanese should choose their own destiny. Apologists for China, who would trade principle for peace, would prefer that we not get involved in the Taiwan issue just as the peace at any price crowd would prefer that we abandon another ally, Israel, to the tender mercies of its Arab neighbors, but what would that say about America’s honor and reliability as an ally?

It’s never a good idea to back down to bullies. President Bush said shortly after his reelection that the United States will stand on the side of people who want to choose their own form of government and their own leaders. The incurably timid U.S. State Department branded Gen. Zhu’s menacing remarks as “highly irresponsible”. “Unacceptable” would have been a more appropriate adjective. Another appropriate response would be for Washington to put Unocal off limits to Cnooc, the Chinese government-controlled oil giant, and make it clear that as long as Chinese leaders continue to make threats, U.S. companies with military and strategic value are not available for purchase by the Chinese. Gen. Zhu may have been merely blowing steam, but our Chinese trading partners need to understand that all threats are now taken seriously here and have real consequences. tOR

copyright 2005 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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