China: “enemy” or “strategic competitor” to US?

posted at 8:51 pm on May 26, 2011 by Jazz Shaw

As James Joyner notes, one high ranking American military official may have spoken a bit hastily this week when referring to our relationships in Asia.

In a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Rear Admiral David L. Philman, the Navy’s director of warfare integration, said that China is what keeps him up at night, declaring, “The China scenario is first and foremost, I believe, because they seem to be more advanced and they have the capability out there right now, and their ships at sea and their other anti-access capabilities.”

But he went further: “[T]hey will catch up. They understand. They’re a smart and learning enemy, and if we don’t keep our edge, then we will be behind, or at least lose our advantage.”

That is a rather strange way to refer to China on a very public stage, no matter what you may be saying in the situation room. To be sure, it’s clear that there are tense international situations where China not only leans, but occasionally takes rather open glee in positioning themselves on the opposite side of the fence from us. It’s also no secret that where it comes to trade, our interests are frequently in conflict. But … “enemy?” As Joyner points out, this may be a bridge too far.

Indeed, even in the days when Ronald Reagan was referring to the Soviets as an “Evil Empire,” the military simply referred to them generically as “the threat.” China is much less than that. Then-candidate for president George W. Bush got it exactly right in 2000 when he termed them a “strategic competitor.” They’ve got zero interest in blowing us up or invading Europe; they simply want to expand their regional influence and become a major global economic power. They’re well on their way to both.

There’s one other factor which James doesn’t touch on here. Even if we were to assume that China harbored some secret military ambition towards taking us on, they still won’t do it. Why? Because we’re currently holding them hostage. All of our guns and nukes and ships and soldiers don’t hold a candle to the stack of our paper rotting away in China’s vaults. If they were to attack us we would default on our debt to them, bringing down both countries in a massive cesspool of red ink.

I understand if some of you might find the term “strategic competitor” right up there with, “time limited, scope limited, kinetic military action” in terms of raw ooomph. But in this case it’s not far off the mark. We’re still not in any sort of situation approaching a Red Dawn scenario. China truly is a competitor, and a fairly hostile one at times. But we should be keeping a bit more of a leash on our military spokespeople before they go tossing around the E word on the public stage.

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Uh oh… in the Age of Obama, the only people it’s okay to call “enemies” are Americans.

malclave on May 26, 2011 at 8:53 PM

China: “enemy” or “strategic competitor” to US?

Try “owner”…

hillbillyjim on May 26, 2011 at 8:57 PM

As long as they stay a Communist, one party rule, state controlled government, they will be an enemy longer term. Now they are still a third world country with the threat of civil unrest always lurking.

patrick neid on May 26, 2011 at 8:58 PM

I think China is a regional competitor militarily to the US — Taiwan, China wants it “back”. NorKor, is propped up and defended as buffer. Spats with Japan…

Gohawgs on May 26, 2011 at 9:00 PM

It is a sad sad say when we fail to call communist and communism an enemy

YES china is a ENEMY…….

the_ancient on May 26, 2011 at 9:00 PM

If they were to attack us we would default on our debt to them, bringing down both countries in a massive cesspool of red ink.

If we default on debt to a country with which we are at war, I don’t think we inherit the red ink. At that point, they are the ones with the ledgers bearing worthless entries, and we have erased a hunk of red ink from our ledgers.

We’d have to regain all the manufacturing capability we’ve outsourced to China. Our unemployment problems would vanish.

unclesmrgol on May 26, 2011 at 9:01 PM

Communist China?

em>DUH, WINNING!!

PappyD61 on May 26, 2011 at 9:02 PM

China: “enemy” or “strategic competitor” to US?

The difference being what?

If they were to attack us we would default on our debt to them, bringing down both countries in a massive cesspool of red ink.

They aren’t stupid. They know perfectly well we aren’t paying that money back in anything but worthless dollars. If it looks like they can gain more from the situation by moving militarily then why on earth wouldn’t they? They need oil and if their economy starts to stall due to escalating prices it may make more sense for them to take it by force than worry about a deadbeat who has no intention of paying.

sharrukin on May 26, 2011 at 9:06 PM

As the Japanese observed, the major problem with China is that there are so many of them.

GarandFan on May 26, 2011 at 9:07 PM

China has a nuclear arsenal and the technology to deliver their missiles but as usual it is only a knock off of U.S. tech.
China invents nothing.
Maybe they have an air force but who the hell knows who trained them. They have never been in combat.
They may have a mighty army but a simple fact remains.
They do not have the ability to project their might over seas.
They have no foreign bases or a navy that is competitive.
They couldn’t invade Taiwan if they tried and the only aircraft carrier they have is an old soviet class they they bought at a boneyard and remodeled.

NeoKong on May 26, 2011 at 9:07 PM

Let’s just say that they are an adversary. And in due time, they will be a military enemy.

keep the change on May 26, 2011 at 9:09 PM

Dumb Rear Admiral.

You’re supposed to say “competitor”.

Calling China an “enemy” gains no advantage, dolt.

profitsbeard on May 26, 2011 at 9:14 PM

Let’s split the difference – Strategic enemy of the U.S.

BDavis on May 26, 2011 at 9:19 PM

Both! Protect your Orcs at all cost!

Report: Chinese Prisons Forced Inmates to Slay Orcs for Cash

TheBigOldDog on May 26, 2011 at 9:22 PM

China has a nuclear arsenal and the technology to deliver their missiles but as usual it is only a knock off of U.S. tech.
China invents nothing.

NeoKong on May 26, 2011 at 9:07 PM

Sure they do and they are inventing things at a faster pace all the time. Don’t get caught out by that myth.

lexhamfox on May 26, 2011 at 9:22 PM

China considers us an enemy, and they have no problem stating so – in public and often.

Rebar on May 26, 2011 at 9:24 PM

Communist China?

em>DUH, WINNING!!

PappyD61 on May 26, 2011 at 9:02 PM

This Capitalism stuff is only temporary as far as Moscow and Beijing are concerned.

Dr. ZhivBlago on May 26, 2011 at 9:27 PM

We’d have to regain all the manufacturing capability we’ve outsourced to China. Our unemployment problems would vanish.

unclesmrgol on May 26, 2011 at 9:01 PM

I’d like to see an estimation of the value of all the capital that US companies have put into China, because if we default they would likely seize those manufacturing plants. Would that square us? What about intellectual property? Wouldn’t that damage to US companies destroy our stock market?

Re our unemployment problems, if China goes away that doesn’t suddenly make the US an attractive place to invest. We still have the anti-capitalist administration, purposely high energy costs, nutty environmentalists, the possibility of cap and trade and card-check, etc. The investment that was going to China will go elsewhere, like South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, etc. Manufacturing has been leaving the US for decades, long before China became a destination.

slickwillie2001 on May 26, 2011 at 9:27 PM

With all due respect Jazz, you and Joyner are sorely mistaken. As the young folks might say, China is our “Freinemy”; they act like our friends to continue trade and commerce, all while stealing our technology, or just demanding it be given as part of a business deal, and continually sticking their finger in our eye via their vassal states in North Korea and Pakistan-via the Pakistani’s personal gangsters, the Taliban…

And you’re sorely mistaken about the debt they own being a deterrent to war; it’s merely another strategic consideration to go into their calculus.

As an example, take Taiwan. If they thought they could effectively dispatch the US and allied military and take the hit via the US defaulting on Chinese owned bonds only they would do so…

They’ve got an axis in the works, one that contains Iran, NoKo, Pakistan, and Venezuela at the least; but they want to get a “bloc” going of developing nations-both for the rights to raw material as well as strategic value.

People need to wise up to the new cold war. It will be different that the one with the Soviets, as the inscrutable, duplicitous, mercantilistic Chinese want to have their cake and eat it too; enjoy the trade while essentially using our money and technology to modernize their country and military.

People need to buy American, where possible, instead of only paying lip service to that principle. As a nation, we need to be closer to the Indians, both as Asian trade partners and strategic military allies to keep the Chinese honest. And we need to do more business with the developing world in Asia, South America, and Africa especially, instead; both to strengthen our national manufacturing base once again and freeze out the Chinese from the markets they’ve sought to dominate…

RocketmanBob on May 26, 2011 at 9:32 PM

Manufacturing has been leaving the US for decades, long before China became a destination.

slickwillie2001 on May 26, 2011 at 9:27 PM

The US is still the leading manufacturer in the world. We have about the same percentage of world output as we did in 1990.

http://articles.boston.com/2011-02-06/bostonglobe/29344173_1_manufacturing-output-black-dress-decline

pedestrian on May 26, 2011 at 9:34 PM

Then-candidate for president George W. Bush got it exactly right in 2000 when he termed them a “strategic
competitor.”

Nice euphemism. Anyone remember the Chinese hostage crisis at the very beginning of Pres. Bush’s first term?

They’ve got zero interest in blowing us up or invading Europe; they simply want to expand their regional influence and become a major global economic power. They’re well on their way to both.

Well after a century of Nazism, Soviet Communism and Radical Islamism, we’ve come to expect that an enemy is someone who wants to exterminate us off the earth. But that’s not necessarily so. They is a more modest kind of emnity.

aengus on May 26, 2011 at 9:35 PM

They’ve got an axis in the works, one that contains Iran, NoKo, Pakistan, and Venezuela at the least;

RocketmanBob on May 26, 2011 at 9:32 PM

That group reminds of the collection of morons that the villains in Batman movies gather.

pedestrian on May 26, 2011 at 9:37 PM

RocketmanBob on May 26, 2011 at 9:32 PM

But, but, … WallyMart has those gizmos for a buck cheaper! Never mind that they’re crap and laced with lead paint and rat poison; think of the savings/

We started this slide ourselves, by allowing unions, special interests, and insane monetary policy to drive businesses, especially our once-unrivaled manufacturing base, overseas.

It makes one wonder how we would fare were WWIII to ignite and devolve into a yard-by-yard ground war akin to WWII, only with a bigger playing field.

It was our industrial base as much as anything else that saved the day then, in my humble opinion.

hillbillyjim on May 26, 2011 at 9:46 PM

There’s one other factor which James doesn’t touch on here.

There’s one other factor which Jazz Shaw doesn’t touch on here.
China wants Taiwan, & optimistic previous comments notwithstanding, they could pull it off.
I think they could move quickly if Obama loses in November ’12. They would fear the GOP winner more than him.

itsnotaboutme on May 26, 2011 at 10:03 PM

Wow. That picture is freaky. I think the horizontal hold on my TV is messed up. /dating self

smellthecoffee on May 26, 2011 at 10:11 PM

Easy answer: enemy. In fact, China is an enemy to EVERY nation, not just the USA.

Warner Todd Huston on May 26, 2011 at 10:13 PM

All of our guns and nukes and ships and soldiers don’t hold a candle to the stack of our paper rotting away in China’s vaults. If they were to attack us we would default on our debt to them, bringing down both countries in a massive cesspool of red ink.

When you owe the bank 2 million dollars, the bank owns you.

When you owe the bank 2 trillion dollars, you own the bank.

JohnGalt23 on May 26, 2011 at 10:48 PM

Re. foreign policy, the usually calm & cool Bill Whittle is fired up.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRYXGIi5340

itsnotaboutme on May 26, 2011 at 11:09 PM

NeoKong on May 26, 2011 at 9:07 PM

That is why China has the biggest Super Computer in the world, is in front of Quantum Computing Technology, has the largest cyber warfare division in the world.

Plus there is not official release of just what their military can do, or how much they really spend, I am sure the CIA/NSA/DIA have an idea, or at least I hope they do, but there is nothing out there in the wild that gives the REAL picture of China’s capabilities, and it would be unwise to under est. them

the_ancient on May 26, 2011 at 11:24 PM

The best way to look at China is as a strategic rival, for they are challenging us for the dominance of the Western Pacific and, after that, the Indian Ocean. It’s obvious in their military and diplomatic moves. Whether that translates into full-blown enmity is another question, but I don’t think the O administration is doing anything to help.

In effect, I see this as very like the rivalry between the UK (us) and Imperial Germany (China) before WWI.

And we all know how well that ended, don’t we?

irishspy on May 26, 2011 at 11:35 PM

The US is still the leading manufacturer in the world. We have about the same percentage of world output as we did in 1990.

http://articles.boston.com/2011-02-06/bostonglobe/29344173_1_manufacturing-output-black-dress-decline

pedestrian on May 26, 2011 at 9:34 PM

While it is true that total output as measured in US Dollars in manufacturing continues to increase and we continue to lead, that you fail to look it is most of the manufacturing left in the USA is heavily automated system that require stable and reliable power more than cheap labor. This is almost exclusively High End, High Cost Low Quantity production All manufacturing for low cost consumer items that are often assembled by hand has moved in bulk to other nations, This is why that Output in dollars stays high but job levels are rocketing downward. Looking at Manufacturing output in terms of Raw Dollars is but 1 metric and a unimportant one IMO

the_ancient on May 26, 2011 at 11:35 PM

Yeah, they are an enemy. Should high ranking officials refer to them as such in public? Doubtful.

Aquateen Hungerforce on May 26, 2011 at 11:45 PM

We’d have to regain all the manufacturing capability we’ve outsourced to China. Our unemployment problems would vanish.

unclesmrgol on May 26, 2011 at 9:01 PM

Yep.

rukiddingme on May 26, 2011 at 11:50 PM

Where’s our resident Sinophile?

Machiavelli Hobbes on May 27, 2011 at 12:06 AM

China has a nuclear arsenal and the technology to deliver their missiles but as usual it is only a knock off of U.S. tech.

A nuclear bomb delivered by an ICBM guided by a coo-coo clock will still ruin your entire morning.

China invents nothing.

Gun powder, repeating crossbows, and the compass would beg to differ.

Maybe they have an air force but who the hell knows who trained them. They have never been in combat.

They have some potentially excellent equipment, (The J-10 springs to mind.) Not knowing who trained them them is a cause for concern, not arrogance. Who knows who was flying the planes of the North Vietnam Air force?

They may have a mighty army but a simple fact remains.
They do not have the ability to project their might over seas.

How many soldiers can you fit into a shipping container?

They have no foreign bases or a navy that is competitive.

They do not need Foreign bases, to launch a war, and it does not take long to build a fleet, especially if you are willing to convert merchantmen. (Self contained, containerized weapon systems spring to mind.)

They couldn’t invade Taiwan if they tried

Don’t count on it.

and the only aircraft carrier they have is an old soviet class they they bought at a boneyard and remodeled.

NeoKong on May 26, 2011 at 9:07 PM

There is no doubt that they could now duplicate the formerly Russian carrier, and they have shipboard nuclear reactors, and there is no “Big Secret” to building a big deck carrier.

China is a dangerous advisory, that is getting more competent every day.

Slowburn on May 27, 2011 at 12:39 AM

They’re an enemy, and their US-based “fellow travellers”(public and private sector) that send jobs and support to China are enemies as well. Their primary function is to provide a supplicant labor pool that does things that developed countries won’t do(and shouldn’t ever have to do) such as slavery.

China has proven time and again that the only good response to China is to reject them, and moves to China, on national security grounds. They partner up only to learn how to copy you, then get rid of you when they have enough knowledge to copy.

sethstorm on May 27, 2011 at 3:33 AM

Slowburn on May 27, 2011 at 12:39 AM

History seems to indicate that they’ll sabotage their own efforts. That is, China would be more likely to have sold their weapons down to the point where it looks like they have something – until they try to use it for more than show.

sethstorm on May 27, 2011 at 3:41 AM

Gun powder, repeating crossbows, and the compass would beg to differ.


Gunpowder was created by the Arabs, a primitive form of exploding black powder was discovered by the Chinese. A gun is something that discharges a projectile from a bored-out tube or cylinder–the only projectile the Chinese launched were firecrackers. So, what they really discovered was fireworks powder, since the Chinese had no clue as to its potential military application and did nothing else with it till the Arabs (Mir Fatehullah Khan) refined the powder and invented the first guns.

Their repeating crossbow was a miniaturized knock-off of the repeating ballista invented by the Greeks and Romans hundreds of years earlier. So poor was their foresight in military matters, that they continued to use the SAME repeating crossbow up until the first Sino-Japanese War–which turned out very bad for the Chinese.

What did they do with the discovery of magnetism? While the Persian and Greek fleets navigated the Aegean and Mediterranean, conducting grand Naval campaigns and founding colonies thousands of miles away without the aid of a compass, the Chinese did nothing with their discovery of magnetism besides arrange furniture and buildings in accordance with feng shui. Later when they did discover the navigational compass (perhaps sometime between 70 A.D. and 1040 A.D.) no one was able to truly steer by compass till the 15th century.

How many soldiers can you fit into a shipping container?


That Sicilian Expedition in 415 B.C. sure turned out great, huh?

…The J-10 springs to mind.


The proof’s in the pudding: What’s the kill ratio of the J-10 (a Eurofighter knock-off)? Where are the Chinese pilots and instructors with hundreds of hours of combat time in the air with hundreds of Air-to-Ground missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and Air-to-Air combat experience?

Overestimating an enemy is just as bad as underestimating them.

Demosthenes on May 27, 2011 at 5:08 AM

The US was blindsided by the performance of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero despite having absolutely correct data on it, provided by General Chennault months before Pearl Harbor, because no one wanted to believe that the Japanese were capable of designing a great fighter plane on there own. It wasn’t until it was falsely believed that the Zero was a copy of a Howard Hughes design that it was believed to have its real performance.

The proof may be in the pudding, but discounting military’s equipment and personnel because they haven’t seen combat is just asinine.

Slowburn on May 27, 2011 at 6:47 AM

NeoKong on May 26, 2011 at 9:07 PM

Actually in the latest war simulation if there is a conflict over Taiwan, China wins. Ten years ago, the US came out on top.

China is about to pass the US as the world’s economic leader- in a few more years, as the US economy crumbles under massive debt, you can be sure that China will edge ahead militarily too and become the world’s leading superpower. The US cannot afford the military it currently has- and it cannot afford to keep investing in it to have it remain number one. As the debt crisis builds the US military will face the death of a thousand “cost saving cuts”.

Here’s Mark Steyn for some perspective-

commentators focus on America’s $14 trillion of debt — i.e., the “debt ceiling” debt — without factoring in the entitlement liabilities of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That makes America’s real debt some $75 trillion, or five times GDP. Our own Kevin D. Williamson puts the FDR/LBJ entitlement liabilities a little north of $100 trillion. Once you add in state and municipal debt, you need to add a zero to that reassuringly familiar $14 trillion hole. The real hole goes ten times deeper: $140 trillion — or about twice as much as America’s total “worth.”

While the GOP haggles with Dems over a few billion here and there the good ship America is already holed and is taking on water- & right now the only thing keeping her afloat are loans from a nation rapidly expanding and advancing her military with the sole objective of being able to defeat the USA (anti-aircraft carrier missiles being just one example).

The US has an amazing military right now but while Obama’s political tactics are changing the rules into those of a Banana Republic, the spending habits of Washington politicians are changing the country slowly but inevitably into a Third World nation.

Jay Mac on May 27, 2011 at 7:15 AM

In my view there are 2 Chinas. China/commerce and China/military. As long as China/commerce is able to keep the military side under control, well we’re ok. DD

Darvin Dowdy on May 27, 2011 at 7:17 AM

There is a China west of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. That China is brutally poor and uneducated. Let’s not overestimate their prosperity as a whole.

China as a whole is also suffering from corruption. A Chinese PhD. student at my grad program said that if you’ve got money you can get out of virtually any crime (including murder) except one which is committed against the government, a bank, or person who is rich or politically connected.

He said it is not uncommon to hear an execution announced for a person and then to see that person walking around on the street a month later.

Food for thought. They are certainly a formidable adversary, let’s just keep it in perspective.

brogers on May 27, 2011 at 7:52 AM

They won’t attack us because we may default? They may call it preemptive foreclosure. Also, they don’t need to attack us to attack us, they can use their force and threat of it to drive our allies away, to subvert our interest abroad. What if they decided to take over some oil-producing countries by force or coercion, and we could do nothing? What if they claimed territory that isn’t theirs? What if they decided to get in bed with Cuba and patrol our southern border?

We need to consider them what they are, a crafty ENEMY. The are immersed in Sun Tzu, a big minority here thinks Obama is a freaking brainiac.

Spartacus on May 27, 2011 at 8:03 AM

Slowburn on May 27, 2011 at 6:47 AM


Those same Japanese pilots were also veterans of previous campaigns, plenty of aces as well. In Japan’s case we underestimated them, entirely. Like when China invaded Cambodia (1979) in response to Vietnam’s invasion and were subsequently butchered and forced to retreat, all by the same veterans who had fought against our troops.

History is full of examples where a veteran or better trained force crushes a massive and/or better equipped one. It’s fair to assume the more professional, more hardened force will almost always win. Not asinine at all, especially when comparing our forces against theirs.

In China’s case, what we’re underestimating is their will/audacity to carry out a serious campaign against one of their neighbors. Their military build-up suggests a serious intent to project–something which is being overlook by our supposed betters. Instead they’re “shocked” by everything China does. Their attempt would most likely fail gloriously, but it will be a bloody ordeal for all involved, especially for the innocents.

Demosthenes on May 27, 2011 at 11:37 AM

Darvin Dowdy on May 27, 2011 at 7:17 AM

The problem is, that they aren’t. Their military side is there in case there are problems with uprisings related to their commerce side. They think that by letting some multinational ask for protection(say, in an uprising against a party boss that owns a factory) makes the CPC’s actions clean. It is no different than the China of previous, just that they use their military to keep their people in line in the same despotic ways.

sethstorm on May 27, 2011 at 12:24 PM