Don’t we have enough pots boiling on the military front at this point? We’re already dealing with a madman in North Korea with nuclear weapons, Russia and Turkey talking about “taking over” the conflict in northern Syria, counter-terror operations in Yemen and a minor conflict in Afghanistan that’s been dragging on since before some of the people who will be voting in 2020 were even born. Do we really need to get into a shooting war with the Chinese on top of all that?

That seems to be the thinking of at least one Chinese “admiral” who delivered some rather incendiary remarks at a recent military conference. (We’ll get back to why “admiral” is in scare quotes in a moment.) Chinese Rear Admiral Lou Yuan suggested that if the United States doesn’t mind its manners, they will need to sink a couple of our aircraft carriers just to put us in our place. (

Rear Admiral Lou Yuan has told an audience in Shenzhen that the ongoing disputes over the ownership of the East and South China Seas could be resolved by sinking two US super carriers…

His speech, delivered on December 20 to the 2018 Military Industry List summit, declared that China’s new and highly capable anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles were more than capable of hitting US carriers, despite them being at the centre of a ‘bubble’ of defensive escorts.

“What the United States fears the most is taking casualties,” Admiral Lou declared.

He said the loss of one super carrier would cost the US the lives of 5000 service men and women. Sinking two would double that toll.

“We’ll see how frightened America is.”

First of all, Lou Yuan is reportedly well known as an anti-American hawk in Chinese military circles, so this sort of inflammatory rhetoric isn’t new for him. Also, he’s not really part of China’s actual military. He’s the deputy head of the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences. In other words, his title is described as being an “academic military rank” as opposed to being an actual Admiral of the line. The guy has never commanded a warship and wouldn’t be involved in the fighting he is suggesting.

But if they put their minds to it, could the Chinese actually sink a couple of our carriers? If we were talking about an actual naval battle, the odds are slim. China’s navy is nothing to sneeze at, but they’re nowhere near our level of naval military prowess. Our carriers travel at the heart of strategic carrier groups with plenty of escorts specifically designed to prevent any incoming threats from reaching the bird farms. (It’s been that way since well before I served on one of our carriers back in the 70s and 80s.) By contrast, the Chinese have only just recently launched their first aircraft carrier of any significant capabilities.

Unfortunately, we’ve moved beyond the era of conventional naval warfare. The situation Lou Yuan envisions would involve attacking our ships either in the South China Sea or the Straights of Taiwan. That’s a long way from home and close to China’s land-based military installations. They’ve been working on new, hypersonic missiles, much like the Russians and could put a lot of offensive technology into the air in a short period of time. While we’d likely give as good as we got, it’s conceivable that they could take out a carrier.

But then what? That puts our two nations squarely on a war footing, and that’s something the Chinese still fear every bit as much as we might. They can’t afford to go to war with us, if only because it would mean the implosion of their economy when we defaulted on our debt to them. We’re two spiders caught in the same financial web. It’s true that we’ve both been rattling sabers over China’s artificial islands and that status of Taiwan, but I doubt the government of China will be backing up Lou Yuan’s words with any real action.