America’s long-time chief geopolitical adversary in Europe, Russia, has been steadily challenging American dominance on that continent for several years. The most incautious escalation of tensions occurred this year after Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion and annexation of portions of neighboring Ukraine. This brinkmanship forced the Obama administration to partially abandon it’s planned “pivot” toward Asia, where China has been positioning itself as a military threat to the United States for some time.
The threat posed by China is quite real. According to a report completed by a bipartisan congressional commission, obtained by The Washington Free Beacon’s Bill Gertz and summarized in The Hill, the People’s Liberation Army is busily testing America’s defensive parameters and augmenting its offensive capabilities.
[T]he PLA has deployed two brigades of DF-21D ballistic missiles, infamously called “carrier killers.” In December of 2010, then Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Willard, revealed China was developing these lethal missiles but emphasized that they had merely achieved what the U.S. called “initial operational capability” meaning, the PLA was still developing the system and that it had not fully matured.
Four years later, the missiles have presumably been improved and have multiplied. China has opted not to flight test the missile, keeping the U.S. guessing on whether or not its primary military platform for deterring war and keeping peace in the region—the aircraft carrier—can be directly targeted. The U.S. has no defensive system in its arsenal that could defeat the highly sophisticated DF-21D. But this isn’t the only Achilles Heal [sic] the Chinese have been working to expose.
The Hill noted that China’s emphasis on creating a more adept nuclear deterrent, capabilities which the Obama White House has opted not to disclose in its annual reports to Congress since 2010, are of “particular concern.”
“The complete absence of these reports, combined with the administration’s patterns of conciliatory outreach towards Beijing, make it seem like the Obama administration doesn’t want to put public pressure on the Chinese government for its aggressive military developments designed to threaten the U.S.,” The Hill’s Rebeccah Heinrichs noted.
The administration seemed to shift away from this cautious approach toward relations with China while the president is conducting bilateral diplomacy with that Pacific power during a trip to the region. The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the White House will unveil two agreements with Beijing on Wednesday which are aimed at reducing the likelihood that American and Chinese forces will engage in conflict in the coming years.
“One of the military agreements covers a mechanism for notifying each other of major activities, such as military exercises, and the other sets rules of behavior for encounters at sea and in the air, according to people familiar with the negotiations,” The Journal reported.
Beyond the claim that Washington and Beijing have come around to the notion that both sides need to work harder to avoid military conflict, however, The Journal noted that their sources are tight-lipped about the particulars:
White House officials declined to provide details of the military agreements to be discussed Wednesday. Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, said the two sides had been discussing ways to address instances where U.S. and Chinese military assets “came a little too close for comfort.”
“It’s incredibly important that we avoid inadvertent escalation and that we don’t find ourselves again having an accidental circumstance lead into something that could precipitate a conflict,” he said.
China’s defense ministry didn’t respond directly when asked for details about the two agreements. Its press office said that the mechanism for notification of military activities and the rules of behavior would have “important effects and significance for promoting China-U.S. strategic trust and building a new type of military relationship.”
All can agree that it’s a good thing the American president is working to avoid war with a rising communist China. Perhaps the most effective means of avoiding conflict is a credible and present deterrent, namely a capable American blue-water naval presence in the Pacific. By some chilling estimates, America and its allies are “outgunned” by the People’s Republic in the South China Sea, where Beijing is pressing its territorial interests. The modern equivalent of a red phone linking Beijing to the Oval Office in order to prevent conflicts from spiraling out of control is lovely, but it will not prevent the PLA from engaging in calculated aggression in the first place.