The Fiery Breath of the Chinese Dragon

Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping once counseled China on how to deal with the world. Deng’s advice: “Hide our capabilities and bide our time.” China’s military leaders should have listened to the little old man’s advice.


China has been going the exact opposite of Deng’s advice. China is rapidly bulking up its military muscle and it’s becoming increasingly bellicose. The result is the ringing of alarm bells in Washington and in Seoul, Tokyo, New Delhi and other Asian capitals. The mainstream U.S. media doesn’t tell us much about how all of this is playing overseas, even though there are some storm clouds forming on the horizon.

The Chinese Air Force recently staged test flights of their new J-20 stealth fighter in a way designed to encourage amateur photos. It happened during a visit by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. It was a clear and unmistakable slap in the face by the Chinese military.

J-20 Stealth Fighter


President Hu Jintao seemed to be caught off guard by the stealth fighter showboating, just as he was apparently caught by surprise in 2007 when the Chinese military demonstrated their abilities in satellite warfare by flowing one of their own aging satellites out of the sky. General Xu Quiliang later called military competition in space “inevitable.” This muscle-flexing has caused some to ponder just how much control China’s civilian leaders have over the People’s Liberation Army.

There have been several run-ins between China’s rapidly expanding Navy and U.S. naval vessels in recent years. There were reports a few months ago that China has developed new so-called carrier-killer missiles. There’s only one country in the world with a global carrier fleet that China might want to shoot at one day, and it is ours.

China is making territory grabs by claiming sovereignty over ever-larger portions of the South China and Yellow Seas.

It has become aggressive in challenging India over that country’s northwest provinces, as well.

China’s increasingly aggressive behavior makes a mockery of the claim that the People’s Republic’s growing might is purely peaceful. What China has done is heighten Asian awareness of its rapid ramp-up of its war-fighting capabilities. It has heightened concern in Washington, too, as noted last year by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

“Their heavy investments of late in modern expeditionary maritime air and air capabilities seems oddly out of step with their stated goal of territorial defense.

“Every nation has a right to defend itself and to spend as it sees fit for that purpose. But a gap as wide as what seems to be forming between China’s stated intent and its military programs leaves me more than curious about the end result. Indeed, I have moved from being curious to being genuinely concerned,” Mullen said.

The Dragon’s power posturing strengthens the hand of defense hawks in Washington and it is forcing other Asian nations into an arms race. Perhaps that’s what China wants to do. More on that later.

U.S. defense analyst Richard Fisher says China’s new stealth fighter and other advanced weapons of war call U.S. capabilities into question in the minds of our Asian allies who count on the United States to protect them from aggression:

“Our allies are going to have less confidence in our ability to deter China, so they’re going to seek alternatives; perhaps their own nuclear deterrent. Perhaps missile forces, long-range missile forces.”

Yoichi Funabashi is the outgoing editor of Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s second-largest newspaper. He is regarded as an expert on defense matters. Former Chinese leader Deng’s advice about biding time and hiding capabilities was on Funabashi’s mind recently when he was interviewed by the Financial Times about China’s growing military might:

“They appear to be no longer satisfied with Deng Xiaoping’s low profile policy, peaceful rise strategy. But at the same time they appear unable to find a new role or mission to replace that.”

Japan is concerned about what China may be up to for good reason. There is longstanding animosity between them and China has not forgotten the Japanese invasion and atrocities of World War Two.

The two Asian nations are fiercely competitive. China recently surpassed Japan as the world’s second-largest economy.

Not long ago the two countries butted heads when a Chinese fishing trawler cruised into Japanese waters. Japan arrested the boat captain. China retaliated by banning rare-earth shipments to Japan. Rare-earths are critical to technology manufacturing and China has sewn up the world’s supply. Japan backed down.

China’s rising military power has forced Japan to begin shedding its post-war pacifist posture. It is now beefing up its own military forces, particularly its Navy, as noted by Yoichi Funabashi who calls China’s recent behavior “ruthless:”

“We have seen already an arms race, particularly naval arms races in the past ten years or so. And it’s likely to continue then, so I think that it could be extremely dangerous if we just let this rule of the jungle to continue. I think that we really, at one point, we really have to devise, conceive and devise some way of maintaining that maritime security among nations. And particularly, I think that the U.S., Japan and China, three countries have a very much serious, big responsibility to do that.”

An aggressive Chinese Navy could conceivably interdict oil supplies to Japan. If China does that, watch out. Like China, Japan is dependent on foreign oil for its economy. It’s worth noting that the U.S. cut off oil supplies to Japan in the summer of 1941. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor that December.

South Korea is worried about China, too. Seoul knows Beijing has life and death control over the North Korean Communist regime but it seems un-inclined to reign in its belligerent client-state.

China also is playing hardball with India. There is worry in New Delhi that China may establish its first foreign military base in northeast Pakistan and become more aggressive toward the Indian territories of Jammu, Punjab and Kashmir. India and China have clashed off and on for years over border disputes. The Indian view is that China is trying to surround and isolate India. Here’s an anchorwoman on India’s Times Now network:

“India has plenty of reason to worry about the spread of the Chinese dragon, especially if the Chinese Army gears to a presence in Pakistan. It’s also a way for Beijing to gain a foothold in Afghanistan, while a military base in north Pakistan will allow China to keep a watch on India’s border in Jammu, Kashmir and Punjab. So strategically, China’s aim is to bog down the Indian military and to limit our capability just to the sub-continent.”

This is how V.K. Singh, the Indian Army Chief of Staff put it in a speech last October:

“We also have two irritants; one mainly in terms of how the situation is in Pakistan, where there is a problem of governance, where there is a certain amount of support that is being given to some terrorist groups and where the internal situation is not very good and therefore it can have a fallout in terms of how these things impact India.

“We have a rising China, both economically and militarily. Although we have CBMs (conventional ballistic missiles) in place, although we have a stable border, yet, we have a border dispute. And therefore the intentions need to be looked at along with this additional capability that is coming up.  That impacts the way we will task our Army and the roles that we will give it so it can do the tasks that the nation wants.”

In other words, India is arming up in response to the “peaceful” rise of China.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates appeared to achieve very little during his recent visit to Beijing. He was hoping to rebuild military-to-military ties between the U.S. and China, which fell apart after the U.S. sale of military weapons to Taiwan. China insists Taiwan is a renegade Chinese province and there are fears China will invade Taiwan one day and dare the U.S. to do anything about it.

On the PBS Newshour recently, Secretary Gates said he believes China’s rapid naval buildup is partly to protect its own shipping. He used the word “partly”  twice while discussing Chinese shipping but he never explained what he sees as the other “part” or reason for China’s rapidly expanding Navy.  He did, however, admit the United States is taking note of China’s growing military might:

“Well, we obviously have to be mindful of the, and I referred to it a minute ago, of the Chinese military modernization programs. Their anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles – that potential can put our aircraft carriers at risk; new fifth-generation aircraft, there have been some news stories about that. So they have a lot of capabilities that they’re building.

“We need to be mindful of that; we need to be in a position to deal with those capabilities in the future. But China, there’s no reason for China to be an adversary, particularly in a military sense, for the United States.”

No one, it seems, wants to consider the notion that China may want military adversaries, including the United States.

Why? Here’s one reason: China now controls much of the world’s manufacturing. No one knows how many Chinese-made nuts, bolts and sub-assemblies are in U.S. weapons systems. No one has ever done an inventory. They can’t, because defense contractors are not required to keep detailed records on the hundreds of millions of small widgets that make up big weapons.

But China knows they are there and if the U.S. and Japan and India bulk up their defense systems that certainly means more exports for China. Chinese exports have been hurting in the global economic downturn and an arms race is one way to fill the export pipeline again. Many Chinese manufacturers feed parts to the People’s Liberation Army, Navy and Air Force.

While an arms race can be dangerous, it is one way to fill China’s export pipeline again and keep the economy of the Dragon on the march to world domination.

2 Responses to “The Fiery Breath of the Chinese Dragon”

  1. The Fiery Breath of the Chinese Dragon – Trade Reform

    […] following is the transcript of an audio-blog by Vince Wade.  Click here to see the transcript and hear the audio portion […]

  2. nelson hoffman

    Does anyone recognize that everytime they buy socks,shirts, tvs or furniture, or anything bought in a big box store, they are funding the build up of the Chinese military, which may ultimately be used against our fighting forces.
    In the late thirties, my grandfather stood on the docks of New York watching scrap metal being loaded on ships bearing a rising sun flag. His companion said ” I fear we may see this metal again someday- as bombs and tanks used against us.
    Until we start making all-repeat all manufactured goods we consume- we will be funding the build up of a military not interested in the best interests of this nation.
    congratulations Vince. I hear no other voice that brings accurate reporting to critical issues.
    Nelson Hoffman