Fri, Feb 02, 2007 - Page 8 News List

China: the next global superpower

By Doug Bandow

By destroying a satellite, China has taken a small but critical step toward ending the US' global dominance.

Although the US will remain the globe's military No. 1 for decades, it must begin to contemplate a world in which it no longer stands alone.

The anti-satellite test was not the first jolt felt in Washington. Last October the People's Republic of China (PRC) used a ground-based laser to "blind" a US spy satellite. The PRC continues to modernize its nuclear force.

In late December Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) called for construction of a strong, "blue-water" navy. Also in December Beijing issued a military white paper announcing planned enhancements of air and missile capabilities.

Washington policymakers are getting nervous as a result. Last year the Pentagon declared: "Of the major emerging powers, China has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States."

Yet today the US dominates every region, including East Asia. The US controls the seas next to China and the skies above China. For the PRC, matching, let alone overtaking the US will be a daunting task. Were it not for the war in Iraq, which is draining away funding from the Pentagon's current operations and future research, the US would be rushing even further ahead.

Estimates of actual Chinese military spending vary widely, but the International Institute for Strategic Studies pegs it at US$62.5 billion in 2004, up US$6.6 billion over the previous year.

The comparable figures for the US are US$455 billion and US$51 billion, respectively. That means in 2004 the US' annual increase almost matched China's total outlay.

Moreover, Washington's response to China's rise will help determine whether China's charge onto the global stage is peaceful or confrontational.

Perhaps most important, US policymakers should stop whining about Beijing's decision to build a larger military.

In 2005 former US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld asked: "Since no nation threatens China, one wonders: Why this growing [military] investment?"

But the same question could be put to Washington.

The chief threat to the US today comes from transnational terrorist groups and nuclear proliferation, neither of which is readily solvable by additional carrier groups.

China, bordering 13 states, faces a very different security environment. Indeed, it has suffered multiple invasions and occupations over the last dozen decades. US policymakers must also distinguish between US interests which are vital and which are not. The real issue today is relative influence in Asia, something that matters far more to Beijing than to Washington.

Even so, analysts predict that the PRC won't reach regional parity with the US until early mid-century. Today Beijing can only stalk, not match, US power. Moreover, there is little in East Asia that justifies Washington risking war.

Sea-lane domination is convenient for the US, but far more so for the US' allies, particularly Japan, Australia and South Korea. They should take over responsibility for protecting their own interests.

If Beijing becomes aggressive, the US' allies and friends should respond first. The US should be watchful and wary, but act as an off-shore balancer rather than an onsite meddler. What is vital to the US is preventing a hostile power from attacking the US or dominating Eurasia. But no nation, including the PRC, is capable of doing so in the foreseeable future.

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