On May 27, U.S. Secretary of Defense Carter delivered yet another aggressive and strongly worded speech against China. He claimed China is “erect[ing] a Great Wall of self-isolation,” and is undertaking “expansive and unprecedented actions in the South China Sea.” He expressed that the Pentagon will station all of its most advanced weapons to the Pacific, including the stealthy F-35 fighters, P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and stealth destroyers.
During Carter’s speech to U.S. Naval War College on May 25, he described the U.S. strategic attitude against China with the analogy of Cold War confrontation with the “Soviet Union over those many decades.” He expressed hope that China’s internal logic and the society will change eventually, and “will prevail at some point.”
U.S. senior military officers continuously advocate for China-U.S. confrontation; furthermore, they compared it with the Cold War between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union, thus becoming the prominent trend in the current China-U.S. relationship and the South China Sea situation. Chinese senior officers have never made similar remarks; the U.S. military is seemingly becoming the destructive force across all aspects of the China-U.S. relationship.
The nature of the China-U.S. relationship will to a significant extent decide the nature of international relationships of the 21st century. U.S. senior military officers explicitly displayed the determination to confront China, and assumed a posture with intentions to overwhelm China over strategic momentum; this was where they chewed up the Asia-Pacific foundation of peace with their big mouths.
There are serious disagreements between the different claimant states surrounding the South China Sea issue. However, within these few years where tension escalated quickly, there was no attempt by any side to undertake military intimidation. China, as the strongest country in the region, has never declared to Vietnam or the Philippines that we will station our most advanced weapons in the South China Sea. We insist on resolving conflicting standpoints through peace talks. To maintain peace within the South China Sea is the common goal of all countries in the region.
U.S. intervention brought new development to the militarization issue in the South China Sea. Not only have U.S. warships and airplanes arrived, but the U.S. (or the U.S. military) strategic intention to halt China’s rise in the South China Sea region was also publicly expressed. The South China Sea had entered a period of unprecedented tension; certain issues and plots that were unrelated to territorial disputes were squeezed in [to the dialogue] by Washington.
Carter’s speeches are the worst threats received by China since the end of the Cold War; they verify the concerns that some Chinese have regarding the worst case scenario of the China-U.S. relationship — that the U.S. does not only desire to contain China’s ambition to rise, but will actually do it.
The Pentagon, perhaps, is very willing to see China and the U.S. progress to confrontation. A “cold war” between the big countries is more straight-forward to the U.S. military, and more familiar too, while the complicated China-U.S. relationship makes it challenging for them to find their role. Some Americans probably believe the U.S. has a better chance of winning by competing with China in military power than in other aspects.
Needless to say, the U.S. cannot frighten China with its military intimidation. The South China Sea is so close to China, not only can the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) offset U.S. advantages in military equipment with superior numbers and better distance, we are fully confident in implementing counter-deterrence against the U.S. in the South China Sea region. Even though military confrontation in the South China Sea may be challenging to China, if the U.S. forces us to do so, do we have a way out?
The bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia in 1999 by U.S.-led NATO awakened the Chinese. That year was the turning point where China’s defense systems was put into high gear. U.S. employment of military pressure against China in the South China Sea region since last year and Carter’s threat to China with “cold war” and “long-term confrontation” last week can be said to have deeply stirred the Chinese again.
China must hasten the steps to construct a modernized military defense; we must not have any illusions on this issue. China must first make sure the U.S. is convinced that once they take any military actions against Chinese targets in the South China Sea, they will pay a price that the U.S. cannot afford. Second, China must further construct its ability to fully deter the U.S. and to increase U.S. military strategic risks to threaten China. At the moment, U.S. senior military officers are too casual in expressing harsh remarks against China, and American society rarely feels that those generals are pulling them into a gamble.
China’s industrial output has surpassed that of the U.S., and although it still lags behind the U.S. in terms of cutting-edge technology, the development of military technology is not slow, and has great potential. The gap between China and the U.S. in total military strength should have shrunk further. In addition, China is closer to the sea — and the PLA, in particular, should have overall superiority against the U.S. military. This must become China’s unwavering goal. Moreover, this goal is what China can achieve.
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