The Next Shooting War


BERLIN/BEIJING (own report) - The Chinese military's modernization is stimulating the interest of high-ranking German military policy institutions. The Federal College for Security Studies, a Bundeswehr think tank has announced that in June it will hold a conference on the theme "An Arms Race in Asia?". The objective of the conference is to make an inventory of Chinese military modernization and of the East Asian regional balance of forces. "How are the major regional powers (USA, Russia, Japan, India) reacting to the Chinese combination of growing military capabilities, on the one hand, and recently, renewed offensive claims to power, on the other?" asks the college. Leading experts are predicting serious conflicts and growing tensions, for example in the South China Sea. Rivalry between China and the USA is to be expected above all. The leading media has begun speaking of a "Chinese 'Monroe Doctrine'", saying that China has "become a geopolitical countervailing force to the USA in the west Pacific and in eastern Asia."The US - Chinese dispute also sets the framework for Germany's foreign policy.

Enemy Concept: "People's Liberation Army"

The modernization and restructuration of the Chinese "People's Liberation Army" has been stimulating the interests of German geostrategists since the 1990s. Quantitatively the largest army in the world, the People's Liberation Army was considered by western observers to be inefficient from the standpoint of military technology, showing deficiencies in equipment, as well as weak in the development of its air force and naval capabilities. This appraisal has undergone a correction over the past few years. Not only the purchase of Russian weaponry, permitting the People's Liberation Army to make several surges in modernization and providing access to branches of the military that, until then, had been out of reach, has progressively lifted China to a par with western powers. Even the Federal College of Security Studies often cites the purchase of a Russian aircraft carrier and its modification to meet Chinese specifications as a good example. However, the continuation of the Chinese economic boom and the formation of China's own, internationally competitive capabilities, particularly in space and computer technologies are propelling the development of the Chinese armed forces. The USA sees China's first successful shooting down of a burned out weather satellite with a Chinese missile, as particularly dangerous for its own, often satellite supported, military techniques.

"China Discussions" Without China

The question of what threat China poses to its neighbors, on the one hand, to the US' geopolitical hegemony, on the other, will be the themes of the "Trier China Discussions 2011" conference. The conference is sponsored by the German Federal College for Security Studies, the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the University of Trier.[1] The Federal College is Germany's most significant military policy think tank. The choice of speakers and the topics of their talks are good examples of the threat Berlin believes to have discerned. Alongside Brig. Gen. Wiermann, from the Ministry of Defense, who will speak on "Strategic Armament and Capability Evaluation" of the People's Liberation Army, other speakers from universities and think tanks will expound on the relations between Russia and China. China's emerging regional confrontations with India and Japan are also among the topics, but relations with the USA are clearly of primary interest. A speaker from the People's Republic of China, who could give the Chinese view of the situation, has not been planned.

China and the USA

Dr. Martin Wagener, a junior professor at the University of Trier, who will speak on the "Countervailing Power Formation? Military Aspects of the USA's China Policy", not only shows the involvement of institutes of higher learning with state think tanks, but also the objective of the conference. Wagener parts from the premise that the dissention between China and the USA will develop into the strategically decisive conflict of decades to come, even if the People's Republic still has a great deal of catching up to do in the economic and military fields to the USA. "A confrontation between the two most important great powers of the Far East seems more like a postponement than nullification. A domestically reinforced China could get the idea of catching up more offensively to the USA."[2] Wagener rejects speculations about there being a parallel between the concentration of the economic network and a growing placidity. "History has demonstrated on various occasions that economic interpenetration can promote, but not guarantee peace. (...) Therefore it is merely consequential, when China prepares itself for a possible military escalation of conflicts between great powers."

Rivals Rather than "G2"?

Wagener sees the possible confrontation between China and the USA mainly around the unsolved issue of the Taiwan Straits. The People's Republic considers Taiwan to be part of its territory. But the USA, while officially upholding the "One China Policy", which recognizes that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China, is, nevertheless, systematically arming Taiwan and maintaining its strong military presence off the Chinese coast. However, the confrontations, according to Wagener, over the South China Sea have begun to take center stage. China has declared this area one of its "key concerns", which is "problematic", says Wagener, because this "stakes out non-negotiable territorial claims". This contention could escalate, particularly due to the Korean Peninsular conflict. The two Korean adversaries are closely allied with either China or the USA respectively. Moreover, the USA is maintaining a strong naval presence in the Chinese Sea. "China had reacted particularly sensitively in the run-up to the US-South Korean naval maneuvers in July 2010. Peking strictly opposes maneuvers in the Yellow Sea. Washington, at first gave in and held the maneuvers in the Sea of Japan (East Sea). (...) Toward the end of September 2010 another US/South Korean naval exercise was held - this time directly in the Yellow Sea."[3]

Not Yet Ready

For Wagener, an inventory of the Chinese arms buildup demonstrates that strategically China is focused on the USA. "These weapons systems are definitely directed at the USA. China has had enough short and medium range missile systems to deter Russia, India, or Japan, for quite some time. In a potential conflict with the USA, Peking's objective is to have an influence over the US' will to act - for example to support Taiwan following a Chinese attack."[4] China, Wagener predicts, has a long road ahead, before it is able to compete also on the military level with the USA. The German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), which will also be represented with a lecturer at the Trier conference, arrives at a similar prognosis. "By 2010 - the deadline Peking has set - the foundations for the modernization should have been laid. But the Chinese military will not be on a par with the US military, even if they would extend the deadline to 2020."[5] Wagener concludes, "Peking will therefore have to make enormous efforts to close the military technology gap between itself and Washington".[6]

China's "Monroe Doctrine"

At the Trier Conference, German East Asian interests will play no prominent role - it is too evident that the USA is militarily unrivaled and that there is a lack of exclusive opportunities for German foreign policy to have influence in China's close vicinity. However, the expected escalation between China and the USA offers options for becoming independently active. ( reported[7]) In the meantime, experts are predicting that not only the USA but, in the long run, also Germany and Europe could be threatened by the growing military strength of the People's Republic of China. For example, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung refers to a "Chinese 'Monroe Doctrine'": "The basic pattern of the Chinese development of power is a copy of the two-hundred year old 'Monroe Doctrine', which was aimed against the European colonial powers in Latin America (...). China has become a geopolitical countervailing force to the USA in the western Pacific and in eastern Asia, a countervailing force to Russia on the Eurasian continent as well as a countervailing force to India in Southern Asia."[8] If one follows this analysis, the thinking in strategic spheres of influence is approaching new heights.

[1] Trierer China-Gespräche 2011: Wettrüsten in Asien?
[2], [3], [4] Martin Wagener: Die aufgeschobene Konfrontation; Internationale Politik März/April 2011
[5] Chinas militärische Entwicklung; SWP-Studie, Oktober 2009
[6] Martin Wagener: Die aufgeschobene Konfrontation; Internationale Politik März/April 2011
[7] See also Even Closer to China, Disastrous for China, "Nicht den USA überlassen" and Eine Wertepartnerschaft
[8] Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 09.02.2011