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Panel: U.S. Lacks a Grand Strategy to Counter China

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – When considering a resurgent Chinese military, the U.S. lacks a well-developed plan or even a unifying theme, a panel of Pacific-region military and political experts said Wednesday.

Flashpoints for conflict in the Far East seem about as numerous as the islands dotting the area, and both the U.S. and China are acting as if they’re following a script leading to war, said Graham Allison, the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Allison also is the author of Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?

“The shape of the problem is what China wants clashes with what we like: the status quo,” Allison said.

The last 100 years is called the American Century for a good reason, Allison said. It was good for America, but also good for most of the rest of world – including China, which now has an economy growing at a rate far outpacing economic growth in the U.S.

Allison was speaking as part of a panel of experts at the U.S. Naval Institute’s New China Challenge conference.

Taiwan is the most likely cause for friction between the U.S. and China, he said. Socially and economically, Taiwan aligns with the open societies of the West. However, China’s President Xi Jinping has stated the expectation that Taiwan be fully integrated into the more authoritarian Chinese regime by 2049 – the centennial of modern-day China’s creation.

“This is an important theme and why it’s important to have a grand strategy,” retired Adm. Scott Swift, a former commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said during the panel. “We do not have a grand strategy. We have bits and pieces.”

China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning takes part in a military drill of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in the western Pacific Ocean, April 18, 2018. PLA Photo

What the U.S. has is a series of somewhat related actions, Kathleen Hicks, the director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said. A growing trade war exists with China. The U.S. regularly sends warships on freedom of navigation operations past islands claimed by China. Both the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy recognize the threat posed by China.

“But those tactics aren’t adding up in any way, I think, to a strategy that is compelling; that the United States fundamentally understands how it is going to deal with this challenge,” Hicks said.

The lack of a coherent China strategy directly affects the ability of the U.S. to be ready for a conflict. Militarily, Swift said the U.S. has to evaluate how the push to increase the size of the Navy’s fleet to 355 ships in the future may hurt the ability to have forces ready today.

The implications of a possible conflict stretch far beyond worries of military capabilities, Swift added, asking if the nation is ready to support conflict with significant casualties.

“There’s talk of a short but sharp war,” Swift said. “It won’t be short, but it will be sharp. China will be all in.”

A conflict with China would also pull other nations into the fray, retired Adm. Robert Willard, another former PACOM commander, said. The scale and scope of such a conflict could quickly include Japan, Australia, South Korea, Vietnam and India.

“This has the potential to be a regional conflict. How ready are our partners and allies?” Willard said. “In this sense, I think the answer is ‘no’ in the big war.”

Perhaps more importantly, Allison said, there’s no desire in the U.S. for such a conflict. All the panelists agreed there’s not much China would gain either, since economically they are already beating the U.S.

“I think if you asked Americans would they support a conflict over Taiwan, I think 2 percent would support this, of those who could find Taiwan on a map,” Allison said. “If there were a war between the U.S. and China, afterward I think we’d say this was a stupid war.”

  • Kypros

    So are these guys considered “experts”? Seems fairly vacuous.

    • .Hugo.

      maybe its vacuous when they don’t support the hawks…. 🙂
      .

    • Bankotsu

      They are not “experts” on China, that’s for sure.

    • D4x

      Seems overly focused on SCS, which is understandable at USNI. However, China bullies South/SE Asia over river water from the Tibetan Plateau: Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam. The only expert who writes about that is Brahma Chellaney, in Asian media. SecPompeo did chair the Lower Mekong Initiative at the recent ASEAN FM meet, with actionable deliverables, including a ‘message’ to China. I assume it was also a topic at the Sept. 6 2018 2Plus2 in Delhi, India.

      How can this panel say there is no strategy when the October 4, 2018 “Remarks by Vice President Pence on the Administration’s Policy Toward China” at the Hudson Institute (transcript posted by the WH) was the topic of Walter Russell Mead’s Oct. 8 analysis “Mike Pence Announces Cold War II: The administration is orchestrating a far-reaching campaign against China.” at the WSJ, beyond their paywall. Mr. Mead noted:
      “Mr. Pence also detailed an integrated, cross-government strategy to counter what the administration considers Chinese military, economic, political and ideological aggression.”

      Perhaps think tank experts need to pen lamentations over not having 100-page strategies written by them. TeamTrump45’s actual cross-government team approach to the conduct of foreign relations crosses too many domains for most ‘experts’. It certainly has not been covered in any media.

  • Bankotsu

    Okay, U.S doesn’t have “grand strategy” to contain China.

    But does U.S. has just a “strategy” to contain China? It doesn’t need to be “grand”.

    A simple strategy will do.

    • .Hugo.

      you can have simple strategy for minor countries but not china. 🙂
      .

  • Duane

    The experts are correct – no overarching strategy, just reactions from the military and fulminations from POTUS.

    Countering China is not just about military preparedness to fight. It is equally about creating and nurturing alliances, both military and economic. Economic matters are what actually drive geopolitics, and militaries are just one of the tools for pursuing a geopolitical strategy.

    Under Bush we allowed ourselves to become distracted by Iraq. Under Obama we attempted to refocus to the Pac rim, but undoing the blunders of Bush could not be achieved in just 8 years. Under Trump, our nutty POTUS seems bent on unraveling existing alliances and relying on the good will of murderous dictators like Putin and Kim, while he whales away on China with silly general tariffs yet ignoring the real strengths of an allied resistance to China’s aggressive behavior and aims. And the military leaders do what they can to keep things alive while POTUS is doing his best to blow things up.

    A real grand strategy will have to wait for a non-nutbag POTUS who actually cares about this stuff and has more than a sixth grader’s mentaility.

    • Kypros

      For a moment there, I thought you might have hit upon it, but no, you devolved into TDR. Trump is putting the Chinese economy under great pressure. In the end, the Chicoms will have 2 choices. Accept the pain of a level playing field or watch their house of cards economy collapse. They will eventually accept the former.

      • Duane

        No … you don’t get it. Tariffs are taxes imposed on American consumers and businesses. The Chinese don’t pay the tariffs – Americans pay Trump’s tariffs.

        TDR is an affliction suffered by Trump supporters. The vast majority of Americans and US allies are not deranged… we are the sane ones who call out Trump as the massively egotistical con man and nutbag that he is.

        • Kypros

          Nope, you don’t get it. Tariffs are an economic weapon. They are taxes imposed on Chinese products. Those taxes go to the US Treasury. Whether that cost is passed on to US consumers, (or not), or those products become more efficiently made in the US are products of pure economics. There is a big picture here that you are not getting. It’s a way to change supply, manufacture and distribution chains and put them through the US again. It’s a way to level the playing field that’s been working against us and for China for decades and finally protect our IP and technology from being continuously stolen. The Chinese are purely on the defensive at this point, they have run out of US product to tariff, never mind their hyperbole. Pain for the US is over, pain for the PRC is only beginning. Their economic system has been shaken and those in charge are rattled. They are almost begging to make a deal, but it’s not time yet. Of course, it sounds like you’d rather take the side of the Chicoms over the US, simply because you hate Trump. Start thinking like a patriot and not a Soros political hack.

          • Duane

            No, you just don’t get it at all. Using tariffs as an economic weapon is like Sheriff Bart in Blazing Saddles taking himself hostage and pointing his own gun at his own head, and then stupidly pulling the trigger.

            Again – only Americans pay US tariffs. The Chinese do not pay one red cent of the Trump tariffs. The end result will not be reduced imports of Chinese goods – the end results will be higher inflation and lower American economic growth.

            That is precisely why the Fed announced last week along with their most recent hike in interest rates that economic growth will top out this year at 3.0%, then plummet to 2.0% in 2019, and even lower to 1.8% growth in 2020. Primarly due to the stupid trade wars that Trump has launched against everybody else in the world but his fanboys in Russia.

            Doing stupid self destructive stuff does not make Trump or his dumb supporters patriots … it just makes them dumb and self destructive.

            There are vastly better ways to deal with China … but Trump is too stupid to bother himself with anything that actually requires some forethought and strategy, rather than stupid chest thumping and claims of true patriotism.

          • muzzleloader

            “No you don’t get it”. And that is you in a nutshell Duane. In your mind you are the worlds primary authority on any matter, economics, politics, international Studies, military strategy, naval doctrine, whatever, when the great Duane has spoken the matter is closed and if you disagree you are a knave.
            You have an ego that is off the scale and a sense of callous prejudice towards anyone who disagrees with you.
            You call total strangers idiots/nuts/stupid and any other invective that crosses your mind.
            I can’t imagine what it must be like for people around you.

          • Kypros

            Please don’t let your TDS make you averse to winning. I’m assuming you want the best for America

          • Jim DiGiacomo

            Tariffs applied to the products of an exporting country are always detrimental. The Chinese are certainly complaining about it. I was also in favor of renegotiating NAFTA. In regard to Russia this administration has imposed more sanctions than any other. In addition we are now supplying lethal weapons to the Ukrainians. Unlike Obama, Trump launched two cruise missile attacks against their Syrian allies for the use of chemical weapons. He pressured NATO allies to increase defense spending and chastised them for their increasing dependence on Russia for their energy. None of these initiatives are in Russia’s best interest.
            I support his reimposing sanctions on Iran. Despite their bluster they haven’t resumed their nuclear weapons program. That will occur a few years down the road the moment the treaty expires.
            In regard to Kim and Korea most people would say that the current situation is more stable than ever.

          • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

            We get it.

          • .Hugo.

            who ordered and paid for the chinese products? your merchandisers and your consumers.
            .
            the tax goes to the u.s. treasury, then what? your consumer market is still bearing the cost.
            .
            when there is no u.s. alternatives, what is your “more efficiently made in the u.s.” anyway? what the u.s. companies have done is to let the cheaper and more efficient overseas manufacturers to make their products, then ship them back to the u.s. for sale. it is not china dumping goods to the u.s. market.
            .
            china is not on the defensive either, china is simply waiting for its counter measures to take effect, which we are all starting to see (that’s where your “u.s. pain starts”).
            .
            running out of u.s. products to tariff? how about u.s. service exports to china? e.g. do you know how much profit are u.s. financial institutions in china are making? have you counted them too? also have you taken away the ‘assembled in china goods’ from the total china made product pool to reveal the real stats?
            .
            also i don’t see any chinese officials wanting to beg for a deal, when they have refused to meet yours if your demands are still unreasonable.
            .
            trump is just the world’s laughingstock, we need not to discuss him here. 😀
            .

          • Kypros

            To put it bluntly, the PRC’s days of cheating and stealing are now being called out. Any company that wants to invest in China, needs to partner with a government owned Chinese company as the majority shareholder and all their technology handed over. The PRC hacks plans, technology and IP of private companies all over the world to steal what they’ve worked to create. And they have done it with impunity for decades. No more. The jig is up. Sit back and watch how events unfold. You and Duane can go have cocktails some night and commiserate over it.

          • .Hugo.

            joint venture is china’s requirement for foreign companies to enter the chinese market, and the foreign companies don’t have to comply if they don’t want to enter the chinese market. tech transfer is nothing new and it is not only being practiced in china but in many other countries .

            i can see you could not refute any of my points either.

            as far as we can see, it is the u.s. wanting to talk to china badly when china has stopped most soybean and crude oil purchases from the u.s. 🙂

          • Kypros

            Like I said, sit back and watch events unfold.

          • .Hugo.

            i have sat back and watched more than enough events unfolded, and again the world is looking up to china to prevent yet another man-made potential financial crisis. 🙂

          • Kypros

            Please explain. This should be good!

          • .Hugo.

            just like all the previous crisis, only china has the economic scale and reserves to support the world’s economy. if trump wins, all smaller countries will have to let the u.s. to invade their economies. many of the countries being picked on by trump are now rushing new shipments to china. 🙂

          • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

            Joint theft of IP is more like it. Now go back to you PLAN day job.

          • .Hugo.

            want to do business in china but don’t want to comply with chinese legal requirements and a world practice? that’s very american. 🙂
            .

          • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

            You need us far more than we need you. The last PCB assembly I got from China was junk. Keep trying. There is a reason I onshore all my production.

            Yeah, keep laughing, yet he keeps winning.

          • .Hugo.

            wrong.

            china’s exports to the u.s. is only 20% of its total volume, while 1/3 of the u.s. consumer goods are from china. your alternative sources will cost a lot more too if you stop importing from china.

            good pcb manufacturers in china are all busy fulfilling orders from local tech giants like xiaomi and huawei, and you think they have time for you, that’s a really good thinking, hehe….

          • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

            Good for you. In the mean time, I make my assemblies in the US. The quality is far better and I don’t have to deal with substandard parts substitutes and lousy quality.

          • michaelstephani

            Wow, talk about deranged….1/3 of our consumer goods products are not from China, lol…. what a foolish statement to make.

          • .Hugo.

            i quoted 2016 data in my previous reply.
            .
            (slide 12)
            hlbDOTcomDOTmy/content/dam/hlb/hk/images/events-and-news/hlb-hk-hktdc.pdf
            .
            more current figure has revealed that usd 505.6 billion worth of goods were imported from china in 2017, and total u.s. import of consumer goods was usd 602 billion.
            .
            thebalanceDOTcom/u-s-imports-by-year-and-by-country-3306259
            thebalanceDOTcom/u-s-imports-statistics-and-issues-3306260
            .
            so instead of questioning me, do you not see that it is now even more the 1/3? 🙂
            .
            ‘the balance’ has also made a very valid explanation:
            “A lot of China’s exports are manufactured products made for U.S. companies. These companies pay to ship raw materials to China. There the low-cost factory workers process the materials into the final product. “
            .
            i hope you get a clearer picture now. 🙂
            .

      • .Hugo.

        the u.s. trade is just 20% of china’s total exports, while china has been been a major buyer of u.s. goods and services.
        .
        china has the biggest domestic consumer market which has kept it’s own supply chain participants busy, by lowering 1% of the chinese bank’s cash reserve ratio requirement will release usd 110 billion into the market, and china still has a foreign reserves of usd 3.09 trillion to back up its currency.
        .
        you should go ask the u.s. farmers or the u.s. companies relying heavily on chinese trade (e.g. apple, boeing, gm) about the pain first. 🙂
        .
        by the way, level playing field =/= uncontrolled u.s. goods and services invasion. you can force your little vassals to comply but not china.
        .

        • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

          Really, a major buyer? Really? I have tried to import into China, the restrictions are extremely onerous and designed to exclude non-domestic products. What a farce.

          Apple and Boeing were stupid enough to move production there to reduce costs. They can suffer their ill advised strategies. What can you produce if not for theft of IP from other nations?

          Now back to your PLA job..

          • .Hugo.

            china is the u.s. largest export market after canada and it is valued at usd 550 billion in 2017. china is the major buyer of u.s. aircraft, fruits/seeds, pulp, prepared animal food, wood products, leather, and cotton. it is also a highly competitive and selective market so i am afraid your products are just not good enough for the chinese market. the farce will be you trying to dump rubbish goods into china. 🙂

            apple and boeing would be stupid to keep everything in the u.s. and suffer high production cost and inefficient supply chain. it would limit their growth. oh by the way, the u.s. stole from the u.k. and germany too to ‘build things’, if you called that stealing in the first place. 🙂

            i don’t work for the pla. maybe you work for trump instead? so how are you going to help the farmers as china is further cutting its soybean imports from the u.s.? the next hit is your crude oil export. 😀

          • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

            Go for it. We in the US are more than willing to pay higher prices to distance ourselves from Chinese products.

    • muzzleloader

      You are so obsessed with Trump hatred it is impossible for you to see the strategy that is being used. China has been taking America on a ride when it comes to the trade imbalances that have been in place for decades, but no president has wanted to take on, at least beyond words.
      Trump is doing something about it with pressure that Beijing cannot ignore. The “silly” tariffs are having an effect.
      Just what alliances have dissolved?
      What alliances have blown up?
      I would argue that the western rim allies are as on board with the US as they have even been.
      As for Trump being a tool for Putin or Kim, you have nothing to back that up with. Proof please.
      You can post some very informative and thoughtful things on different subjects to the readers at USNI, to which I agree often.
      But when it comes to POTUS, you devolve.

      • Duane

        Stating facts is not hatred. Hatred is a mindless emotion most typical of Trump and his mindless sycophantic supporters

        • muzzleloader

          You don’t state facts. You just recycle your favorite epithets, because it is all you have.
          You had two posts challenging your outburst with well thought through statements, and all you can do is respond with insults.
          TDS has smitten you mightily.

          • Duane

            Nope, I just state the facts.

            You don’t like the facts is your problem.

          • muzzleloader

            What facts?, Trump is a 6th grader who is undoing alliances/economies/Putin puppet/ etc.
            You don’t state facts Duane, all you do is vent, over and over ad Infinitum, the same vitriol supported by nothing except your imbedded vitriol.
            Sad.

          • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

            He is a legend in his own mind, you are wasting your time…

        • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

          Thus you proved his point. OK Cliff, whatever you say…

        • michaelstephani

          Duane, if you could only hear yourself you would realize just how unhinged you truly are when it comes to the name “Trump”.

  • Franken

    A few things…the U.S. needs to know that we are nearly alone when ‘war’ is discussed in the context with China. The Europeans are horrified by the talk of it, the developing world would suffer short and medium term implications to its citizens, and even things like the domain of space may be irrevocably damaged with debris. Moreover, all high-level simulations lead to a years-long stalemate leading to increasingly dire implications for our citizens. Ultimately, kinetic strikes turn to water, power, waste, and food. History will not look favorably on wholesale civilian deaths because we, them, or us started an easily avoidable conflict. Time to make China a more responsible citizen on the world markets–got it! But lets quick talking about compelling change against the backdrop of war. What’s wrong with us?

  • Refguy

    Have we had a Grand Strategy for anything since the Eisenhower administration?

  • Franken

    There are slightly askance parallels to a similar discussion about Iran, which should be the topic for the next forum.

  • James Bowen

    There are two things we should do to approach this.

    1) We should pursue trade and economic policies that strengthen American industrial capacity instead of the bottom line growth of commerce-oriented economic policies that our government has pursued for at least the last 25 years. This would eventually enable us to rebuild our navy at a cost and pace where we can match that of China.

    2) While we should be willing to broker negotiations between China and its neighbors, we should stop trying to lay down the law in China’s front yard. We would not like it if another world power arrogantly asserted itself in the Caribbean, so it is completely understandable that China does not appreciate us asserting a position of power in the South China Sea.

    This would enable us to deal with China from a position of strength but at the same time be less provocative and more respectful of China’s core interests.

    • muzzleloader

      Regarding your first point, I believe that is what the current administration is attempting to do although some are squeamish at the way it is being done.
      To your second point , I don’t believe anyone objects to China taking actions that are advantageous to its own interests.
      What is objectionable and cannot be taken in stride is the PRC’s blatant bald faced seizing of the islands in the SCS and turning them into Death Stars, so to speak.
      The SCS is an international water way, and the Chicoms cannot be allowed to make it a sea and airspace that can only be entered with Chinese permission.

      • James Bowen

        I do agree with your second point, which is why I said we should be willing to broker negotiations there. We should absolutely not rush headlong into a conflict there though. As things presently stand, the U.S. Navy would be at a severe disadvantage in such a conflict.

      • .Hugo.

        when china announced its maritime border in 1947, no country, including the u.s., has protested.
        .
        the u.s. has even asked china to confirm the names and sovereignty of the islands, and seek chinese government approval to conduct survey and rescue missions in the islands.
        .
        with that i can only come to one conclusion, it’s ok when it’s the roc government making the claim, and it ‘s not ok when it’s the prc government to make the same claim after winning the civil war. 🙂
        .
        china has not asked for any permission for civilian shipping to sail through chinese waters. only the u.s. has continued to threaten china to blockade the sea and to set up adiz so close to chinese airspace.
        .

  • Ty Harris

    Step one- stop the 300 billion dollar a year trade deficit that funds their military by any means neccesary. If we need to tarriff their exports and have the factories relocate to Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea that we have freindlier relations with then by all means we should do so. Even trade parity is fine but what we are doing now is a wealth transfer from us to them. It makes no sense to enrich a country, buy them a military, then have to fund a military to counter them.

    • .Hugo.

      maybe you don’t remember that it was japan, taiwan, and korea to move their factories to china to enjoy cost advantages. your “friendlier relations“ with them have caused 2 major wars fought in their land, and completely ruined the economy of one which is still trying to recover today.
      .

  • Ed L

    The China Sea is surrounded by countries that are either more friendly to America than China. Or is it a choice of the lesser of 2 evils? anyone remember the old saying about never getting involved in a ground war in Asia

  • Imre Szabo

    There are several critical converging factors that are not considered at all in this article: the total dependence by the United States on Heavy Rare Earth Elements (HREEs) imported from China, the systematic destruction of the US civilian manufacturing industrial base by imports from China, and complete erosion of the US educational system, particularly the humanities.

    All US high tech equipment requires HREEs. All of them are imported from China. There is NO value chain for HREE in the US. It is not because we do not have sufficient HREE deposits, it is because we regulated ourselves from being able to exploit them out of a misplaced fear of thorium. Any competent grand strategy requires the allowance for a long war with China. Without a HREE value chain, the US has NO ability to include that element in ANY strategy with regards to China.

    With regards to manufacturing, China is doing to the US what the US did to the Soviet Union. What allowed the US across most areas of military technology to outpace the Soviet Union was not how much it spent on military R&D, it was the US’s vibrant civilian manufacturing that pushed civilian technology at a far faster pace, that then spun off technology to the military technology base. By comparison, the Soviet Union had a dismal civilian manufacturing base. China is moving from, “you design, we build it,” to “we design it, and we build it.” When China finishes this transition, the US military industrial base will NOT be able to keep up with China.

    The control of the US educational system as whole, and the almost complete control of the Humanities by post-modern deconstructionist Marxists, severally limits the ability of the US to develop any grand strategy. We are severally crippling our intellectual capital. Both Jordan Peterson and Victor Davis Hanson are right. If we do not massively reform our universities, and get them back to what they were, especially the Humanities, we will have never be able to form a great grand strategy vs China. Why are the Humanities so important? Because a great grand strategy is a work of art.