No. 2036May 17, 2007
The PLA Air Force now boasts about400 new Russian-designed fighter aircraft and 60new Jian-10 fighters with expected production of atleast another 190 Jian-10s—more than a match forTaiwan’s fighters in the Taiwan Strait.
China’s army is still the world’slargest with 1.64 million men and is modernizingapace. The PLA’s Type 98 main battle tank arguablyoutclasses the weapons on the U.S. M-1A2 Abramstank, and Chinese arms makers now display animpressive array of new armored vehicles, mobileheavy artillery, all-terrain vehicles, helicopters, andnew small arms.
New PLA doctrine seescomputer network operations as a force multiplierin any confrontation with the United States or otherpotential adversaries, such as Taiwan, Japan, SouthKorea, and even the United Kingdom. PLA cyber-war units apparently are the only PLA troops thatregularly attack enemy targets, making at least fourmajor attacks on U.S. government computer sys-tems in 2006 alone.
China’s militaryexpansion is extravagantly in excess of anythingrequired by a responsible stakeholder in the existinginternational system and is even beyond thatneeded to “liberate” Taiwan. China shares land bor-ders with 14 nations, none of which is a threat to it,yet China still has contentious territorial claimsagainst India and Japan and in the South China Sea.China’s gathering geopolitical punch portends a21st century that may well become the Chinese cen-tury in Asia—a new century of China’s support forilliberal forces that will buttress the legitimacy of Beijing’s regime at home.
What the Administration and CongressShould Do.
Asia does not believe that Washing-ton—preoccupied with Iraq—is concerned aboutChina’s spreading influence, much less that it has astrategic vision for the Pacific Rim. Managing theemerging security challenge requires a new U.S.partnership with democratic Asia and a new atti-tude in Washington. The U.S. should:
List China as the top U.S. foreign policy chal-lenge.
The entire bureaucracy must prepare toimplement a coherent China policy to addressdefense, global, and regional issues, using coun-terintelligence and export control strategies asneeded.
•Commit resources to preserving the U.S. posi-tion as the world’s preeminent military power.
America cannot bluff its way out of this challenge. America’s most urgent needs are increasing itssubmarine fleet, enhancing its anti-submarinewarfare capabilities, and ensuring the survivabil-ity of its space platforms (e.g., satellites).
•Reinforce eroding alliances,
eschew inclina-tions to take China’s rhetorical side against Japan or against Taiwan, reinvigorate ties inSoutheast Asia, build on new ties with India,and reengage the Atlantic Community in dia-logue on shared global interests and values of human dignity and freedom.
The Asian perception that theUnited States is a declining Pacific power may ormay not prove prescient, but China is clearly emerg-ing as the preeminent power in the Asia–Pacific.Faced with this reality, an engaged America canstrengthen the current robust trans-Pacific align-ment, knitting together the democracies of the Americas and the Western Pacific Rim, or a disen-gaged America can allow a Sino-centric continentalaxis to crystallize as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Taiwan, Korea, and eventually Japan, Australia, and South and Central Asia band-wagon with China.The choices made in Washington on how tomanage the emerging Chinese superpower willdetermine not only the direction of Asian democ-racy, but also the prospects for global political andeconomic freedoms in the 21st century.
—John J. Tkacik, Jr., is Senior Research Fellow inChina, Taiwan, and Mongolia Policy in the Asian Stud-ies Center at The Heritage Foundation.