Exclusive Interview: China Bent on War

A new book out today, Showdown: Why China Wants War with the United States, argues that China is bent on picking a fight with the world’s remaining superpower—and shows just how that war might play out, in scenarios that read like episodes from a Tom Clancy novel.

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Jed Babbin, Showdown co-author (with Edward Timperlake), agreed to answer some questions about the new book, and about what the U.S. needs to do to counter the China threat.

Babbin served as deputy undersecretary for defense in the first Bush administration and is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Are Worse Than You Think and of the novel Legacy of Valor.

Showdown is published by Regnery, a HUMAN EVENTS sister company.

Does China really want a war with us?

Yes, but not a nuclear war or an all-out conventional one. China wants war because without it they can’t achieve superpower status. China, like France, believes power is a zero-sum game. Without defeating us in at least a short war—say over Taiwan or somewhere else in the Pacific—China won’t have the ability to proclaim its hegemony over their region.

Why pick a fight with the world’s only remaining superpower? What does China have to gain?

They gain power and influence. China is thinking about the Pacific region and east Asia as Japan did in the pre-World War II years: as another “co-prosperity sphere” that can feed its industrial power.

But doesn’t China need us? Aren’t we their biggest market? Won’t they go broke if they can’t sell us their manufactured goods?

They need us only so long as we don’t conflict with their ambitions. They do take an enormous economic risk by confronting us, but the risk is mutual. They may go broke regardless. China’s banks are burdened by almost $1 TRILLION in bad debts. We should be helping those debts go bad, but as they are mostly internal it’s probably beyond our power to do so.

Hasn’t it been proven that Communism isn’t sustainable? What keeps the Chinese dictatorship in power more than a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union?

No. Communism is sustainable if—unlike the Soviets—the economic support from abroad can be sustained. Communism isn’t the ideology that propels China. Though the party leaders are dedicated communists, the rise of Chinese nationalism is what keeps their population going despite the ills that communism inflicts.

Christianity is reported to be thriving in China. The recent consecration of bishops without the Vatican’s approval, and the persecution of the Falun Gong (can you confirm the stories about the harvesting of organs for transplant?) seem to suggest that the government considers religion a serious threat to their power. What role is religion likely to play in China’s future?

I can’t confirm or deny the organ harvest reports. The Catholic church is an important force in China. Its adherents are oppressed relentlessly, and the government—by taking it upon itself to appoint phony bishops—is demonstrating its fear of free exercise of religion. I am hopeful that the Vatican will stand firmly in favor of freedom and increase its calls to end repression in China.

How has our relationship with Taiwan changed as China has emerged as an economic force? Should we continue to protect Taiwan?

That’s the most immediate question. The answer to the former is yes, and to the latter a resounding no. Taiwan has refused to spend the money necessary to buy the new weapons we offered in 2001. If they are only willing to fight to the last drop of American blood, we should abandon them. Time is running out for Taiwan.

In Showdown, you raise the possibility of the Chinese’ waging cyberwar against the U.S., and Japan. What’s exactly would that mean?

China—as we illustrate in the last fictional scenario in Showdown—is rapidly building the most advanced offensive computer war capability in the world. If they decided to use it, they could—unless we counter it with our own massive buildup of defensive and offensive cyberwar capability—conquer America without firing a shot. They could do everything from disabling satellite networks to taking down the stock market and banking networks. America could be reduced to a 1940s existence in a matter of minutes. I don’t believe they have the ability to do this yet, but they will very soon.

Is China really encouraging North Korea to develop nuclear weapons? What does China have to gain from the presence of a rogue nuclear power in its own neighborhood?

China has encouraged North Korea not only to build nuclear weapons—which the North Koreans have—but also to proliferate missiles and nuclear technology. North Korea is tightly controlled by China, which supplies a substantial percentage of the food North Koreans eat. North Korea provides China cover. It’s the Chinese method of supplying missiles and other weapons to the state sponsors of terrorism. Each of the state sponsors of terrorism lists China among its top three major trading partners.

Are there any signs that the Bush Administration, or any members of Congress, may be ready to take a harder line with China?

Some members of Congress keep a wary eye on China. But the White House is not ready to do much. On this, as well as too many other things.

So how soon is this war going to happen? And what will it look like?

No one but the Chinese know. They’ll start it when it suits them, and not a moment sooner. It could take any number of forms, ranging from an attack on Taiwan to a cyber attack on the United States.

What can we do to avoid war with China? Or is it unavoidable?

We can avoid war with China, and we’d be foolish to do otherwise. First we have to keep up the very tough and frank discussions the president and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld have been having with them. Soft words and euphemisms won’t suffice. Second, we need to invest in the kinds of weapons we need—defenses against Chinese anti-satellite and cyber war weapons chief among them—that we don’t now have. Third, we need to befriend the nations that border China. If we can establish firm alliances with India, reconfirm our alliance with Japan, and look to Southeast Asia, we have the chance to contain Chinese ambitions for many years to come. Fourth, we need to continue to make clear to Europe that if they lift the arms embargo against China—or continue to tolerate France and others’ violation of it—it will mean a severe breach in our relations with them. The EUnuchs of Old Europe are one of the biggest problems we have today.

What does the U.S. need to do now prepare for war with China?

Just the four things I said in answer to the last question, and one more. Americans have to energize themselves. We’re in a war now, and need to avoid another one. We may not be able to, but we have to try. If we fight the global war on terror in the manner calculated to win it decisively we can also help convince China that aggression will not pay.