The Giant is Restive

“China? There lies a sleeping giant. Let him sleep! For when he wakes, he will move the world.” Those are the words of Napoleon Bonaparte. In his time, China was an insular nation under pressure to open its ports to Western trade. Today, it is a restive giant, eager to expand its hegemony over its neighboring nations.

In one scenario — suggested by the Rand Corporation after reviewing Chinese military documents — China targets the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet. Its objective (in this wargame scenario) is to launch a surprise attack, catching it in port so its big ships cannot maneuver to escape, evade and defend.

The scenario is chillingly similar to that involving Japan’s Imperial Navy 67 years ago. But this scenario has a twist. In this attack, the Japanese host the American fleet at Yokosuka. It is a new era Asian power now seeking to inflict damage on America’s military might, diminishing any US counter-attack capability. The plan would be to hit quick, hard and in a way that literally knocks the wind out of our sails, leaving the American public reluctant to fight a protracted and costly conflict.

This is no Hollywood movie script. Nor is it someone’s wild imagination. It is a frightening realistic war strategy gleaned by Rand Corporation through an analysis of numerous Chinese military doctrinal writings. Rand’s assessment, entitled “Entering the Dragon’s Lair,” is that China would employ an “antiaccess” strategy. Such actions seek “to impede the deployment of U.S. forces into the combat theater, limit the locations from which those forces could effectively operate, or force them to operate from locations farther from the locus of conflict than they would normally prefer.” And, as at Pearl Harbor, the success of China’s war strategy turns on achieving surprise.

Through its comprehensive analysis of these Chinese sources, the Rand report describes what antiaccess measures China might employ against the U.S.– the country clearly targeted throughout these various Chinese writings.

Such an attack would be multi-faceted. Surprise missile strikes would be launched against all regional US military targets, stationary and mobile, having any capability to counter-attack. Critical too in the attack plan’s success is “blinding” US military forces by disrupting and/or destroying information flow, thus hindering US ability to act or react.

Success here turns on the capability to knock down US military satellites — a capability China effectively demonstrated last year in destroying one of its own orbiting satellites. It also involves cyber-attacks against US computer networks — attacks China’s military
freely conducts today. US forces would be further disrupted by way of an above-surface nuclear blast, creating a devastating electromagnetic pulse (EMP) wave, destroying any unshielded electronic equipment.

The American public’s indifference towards increasing signs of an aggressive Chinese mindset is reminiscent of a famous response by 19th century British naval war hero Lord Nelson. Blind in one eye, Nelson was engaged in battle when a senior commander, fearing defeat, struck a flag onboard his ship ordering Nelson to withdraw. When subordinates pointed to the flag, Nelson — holding his long glass to his blind eye — said he saw nothing and continued the fight. The American public appears to be taking a similar “blind eye” approach towards China today.

But, while Nelson’s tactic eventually won him a great victory, that tactic will only spell disaster for the U.S. if we ignore signs of China’s true intentions. The Rand report and China’s continuing massive military build-up — one including an ominous offensive punch — should give us major cause for concern.

Unlike most Americans, the Chinese are very good students of history. They well remember what they once had and what, therefore, is possible again. Centuries ago the world witnessed the rise and fall of a great superpower. Having built the largest ships and the largest navy to ever set sail, China was a formidable power. Its influence spread throughout the then- known world. The Chinese navy flourished under the Ming dynasty but when the dynasty died, so too did China’s great navy. Fearing a foreign land threat and failing to comprehend the need to project power at sea, Ming’s successors scuttled China’s fleet, withdrawing behind the Great Wall.

Today, a resurgent China, dependent upon foreign energy (China alone is responsible for a 40% growth in world oil demand) and raw material sources, fully understands a navy’s important role. This understanding has caused Beijing to embark upon its “String of Pearls” military posturing policy — i.e., developing a series of bases from the Middle
East to the South China Sea, including now a port in Pakistan, to secure the Strait of Malacca through which 80% of China’s oil transits.

In this context, building up one’s military power to achieve this capability may sound reasonable. But China has embarked upon a growth program suggestive more of a perceived U.S. threat. This is reflected in its secret nuclear arms build-up — undertaken, interestingly, even after the U.S. removed all tactical nuclear weapons from its naval
forces, following the fall of the Soviet Union, based on its perception of a reduced strategic threat. Meanwhile, China perceives the U.S. to be “the enemy.”

That Beijing mindset should cause us further concern as Chinese companies now operate in two major U.S. west coast ports, New Orleans and the Panama Canal. A surprise attack by China would obviously take advantage of access to these locations — locations Beijing undoubtedly has already put to use as assets in the conduct of its espionage warfare against the U.S.

Americans often have difficulty understanding who the enemy is. China has no such problem. And, while a communist state lacking a free market economy, like Mao’s China, was doomed to fail, a communist state with a quasi- free market economy, operating under old Cold War perceptions, like today’s China, poses a much greater threat to US interests.

It is time we woke up to this realization. After his attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Admiral Yamamoto feared he had but awoken a sleeping tiger. But the Chinese dragon has no fear of the sleeping American tiger.