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The irony is that Defense Secretary Robert Gates, from whose office the China military report comes, has been downplaying the threat of a Great Power rivalry in Asia. Even while serving the Bush administration, Gates was promoting the idea that irregular warfare on the Afghan model would be the wave of the future. He set about cutting high-end defense programs such as shipbuilding, missile defense and advanced combat aircraft because they were not useful against insurgents. Such systems are, however, exactly what is needed to defeat a Chinese air-and naval threat.
Unfortunately, Gates’ horrifically wrong-headed view of the future security environment has already led Northrop Grumman to close Avondale Shipbuilding in New Orleans and announce that it wants to sell its other two naval shipyards in Mississippi and Virginia. There is not enough warship construction planned to make the industry profitable enough for the Navy’s top contractor. No wonder the report says Beijing believes “the initial decades of the 21st century as a ‘strategic window of opportunity,’ meaning that regional and international conditions will generally be conducive to China’s rise to regional preeminence and global influence.”
The PLAN does have vulnerability. Its shipbuilding industry, though large in capacity, is still dependent on foreign sources for many key naval weapon system components. According to the OSD report,
Key areas where China continues to rely most heavily on foreign technologies include: guidance and control systems, turbine engine technology, and enabling technologies such as precision machine tools, advanced diagnostic and forensic equipment, applications and processes essential to rapid prototyping, and computer assisted design/ manufacturing…. China often pursues these foreign technologies for the purpose of reverse engineering.”
The big China news item the day the OSD report came out was that China has become the world’s second largest economy, passing a Japan still recovering from recession. Yet, Chinese growth has been greatly aided by technology from the West, gained either by trade, foreign investment or espionage. The report details the many ways Chinese state enterprises and intelligence services acquire what Beijing’s industry and military need. Tightening security on such transfers in America would be far less expensive than naval battles in Asia. Restricting trade was one way President Ronald Reagan made sure that the U.S. stayed ahead of the Soviet Union in the arms race of his day.
PRC officials and the state-run media constantly warn against any return to a “Cold War Mentality” in America in reaction to Beijing’s provocations, yet that is exactly what is now needed to contain rising Chinese power.
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