Although the breadth of American media attention has been focused on the hybrid warfare threat posed by Russia, it is widely believed that Vladimir Putin’s nation wouldn’t have the economic strength required to sustain an actual war with a nation like the United States. In fact, despite possessing a few high profile “doomsday” style weapons, the threat Russia poses to American diplomatic and military dominance pales in comparison to the nation’s only real near-peer level threat: China.
In an annual report provided to Congress by the Defense Department, the Pentagon outlined China’s hypocritical approach to naval activities in recent years, as well as evidence to suggest that China is already training for long-range bombing runs against America’s Pacific assets.
“Over the last three years, the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) has rapidly expanded its overwater bomber operating areas, gaining experience in critical maritime regions and likely training for strikes against US and allied targets,” the document says in no uncertain terms. The report goes on to list specific instances in which Chinese bombers on training runs have diverted into new areas of the Pacific as compared to previous training operations. These new areas brought Chinese bombers closer than ever to American installations in the Pacific and serve as a powerful indicator that China is preparing for the potential need to bomb American assets in Japan and even as far away as Guam.
Per the Pentagon’s analysis, the most likely short-term reason America could find itself in conflict with China is if China chooses to use force in order to reassert control over Taiwan.
“The PLA also is likely preparing for a contingency to unify Taiwan with China by force, while simultaneously deterring, delaying, or denying any third-party intervention on Taiwan’s behalf,” it states. “Should the United States intervene, China would try to delay effective intervention and seek victory in a high-intensity, limited war of short duration.”
Despite China’s rapidly growing military (particularly its Navy), the and powerful economy, the People’s Liberation Army currently lacks the means of transportation or reliable supply chain to mount an offensive in the Western hemisphere, meaning a fight with China would undoubtedly take place in the Pacific, and closer to China’s growing claims of territorial waters. The People’s Liberation Army-Navy has moved quickly to deploy more than twenty new vessels in recent years, including two new carriers — one of which is currently undergoing sea trials with the other still under construction. However, the majority of their Navy still relies on diesel fuel, forcing them to keep operations relatively close to their own shores or the ports of friendly nations.
China’s military budget in the last fiscal year was reportedly $190 billion, which while dwarfed by that of the United States, is currently benefited by a lack of global footprint. The U.S., which spent a whopping $700 billion on defense in the last fiscal year, maintains a global footprint, with ongoing combat operations in multiple theaters while simultaneously offering humanitarian aid and a stabilizing presence on multiple other fronts. China, on the other hand, has remained mostly uninvolved in the global war on terror, allowing them to focus on developing a stronger defense apparatus within their own region. A war with China would likely be fought in their territory, and their defensive apparatus would be significant.
The report also addresses China’s increasingly aggressive expansion in waterways like the South China Sea. China’s claims of sovereignty over nearly the entire waterway, stretching thousands of miles from Chinese shores, has put the nation at odds with a number of Pacific nations. Throughout, China has issues complaints about foreign vessels operating within Chinese sovereign waters, calling these violations of international law despite much of the rest of the world refusing to acknowledge China’s claimed ownership of what most still see as international waters.
Tellingly, despite China’s lamentations about foreign vessels encroaching on waters they have no legal right to, the Pentagon report also outlined China’s repeated operations within the exclusive economic zone of a number of different nations — showing clearly that while China continues to call for other nations to respect the waters they claim as their own, China offers no such respect in return.
“Although China has long challenged foreign military activities in its maritime zones in a manner that is inconsistent with the rules of customary international law as reflected in the [law of the sea convention], the PLA has recently started conducting the very same types of military activities inside and outside the first island chain in the maritime zones of other countries,” the report reads. “This contradiction highlights China’s continued lack of commitment to the rules of customary international law.”