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Is China a military threat to the U.S.?

by Thomas Sbrega, published

In light of China increasing its defense spending 7.5% this year, the Wall Street Journal conducted a poll entitled “Is China a military threat to the U.S.?”  As of this writing, 151 online visitors have answered the poll, with 61% answering “no,” China is not a military threat. 

The percentage increase was actually lower than expected— under double digits for the first time in two decades—still, the Pentagon believes this is an understated figure.  Last year, they estimated China spent $105 to $150 billion, although they only reported $60.19 billion.  If their figure is correct, they are behind the UK ($60.79 billion) and France ($67 billion).  In relation to their GDP, they are also behind Russia ($40 billion).  In first place, of course, is the United States ($696 billion).  It will be unlikely our 2010 expenses will be any different, with a stated budget already set at $663.8 billion.  It is clear what Obama anticipates in the near future, as he has already requested a $708.2 billion for the 2011 defense budget.  

The Boston Globe recently reported that according to the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, in a report called “World At Risk,” Iran is not a serious nuclear threat.  Instead, Pakistan and Asia are at the top of the list.

What makes people suspect China wants to attack us in the first place?  Sure, President Obama recently met with the Dalai Lama despite opposition from China, as was headline news a couple of weeks ago, but certainly this alone is not enough to merit an imminent military threat.  The US sold $6.4 billion of arms (including missiles, helicopters and mine hunting ships) to Taiwan.  Today, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao assured his parliament that “peaceful reunification of the motherland” will be sought with the island.    He made no mention of the US arms sale.  Hopefully, the threat to sanction the US over the matter will not be followed up with action.

In 1980 Jack Anderson of the Washington Post wrote that Israel, South Africa and Taiwan were working on nuclear weapons development, at a time when Israel already had a stockpile of over 200 nuclear bombs.  “Taiwan would be able to destroy Peking and other cities in mainland China from secure launching sites on its own soil or from naval vessels far out to sea.”  Interestingly, it is now being reported that Taiwan is selling nuclear technology to Iran (December, 2009).

China has long benefited from the energy contracts it holds with Iran, making US sanctions against Iran difficult.  (For perspective: their committed investment is more than their defense budget)  After all, we do owe China three-quarters of a trillion dollars, a debt they are suspected to be selling at a rate faster than they are purchasing.  Importing heavily from China deems sanctions on Iran less effective, to say the least.  The Obama administration is lobbying for a Chinese exemption to resolve the conflict, if only on paper.  China has also forged close relationships with Russia and Venezuela.  Although China has been accused in the recent past of aiding Iran in its nuclear development, of late it has joined with Russia in urging Iran to “accept a UN nuclear fuel proposal, hoping to ease “concerns about its atomic program.”

Without an active imagination, military aggression from China does not look like a serious threat.  However, China has been accused of attacking America in a more modern way.  In an age where information is power, access to information is vital; especially on a national scale.  Cyber leaks have been forthcoming, and the prime suspect is also our prime economic benefactor.

While there are quite a few examples, the following one is quite interesting, especially in light of the recently passed Cyber Security Enhancement Act of 2009.  

American Navy Veteran Shawn Carpenter received public attention after his TIME interview in 2005.  As a former Sandia employee he filed a lawsuit for defamation and wrongful termination.  While at Sandia, he covertly worked with the Army and later the FBI. Shawn brought to light a series of security breaches that seemed to be coming form one source (FBI named this source “Titan Rain”).  These breaches were also found in the Lockheed Martin Corporation, Redstone Arsenal, NASA and the World Bank (China is the presumed culprit). 

So why was Shawn fired?  Because he refused to do as his supervisors advised him: to drop the issue.  Drop the issue?  Look the other way on breaches of national security?  The implications are hardly needed.  Shawn won the case and was awarded nearly $5 million.

Although bloggers and occasional articles are still mentioning this today, apparently the lawsuit didn’t seem to matter much to the House.  It appeared to be very important to include Sandia National Laboratories with the 25th amendment (of the Cyber Security Act), as numerous representatives insistently voiced (watch video, Feb 3rd). 

The suspicious leaks and subsequent cover-up attempts call to mind all sorts of controversies, which instead of elaborating on here— and making this into a book— I’ll rest assured your curiosity will stimulate your imagination and further research

In closing, I am of the strong opinion that when all things are considered, China does not pose a military threat to us.  Although, even as a candidate, Obama vowed to do all that he could to help Taiwan’s democracy, he also made it clear that he supports the US-PRC Joint Communiques, which insists that both nations respect each other’s sovereignty.  We can only hope that selling arms to Taiwan will not escalate to official military aid directly from the US, should China engage Taiwan in the near future.  If that happens, we will be engaged with China militarily; however it can hardly be said that they were the provocateurs.


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