China warning: USA military expansion in Asia ‘fraught with tension’, says expert



THE United States needs to adjust its strategy in the Far East in order to contain China’s expansionist plans, with its current approach, in which it takes primary responsibility for the defence of allies, not only increasingly costly but also “risky” in terms of triggering a disastrous conflict with the massive superpower.

Tensions in the region have increased in recent years, with the Chinese fortifying a large number of uninhabited islands in the South China Sea, over which the country asserts a territorial claim. The US has on a number of occasions sailed warships through the waterway, much to the annoyance of Beijing. Eugene Gholz, an associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, who recently participated in a seminar hosted by the US-based Stimson Centre looking at possible ways forward, told “I think there is certainly a constructive way forward for the United States: the United States should shift its military operational plans to the defensive, which will make them match our defensive strategic goals.

Expanding US military land bases in Asia (especially putting new bases in Taiwan!) would be fraught with tension.”

Professor Eugene Gholz

“At present, our offensive military operational plans are inconsistent with our defensive strategic goals, and that disjunction is becoming increasingly costly and risky because the trajectory of technology (sensors and precision weapons) increasingly favours the defensive.

“Better yet, in terms of a constructive next step, the United States should shift more of the primary defensive burden in Asia onto US allies rather than having the US military serve as the defender of first resort.

“The United States would be better off bankrolling Asian military’s investment in defensive technologies than in investing in comparable technologies to arm the U.S. military itself, because the technologies are most useful when operated from land, and expanding US military land bases in Asia (especially putting new bases in Taiwan!) would be fraught with tension.”

Prof Gholz said the best choice for defence in Asia “under the current strategic framework” would involve the United States supporting its allies with funding, promises of resupply, training, and other defensive initiatives.

The second-best would be continued US military first-line defence in Asia but using defensive operational plans and weapons technologies.

He warned: “The worst way forward is continuing the status quo in which the United States takes primary responsibility for allies’ defences and plans to carry out the defence, if needed in a wartime scenario, by employing the US military offensively to fight its way close to the Chinese coast, involving military strikes against the Chinese mainland.”

Prof Gholz, who stressed he was not a sinologist and was not therefore an expert in internal Chinese politics, added: “I do not know what China’s ambitions are in the South China Sea – at least not beyond the superficial level at which it is clear that they want greater control of the maritime features and islands that they dispute with their neighbours.

“I do not know how much investment and risk China is willing to tolerate to pursue its goals or how expansive those goals ultimately are.

“I do not think that anyone – perhaps including the leadership in China – really understands those goals.

“Of course China compromises sometimes, for example in settling a number of territorial disputes on the land in recent decades.”

Nevertheless, he said: “I can well imagine that Chinese leaders do not like the fact that the United States routinely operates military assets very close to the Chinese coast and routinely collects electronic intelligence by operating in international waters very close to China’s coast, but ultimately the question is what China is willing to do to try to stop what must be annoying, from their perspective.

“I am also fairly confident that Chinese leaders often interpret US military moves that the United States claims to be purely defensive as actually being aggressive or threatening.”

South China Sea mapped

The South China Sea mapped (Image: Daily Express)
However, he stressed China’s military machine was a long way off being the equal of the United States.

Prof Gholz said: “I do not see a Chinese attempt to outclass the United States militarily anytime in the near future. That may be a very long term goal, of course, but thus far, Chinese military investment emphasises assets to make it hard for the US military to operate near the Chinese littoral – and to make it hard for the United States to execute offensive operations against China, whether in pursuit of an offensive strategy or as a means of defending US allies in Asia.

“The Chinese are nowhere close to competing with the United States in the blue waters of the world. There is no meaningful Chinese effort to outclass the US military – say, to develop a capability to overcome US defences such that the Chinese could launch an attack on some country in Latin America or Africa.

“The United States, of course, seeks to maintain the ability to attack any country in the world, at any time, regardless of who promises to defend that country.

“The US and Chinese militaries are fundamentally not comparable and will not be for decades.”