Misunderstanding Chinese Intentions

“The United States possesses only a limited understanding of Chinese intentions.”

Is that really true? It is, at least according to a draft report of the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board on the Chinese military. Perhaps the Board is right, but if we do not understand how Beijing intends to use the People’s Liberation Army, then it is our own damn fault. By now, the Chinese have made their intentions amply clear, and it’s way past the time for complaining, as the draft report does, about the lack of China’s transparency.

Last Wednesday, Bill Gertz of the Washington Times broke the story about the board’s draft internal report, entitled “China’s Strategic Modernization.” This ten-page study contains many sound recommendations about how the United States can meet China’s military challenges -- by defending Taiwan, reassuring allies, countering espionage, and upgrading missile-defense capabilities, to name just a few examples -- but the real problem for us is one of recognition of threats. More than anything else, the United States needs to confront reality and properly comprehend Beijing’s geopolitical ambitions. China, unfortunately, is a potentially hostile state.

By now you would think that diplomats, analysts, and military planners in Washington would understand that China, a nation that was the world’s sole superpower for centuries, today is preparing to regain that role -- in other words, to first make itself a peer competitor of the United States and then push us aside. It cannot attain these goals without a military that is better than America’s, especially on the sea, in the air, and in space.

The draft report correctly perceives that China wants to project power across the oceans. Its conclusion is in line with a series of recent statements of Chinese analysts. For example, Hong Yuan, a military strategist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, noted last October that the country’s leaders had recently broadened their goals. China, he said, intends to project force in areas “way beyond the Taiwan Strait.”

Beijing has not exactly hidden its grand ambitions this decade or last.