Yeah, We're Going to Lose World War III to China

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

The bad news is we’re probably going to lose World War III — the Taiwan War, the Pacific War, whatevs — to China. The good news, if you want to see it that way, is that China might drive us all the way back to Hawaii without having to fire a shot.

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Let me back up a moment.

This column was originally headlined, “China’s Economy Is Worse Than You Think,” because this was supposed to be about the Communist country’s self-inflicted economic woes. But as I was doing my research and making some edits, I had to change the headline to “China Is Worse Off (and More Dangerous) Than You Think.” It was only on the third pass, and after deleting and rewriting huge reams of text, that I finally settled on the headline you see now.

Before we get to the World War III stuff, I’ll give you the TL;DR on mainland China’s economy: it’s hurting. Beijing keeps trying to avoid difficult economic decisions by indulging in “stimulus” building booms. The result is that a lopsided 30% of the country’s economy is built on real estate, much of which is unprofitable and some of which was so recklessly built that whole blocks of unsafe skyscrapers are getting knocked down instead of inhabited.

Making matters worse, China’s decades of rapid growth may finally have come to an end, with expected 2-3% growth instead of the accustomed 8-12%. How is China dealing with the slowdown, particularly in the troubled housing sector?

NEEDZ MOAR STIMULUS:

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Two of China’s biggest cities lowered mortgage requirements for some homebuyers following central government guidance, fanning expectations that more will follow suit to arrest a record housing slowdown.

This is what we call tripling down on stupid.

That’s when it occurred to me: What if Beijing doesn’t mind a little malaise? Maybe endlessly rising living standards isn’t what Beijing wants any longer. It certainly isn’t what our betters in our own country want for us lately.

It could be that Xi’s return to Real Communism™ means he’s secretly pleased with an economy that just muddles along. The population is comfortable enough not to reject the Party outright and surveilled enough that organizing a revolt is probably impossible.

More importantly, Xi’s ever-present State has enough money coming in to pay for an unprecedented military buildup.

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Admiral John Aquilino, outgoing chief of our Indo-Pacific Command, “offered remarkably detailed comments,” as The Drive’s Tyler Rogoway described it, about the growing threat from the People’s Liberation Army land, air, and sea forces.

China is “focused very clearly on delivering a force capable to take on the United States,” Adm. Aquilino warned:

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The largest military buildup since World War Two, both in conventional forces and then strategic-nuclear. J-20s [stealth fighters] are in full-rate production, ships coming off their industrial baseline at numbers that only replicate what we did in the Lehman time and the 600 ship Navy kind of time frame. Again, nuclear build up… is the largest and continuous we’ve seen.

(Hat tip, CDR Salamander.)

As covered here previously, China’s nuclear forces are poised for a “strategic breakout” vis-a-vis our own, aging nuclear deterrent, with brand-new ICBMs that will soon outnumber our own. Worse, unrestricted by our START treaties with the defunct Soviet Union, Beijing can arm each missile with three or even ten nuclear warheads — compared with only one on each of our missiles.

While our aging Navy stagnates, Beijing is commissioning new warships at a faster rate than any country in history, except the US during World War II. Already, the Chinese have more ships than we do — mostly smaller and less powerful, granted — but without the need to patrol the Atlantic and Mediterranean as we do. By the end of the decade, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN, also, don’t ask) might have more firepower, too.

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We’ll soon be faced with the prospect of a navy as powerful as our own and the very real possibility of nuclear blackmail. If a crisis were to erupt around Taiwan in 2028 or so, a humiliated American president might find that his best course would be to lose a bloodless war and tuck tail all the way back to Pearl Harbor.

The gains made from 1942-1945, at the cost of 111,606 Americans KIA and another 253,142 wounded — all just thrown away. Because America in this century has come to think that security comes from having “safe spaces” and can barely acknowledge, much less respect, the sacrifices made then that have made us so comfortable and soft now.

I’m not saying such a war will happen. But I am saying that the more we allow our forces and their morale to wither away, the more likely such a thing is to happen.

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