China, the New York Times reported last week, “can now challenge American military supremacy in the places that matter most to it: the waters around Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea.” Therefore, Beijing can, in the words of the paper, “make intervention in the region too costly for Washington to contemplate.”
Too costly to contemplate? Unfortunately, assessments like these, often heard in U.S. policy circles, can embolden the already arrogant Chinese and make their adventurism—and war—more likely.
Moreover, any conflict between China and the United States in the Pacific could quickly escalate to nuclear war.
China, surpassing the U.S. last year, now boasts the world’s largest navy, and it is adding to its fleet “at a stunning rate,” according to the Times. Even last year, the count was lopsided with China claiming 317 surface vessels and subs in active service and the U.S. 283.
Of course, it’s not clear how capable the People’s Liberation Army Navy is. The PLAN, as it is known, has never participated in a large-scale wartime engagement at sea, and its fleet is not, on the whole, as modern as America’s.
Nonetheless, China has a few critical advantages. Its naval assets are concentrated along its shores and U.S. forces are spread around the globe; areas of likely conflict are near China and far from America; and the PLAN has some crucial weapons that are better than those of the United States, especially anti-ship missiles. Beijing has also gone big into “asymmetric” warfare, for instance militarizing fishing fleets, enlisting the “little blue men” of what has become a maritime militia. [Continue reading…]