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General News    H3'ed 3/14/23

Tomgram: Michael Klare, Is War with China Inevitable?

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Tom Engelhardt
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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

News flash! Ten thousand Marines and other U.S. troops recently invaded southern California and captured Twentynine Palms in the Mojave Desert -- 1,200 square miles of desert seized! Oh, wait, my mistake! Those were just a series of war games in which U.S. bases took the place of islands in the Pacific, while our military began preparing to fight its next war against" yes, China. Meanwhile, tensions with that country continue to rise as Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy plays out his own war scenario by inviting Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to meet him in California. (If you think the Chinese went nuts over former House leader Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, just wait for this one!)

Yes, imagine (as Michael Klare has already done) that the U.S. military is now preparing to fight an updated version of World War II in the Pacific, island by island, with the Chinese military. How cheery! Indeed, the Marines are planning to retrofit several regiments for just such an island campaign, equipping them with new anti-ship missiles and drones, while renaming them "littoral" (no not literal, but as in islands and shorelines) regiments.

Exactly what this world needs right now: the two greatest greenhouse-gas-emitting countries preparing for a potential war against each other. Honestly, if that doesn't help the state of this planet, what will? And while Chinese leader Xi Jinping has started to angrily use the old American Cold War term "containment" for this country's strategy toward his, the Republicans are already entering a warlike state in relation to China (which will undoubtedly mean more money for the Pentagon!) -- and so is the Biden administration. Peace, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!

In that context, let TomDispatch regular Michael Klare offer you a look at the unlikelihood that China will actually invade Taiwan, while considering what might lie ahead for us all. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Tom

Is a Chinese Invasion of Taiwan Imminent?
Or Is Washington in a Tizzy over Nothing?


Is China really on the verge of invading the island of Taiwan, as so many top American officials seem to believe? If the answer is "yes" and the U.S. intervenes on Taiwan's side -- as President Biden has sworn it would -- we could find ourselves in a major-power conflict, possibly even a nuclear one, in the not-too-distant future. Even if confined to Asia and fought with conventional weaponry alone -- no sure thing -- such a conflict would still result in human and economic damage on a far greater scale than observed in Ukraine today.

But what if the answer is "no," which seems at least as likely? Wouldn't that pave the way for the U.S. to work with its friends and allies, no less than with China itself, to reduce tensions in the region and possibly open a space for the launching of peaceful negotiations between Taiwan and the mainland? If nothing else, it would eliminate the need to boost the Pentagon budget by many billions of dollars annually, as now advocated by China hawks in Congress.

How that question is answered has enormous implications for us all. Yet, among policymakers in Washington, it isn't even up for discussion. Instead, they seem to be competing with each another to identify the year in which the purported Chinese invasion will occur and war will break out between our countries.

Is It 2035, 2027, or 2025?

All high-level predictions of an imminent Chinese invasion of Taiwan rest on the assumption that Chinese leaders will never allow that island to become fully independent and so will respond to any move in that direction with a full-scale military assault. In justifying such claims, American officials regularly point to the ongoing modernization of China's military, the People's Liberation Army (PLA), and warnings by top Chinese officials that they will crush any effort by "separatist elements" in Taiwan to impede unification. In line with that mode of thinking, only one question remains: Exactly when will the Chinese leadership consider the PLA ready to invade Taiwan and overpower any U.S. forces sent to the island's relief?

Until 2021, U.S. military officials tended to place that pivotal moment far in the future, citing the vast distance the PLA needed to go to duplicate the technological advantages of U.S. forces. Pentagon analysts most often forecast 2035 for this achievement, the date set by President Xi Jinping for China to "basically complete the modernization of national defense and the military."

This assessment, however, changed dramatically in late 2021 when the Department of Defense published its annual report on the military power of the People's Republic of China (PRC). That document highlighted a significant alteration in China's strategic planning: whereas its leaders once viewed 2035 as the year in which the PLA would become a fully modern fighting force, they now sought to reach that key threshold in 2027, by accelerating the "intelligentization" of their forces (that is, their use of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies). If realized, the Pentagon report suggested, that "new milestone for modernization in 2027" would provide Beijing with more credible military options in a Taiwan contingency."

Still, some Pentagon officials suggested that the PLA was unlikely to achieve full "intelligentization" by then, casting doubt on its ability to overpower the U.S. in a hypothetical battle for Taiwan. That, however, hasn't stopped Republicans from using the prediction to generate alarm in Congress and seek additional funds for weaponry geared toward a future war with China.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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