By: Victor N. Corpus
Kishore Mahbubani, one of the most prominent geopolitical thinkers of our era, oftentimes quote Dr. Henry Kissinger that one of the strategic errors committed by the US is launching a confrontation with China with no strategic plan. I beg to disagree on this point. The US indeed has a grand strategy of stopping China’s rise by 2025. It is based on a Rand Corporation study entitled “War with China: Thinking through the Unthinkable”. The US Army commissioned Rand Corporation for this job in 2015 and came out with the grand strategy on July of 2016.
What prompted the US Army to commission Rand Corp. to make a grand strategy on stopping China’s rise is a report by the International Monetary Fund in October 8, 2014 that China had surpassed the US economy in GDP measured in terms of purchasing power parity (or PPP). The earth-shaking implication of this is that the primacy of the US dollar will be endangered. History tell us that it is the currency of the country with the dominant economy that eventually becomes the world’s reserve currency. This will lead to the eventual emergence of the Chinese Yuan or Renminbi as the world’s reserve currency.
It would mean that the US can no longer print trillions of dollars out of thin air; and banks all over the world would exit using the dollar as their reserve currency and shift to the Yuan instead. The collapse of the US dollar as reserve currency would lead to the collapse of the US economy itself. This is the reason why the US is so fearful of China’s rise and would do all it can to stop it. Hence, this grand strategy crafted by Rand Corp commissioned by the US Army in 2015 and published in 2016. So how does this Grand Strategy envision to stop China’s rise by 2025?
The plan involves the US and the allies it could muster to launch a regional, conventional, protracted war against China with the aim of plunging China’s GDP by as much as 35% by 2025.
Regional so as to confine the armed conflict in the region of the East China Sea and the South China Sea. It will adversely affect China’s economy; although it will surely affect Japan’s and Korea’s economy, as well as that of the entire ASEAN countries whose main trading partner is China. If the armed conflict is confined in this region of the world; US, Canada, and US allies in Europe will continue to thrive and prosper, and eventually continue ruling the world economy.
Conventional so as to limit the conflict to the region; because in a nuclear war, not only China but also Russia will be involved. In a nuclear war, both Russia and China can hit any place in the US and Europe. One ICBM from Russia, like the SARMAT, can erase UK, or France, or Israel from the map. China’s new “assassin’s mace” may have similar capabilities. The combined China/Russia nuclear arsenal can destroy the entire US as well. So the US Grand Strategy would like to limit the conflict at the conventional level; so that the US mainland and Europe will not be adversely affected physically, and come out on top when the smoke of battle clears.
Protracted so as to maximize the damage caused to China’s economy. The longer the regional conventional war is allowed to drag on; the greater will be the adverse effects to the Chinese economy, and the deeper it will plunge into the abyss (35% plunge in China’s GDP or larger).
This Grand Strategy adapted by the US and is now being implemented in full swing has one major flaw: it lacks a deep knowledge about its adversary. Sun Tzu advised some two and a half millenniums ago: “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles with no danger of defeat”. US strategists have grossly violated this most basic principle of war. How so?
The US maintains some 400 military installations encircling China; some of which are air bases harbouring stealth fighter and bombers. US also maintain some 11 aircraft carrier strike groups, with a couple more from UK and France; with some 60 nuclear submarines of various types. US C4ISR based in satellites are added to the mix.
What about China? China now has anti-ship ballistic missiles (DF21Ds, DF26Cs, DF17s, and AS-CH-X-13s) that can sink entire aircraft carrier strike groups or any surface warship plying the South China Sea, East China Sea, all the way up to and beyond Guam. Only China now possesses these kind of missiles; even its Russian allies do not have them. Variants of these missiles have been tested and proven effective against satellites. They also have missiles for targeting adversary air bases harbouring stealth aircraft, troop concentrations, command and control centres, communication/logistic hubs, and missiles against submarines.
When US fires the first shot against China to start the conventional war envisioned by the US Grand Strategy; simultaneous missile swarms will start to fly against pre-designated targets described above. Everything will be finished within hours; conforming to China’s military doctrine of “winning informationized local war of short duration”. Notice that not a single warship from the PLA Navy, which is now reported to be the largest in the world in the number of combat surface ship, is engaged. The same is true of the Chinese air force; with 41 air bases having hangars underground. Not a single PLA infantry man is engaged; only those manning the missile batteries are engaged.
US submarines will be the only force that would not be subject to this missile swarm attacks. But they will have to deal with a gauntlet of some 60 Chinese diesel submarines waiting silently in ambush; plus hunter/killer underwater drones attacking in swarms. Chinese and Russian nuclear submarines (SSBNs), on the other hand, will be patrolling off eastern and western shores of the US mainland; waiting for orders in the event that the US and its allies decide to fire the first shot for a nuclear war.
China’s strategy is active defence. It will never be the first to attack; but if it is attacked, it will surely counter-attack. It will never be the first to use nuclear weapons; and will never use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. This does not include Australia; because it has decided to obtain nuclear submarines as part of the new military alliance called AUKUS; which claims that the 8 nuclear submarines bound for Australia will not be armed with nuclear weapons. It is like someone buying a Ferrari and saying that the buyer will only use it as a taxi cab. China has already intimated that in the event of a nuclear war in the region; Australia will be one of the first targets. The nuclear submarine deal announced in the formation of AUKUS has a negative impact on the ASEAN region’s status as a nuclear weapon’s free zone.
If the US continues to push through with its Grand Strategy to stop China’s rise by waging a conventional war in the region, the Philippines could be dragged into the fray as a sacrificial pawn or cannon fodder.
For instance, if the Philippine Government allows the US to deploy their Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces in the US EDCA bases in the country, China will see it as no different from the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960s that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. It will be seen by China as a “first strike” on the strategic level; necessitating a counter-strike. For sure, China will not wait for those US missiles to rain in Beijing or Shanghai that can reach their targets within 15 minutes. Seizure of the initiative being one of their basic military doctrines; China will surely take out those US missiles before they become operational, if ever they are allowed to be deployed in US EDCA bases in the Philippines.
Another scenario that might involve the Philippines is this superpower rivalry is in the event that Taiwan declares independence, confident of US assurances of “rock-solid support”; and China responds with the invasion of Taiwan. US military response may involve the use of those EDCA bases as jumping boards by US forces. This will surely bring China’s cross-hairs on US bases to eliminate those threats with missile swarm attacks on said EDCA bases. And said attacks from China could either be conventional or nuclear (DF26s).
The impact of this military confrontation between the reigning superpower US and the rising power China will also be felt in the economic and technological arena. The COVID pandemic has forced the US to print some 3 trillion dollars in the past two years to prop up its economy. A major war with China will force the US to print dollars even more. China, on the other hand, is now shifting to a digital currency backed up by gold and block chain technology. And since 2014, China has surpassed US GDP measured in purchasing power parity. History has shown that the currency of the country with the largest economy eventually becomes the world’s reserve currency. The loss of the USD as the world’s reserve currency will eventually lead to the dollar collapse, and the collapse of the US economy as a result. What will happen to the Philippine Peso then; which is pegged to the US dollar?
In the technological arena, what will happen to the development of technology in the Philippines if we are cut off from 5G/6G of Huawei or the supply of rare earth oxides from China? What more if we are cut off from the China market altogether, like Lithuania? These are the dangers that lie ahead if the Philippines make the wrong moves now.
These are some food for thought for our political and military leaders in the coming days where we will again be “living in interesting times”. I hope that our national leaders will have the genuine interest of the Filipino people in their hearts when the time of reckoning finally arrives.