While the Biden administration’s weakness and decline in military readiness concerning China goes unreported or under-reported in the United States, those nations most vulnerable to Chinese aggression and intimidation are aware of the rising risk of war.
When nations assess their national security status, they analyze all alliances and associations, including military, economic, etc. A critical aspect of that analysis will be the United States and its ability and willingness to fulfill its strategic security obligations.
Fading US Security Guarantees in the Region
Today, those obligations, first and foremost, involve the threats that China and its de facto proxy, North Korea, pose to the region. Every national security advisor or minister of defense in the Asia-Pacific region that relies on U.S. security guarantees must ask themselves, “Are we as secure today as we were yesterday under American security guarantees?”
In other words, the governments in Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Canberra, and Manila all see the growing threat coming from China. These governments’ actions indicate that they’re all questioning their belief that the United States will be able to defend them.
Unfortunately, most are increasingly unsure about America’s ability to defend them. In the Pentagon, however, the answer is definite, No, we will not be able to protect you.
Over the past decade, with the possible exception of the Trump administration, the United States has pursued a graduated weakness defense posture in the region (as well as elsewhere) by failing to address threats with tangible military development and deployment effectively. Meanwhile, China continues to increase its defense spending to record levels.
Asia-Pacific Nations React to China Threat and US Decline
As a result, South Korea is seriously considering building its nuclear arsenal in response to the rising threat posed by both China and North Korea. Given North Korea’s reliance on China for food and fuel, one must conclude that its aggression and acts of intimidation toward South Korea and Japan are tacitly, if not explicitly, approved by Beijing.
Tokyo is also radically redefining its defense posture across the board in light of China’s rising threat to the status quo. The Japanese are doing so because they don’t see a commensurate rise in America’s ability to stop China.
In Taipei, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said that he expects a Chinese attack by 2027, if not sooner. Xi Jinping has prioritized conquering Taiwan and continues to escalate China’s provocative behavior. Consequently, Taiwan has extended compulsory military service from four months to a year and seeks to develop drone and missile production. Again, that’s a no-confidence vote on America’s willingness and capability to deter an attack from China or even answer one.
Australia’s response is less about re-arming and deepening its strategic international relationships. That applies not only to the United States, which is more or less a given but also to expanding its ties with India. That makes sense since India is China’s only regional nuclear and military counterweight.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) shakes hands with Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese before a meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on March 10, 2023. (Money Sharma/AFP via Getty Images)
In the Philippines last month, Manila granted the U.S. increased use of its military bases in direct response to the rising threat from China. In all practical terms, expanding America’s military presence in the Philippines is the equivalent of a military buildup.
Beijing Redefines US-Based Security Agreements in the Region
What’s more, Beijing is clearly signaling to the region and the United States that the U.S. security guarantee to the regional nations alliance is now unacceptable. This shift mirrors China’s rise to global power and its desire and intent to challenge U.S. supremacy in the region.
China’s leadership, including Xi Jinping and his Minister of Foreign Affairs Qin Gang, has made it clear how Beijing views the current Asia-Pacific security arrangement, describing it as “encirclement” and “containment and suppression, a zero-sum game of life and death.”
But who was Beijing speaking to?
Was the message primarily aimed at its domestic audience to gin up nationalism, as left-wing The Guardian claims?
Is the Chinese leadership expressing its fear of a life-and-death struggle between itself and the United States?
Perhaps, but not likely. It’s more realistic that Beijing was sending a message to the other nations in the region to intimidate and affirm their doubts about America’s security commitment. Using Cold War terms like “containment” also points to the regional nations as the intended audience since they’re framing the current voluntary security arrangements as belligerent rather than defensive.
It’s no surprise why they would make such a forward-leaning assertion. The U.S. military state of readiness is already stretched thin in various contexts, including the massive commitment of war materiel to Ukraine.
US in ‘Terminal Decline?’
Beijing regards the United States as being in “terminal decline” and sees an opportunity to exploit the weakness of the Biden administration regarding its reunification plans with Taiwan.
Moreover, China’s navy has already surpassed the United States’ surface fleet numbers. According to Kris Osborn of Warrior Maven, it also possesses nuclear-enabled, hypersonic, anti-ship missiles, against which the U.S. Navy “may or may not” be able to defend itself. Therefore, it’s reasonable to think that the “zero-sum game of life and death” phrasing applies more to U.S. allies in the region rather than to China.
What could be the reason for Beijing’s massive military build-up?
The simple fact is that no country or group of countries has any interest in, intention to, or capability of invading China.
Unfortunately, it’s not likely that any country or group of countries will be able to deter China from invading and conquering other nations in the Asia-Pacific region.
That reality has finally dawned on them and the rest of the world.
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