Is China Marching Towards The Worst World War In History? British Historian Max Hastings Examines How The New Superpower Became Emboldened And Embittered — And How Its Leaders’ Desire For Global Domination May Lead To A Conflict With America

Is China Marching Towards The Worst World War In History?  British Historian Max Hastings Examines How The New Superpower Became Emboldened And Embittered — And How Its Leaders’ Desire For Global Domination May Lead To A Conflict With America
     As POTUS Trump engages in perhaps his most important foreign trip of his presidency, eminent British historian Max Hastings recently wrote an article in London’s the DailyMailOnline, articulating a thoughtful, but worrisome outlook regarding a potential military clash between the U.S. and China.  In an October 20, 2017 article posted on the publication’s website, Mr. Hastings warned about Chinese leader Xi’s consolidation of power; and, his elevation to ‘extraordinary heights,” making President Xi China’s most powerful leader since the reign of Mao.  Mr. Hastings wrote that Xi “wields absolute authority, amid ever more draconian restrictions on dissent and free speech, even within the [Communist] Party hierarchy.  ‘China needs heroes,’ he [Xi] has written,” Mr. Hastings noted, ‘such as Mao Tse-Tung.’
     “Thus, he [Xi] celebrates a predecessor whom almost everybody outside China recognizes as the greatest mass murderer of the 20th century, even ahead of Adolph Hitler,” Mr. Hastings wrote.
     “The American strategy guru, Edward Luttwak, warns that ‘China poses a greater threat to world peace than the U.S.’ because of its leader’s lack of accountability.  The only institution that retains any influence is the People’s Liberation Army (PLA),” or China’s armed forces, he added. 
     “While President Xi talks to the world (without much being believed) about his desire for China to be a good neighbor, part of the fellowship of nations — his commanders become ever more hawkish [as well as ambitious and impatient] Mr. Hastings observed.  “Hundreds of billions are poured into armies, fleets, missile forces, with China’s defense budget rising 10 percent last year.  Beijing has established its first overseas military base, in the [strategically located] port of Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa; and now. boasts a navy that sails the Red Sea and the Baltic.”
     “Some 60,000 people are employed in military-cyber operations of scary sophistication:  four years ago, 140 attacks on U.S. institutions were traced to a single PLA unit in Shanghai.  The Chinese own a formidable satellite-killer capability, which could inflict critical damage on U.S. communications,” he wrote, including military and intelligence networks.  Meanwhile, China is currently constructing an ‘unhackable’ communications network for its military and intelligence entities.  And, “the Chinese population seems ready to applaud their armed forces’ new activism,” Mr. Hastings observed:  “their big movie hit of 2017 has been Wolf Warrior 2, about a Chinese soldier mowing down his country’s enemies abroad; and, on a more lavish scale than does Britain’s James Bond.”
     “Here is the Heavenly Kingdom, among the oldest and greatest civilizations on Earth, seeking to reassert long-lost might and majesty,” Mr. Hastings eloquently wrote.  “Young Chinese are taught that their ancestors possessed a civilized, literate culture — five centuries before Julius Caesar invaded Britain.  Around the world, such thinkers of that era as Confucius or military pundits like Sun Tzu, are quoted respectfully to this day.”
     “While Europe was still in the Dark Ages, under the Tang and Song dynasties, China was a united empire that issued paper money, invented clocks and gunpowder, and built ships that roamed oceans.  Emperors created architectural and artistic masterpieces that [their] Europeans [counterparts] scarcely matched — even after the dawn of the 15th century Renaissance.”
     “Today,” Mr. Hastings notes, “the Chinese reason:  Why should we continue to follow the dictates; and swallow the insults of the West?”
     “The U.S. Navy still dominates the Pacific [thank goodness], as it has done since 1945,” Mr. Hastings observed.  “Both Washington and Tokyo question China’s right to extend its frontiers in the South, and East China Seas.”
     “Above all,” Mr. Hastings wrote, “the West resists Beijing’s insistence on reclaiming Taiwan, where Chaing Kai-shek’s Nationalists established a bastion, under American protection — after they lost the civil war to Mao in 1949.”
    “The Chinese refer to their ‘century of humiliation’ which began with the Opium Wars, during which in 1860, an Anglo-French army pillaged one of the greatest artistic masterpieces, the Imperial Summer Palace outside Beijing,” Mr. Hastings wrote.  “This symbolic climax of ‘Western barbarism,’ stands close to the head of a catalogue of historic grievances that feed’s China’s modern sense of victimization; and, which it is determined to repair,” and/or reverse.  
     “Influential academics on both sides of the Atlantic, fear that the mounting tensions between China and the U.S., and its allies, could lead to conflict — a potentially catastrophic war — in the decade or two ahead,” Mr. Hastings warns.  “The latest of such seers is Christopher Coker, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics (LSE); and, author of the new book:  The Improbable War:  ‘A Sino-American War Could Prove To Be The Most Ruinous The World Has Ever Witnessed.’  Dr. Coker contends such a catastrophic conflict — though it may not necessarily cost the number of lives lost in WWII — could prove disastrous to the world economy; particularly if the conflict included — at least partially — both countries space assets.”  And, one would have to assume that such a terrible conflict would in all likelihood — include a pace component.  Indeed, an unclassified Chinese White Paper titled “Unrestricted Warfare,” described how the Chinese military might go to war against a Tier I opponent such as the United States.  In this paper, Chinese strategists described how their military — at least occasionally — practices to go to war ‘disconnected.’  The thought being that an opponent such as the U.S. would seek to make their military ‘deaf, dumb, and blind,’ by knocking out their entire networked communications; and, Beijing would also try to do the same to America.  Thus, this is likely one of the major reasons why Beijing is aggressively building an ‘unhackable’/encrypted quantum satellite network in space.
     Meanwhile, Mr. Hastings notes, Sir Lawrence Freedman, Emeritus Professor of War Studies at Kings College, London, “declares in his new work:  ‘The Future Of War,’ that armed conflict between great powers is almost certain to continue ‘whenever there is a combination of an intensive dispute and available forms of violence… first, it may bear little resemblance to our common views of war; but, any continuing violence has the potential to turn into something bigger.”  “Freedman means of course, that a new great power clash is likely to start with an escalating, yet invisible and noiseless, cyber exchange, which could deliver a pre-emptive strike against the enemy’s high-tech weapons systems; or even more broadly, its civil infrastructure — for instance, electrical grids, and telecom networks,” Mr. Hastings wrote.
     “In 1991,” Mr. Hastings wrote, “an American expert on security and cyber warfare, wrote a futuristic novel, suggesting the possibility of an ‘electronic Pearl Harbor’ surprise assault.  This has since become [much more] technologically plausible,” Mr. Hastings warns.
     “Almost no nation — perhaps not even Korea — is eager to launch a nuclear first strike — justifying annhilatory retaliation,” Mr. Hastings wrote.  “But. many Americans, in and out of uniform, are apprehensive about the danger of a cyber war first strike.”
     “Both U.S. and Chinese commanders fear that failure to knock out the others high-tech information, and weapons-guidance systems [networks] early in a confrontation — could fatally weaken the loser if hostilities heated up,” Mr. Hastings observed.
     “Consider the effect, if for instance,” Mr. Hastings wrote, “a Chinese cyber-thrust disabled the catapults on a U.S. aircraft carrier: a +$Multi-Billion dollar platform would suddenly become impotent.”
     “Nobody suggests that either China’s President Xi at his most authoritarian, or America’s President Trump at his most unstable, see a big war,” historian and author Max Hastings wrote. Mr. Hastings shows his bias and is no fan of POTUS Trump.
     “But, Professor Christopher Coker is only one of the pundits who urge the peril of reprising 1914, when Austria and Germany precipitated a huge a conflagration because they started out with illusions that they risked only a small one, with Serbia,” Mr. Hastings wrote.  How many times have we seen/read in history where what seemed as a small, seemingly insignificant event or incident — ultimately led to a large-scale military conflict.
     Mr. Hastings wrote that “this is a comparison I made myself a few years ago to a delegation of Chinese military men visiting London, who asked if I saw comparisons with 1914, about which I had just published a book.  I suggested that the huge irony of what happened a century ago — was that if Germany had not gone to war, it could have achieved dominance of Europe within a generation — through its industrial and technological superiority.  Surely nothing at stake in the South China Sea, or with Taiwan, I said to the Chinese, is worth risking all you have achieved by peaceful means?  A Chinese officer, obviously unconvinced, responded, ‘but, we have claims.’
     Mr. Hastings goes on to explain how China’s rightful claim to sovereignty over Taiwan is ingrained into the psyche of the Chinese populace.  In many ways, Beijing likely sees a Hong Kong 2.0 path ahead with Taiwan — whether America and her Asian allies, along with the Taiwanese people disagree.  Mr. Hastings in much more of a historian than I am; but, my guess is that the building and militarizing of the disputed islands in the South China Sea, the building and expanding of their blue water navy, putting an ‘unhackable’ communications network in space, and their huge emphasis on winning the artificial intelligence race are all part of a long-term, strategic plan by China to replace the United States as the world’s number one superpower.
     President Xi is now the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao; and, his significant rise in stature has been breathtakingly swift.  One wonders if he has ‘the right stuff’ that can temper his ambitions and accept less than the entire loaf soon — knowing that time may well be on his side.  China is definitely rising.  Whether or not the U.S. is declining is a matter of debate and far from clear.  But, miscalculation and over-reaction to what seem minor events at the time — have a way of quickly snowballing and spiraling out of control.  As the late historian Barbara Tuchman once wrote, “war is the unfolding of miscalculations.”
     The Romans always believed that in order to ensure the peace, you had to always be prepared for war.  Peace through strength.  The U.S. must not allow its military capabilities to atrophy as Britain allowed theirs to do between World War I and World War II.  One can understand that the people of Britain were war-weary after WWI; and, their desire to focus more inward is understandable.  But, the adversary gets a vote.  China, like Russia, Iran, North Korea, etc., sensed weakness under POTUS Obama these past eight years.  America was viewed as disengaged — except for climate change and an over-bearing, intense desire to make a nuclear deal with Iran, regardless of the cost.  Otherwise, Russia and China took measure of Obama and decided he was not interested in vigorously defending ‘Red Lines.’  Putin seized the Ukraine, China began building artificial islands in the Pacific and encroaching on U.S. allies, and both countries planted their respective flags in the Arctic.  Now, America has a new sheriff in town; and, both China and Russia are still evaluating the new U.S. commander-in-chief.  But, POTUS Trump’s decision to strike Syrian chemical warfare units — while President Xi was visiting POTUS Trump in Mar-a-Lago — demonstrated that the U.S. was no longer disengaged.
     Now, we have two alpha males — POTUS Trump and Chinese President Xi, circling each other, neither wanting to be perceived as the weaker party/negotiator.  Xi probably believes he can outlast POTUS Trump, especially if Mr. Trump looks to be a one-term president.  My own guess would be that China and Xi will continue to press the envelope in the South China Sea, and the Pacific, but stop short of provoking a confrontation.  Beijing will continue to lay the long-term foundation for becoming the world’s number one superpower; and, they are big fans of Alfred Thayer Mahan.  Having said all that, will the hawks on either, or both sides, miscalculate and press in the wrong place, at the wrong time.  Certainly, all the ingredients are there now in the Pacific for the worst to happen.  That I believe, is Mr. Hastings’s biggest fear.  As the late Beatles singer John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when we’re making other plans.”  RCP,

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