The China Hype

By Benjamin H. Friedman

Last week’s New York Times offered a breathless take on the Chinese Navy: “With Ships and Missiles, China Is Ready to Challenge U.S. Navy in Pacific. The article says that the Chinese Navy, which now has more ships than the US Navy, including two aircraft carriers, is poised to project power globally. China’s naval prowess, plus the accurate land-based anti-ship missiles create a robust “anti-access/area denial” (A2/AD) capability, which, the Times suggests, means China may “prevail” in a fight with the United States off its coast.

The United States and its Asian allies are “only beginning to digest” the implications of this shift in the “balance of power,” according to the article. That worry fits with Washington’s emergent conventional wisdom, as delivered with varying degrees of explicitness in think tank reports, congressional hearings, and years of reporting. The idea is that China’s military gains undermine the deterrence essential to the U.S. alliance structure in East Asia, which is what ostensibly keeps its peace. China may attack a U.S. ally, gambling that a successful missile attack on a U.S. carrier or destroyer would cause a U.S. military withdrawal, or the United States might effectively abandon its allies to avoid such an attack. It follows that, to maintain stability in Asia, the United States needs to do something radical and expensive—maybe invest more heavily in submarines and long-range strike options, throw money at theater ballistic missile defense, or more.

But the conventional wisdom is unduly alarmist.

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