The United States and China conducted a record $690 billion in combined trade last year. Protectionist policies will result in lower figures for 2023, but China will remain a top American trading partner. This intertwined trade relationship highlights that America has everything in the world to gain from smart, tough and effective competition with China — and everything to lose if relations deteriorate to the point of direct armed conflict.
War with China is neither inevitable nor necessary, but actions and policies currently being pursued in both Beijing and Washington are mindlessly drifting towards a clash.
There is yet time — and plenty of motivation — for American policymakers to regain control of the situation and steer relations with our huge but unruly trading partner in a direction that benefits the U.S., secures ourselves and allies, and keeps open a path to indefinite economic benefit. To obtain those desirable goals, however, will require changing both our mentality and actions towards Beijing.
There is, however, a genuine security concern for the U.S. in the Indo-Pacific. Since just last summer, China has continued to expand its military presence and bases in the South China Sea and beyond; it remains on an upward arc of increasing defense spending and seeks to become the dominant Asian military power. All those actions clearly give China a growing capacity to wage war.
The U.S., too, is ramping up its war-making capacity in the region. The Department of Defense seeks to expand ground-, air- and sea-basing options throughout the Indo-Pacific. The Navy, Army and Air Force both seek additional multi-billion dollar building programs to expand their capacity near China. Few people are aware that there are already a shockingly high 375,000 U.S. service personnel stationed at 66 distinct defense sites in the Indo-Pacific region. The Pentagon’s projected 2024 defense budget will be one of the largest in history, primarily focused on the China threat.
Both the U.S. and China are on track to ramp up military spending and heated rhetoric. The most likely flashpoint for a clash between the two superpowers is Taiwan. China regards the island as a province of China, while the U.S. treats it as a de facto independent country. Many Western commentators claim the U.S. must fight for Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack, accusing those who disagree as putting democracy itself at risk. What those advocates fail to consider, however, is the devastating cost to America if we were to fight China over Taiwan.
The cost to the U.S. military of fighting China in its backyard in the waters around Taiwan would be profound. We would likely lose many hundreds of attack aircraft, potentially scores of Navy ships (including four aircraft carriers), and the lives of tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen. That kind of damage to our armed forces would put our national security at home and abroad at great risk for decades to come.
Plainly stated, we should not choose to fight a war with China if they invade Taiwan.
Others argue we must fight, even if we don’t want to, because the catastrophic cost to the global economy if China attacks (especially in terms of semiconductors) would devastate the U.S. economy. What those advocates fail to recognize, however, is that the impact to the world economy is baked in when the first Chinese missile strikes the island or the first Chinese soldier invades. From that point forward, there will be no changing the harmful economic impact. What we must avoid at all costs, however, is deeply compounding that cost to America by also choosing to engage in a war that would cripple our Air Force and Navy.
By refusing to be drawn into a war with China in an otherwise horrible situation, the United States would have an enormous power advantage over China. The American military would still be unharmed and at full strength, while the People’s Liberation Army would be severely degraded by any attempt to penetrate Taiwan’s defenses. It could take China more than a decade to recover from its losses. We would have the unchallenged upper hand, both regionally as well as globally. Our national security would remain fully within our ability to guarantee.
Choosing to allow righteous anger to drive our response — which many Americans would understandably feel if China attacked Taiwan — could plunge us into a war that would, in the best case, severely diminish our ability to defend our country. In the worst case, it could lead to a nuclear exchange in which entire American cities could be wiped out.
As much as we would hate to see China capture Taiwan, nothing on that island is worth risking America’s entire national security.
Source : The Hill