We know, of course, that China owns $1.5 trillion worth of U.S. Treasury bills and thus has the U.S. economy by the short hairs; that China refuses to significantly revalue the renminbi and thus retains its colossal imbalance in trade with the United States; and that China has begun to buy American real estate and other assets (including, perhaps, the Los Angeles Dodgers). But should Americans regard China as a national security threat and not merely an economic one?

The authors of “Asian Alliances in the 21st Century,” a report published by the Project 2049 Institute, a conservative think tank that focuses on East Asia, insist that we must. (The lead author is American Enterprise Institute scholar Dan Blumenthal of Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government blog.) The report concludes that “China’s military ambitions threaten America’s Asian allies, raise questions about the credibility of U.S. alliance pledges, and imperil the U.S. military strategy that underpins its global primacy.”

“Asian Alliances” argues, in effect, that China has now fully emerged from its defensive crouch. In recent years, China has developed a new generation of ballistic and cruise missiles, attack submarines, tactical and stealth aircraft, radar, and space-based intelligence, as well as an anti-satellite missile, which together give it the capacity to establish “contested zones” in air, sea, and space, and thus push the United States further and further out from regions of the Pacific that it has long patrolled and protected. And China’s behavior in the neighborhood has turned markedly bellicose, aggressively pursuing its claim to islands in the South China Sea and sending its blue-water navy on long-range exercises off the Japanese coast. It’s for this reason that Robert D. Kaplan wrote in the current issue of FP that the future of conflict lies not in the sands of the Middle East but the open water of the South China Sea.

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