Former State Department official Kurt Campbell recently explained why 20 years of Pentagon efforts to build trust with the Chinese military have been difficult: China wants to drive the U.S. military out of Asia, and operates under a different strategic culture from that of the United States.
Mr. Campbell, a longtime Asia policymaker at both State and the Pentagon, said the danger of a U.S.-China military confrontation was highlighted by the Dec. 5 near-collision between the guided-missile destroyer USS Cowpens and a Chinese warship in the South China Sea.
The former assistant secretary of state for East Asia said at a meeting at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that a local incident — not a planned military attack — is more likely to produce a future U.S.-China crisis.
“Our forces are out there, they’re going to be out there, we’re going to sail near one another. We need to know how we will operate in close proximity,” said Mr. Campbell, head of The Asia Group consulting firm.
The Cowpens “almost collided, literally less than 100 yards, from a Chinese vessel that went across its bow,” he noted.
For nearly two decades, the U.S. has tried to hold talks with China on maritime rules. “And frankly we have to ask ourselves why we’ve had such difficulty,” he said.
Among the reasons behind China’s reluctance is that Beijing regards the U.S. military as “the gold standard” for armed forces, Mr. Campbell said, “and they don’t want to reveal certain limitations of capabilities, so they’re very careful how they expose us in those interactions.”
Additionally, tensions between China's military and the Communist Party have made it difficult for Chinese military officials to engage their U.S. counterparts “the way our four-stars do on a regular basis,” he said.
“Third, what the Chinese want is for the United States not to operate so regularly and so close to their borders,” Mr. Campbell said, noting that the military views U.S.-China military agreements as tantamount to “giving seatbelts to speeders.”
An agreement outlining military operating rules in Asia would give the U.S. greater confidence and undermine Chinese efforts to drive U.S. forces out of the region.
“They don’t want us to have that confidence operating near them,” Mr. Campbell said, noting that Chinese opposition to military agreements is based on concerns that they will mirror Cold War pacts with the Soviet Union and thus reflect that China’s communist regime is today’s Soviet state.
“And lastly, China has a very different concept of deterrence than the United States,” he said. “Our concept of deterrence is shock and awe. Let’s show you what we got and that will dissuade you.”
For the Chinese, deterrence means “you’re going to have uncertainty” about what strategic military capabilities they will employ, he said.
All these factors expose “very deep differences in strategic culture,” Mr. Campbell said.
The challenge of the next 20 years, he noted, will be to try and reach common ground with Beijing on military issues.
PacOM downplays China test
The dovish commander of U.S. Pacific Command recently played down China’s stunning test of a new, ultra-high-speed strategic strike vehicle that many other military and national security officials say represents a quantum leap in Chinese strategic capabilities.
Beijing's military carried out the test of a missile-boosted glide vehicle, dubbed WU-14 by the Pentagon, on Jan. 9. The maneuverable glider is said to be capable of traveling at speeds of up to Mach 10, or 7,680 mph, making it very difficult to counter with missile defenses.
Adm. Locklear went on to say that, in developing weapons technologies, the Chinese are “better at that than we are.”
“They get to it faster. Of course, they have different processes that allow them to get to it faster,” he said.
In contrast, Chinese military spokesmen in recent days trumpeted the hypersonic glide vehicle test as a major advance that can be used to strike U.S. aircraft carriers.
Chinese military expert Chen Hu told state television last week that the new weapon “can surely be used against U.S. carriers in any region around the globe.” The vehicle is “designed to strike large military targets including U.S. aircraft carriers,” he said.
China often uses such military experts as spokesmen for official policy, despite the fact that Mr. Chen’s comments contradict those of the Defense Ministry confirming the test. The ministry said the hypersonic weapon is not targeting any country.
Adm. Locklear’s comments follow his remarks in March, when he said during a speech in Boston that global climate change was “probably the most likely thing that is going to happen that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.” Those remarks prompted widespread surprise among officials and non-government analysts because they appeared to ignore threats from China and North Korea.
Command spokesmen later sought to clarify the admiral’s climate change remarks, and last week Adm. Locklear appeared to revise his threat assessment, stating that North Korea — but not China — poses the most imminent danger.
“People ask me, what do you worry about the most day to day? And I worry about the unpredictability of a North Korea, [its leader] Kim Jong-un and the capability he has to basically not only threaten our homeland but put a serious cataclysmic event in place on the Korean Peninsula, which would quite literally disrupt the entire world,” the four-star admiral said.
‘Princelings’ hide wealth
New information disclosed this week reveals that many Chinese “princelings” — children of Communist Party and military leaders — are using secretive off-shore tax havens to hide massive fortunes of the elite.
A report published Tuesday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and Canada’s CBC News is based on leaked financial records exposing overseas financial activities.
Confidential files show that high-level party officials, including relatives of President Xi Jinping, identified companies used by the princelings, including corporations in the Cook Islands and British Virgin Islands used by two relatives of former Premier Wen Jiabao.
The report identified Mr. Xi’s brother-in-law, Deng Jiagui, as half owner of a Virgin Islands company. Mr. Deng is a real estate developer and investor in metals used in cellphones and other electronics.
One princeling was identified as China’s “power queen” — Li Xiaolin, daughter of former Premier Li Peng. Ms. Li was linked in the documents to two Virgin Islands companies.
Fred Bild, Canada’s ambassador to China from 1990 to 1994, was quoted in the report as saying the exposure of the ruling elite’s foreign finances “could incense ordinary citizens in China, where senior Communist officials used to enjoy a modestly better living but nothing close to the extravagant wealth required to stash money offshore.”
The report said 22,000 Chinese are stashing hidden wealth abroad, including 15 of China’s richest people, members of the National People’s Congress and senior leaders of state-run industries.
The report also revealed that relatives of five of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the collective dictatorship that rules China, have companies in the Cook Islands or British Virgin Islands.