- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 21, 2004

The scariest ride I ever had was not at an amusement park. It was the ride I took two weeks ago through Shanghai, China, from Hongqiao International Airport to the Bund area along the Huangpu riverfront. It was just after dark, and this mammoth city was lit up in an awe-inspiring display the likes of which I had not seen even in Beijing.

Shanghai has a skyline that puts New York or Chicago to shame, but it also has a larger population than New York and Chicago combined. Mile after mile of new high-rise office buildings, many boosting the names of the world’s major corporations, make a stunning proclamation of wealth and power. Unlike the boxy concrete and steel designs I had seen in Tokyo, the Shanghai skyline looks like a “city of the future” as envisioned by science-fiction artists. With these grandiose designs, China is sending a clear message to the world that it is playing for real. That is something to stir nightmares.

American security concerns have focused on terrorism and the Middle East. This is understandable, as Muslim terrorists plot more American deaths. Yet, terrorism is the weapon of the weak. It cannot change the global balance of power. And Islamic fundamentalism is a backward-looking doctrine of social and economic stagnation.

The rise of China challenges the global balance, and is already transforming how the world works. Endowing an empire of 1.3 billion people with modern industry, technology and capital gives the strong Beijing central government immense resources with which to support its ambitions.

China is driven by impassioned nationalism and the limitless energy of capitalism, a combination that will rock the world.

Military threats always loom largest in the public mind, and China is creating such a danger. My visits to Beijing and Shanghai were preludes to the real reason for my trip, which was to attend the fifth Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai. This event is held every two years. It has two purposes: to showcase China’s advancements and attract U.S. and other Western companies who want to sell technology and systems to Beijing.

China’s space program was highlighted, from the capsule astronaut Yang Liwei used to orbit the Earth in 2003 to animated videos of Chinese plans to land on the moon and exploit its resources. Most of the displays, however, were devoted to Chinese fighters, remotely piloted (unmanned) military aircraft, helicopter gunships and missiles of all types.

The displays clearly showed there is no segregation of civilian and military aviation activities. The Chinese aerospace industry is run by the state. Its largest agency is Aviation Industries of China I (AVIC I). Its displays featured, side by side, a variety of civilian airliners and its numerous military projects for fighters, bombers, military transports and reconnaissance aircraft. Its sister organization, AVIC II, which was split off in 1999 to create competition and improve management, concentrates more on business jets, helicopters and missiles. One display featured a row of cruise and air-to-air missiles under a large poster of a corporate jet, again showing the guiding Chinese principle of “Jun-min jiehe” — combine the military and the civil.

This principle was very evident in the two halls devoted to American and Western firms trying to sell high-tech products to China. These firms are only supposed to be civilian development firms. But that line cannot be drawn, and it is doubtful those marketing their wares in this booming market care.

Italian Deputy Minister of Defense Salvator Cicu was on hand for the signing of a co-production agreement between Agusta Westland and AVIC II for a new helicopter design. Italy, along with France and Germany, have pressed the European Union to lift its arms embargo on China. But the embargo has long been undermined by sale of dual-use equipment and technology to Beijing. Helicopters are a prime example. Why else would a defense official celebrate a putatively civilian project?

Two identical remotely piloted helicopters were displayed — one configured for crop dusting, the other for military reconnaissance. It takes little imagination to see how the crop duster might be used with chemical or biological weapons.

American companies have been just as guilty as European firms in helping China improve its capabilities. Boeing had a large mural at its booth touting not only how many airliners it had sold to China but also how much production work it had outsourced to Chinese industry, how many Chinese engineers and technical workers it had trained, and how much it was investing in Chinese research facilities.

U.S. officials have lobbied against any lifting of the EU weapons embargo on China. Yet, how can the Europeans take American arguments seriously when the Bush administration (and the Clinton administration before it) have not only turned a blind eye to the role of U.S. firms in advancing Beijing’s development, but have encouraged it under the rubric of “commercial engagement?” Which is worse: Europeans selling weapons to China, or Americans teaching the Chinese how to build their own weapons?

William Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

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