China is making geopolitical hay while the sun isn’t shining for America.
Chinese leaders have seen President Bush’s approval ratings continue a downward slide all over the world, according to the BBC’s latest universal survey. More important, previous public opinion polls showed China with a better image than America in friendly European countries — with the notable exception of Poland. The rest of the world has watched the defection of some of Mr. Bush’s congressional supporters. China’s topsiders have heard from their close ally Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf — “a major non-NATO ally” — that he doesn’t think the U.S. can avoid what the world will perceive as a defeat in Iraq. And perception trumps reality the world over.
The global newspaper Financial Times wrote, “As authority drains from Mr. Bush, so Washington is losing its capacity to determine outcomes elsewhere. Iran is the principal beneficiary.”
A defector from Mr. Musharraf’s camp has informed U.S. authorities the Pakistani leader’s “agonizing reappraisal” about Afghanistan’s future stems from his perception the U.S. cannot pull a victory rabbit out of the Iraqi hat. Hence, his perception that neither the U.S. nor NATO can muster what it takes to complete their mission in Afghanistan. Hence, in turn, Mr. Musharraf’s decision to authorize his all-powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency to assist the bid of Taliban “moderates” to retake power in Kabul. ISI greatly assisted the original victory of Taliban in 1996.
Assessing the American scene as conveyed by CNN, FOX, BBC and Al Jazeera, Chinese leaders can be forgiven if they have concluded the American Century — the 20th — may not be renewed in the 21st. While the American body politic has been almost totally immersed in and absorbed by Iraq and Afghanistan, China’s Hu Jintao’s current trip to Africa is the third to the continent by a top Chinese leader in a year.
Last November, China demonstrated its growing global clout by inviting 48 African heads of state and government to a summit in Beijing where they were wined and dined in a style unmatched by their former French, British and Portuguese colonial masters. China has been buying up their production of raw materials years in advance. Pledges have been made to double aid to Africa to $5 billion, train 15,000 professionals and grant 4,000 scholarships.
Vertiginous double-digit yearly growth for the fourth consecutive year has put China on track to leapfrog Germany as the world’s third-largest economy. Its foreign currency reserves are accumulating at the rate of $30 million per hour and recently topped the $1 trillion mark — about 70 percent of that in U.S. paper. It is outspending Japan on technology R&D. China is preening with self-confidence.
As Ford posts a record $12.7 billion loss, China’s “Chery” (which started with machines and engine technology purchased from Ford Europe for $25 million), in alliance with China’s “Visionary Vehicles,” is getting ready to invade the U.S. market with five different models in 2008, all designed by Pininfarina (known for Ferrari and Lamborghini designs). The Las Vegas Sands Casino, with 800 gaming tables, is now the world’s largest — not in Nevada but in Macau, China.
To offset America’s enormous strategic military superiority, the Chinese military concluded in the 1990s that information warfare — or cyberwarfare — could give China an “asymmetric” advantage over the United States. In 1998, the PLA newspaper Jiefangjun Bao said priority should be given “to learning how to launch an electronic attack on an enemy… to ensure electromagnetic control in an area and at a time favorable to us.”
How to take down the computer-driven sinews of a modern industrialized state quickly became a top priority for the major powers and Israel. Since then the U.S. has more than matched China’s arsenal of cyberweapons — from ultra-sophisticated logic bombs, to Trojan horses, worms, viruses and denial-of-service decoys.
The 1990-91 Desert Shield and Desert Storm and the 2003 invasion of Iraq (when 50 military-specific satellites and numerous commercial birds were used) showed the Chinese how utterly dependent the U.S. had become on “satcoms.” In 1998, the failure of a single satellite disabled 80 percent of the pagers in the U.S.
Unmanned aircraft like the Predator achieve pinpoint bombing accuracy over the Pak-Afghan border while flown by a pilot/bombardier in a simulated cockpit thousands of miles away in Washington. Signals from Global Positioning System’s satellites guide precision weapons to their targets in the same role as a rifle gunsight.
Modern battlespace’s eyes and ears are in orbit and vulnerable. The space equivalents of bullets and shells — kinetic energy weapons — to destroy or damage a target in space is the next phase of modern warfare. The 2001 Congress-mandated Commission to Assess U.S. National Security Space Management said the U.S. “is an attractive candidate for a space Pearl Harbor — or a surprise attack on U.S. space assets aimed at crippling U.S. war-fighting and other capabilities.”
Chinese strategists view U.S. dependence on space as an asymmetric vulnerability while Chinese scientists are known to be working on ASAT (anti-satellite weapons, such as kinetic kill vehicles). On Jan. 11, China decided it was time to demonstrate the fragility of the U.S. military dependence on communications satellites.
Without warning, China fired a missile aimed at one of its own aging communications satellites. With pinpoint accuracy, the missile pulverized the Feng Yun 1-C 500 miles above Earth, scattering thousands of tiny fragments that could easily puncture the metal skin of other satellites in orbit. The former Soviet Union did it first in 1971, followed by the U.S. in 1985, before Congress banned further tests lest they imperiled one of the several hundred satellites, many from other nations.
Space as a sanctuary free from armed conflict will most probably end over the next 20 years. Speaking in flawless English at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, one-star Gen. Yao Yunzhu, who directs China’s Asia-Pacific Office at the Academy of Military Science in Beijing, predicted: “Outer space is going to be weaponized in our lifetime.” She is 52. If there’s going to be “a space superpower,” she said, “it will have company” — China. And Beijing said China was now ready to talk turkey about an international treaty to curb the weaponization of space. But the U.S. wasn’t. In fact, the administration suspended plans agreed to at a summit meeting last April to develop plans for the joint exploration of the moon.
Following disengagement from Iraq, U.S. defense priorities are likely to remain focused on combating terrorism while Europe’s defense agenda becomes increasingly unsupportive of U.S. policies. China is eyeing an emerging geopolitical vacuum with interest. And it has no intention to play the game of nations by U.S. rules.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.