Black smoke: The coming war between the US and China?

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A big question mark hangs over the wisdom of US leaders. Did their madness reach an unpredictable extent? Why does the US now speak about a possible military clash with China? In fact, the US is already conducting naval exercises in preparation for a potential military conflict with Beijing. The strange thing is that the US talks about war with China, not with Russia, its arch enemy, especially given its long history of conflict with Moscow which existed through cold wars at certain times and proxy wars at others, specifically since the end of World War II.

The US talks about this issue while it is engaged in hidden and open conflicts around the world. I think it is enough for the US that it waged a war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The war it feared to fight on its own, so it formed a coalition of many countries to lend a hand. Not to mention its endless war against the terrorist Taliban group in Afghanistan and its conflict with Russia over Ukraine.

The naval exercises conducted by the US these days near Guam shores in the Indian Ocean and involving the aircraft carrier “USS George Washington” is part of a plan devised in 2009. Actually, the plan which the Pentagon calls “Air-Sea Battle” is a cause for considerable concern even inside the US where they consider it an indication of “black smoke”; the symbol of damage and destruction. So, why the provocative exercises now? And why the war with China?  China is a country that always sends reassuring messages and stresses that its official political moto is “peaceful rise” and that term was implemented to rebut against the “China threat theory”. Beijing always confirms that its military power is not a threat to any country.

Did anything change since Xi Jinping assumed power in China last year? It is true that he asserts some of China’s claims outside its borders and his ships are cruising around islands controlled by Japan. It is also well known that he spends billions on building new islands in the South China Sea. But what disturbed Americans the most was a US congress report that shows China’s decades-long buildup of strategic and conventional military forces that is shifting the balance of power in Asia towards Beijing’s favor and increasing the risk of a conflict.

The report warns that China is adopting a more hostile posture against the United States and its regional allies in Asia. China’s government still views the United States as its main adversary despite strong trade and financial links between the two countries. The report, prepared by US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, paints an alarming picture of China’s growing aggressiveness and expanding power, including development of stealth jets and the first deployment of a naval expeditionary amphibious group to the Indian Ocean. China’s rapid military modernisation is altering the military balance of power in the Asia Pacific, in ways that could exacerbate regional hotspots such as Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula, the East China Sea and the South China Sea. As China builds up its naval power, the US Navy is declining, and America’s current ability to defeat China in a sustained conflict would prove difficult to maintain.

The report may contain exaggerations and lack of accurate information. It was most probably produced for the sake of increasing US military spending and urging the Pentagon to conduct further studies and gather more information on China’s military power. This is maybe the same demand by the congressional annual report over the past few years.

Anyway, Washington has not learned one valuable lesson, and that is China is building its military power wisely and quietly, while the US is consuming all its military capabilities and economic resources in some futile adventures. However, those who pay the price of US imprudence are not only the American people, but the whole world.

Salwa Habib is a senior columnist and an expert on Egyptian-American relations.