China-US relations

US needs to talk, not raise tensions through provocative actions

  • Donald Trump fears China is threatening American dominance and is ramping up the nation’s spending on weapons and challenging Beijing’s territorial claims
PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 November, 2018, 5:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 November, 2018, 9:59pm

China’s military developments are about protecting sovereignty and national interests. But the administration of US President Donald Trump sees technologically advanced weapons as threats that have to be countered. The latest congressional report warned China’s global rise had “undoubtedly put at risk the national security and economic interests of the United States, its allies, and its partners”. So hawkish a view is veering towards the paranoia of the cold war and, if it gains wide currency, is likely to lead to an arms race and strategic moves that will heighten the risk of confrontation.

The US-China economic and security review commission referred to major advancements in hypersonic weapons, space defence and cyber capabilities. It concluded Beijing would be able to contest American operations throughout the Asia and Pacific region by 2035 or even sooner.

US Vice-President Mike Pence, speaking at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Singapore a day after the report was presented to lawmakers, delivered a veiled warning to China that aggression would not be tolerated and the US was committed to upholding freedoms in the sea and air. Wrapping up the annual gathering, Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, said the rivalry may force Southeast Asian countries to choose sides.

US report warning of ‘economic and security risk’ fuels China hawks

Trump has targeted China and Russia as threatening US global dominance. The latest annual Pentagon report on China’s military and security developments claimed the People’s Liberation Army was likely training for strikes against US and allied targets. Weapons and fighter jets unveiled at the recent Zhuhai air show, which takes place every two years, are bound to harden opinions; among them were an anti-ship missile, stealth drones and an upgraded version of the J-10 fighter jet that can match American counterparts for manoeuvrability. Of particular concern for the US is an experimental missile that travels at six times the speed of sound.

China’s latest defence budget increased spending 8.1 per cent to US$174 billion, but that pales into insignificance with the US$717 billion for the US in 2019. Trump has given the go-ahead for the development of new nuclear warheads, and energies are also being put into missile defences. In tandem with the trade war with China, more naval vessels are being sent to disputed waters in the South China Sea to sail near islands built by Beijing, provocations being carried out in the name of “freedom of navigation”.

The US, with by far the world’s biggest military, is unnecessarily raising tensions. The lack of high-level military communications increases the risk of conflict. But weapons developments alone do not constitute a threat to US national security; talks and cooperation are the best way to create understanding and lessen mistrust.