Fearmongering Over China Leads to Bad Policy

CommentaryThe United States should be concerned about communist China but not let fearmongering politicians use China to gain power and pursue bad policies. The public of the United States often has a fearful and negative opinion of China. This is understandable due to the Chinese regime’s growing economic power, aggressive military posturing, human rights abuses, and the legitimate assumption that Beijing intentionally created the coronavirus. Even though the regime is genuinely awful in its forced sterilizations of women, genocide, and aggression, an unreasonable fear often precludes the substantive study of Chinese history and culture. Most importantly, it prevents a proper assessment of Chinese military capabilities. Many politicians stoke fears of China for political and financial gain. Fearmongering for votes goes back to the Cold War. John F. Kennedy famously did this during his election in the so-called missile gap between the United States and Russia. The United States then increased its arsenal because it irrationally feared the Russians. Then the Russians, in turn, feared they were falling behind and boosted their arsenal. The result of perceived fear created bad policy and accelerated an arms race. Most recently, China’s launch of a hypersonic weapon produced what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, called a sputnik moment. This technology is frightful, but his call was an example of establishment politicians and military elites who constantly want more funding and have to compete with other services and domestic spending. Hence, they use fearful language that makes it sound like America is in danger to secure it. Unfortunately, more money is not always the answer. It simply means that if the military secures more funding, it will often be wasted or misappropriated. In short, fearmongering still produces a better U.S. capability and strategy, only more pork for special interests and well-connected individuals, many of whom are stoking the fear, to begin with. A U.S. Navy hovercraft speeds past the USS Wasp, a multipurpose amphibious assault ship, during the amphibious landing exercises as part of the annual joint U.S.–Philippines military exercise on the shores of San Antonio town, facing the South China sea, Zambales Province in the Philippines, on April 11, 2019. (Ted Aljibe/AFP via Getty Images) Fearmongering can reward bad behavior, keeping Americans from critically assessing the entire situation and considering the context. For example, state politicians have little impact on the military and foreign policy. They have some limited influence over their state’s economic policies, and even the most protectionist politician can’t control trade with China. Yet politicians will lob rhetorical grenades at their opponents and might even be rewarded for their panic-based rhetoric by winning office. Fearmongering might stop a reasonable policy that can efficiently respond to real concerns over the Chinese military. For example, America already has robust missile defenses that continually upgrade defenses to counter any missile threat. China’s new hypersonic technology should be concerning, but the lessons of history show that missiles have been around for almost 100 years now. The United States has the broad foundation to adjust and adapt without resorting to fearmongering. Policy analysts should know better than to resort to fearmongering to secure even more funding in an already massive defense budget. In the event of open conflict, there is already a great deal of reason to be confident that America can meet any threat the Chinese regime poses because the emperor has no clothes. The Russian boondoggle in Ukraine suggests the danger of over-relying on tangible factors like the number of missiles, soldiers, and money spent on the military, and underestimating intangible ones like the quality of training, organization, and soldiers’ morale. Studying all of the latter factors suggests that an aggressive and quick seizure of Taiwan could be as much of a mirage as the Russian military. A more rational and less fearmongering assessment suggests that aggressive diplomacy of China and missiles might even be counterproductive. The regime’s hostility toward Australia pushed it into America’s arms. Some politicians are indeed weak on China. We’ve had ongoing trade disputes with China for years that unfairly disadvantage American workers. But in some cases, a changing global economy can be a good thing. Some jobs disappear while new and better ones take their place. Moreover, economic interaction can be a disincentive for warfare. On purely military terms, the Russian example is a caution against overestimating the factors that make China seem powerful and scary. In a different light, each of the regime’s fearful qualities could be weaknesses. It is why I wrote a book years ago titled “Dragon’s Claws With Feet of Clay.” The dragon is a common symbol for China, and its claw

Fearmongering Over China Leads to Bad Policy

Commentary

The United States should be concerned about communist China but not let fearmongering politicians use China to gain power and pursue bad policies.

The public of the United States often has a fearful and negative opinion of China. This is understandable due to the Chinese regime’s growing economic power, aggressive military posturing, human rights abuses, and the legitimate assumption that Beijing intentionally created the coronavirus.

Even though the regime is genuinely awful in its forced sterilizations of women, genocide, and aggression, an unreasonable fear often precludes the substantive study of Chinese history and culture. Most importantly, it prevents a proper assessment of Chinese military capabilities.

Many politicians stoke fears of China for political and financial gain. Fearmongering for votes goes back to the Cold War. John F. Kennedy famously did this during his election in the so-called missile gap between the United States and Russia. The United States then increased its arsenal because it irrationally feared the Russians. Then the Russians, in turn, feared they were falling behind and boosted their arsenal. The result of perceived fear created bad policy and accelerated an arms race.

Most recently, China’s launch of a hypersonic weapon produced what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, called a sputnik moment. This technology is frightful, but his call was an example of establishment politicians and military elites who constantly want more funding and have to compete with other services and domestic spending. Hence, they use fearful language that makes it sound like America is in danger to secure it. Unfortunately, more money is not always the answer. It simply means that if the military secures more funding, it will often be wasted or misappropriated.

In short, fearmongering still produces a better U.S. capability and strategy, only more pork for special interests and well-connected individuals, many of whom are stoking the fear, to begin with.

Philippines
A U.S. Navy hovercraft speeds past the USS Wasp, a multipurpose amphibious assault ship, during the amphibious landing exercises as part of the annual joint U.S.–Philippines military exercise on the shores of San Antonio town, facing the South China sea, Zambales Province in the Philippines, on April 11, 2019. (Ted Aljibe/AFP via Getty Images)

Fearmongering can reward bad behavior, keeping Americans from critically assessing the entire situation and considering the context. For example, state politicians have little impact on the military and foreign policy. They have some limited influence over their state’s economic policies, and even the most protectionist politician can’t control trade with China. Yet politicians will lob rhetorical grenades at their opponents and might even be rewarded for their panic-based rhetoric by winning office.

Fearmongering might stop a reasonable policy that can efficiently respond to real concerns over the Chinese military. For example, America already has robust missile defenses that continually upgrade defenses to counter any missile threat. China’s new hypersonic technology should be concerning, but the lessons of history show that missiles have been around for almost 100 years now. The United States has the broad foundation to adjust and adapt without resorting to fearmongering. Policy analysts should know better than to resort to fearmongering to secure even more funding in an already massive defense budget.

In the event of open conflict, there is already a great deal of reason to be confident that America can meet any threat the Chinese regime poses because the emperor has no clothes. The Russian boondoggle in Ukraine suggests the danger of over-relying on tangible factors like the number of missiles, soldiers, and money spent on the military, and underestimating intangible ones like the quality of training, organization, and soldiers’ morale. Studying all of the latter factors suggests that an aggressive and quick seizure of Taiwan could be as much of a mirage as the Russian military.

A more rational and less fearmongering assessment suggests that aggressive diplomacy of China and missiles might even be counterproductive. The regime’s hostility toward Australia pushed it into America’s arms.

Some politicians are indeed weak on China. We’ve had ongoing trade disputes with China for years that unfairly disadvantage American workers. But in some cases, a changing global economy can be a good thing. Some jobs disappear while new and better ones take their place. Moreover, economic interaction can be a disincentive for warfare.

On purely military terms, the Russian example is a caution against overestimating the factors that make China seem powerful and scary. In a different light, each of the regime’s fearful qualities could be weaknesses. It is why I wrote a book years ago titled “Dragon’s Claws With Feet of Clay.” The dragon is a common symbol for China, and its claws are terrifying. But the feet of clay reference Daniel’s vision of great powers in the Bible. And the feet of clay were fragile, as those empires turned out to be.

The solution to fearmongering is a more rational assessment that suggests Americans should be concerned. They should take the potential threat from the Chinese regime seriously, counter economic cheating, call out human rights abuses, and continue to improve weapon systems to counter missiles and Chinese strategy. But we should not overreact, which leads to rash decisions and more wasted money.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Morgan Deane is a former U.S. Marine, a military historian, and a freelance author. He studied military history at Kings College London and Norwich University. Morgan works as a professor of military history at the American Public University. He is a prolific author whose writings include "Decisive Battles in Chinese History," "Dragon’s Claws with Feet of Clay: A Primer on Modern Chinese Strategy," and the forthcoming, "Beyond Sunzi: Classical Chinese Debates on War and Government." His military analysis has been published in Real Clear Defense and Strategy Bridge, among other publications.