T Minus Two Years for a War with China
First of all, how do we know that the war with China is definitely on the agenda? We tend to rationalize other countries' behavior because it is hard to accept, in this day and age, that a country would go to war just for the sake of it. Thus, there is a theory that China is just testing the limits of what it can get away with in the South China Sea, the Senkakus, etc., like a two-year-old testing the limits of tolerated behavior, but will stop short of war.
It was the same situation prior to World War II. There were some individuals who saw what was coming and prepared accordingly. A few years ago, I was at a reception in Washington at which the guest of honor was Gen. Edward Rowny, then aged 96. As a teenager, Edward Rowny attended the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He saw that Germany was preparing for war, so he came back to enroll at West Point. At about the same time, a British air force officer inspected a German airfield for fighter aircraft. When he saw that the airfield was set up with refueling points around the apron, to minimize turnaround time between sorties, he realized that the Germans were intending to fight a war, not just enforce a peace. Churchill was both hero and villain in this period in that while he was a lone voice in the House of Commons warning of the coming conflict, he was also the original author in 1919 of the "ten-year rule" under which the U.K. declared that, as it was not expecting a war within the following ten years, it could run down its armed forces. The effects of that policy were still being felt when the war started in 1939. The modern parallel is Obama's shrinking of the defense budget from 2010.
Hitler made it easy in that he laid out what he was going to do in the book he wrote in prison. China has been no less transparent. In an internal Chinese Communist Party propaganda film entitled Silent Contest, the narration states, "The process of China's achieving a national renaissance will definitely involve engagement and fight against the U.S.'s hegemonic system. This is the contest of the century, regardless of people's wishes."
Chinese naval officers can't stand to be in the same room as Japanese naval officers – the hate they have drilled into them overcomes any basic civility they might have. If you want to read the heartbeat of that hate, the Japanese Foreign Ministry provides a monthly update of Chinese incursions into Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands:
Those red vertical bars are the steady drumbeat of the war to come. The fishing vessels involved are paid by the Chinese government to do this. The incursions started with Xi Jinping's ascendancy to chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2012, before he became president in 2013. Until those bars go to zero, war is coming in East Asia.
So that just leaves the question of the timing. To that end, Captain Farnell's May 17 testimony to the House Intelligence Committee is enlightening. Captain Farnell reminds us that President Xi instructed the People's Liberation Army to be ready to invade Taiwan by 2020. That is a scant two years away now but is looking like the date for a couple of reasons. Firstly, China's economic and strategic environment is deteriorating. Manufacturing growth has flatlined. Don't be concerned about headline growth, because a lot of that is borrowing money to build things that don't provide an economic rate of return. When China's borrowing ability is tapped out or the bad debt pile gets too deep, that growth will disappear. China's coal production, the energy equivalent of 50 million barrels per day of oil, is projected to peak in 2020 and then go into long-term decline. As the following graph shows, China's oil production peaked in 2015 and has tipped over into long-term decline at 200,000 barrels per day per annum. This is a 5.5-percent-per-annum decline rate on the current production level.
In 2017, China became the world's largest oil-importer at 8.4 million barrels per day. Not including any growth in consumption, by 2020, that will have risen to 8.8 million barrels per day. China now imports 20% of its protein requirement as soybeans, which are processed through pigs and chickens into animal protein. That is another vulnerability that can only get worse.
The second reason why 2020 will be the year is that President Xi is already 64 years old, so by 2022, he will be 66. The oldest leader of a military campaign is most likely Enrico Dandolo, the 42nd doge of Venice. As a blind 90-year-old, he led the sacking of Constantinople, now Istanbul, in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade. Given that yardstick, Xi could bide his time and still live a long time as ruler of the world. One of the reasons why Hitler started his war in 1939 was that he was turning 50, and it was thought that if he didn't start his war that year, he might miss out on it altogether.
All these considerations will be swirling around in Xi's mind, and thus the fates of millions are decided. Oh, and he wants to establish a dynasty like Mao before him. Mao's son was killed by a U.S. air raid during the Korean War, thus China has so far avoided leadership by inheritance as per the North Korean communist model. But Xi has started talking about the importance of "red genes" in running the country, legitimizing rule by the descendants of the generals of the Long March. This is to set his daughter up to succeed him.
The importance of knowing is that it should be the trigger for acting. After the war with China has started, whether in 2020 or a bit delayed, we are likely to say to ourselves that if we had known that was coming, we would have done things differently over the last two years. One important thing we should be doing right now is to have as little as possible to do with China, neither importing what they make nor letting them into the country. One of the first things the Trump administration did was to ban entry by people from countries that were sources of Muslim terrorists. China is setting out to kill a lot more Americans than the Muslims ever will. Proceed accordingly.
David Archibald is the author of American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare.