China's rise: A Response

A recent article by Andy Maheshwari published on AT about China's rise ("China and America: Rising Dragon, Bleeding Eagle") was way off the mark. Its author made numerous factual errors which beg correction.

(see author's response here)

Firstly, even if the fertility rate in China is indeed 1.7-1.8 child per woman (the CIA says it's 1.54 child per woman), it's still well below the minimum level needed for population replacement (2.1 child per woman). If China continues with such a rate, its society will eventually age out and its pensions spending will skyrocket - just like in Europe. It takes two to tango. You can't sustain a population without 2.1 children/woman. Ask any demographer and he will confirm this.

Mr Maheshwari also pointed to China's high-speed trains (which almost no one rides) as examples that China is building worthy stuff.

The truth is, as has been proven over and over again, including in China, high-speed trains are useless. They constitute a waste of money and don't significantly reduce travel times. If China, however, wants to waste money on them, it's free to do so.

Maheshwari pointed to the Minneapolis bridge - which collapsed in 2007 - as an example of America's supposedly "crumbling" infrastructure. The truth is that America's transport infrastructure is by far the best in the world, with the longest network of quality highways (maintained in good condition), longest rail network (which carries 40% of freight in the US), and the largest number of airports, including the world's largest hubs. The fact that the US is not yet building useless "high-speed rail lines" doesn't mean its infrastructure is substandard.

One bridge collapse doesn't prove anything. Bridges collapse around the world from time to time.

Then there's Mr Maheshwari's claim that:

Washington DC is rapidly bleeding and bankrupting America in futile wars and imperial hubris around the world. (...) Meanwhile unsustainable military presence in Korea, Japan, and Central and South-East Asia has neither enhanced American security nor curtailed China's massive military build-up.  Quite the opposite, it has been a horrendous burden on American society and economy.

While I do agree that the Afghan and Libyan wars are futile and misguided (like the Iraqi war was) and should be ended, the claim that the US is suffering from "imperial hubris" and that these wars are "bankrupting" America is a blatant lie.

The total cost of the Iraqi war has been $709 bn through August 2010, over 7 years. This is an average of $100 billion per year, out of an annual federal budget of $2.5-3 trillion. The FY2010 GWOT supplemental was $130 billion out of a $3.6 trillion budget (i.e. 3.6%); the FY2011 supplemental amounts to $160 billion out of a $3.7 trillion budget (i.e. 4.32%). Those are tiny shares.

Total US military spending in FY2010 amounted to $664 billion, i.e. 4.54% of GDP, which the CIA estimates at $14.62 trillion. The FY2011 military budget, $673 billion, amounts to 4.6% of GDP (a Carteresque level of military spending) or $2,185 per capita (America's population is 308 million people according to the 2010 Census). Where's the "huge burden on the society and the economy", Mr Maheshwari?

The military is not bankrupting America. Entitlement spending and discretionary domestic spending on boondoggles (including high-speed rail) are. Entitlement spending alone constitutes 63% of all federal spending.

As for the supposedly "unsustainable military presence in Japan and South Korea": there are just 28,500 American troopers in the latter country, plus 35,688 in Japan (mostly, it's the 7th Fleet, the Marines, and Air Force units). Their cost (part of which is reimbursed annually by Japan) is a tiny fraction of the DOD's budget, and the number of American troopers in Japan is slated to shrink further, as 8,000 Marines relocate to Guam and the DOD mulls moving Airmen out of Kadena to make room for Marines from Futenma.

The cost of this presence is a rounding error in the federal budget. Yet, it has produced a clear success: since 1945, no one has attacked Japan, and since 1953, no one has tried to repeat an invasion of South Korea. North Korea makes provocations from time to time, but Washington and Seoul don't let it provoke them, and the DPRK doesn't dare attack is neighbor again, knowing that the US stands by it. American troops in those countries deter potential aggressors - which is why both countries want to retain them, the Futenma controversy notwithstanding.

Both countries, as well as the US, are much safer, as a result.

Again, where's the "huge burden on the society and the economy", Mr Maheshwari?

His most ludicrous claim, however, is that Japan, India, and Russia will join with China to form a security alliance. China views Japan and India as mortal enemies (partly due to Japanese war crimes, partly because of divergent interests); it's even building roads to India to make aggression against that country easier. India, surrounded by China to the north and Pakistan to the west, is building up its military. As for Russia, it, too, has traded barbs and bullets with China in the past.

The chances of a Sino-Japanese or Sino-Indian alliance are zero.

Not everything about America's economic, military, or diplomatic policy is right. Many of their flaws need to be corrected. But to claim that China's infrastructure is superior to America's because of bullet trains, or that the US military is bankrupting America, is downright ludicrous.

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