mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Question/Answer Session
A “Kind Reminder” from a Chinese Friend

Secretary Ashton Carter went to Asia intent on sending a message about America’s commitment to the “pivot to Asia,” but may not have gotten through to the Chinese. Case in point: the edgy tone of the top Chinese military officials writing in the Party mouthpiece The Global Times this week.

PLA Major General Luo Yuan said that he had a few questions he would like to pose to Secretary Carter:

1. Since war is the continuation of politics, has the South China Sea political game come to the point where the U.S. and China must now have a hard clash with each other? Since the U.S. suffers no fundamental damage to its core interests in the South China Sea, why does the U.S. want to sacrifice her own soldiers for another country?

2. If indeed there is a fight, is the U.S. absolutely sure that it will win?

3. Even if the U.S. wins an accidental fight, is it prepared for the escalation and a long-term war, if China does not want to accept the loss?

4. The battle between China and the U.S. will mean the world order needs to be rebalanced. Is the U.S. ready for that?

5. Is it beneficial to the U.S.’ national interest to change the Sino-U.S. relationship from cooperation to confrontation?

6. The economic interests of China and the U.S. have been tightly woven together. To hurt China is to hurt the U.S. Also, China has more economic cards than the U.S.

7. If there is a conflict between China and the U.S., the Chinese people will have a strong anti-U.S. sentiment.

8. Japan expanded its islands in the East Sea and some other countries changed the islands in the South China Sea. Why didn’t the U.S. ask them to stop?

9. The Asia-Pacific region is the world’s economic growth engine. If there is turmoil, is it a good thing for the world and for the U.S.?

10. On the U.S. strategic balance, which one is heavier – China or some small countries that only care about their own interests and fight for nonsense?

In case anyone flies off the handle and misreads these words as aggressive, Maj. Gen. Luo sets the record straight:

“The above [questions] are not threats, but kind reminders. They are the logical consequences of Carter’s hard words. The U.S. is a practical country. We hope it will think twice before taking any action.”

To be fair, many of these questions are perfectly legitimate, and their answers are important to think about. But more interesting than the questions themselves is what the choice of questions and their phrasing tells us about the assumptions China, and especially China’s military, is laboring under.

The whole thing reads like it was written by somebody who really thinks he has the U.S.’s number. That’s dangerous. The American political system makes the mechanism for going to war a politically complicated thing, and no one person ultimately knows just how resolute the U.S. as a whole is in opposing China’s regional aggression. Given the right set of circumstances, America could easily escalate things to a level that the current Chinese regime simply couldn’t survive, even while taking a painful but ultimately recoverable hit itself.

History shows that threatening the freedom of navigation in important sea lanes (like the South China Sea, through which an estimated third of all global sea trade passes) is one of those things that can make America become very bellicose very quickly. Let’s hope the Chinese aren’t being blithe about assuming that U.S. policy is dominated by capitalist realists whose sober conception of the immediate national interest would never lead them to actually get involved in a war.

Features Icon
show comments
  • qet

    Someone should remind the General of China’s core interests. China has grown into economic superpower status, its wealthy have grown wealthy, its peasants into an urban middle class (not all of them, true) because of the global commercial order maintained by the US and especially its military. Obama should say to China: You didn’t build that. (he says it to us often enough). It is hardly out of altruism that the US has behaved in this way, but that just proves that pursuit of self-interest can produce common good (where have we heard that before?).

    When China or Russia rattle their sabres, their neighbors seek assurances from the US. Such is the burden, and the glory, of being the hegemon. Think US hegemony is bad or unjust or oppressive or racist or. . . . .? Just try Chinese or Russian hegemony.

    The Left really ought to remember the General’s words the next time it accuses the US of warmongering.

  • Nevis07

    If I might respond for Mr. Carter…

    1) International laws and norms ARE America’s CORE interest – we spent too much time, blood and treasure to ensure this to look away – China is the greatest beneficiary of these policies, by the way. The question is not whether the US views this as a matter of political games, which could lead to war, but whether China believes it would. Also, US soldiers have died for many many other foreign people’s rights over the decades, why would you think it any different now?

    2) Both sides would suffer, no doubt about that, but yes the US absolutely would win.

    3) This means that you fear our answer to number #2, but yes, if an escalated war is what China wants, that is what it may well get.

    4) If the world needs a re-balance as a result of war between the US and China, then yes of course it is fine. After all, once the US wins the war, the re-balance will be very much in our favor. China should have thought about this before they started land reclamation for military purposes.

    5) We and the rest of the world are asking China the very same question. Here’s the thing, everyone can see that China is the country that is causing friction, not the other way around.

    6) China hold a lot of US debt, which can be negated by a war with China with moderate consequence, but China is HIGHLY dependent on US trade and the trade that America has guaranteed by guarding and guaranteeing the free navigation of the seas. Play this card at your own risk.

    7) Your point is…? Of course, their sentiment of the US is driven largely by state sponsored or controlled media, so really this is a threat by China’s government to direct anger outwards at the US to direct the Chinese public for the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) own failings. American’s don’t care about the CCP’s opinion of Americans.

    8) At the time, there were no serious objections. Additionally, there was the belief that a peaceful negotiation would be used to resolve the issue, ultimately. We have a saying, two wrongs don’t make a right. But China seems to believe that ‘might is right’. If you believe that you do have legal sovereignty over the island then allow a UN body to review the legal ownership or negotiate in MULTILATERAL forums. Bilateral negotiations do not work where there are overlapping claims among multiple claimants.

    9) No it is not. Then again, it is not in China’s interest either. Also, seeing as the US runs a very large trade deficit with China – any halt in trade with China would eventually mean that the negating of a net negative exports is no longer a drag on the US GDP – in case you don’t know how GDP is calculated. Rather the US would simply not gain from a high growth market – something that won’t matter if we have to blockade China.

    10) Which is more important to China? The US or a handful of countries that not only agree with the US but are begging for our security commitment? If you think about it, you’ve actually answered your own question.

  • Dan Greene

    I think this guy, Luo Yuan, is actually a retired major general. He seems to have a pattern of this kind of almost comically inflammatory behavior–like a Chinese version of Doctor Strangelove. This is from an incident two years ago:

    “On February 20 [2013], Asahi Shimbun, a major Japanese newspaper, published an article headlined: “What Asahi-readers should know: The Truths of China. PLA Major General says ‘Will Bomb Tokyo’.” The subhead read: “If military conflict erupts, we will take the 130 thousand Japanese citizens in China as hostages.”

    Feng Wei, a Japan specialist at Fudan University, posted a photo of the original Asahi article along with a Chinese translation on his own Weibo account. Feng also wrote, “Some people do not understand why I repeatedly criticize Luo Yuan and Zhang Zhaozhong [another PLA major general]. Japan’s propaganda has partially answered this question. Try asking yourselves: what reactions would this type of opinion incite in the Japanese and international community?” Feng later added, “China is large—nothing is too bizarre. It’s not inconceivable that lunatics like Luo Yuan and Dai Xu [a PLA Air Force Colonel known for his militarism] would appear. But even the most extremist, rightist, anti-China military personnel in Japan would not make crazy statements like ‘Bomb Beijing’ that would astonish the entire world.”

    • Josephbleau

      The answer to your implication is simple, if he is a loonie he will be dissapeared by Xi, if he is repeating what Xi wants to be repeated, he will live. Obama covets Xi’s ability to get things done.

      • Dan Greene

        Sorry, I don’t agree that it is that simple, though you might be right that he has his uses.

  • Anthony

    “…America could easily escalate things to a level that the current Chinese regime simply couldn’t survive, even while taking a painful but ultimately recoverable hit itself.” Are war game simulations now in play?

    Lately at TAI, no issue gets (with possible exception Ukraine/Russia) as much attention as the U.S./China relationship and what it means for regional security (East/Southeast Asia). For those interested, Michael D. Swaine has a report titled “Beyond American Predominance in the Western Pacific: the Need for a Stable U.S.-China Balance of Power. He attempts an evenhanded assessment of U.S. and PRC perspectives vis-a-vis order and prosperity in Asia. That is, he offers a view more comprehensive than whether the era of U.S. primacy ( regional guarantor of security) is threatened and how does China fit in.

  • George Silversurfer

    The only freedom being threatened here is American freedom to block China trade line via strait of Malacca.

    • Tom

      Except for the part where, even if China does decide to take everything within the nine-dash line, the United States, with the aid of Australia, Indonesia, and Malaysia, could close down that strait without blinking.

      • George Silversurfer

        Australia is related by blood to US.. The blocking of the strait will be harmfully to Malaysia and Indonesia (and the rest of East and Southeast Asia) But one does not underestimate American military persuasion to convince others to act against their interest in ecchange of continued existence. And then it goes back to what this south China seas stand was about… Freedom of navigation.

        • Tom

          Ummm…everyone? Given that the US record on messing around with people’s commerce by blockade boils down to an own goal during the ACW.

          • Ryan Faith

            There was that entire WW II blockade of Japan, which seemed to be rather effective.

  • iconoclast

    1. Yes. Freedom of navigation is a core US interest. Limiting a seemingly endless Chinese imperialism also
    2. Yes
    3. Yes
    4. Orders are always rebalanced sooner or later. Is a fragile political system like China ready for that?
    5. It is happening anyway. Appeasing expansionists never works
    6. True. But which system is more resilient to inevitable shocks? Statist systems always fail to adapt.
    7. Who gives a flying f…..? Maybe you should worry about anti-Chinese sentiment instead
    8. They were already Japanese. Racism blinds you to the facts.
    9. So why push for war that you will lose?
    10. China only cares about China. China is not and never will be a US ally. The others are.

  • Pete

    I’d like to respond to this China-man’s questions:

    1. Excellent question. Answer: The U.S. should not sacrifice any significant amount of blood and treasure for other countries.

    2. With the right people in charge of the U.S. government, America would whip China in a cake walk.

    3. Given answer in question #2, China would not be left in any condition to cause future problems. Think of post WWII Japan and Germany.

    4. The NWO needs re-balancing.

    5. Is it beneficial to the U.S.’ national interest to change the Sino-U.S. relationship from cooperation to confrontation? That depends on China’s behavior.

    6. To say that China has more economic cards than the hogwash.

    7. Who cares?

    8. These countries are not involved in imperial expansion.

    9. Probably not. -Pacific region is the world’s economic growth engine. If there is turmoil, is it a good thing for the world and for the U.S.?

    10. Who knows?

  • Blackbeard

    China sees an America in decline and in retreat and, from their perspective, they are quite right to take advantage. Will this change when Hillary is president? I doubt it, defeatism and shame at America’s history is a core element of the Democratic Party’s current ideology and Hillary is most definitely not one to rile her base.

  • Dan Greene

    >>”History shows that threatening the freedom of navigation in important sea lanes (like the South China Sea, through which an estimated third of all global sea trade passes) is one of those things that can make America become very bellicose very quickly.”

    Yes, but how is that relevant? What China is doing may be problematic in a number of ways, but it doesn’t threaten freedom of navigation. They are basically doing what the Vietnamese, Filipinos and Malaysians have been doing previously albeit on a much larger scale. Their historical claim to the Spratlys is at least as good as the other claimants. So obsessing over the ranting of some old codger like “Major General” Luo ain’t gonna get the job done, when it comes to the question of how we deal with China’s challenge in the SCS.

  • George Silversurfer

    Listen up trolls.. Let sum up what is the two biggest threat to American interests this moment .. EU-RUSSIA and China – rest of Asia integration.. Not even the formidable American soft power, disguised as free press and entertaining, can convince the rest of the world how not having a voice (a real voice, not memos dispatched by Washington) is actually good for them, as happened recently with the AIIB fiasco.

  • KenPrescott

    “2. If indeed there is a fight, is the U.S. absolutely sure that it will win?”

    America will experience a brief shortage of worthless crap on the shelves of WalMart until someone else starts manufacturing same. China will experience an absolute cessation of international trade, the utter collapse of its finance system, food riots, warlords, and bandits.

    Your call, sweetcheeks.

  • Jivin2001

    Let me make something clear; you (China) are NOT our friend. And for YOU’RE best interest, you don’t want to tread that road.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service