The Chinese Communist Party has a singular foreign-policy goal: to dominate the waters of the Indo-Pacific in an effort to eventually conquer Taiwan but also turn the Pacific Ocean into Lake Beijing. And with President Biden’s complete lack of strategy — can he even find Asia on a map these days? — the CCP might just achieve its objectives with ease.
But domination of the world’s most dynamic economic space won’t come cheap or easy, and China knows that.
Since the mid-1990s, Beijing has slowly but steadily tried to build bogus legal claims to the waters around Taiwan, the South and even the East China Seas. It will tell anyone who will listen that these waters are part of its own “blue-water territory” — violating centuries of maritime international law in the process.
Now China is pressing claims that it owns the Taiwan Strait, which at its narrowest point separates China and Taiwan by 80 miles. China is building up massive amounts of military firepower to press its case — specifically, launching a third aircraft carrier just recently, with likely at least two to three more flattops coming in the near future. China’s navy is now the world’s largest, surpassing America’s.
The United States rightly responded this week that the Taiwan Strait is international waters. But will Biden defend that principle?
There was a time a decade ago that America could have stood up to China — and Biden was part of that dumpster fire of an effort. Back when he was vice president, Biden was heavily involved in the so-called “pivot to Asia.” The thinking at the time was that Europe could handle anything Russia could throw at them — I know, don’t laugh — and America needed to contain a rising China that was a bigger threat.
That was a sound strategy, as the Obama administration knew of China’s goals and seemed like it was planning to push back — and it received bipartisan support for the move. Washington at the time seemed ready to move large amounts of military assets to Asia and challenge China head-on.
Sadly it never came to fruition, as the plan blew up in Obama and Biden’s face — literally.
Russia would annex Crimea and launch a proxy war in eastern Ukraine, killing any dreams of a China focus. Instead of committing the resources to tackle the great authoritarian axis of Moscow and Beijing at the same time, Obama-Biden chose only to confront Russia and in the most meager way possible. The Obama administration would then constrain US military budgets thanks to sequestration, greatly damaging our ability to stand toe-to-toe against China.
All music to China’s ears. Sensing weakness, the CCP ramped up military spending dramatically to ensure it could dominate Asia. Beijing has fleets of new stealth fighters, missiles that can sink US warships from 2,000 miles away, advanced drones and is building countless nuclear weapons that can hit the US homeland.
The United States finds itself in a terrible position in Asia. Chinese military assets continue to get more and more advanced and are coming in greater numbers. The CCP’s military might is now the greatest foe America has faced since the dark days of the Soviet Union.
Still time to act
The good news is that all is not lost if action is taken now. US allies want weapons to stand up to Beijing and push back, ensuring China is deterred. Taiwan, for example, should be sold any and all arms it wants, like the F-35 and anti-ship weapons, while allowed to collaborate with US defense contractors on new submarines Taipei needs desperately. China is banking on military superiority, and we must deny it that.
Next, the US Navy should also be bold and sail anywhere international law allows — like right through the Taiwan Strait. While the Navy does already do this, it should be done as often as possible to show we will not allow China to turn water into territory. We let China, for example, sail close to Guam, Hawaii and Alaska with no controversy.
But perhaps most of all, the Biden White House must tell us how it plans to hold back China from dominating Asia over the long term, not give some sort of triage plan. Though if Biden can’t even ensure babies have formula to survive, can we really trust him to take on the next great global superpower?
Harry J. Kazianis is president and CEO of Rogue States Project, a bipartisan national-security think tank, and the author of “The Tao of A2/AD,” a study of Chinese military modernization. Twitter: @Grecianformula