What the Hell is China doing?
One would think that with American diplomacy in absolute shambles under the Trump administration, both because of continuous outrageously stupid remarks and because of the dismantling of the State Department, that the Chinese would step up and gain enormous international influence on their way to world primacy. At this point I no longer think China will take over the American role any time soon, which I’ve written about in another post, but that’s for more reasons that diplomacy. What surprises me is that Chinese diplomacy at the moment is considerably more inept than American diplomacy. Aside from the unbelievable waste of an opportunity under the circumstances (for which I’m grateful), I can’t believe the absolute stupidity of what I’m seeing. China is antagonizing everyone in sight.
They’re having border skirmishes with India, who is bringing in new Rafale jet fighters from France and is cutting trade relationships. They have territorial claims against Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and, believe it or not, Russia – they claim Vladivostok is on Chinese land. Keep in mind that Russia is their major source for military hardware. More on this later. They’ve dammed the Mekong River, reducing critical water supplies to a lot of Southeast Asia. They’re interfering with human rights in Hong Kong, which is going over really well with the British. They’re intensifying their rhetoric on Taiwan. And their claims on the South China Sea, which have been utterly rejected under international law, has antagonized a whole lot of countries including the United States and Japan, which is now in the act of remilitarizing and developing new military hardware. They’re quite good at both.
Hell, the Chinese are now having a dispute with Ecuador. Their fishing boats are overfishing in the area of the Galápagos Islands.
Are they in such a good military position from having stolen American military secrets that they can afford this? No. Not by a long shot. They have hypersonic missiles that could take out an aircraft carrier, which is the biggest conventional military danger the Chinese pose to the US, but carriers move and they don’t have a way to guide the missiles when they get close to target. In military parlance, the ability to provide information to the missile as it approaches target is called the “kill chain.”
In the air, they have some decent Russian fighters but most of what they have is Chinese built, and they have been unsuccessful at reverse engineering Russian jet engines to the point where Chinese jet engines are any good. Their ostensibly stealth fighters have been spotted on radar by India’s Air Force with no problem at all. Their carriers are small because they can’t build a small enough nuclear reactor that can generate enough power to drive a large carrier, and the Chinese-built carrier-based fighters have crappy engines that have neither the necessary performance nor the necessary range. The Chinese carrier-based fighter has been referred to as a “flopping fish” in Chinese military journals. Their navy is tiny compared to the US Navy.
What would they be going against? Mostly American fighter aircraft, except in India, where it would be a mix of Russian fighters and more recently the French Rafale, one of the best non-stealth fighters in the world carrying the best air-to-air missile in the world. Some of what they’d go against would be American stealth fighters coming from American bases, Japan’s inventory, and American carriers. The US has stealth fighters based on carriers and another model of stealth fighter that can be based on smaller amphibious Marine ships.
Why is stealth important? Most aerial combat isn’t going to be traditional dogfights, it will be one jet firing a missile at another at long range. It therefore matters a lot which jet sees which jet first. American stealth jets will see Chinese jets first. American jets are also really good at sharing battlefield data such that a missile aimed at a Chinese jet doesn’t even have to come from the closest American jet.
What about ground-based antiaircraft missiles? This is actually why I started learning about fighters. I was concerned that new developments in Russian antiaircraft missiles, currently the best in the world, would mean they’d be deployed in Syria and end Israeli air superiority. Both Russian and Chinese antiaircraft batteries are deployed in Syria. They claim to be able to spot stealth aircraft from certain angles. However, it turns out that spotting a fighter is way easier than tracking one. Also, the radar best able to spot them is the least detailed and thereby worst able to track them. Israel has American stealth aircraft and so far Israel has been successful at taking out antiaircraft without getting hit, particularly Chinese antiaircraft batteries, which are easier.
That’s probably as much detail as I need to go into. The overall point is that China is nowhere near ready to take on the powers it is antagonizing.
And China has further problems, economic problems. The combined factors of China’s belligerence and how they mishandled COVID-19 to the point where it spread widely outside their borders has a lot of trading partners reevaluating a lot. The US found that during the earlier stages of COVID that China was largely an unreliable supplier – remember the mask shortage? – so expect some manufacturing to come home. Japan is in the act of pulling all their manufacturing out of China. India is obviously cracking down on Chinese trade.
The only way I can make sense of this is that the whole thing is for internal consumption, like maybe the Communist Party trying to pacify the military. From an international standpoint, they’re basically shooting themselves in both feet. It isn’t prudent, it isn’t playing the long game, it isn’t anything that we normally expect from China.
What this will mean is that when (God willing) Biden is elected President, he’ll step into a world leadership vacuum. And he’ll be able to occupy it almost instantly because most of the world will view the Trump era as an aberration and Biden as a return to American normality. As Biden pointed out in an interview before he was running for President, he knows most world leaders personally. I wouldn’t have expected him to have it that easy as you’d think the Chinese would have made an American return to world leadership difficult. Instead, they’re making it a cakewalk.
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