China emerges as “peer competitor” —in race for global oil

In our last post on China, we noted that it is now the key nation falling under the rubric of the 1992 Pentagon “Defense Planning Guide” drawn up by Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby which said the US must “discourage advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” In our last post on the global struggle for control of oil, we noted that the national company PetroChina is rapidly gaining on Exxon as the world’s largest oil company. Now, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, after meeting in Beijing with his counterpart, Gen. Cao Gangchuan, tells a news conference he had raised “the uncertainty over China’s military modernization and the need for greater transparency to allay international concerns.” In its coverage of the meeting, the New York Times Nov. 6 said “Pentagon officials describe China as a ‘peer competitor‘…” An analysis on the visit in the previous day’s edition quoted Michael J. Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies saying, “If you are sitting in the Pentagon, China is a potential peer competitor.”

This terminology was noted as long ago as November 1997 by Michael T. Klare in the monthly English edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, where in a piece entitled “A new military strategy for Washington?” he cited a document from the US Air Force Institute for National Security Studies:

The report notes that, while the risk of a worldwide conflict has largely disappeared, “the United States cannot entirely discount military challenges from a major power”. Such a power may not prove capable of challenging the United States on a global basis, “but they may have sufficient power to be a peer with the US in the theater of operations near them”.

To accentuate the break with past thinking, the INSS report goes to great lengths to distinguish such a challenger from the existing threat posed by the rogue states. Thus, it is claimed that a peer competitor would possess functioning nuclear weapons, be capable of lifting military satellites into space and maintain very large military establishments. For these reasons, “the potential regional peers are far more challenging threats than are the rogue regimes.” Obviously, only two countries—Russia and China—currently satisfy these conditions.

Klare points to the underlying struggle for control of the world’s hydrocarbon resources:

The United States relies on imported supplies of vital raw materials, especially oil. It now obtains more than half of its oil supplies from foreign sources, and its strategically important dependence will grow in the years ahead as domestic sources are gradually depleted. This has generated renewed concern over the security of existing supply areas (especially the Persian Gulf), and provoked strong interest in such emerging oil and gas-producing areas as the Caspian and South China Sea. All this has generated fresh concerns over Russia (which views the Caspian as part of its historical sphere of influence) and China (which claims much of the South China Sea as its “national offshore territory”).

This has led to a growing number of American strategists to question the validity of the anti-rogue doctrine and to begin constructing a new strategy aimed at preparing US forces for a future clash with Russia or China. Proponents of this new approach acknowledge that neither of these countries represent a serious threat to American security today. But they argue that either or both of them could emerge as major “peer competitors” in ten or twenty years’ time.

Pretty darn prescient, given that these words were published exactly ten years ago. Klare presented other telling words from the proverbial horse’s mouth:

China is said to be utilising its growing economic strength to lay the groundwork for a world-class military establishment. Typical of this outlook is the 6 February 1997 statement by General Patrick M. Hughes, director of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), before the Senate Armed Services Committee. In a departure from past American practice, Hughes chose to focus on China first. “Overall”, he noted, “China is one of the few powers with the potential—political, economic and military—to emerge as a large-scale regional threat to US interests within the next 10-20 years“. Should China become more assertive in pursuing its regional interests, “the prospects for direct confrontation with other regional powers will increase accordingly”. In a worst-case scenario,” China could view the United States as a direct military threat”.

In this light, it hardly even requires reading between the lines to view the Iraq adventure as a gambit to secure the planet’s most strategic oil reserves before China could, either through military encirclement or deals with Saddam.

But of course everybody just wants to blame the Jews.

See our last post on the politics of the GWOT.

  1. Gates to Japan: yes, re-militarize
    So right after lecturing the Chinese about their fast-growing military might, Gates lectures the Japanese for failing to militarize fast enough. From the New York Times, Nov. 9:

    Gates Urges More Japanese Action on Global Security
    TOKYO — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told pacifist Japan on Friday that it had an obligation to take on an expanded role in global security affairs appropriate to its political, economic and military capabilities.

    In a final public appearance of a week of travels across East Asia, Mr. Gates told students and faculty members of Tokyo’s Sophia University that Americans “hope and expect Japan will choose to accept more global security responsibilities in the years ahead.”

    Mr. Gates recalled that before the first Persian Gulf war in 1991, Japan, which is far more dependent on Middle East oil than is the United States, contributed financial support but no military forces. He also said that Japan was criticized for what was then dismissively called “checkbook diplomacy.”

    Mr. Gates said that today, “Japan has the opportunity and an obligation to take on a role that reflects its political, economic and military capacity.

    He applauded the aid Japan provided to stabilization efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, noting that Japan was one of the largest contributors of money for reconstruction efforts in those countries. Japan has also provided assistance in limited military support roles.

    Mr. Gates arrived here on Thursday as the Parliament debated whether to revive a largely symbolic Japanese Navy refueling mission in the Indian Ocean that for six years had supported foreign military operations in Afghanistan…

    Mr. Gates thanked his Japanese hosts for the refueling mission, and emphasized that it had helped not just the United States but also the international coalition involved in the effort to stabilize Afghanistan. The new prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, supports efforts to renew the refueling mission.

    At a news conference on Thursday night, Mr. Gates suggested that Japan could take on more peacekeeping, reconstruction and humanitarian missions without violating limits on offensive military actions in the Constitution imposed by United States occupation forces after World War II. In recent years, Japan has been debating whether to revise those limits.

    In his speech on Friday morning, Mr. Gates made clear that such decisions were an internal matter for Japan.

    Such obvious perfunctory lip service that the Times doesn’t even see fit to quote it.

    He also said that terrorism and violent extremism “are a threat to the very fabric of international society, and Asia is not immune.” He recalled that the United States and Japan had suffered from terrorism, citing the attacks on New York and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and the sarin gas attack on the mass transit system here in 1995.

    It is a long distance from New York’s World Trade Center to a Tokyo subway station, but the threat posed by radical groups with violent ideologies is the same,” he said. “The terrorists have learned to exploit the strengths of modern societies, our technology and infrastructure and — in the case of democracies — our freedoms and openness as well.”

    While urging Japan to take on greater responsibilities, Mr. Gates reaffirmed American commitments to regional allies. He sought to quiet concerns of Asian allies that the war in Iraq had distracted the United States from its other security responsibilities…

    Japan and the United States cooperate closely on missile defense, with Japanese support driven largely by concerns about being well within range of North Korean ballistic missiles.

    See our last post on Japan’s remilitarization.