US/China relations assessed by National Defense Strategy Commission

The bipartisan panel says the United States has lost its military edge. It expects Beijing to be in a position to muscle Washington out of Asia within just 17 years – by 2035.

“If the United States had to fight Russia in a Baltic contingency or China in a war over Taiwan, Americans could face a decisive military defeat,” a report from the US National Defense Strategy Commission states. It’s a dire warning.

The annual report released yesterday warns China already has the ability to ‘contest’ US forces on land, sea and air within the ‘second island chain’ — a ring bounded by Japan in the north, Guam in the east and Palauto the south.

And that freshly found military capability presents challenges to US assumptions of supremacy in the Indo-Pacific region, it warns.

“As military modernisation progresses and Beijing’s confidence in the People’s Liberation Army increases, the danger will grow that deterrence will fail and China will use force as a regional hegemon,” the report reads.

And while the report doesn’t declare China to be a “peer competitor” — meaning that China isn’t as powerful as the United States in all areas — it warns the ‘first island chain’, which includes the contested South China Sea and its controversial artificial island fortresses, is already all but withinin Beijing’s grasp.

At the heart of the matter is the US military ‘losing its edge’ to fight in heavily militarised zones — regions encompassed by advanced anti-access/area-denial weaponry, such as the Baltic, Black and South China Seas.

“America’s ability to defend its allies, its partners, and its own vital interests is increasingly in doubt. If the nation does not act promptly to remedy these circumstances, the consequences will be grave and lasting.

“Put bluntly, the US military could lose the next state-versus-state war it fights,” the report concludes.

RISING DRAGON

Dramatic technological advances by China in the cyber, space and hypersonic realms also may have given it the edge in key battlefronts.

The US report warns Beijing had invested heavily in upgrading weapons in all theatres. This included underwater drones, new amphibious aircraft, stealth bombers, hypervelocity missiles and cannons — and its artificial island fortresses.

“Had we addressed some of these issues years ago, we wouldn’t be where we are,” Carolyn Bartholomew, the commission’s vice chair said.

Among aspects of concern, the committee found:

  • China’s new Strategic Support Force had the capability to prevent the use of space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic/radio spectrum in the region.
  • Ballistic, cruise and hypersonic missiles had advanced sufficiently to pose a “serious strategic and operational challenges for the US and its allies and partners throughout the Indo-Pacific”.
  • And China’s coast guard had now abandoned its civilian policing status to become a fully-fledged military unit.