3 reasons why China is not a threat

Jun 3, 2023
Red pawn figure surrounded by white pawns. Selective focus.

The recent ‘Red Alert’ series, along with statements by some U.S, and Australian military leaders would have us believe that Chinese military forces could soon in waves be running up Bondi Beach invading our erstwhile peaceful land. Strange then, given this immediacy of threat, our military preparations are increasingly linked to AUKUS, its central plank being Australia’s acquisition of nuclear powered submarines some 20 or more years hence. In an atmosphere of hyped up Sino-phobia I hope to allay fears by recourse to history, logic and military realities.

Here follow the reasons China does not threaten Australia.

Let’s commence with history.

China as a civilisation some 5,000 years old has expanded and contracted in a period before the rigidity of modern fixed borders, but never invaded territory not contiguous to its own homeland, a sharp contrast to Western nations.

This in-spite China having a past military dominance dwarfing any it currently possesses. A clear example comes from the early fifteenth century when the Yongle Emperor sent Chinese ships on seven great journeys to places as far distant as the Middle East and Africa. These ships, some over 120 metres long and 50 metres wide, were around 5 times the size of the Portuguese ships, which a century later would commence the Western colonial enterprise.

Chinese thinking is framed by Confucian concepts, stability ordered under heaven, ‘Tianxia.’ 20th century Chinese history witnessed anything but, with the fall of the Qing Dynasty, land lord violence and Civil War, ‘The Great Leap Forward’ and ‘Cultural Revolution.’ This chaos is now well past, with China rising from a backward economy to be, on some counts, the largest in the world. With massive infrastructure developments, and 800 million of its citizens lifted out of poverty, why would China risk success and stability in the chaos of war?

Turning to logic.

China is the world’s greatest trading nation given it lacks many of the resources, particularly oil and iron ore (the latter much to Australia’s benefit), needed to sustain its rapid economic growth. Trade enjoys stability, not conflict. Why then would China pursue war, so inimical to its own interests?

Much is made of the threat presented by Chinese militarisation of the South China Sea. With such a preponderance of trade passing through the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea, China, so dependent on trade, is incredibly vulnerable, as these could be quickly and easily blocked. China is building on atolls in the South China Sea not to threaten access, but to make sure shipping lanes remain open.

We are told that Australia has need of these aforementioned submarines, of which probably only two ever will be at sea at any one time, ostensively to protect our shipping lanes from Chinese threat. Australia has a coastline of some 34,000 kilometres. How two submarines can secure such a coastline with the many thousands of ship movements to and from Australian ports (over 6,000 ships making 30,000 port calls annually), we are never told. A huge percentage of this trade is between Australia and China, benefitting both countries. Again, why would China threaten this trade?

Turning to military matters. Much is made of the ‘aggressive and threatening’ Chinese military build-up. True, the Chinese military is growing in potency. Yet, consistently it, as percentage of Chinese GDP represents some 1.7% of expenditure, its rapid growth due to the Chinese economy expanding so spectacularly. In comparison the US military budget, as a part of that nation’s GDP, is 3.5%. By spending some $877 billion this year on ‘defence’ the U.S. is outlaying more than the next nine countries including China ($292 billion), combined. Such places Chinese military growth in perspective.

China’s military power is constrained by its being surrounded by an arc of US military bases stretched around it from South Korea and Japan, through the Philippines and down to Australia. The capacity of China’s navy to present a threat outside its own coastal waters is thus severely limited.

Chinese external military presence is limited to one military base in Djibouti (mainly concerned with protecting shipping from piracy). Its overseas presence hardly ranks with the global US 800 extraterritorial military bases.

The Chinese military response has been to develop an asymmetrical military strategy oriented defensively. Thus China has developed sophisticated land-based missile systems with the capacity to take out an assailant’s ships. Any aggressive intent is very limited in face of the power of the U.S. and its allies.

China’s military goal is to exert influence within its geographical neighbourhood. Unlike Australia, with the luxury of its own land mass, and the U.S. dwelling with just two friendly nations on its borders, China shares borders with 14 nations. With two of those nations, each possessing significant military capacity, Russia and India, China has historically had hostile relations. On its western frontier it is also dealing with the effects of Islamic fundamentalism. China’s military concern is limited to stability in its own region.

Clearly, the most threatening military weaponry is nuclear. Of the five nations making up the U.N. Security Council only China has renounced the first use of such. China would be foolish to even contemplate a first strike using nuclear weapons. It has around 290 nuclear missiles compared to over 6,000 held by the United States.

Given the above, clearly any military threat China presents to Australia has been irresponsibly and massively hyped. One wonders (or more likely suspects) whose interests are served by it.

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