San Diego may not be the most obvious place for a US president to meet two of his staunchest allies: Rishi Sunak and his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese. But there is a very particular reason behind the choice of him.
Because the Californian city on the Pacific coast is home to a naval base called Point Loma, the home port of the US Navy’s Submarine Squadron 11, which is made up of four Los Angeles-class hunter-killer submarines. There is even talk of a photo opportunity with the three men boarding one of the subs and walking around on the deck.
The symbolism of the meeting will not go unnoticed by the Chinese because the submarine deal the leaders are expected to finalize is designed to bolster the West’s military presence in the eastern Pacific at a time when Beijing’s saber rattling over Taiwan is getting stronger. day.
In fact, tensions between China and the US are at their most tense in decades, a mutual suspicion epitomized by the US decision last month to shoot down a Chinese spy balloon traveling through its airspace. . China has denied the balloon was used for espionage, but the Pentagon suspects it was the latest in a series of high-altitude Chinese missions to inspect US defenses.
The rhetoric becomes more and more incendiary. Last week, Chairman Xi Jinping, a man who has amassed personal power on a scale not seen in China since the days of Chairman Mao, delivered a bellicose speech at the country’s annual legislative meeting.
Warning of growing challenges ahead, he urged private companies to “fight” alongside the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). ‘Only when all people think of one place, do they work hard in one place. . . we can continue to win new battles,’ he declared. The incendiary tone was matched at the meeting by outgoing Premier Li Keqiang, who stressed the need to “strengthen training in preparation for war.”
These are not empty words.
In a stunning development, China has just announced that it will increase its defense spending by 7.2 per cent, bringing its annual budget to a whopping £185bn. This would raise spending on its military to around 5 percent of its gross domestic product, from just 1.7 percent, though this is almost certainly an underestimate since, given the opaque nature of the CCP, it is some military research projects will be billed. to government departments other than defense.
In essence, the Chinese economy is going on a war footing. As a Chinese National Congress spokesperson said: “The increase in the defense budget is necessary not only to deal with complex security challenges, but also to fulfill the responsibilities of a great power.” Within the next four years, China aims to achieve military parity with the US, and to that end it is developing new nuclear weapons, hypersonic missiles, and anti-satellite lasers. Beijing’s new ‘Sharp Sword’ combat drones are another deadly addition, with a range of 2,500 miles and the ability to carry two tons of precision-guided missiles.
Its navy is also undergoing ruthless expansion, supported by the creation of a network of new port facilities in the Indian Ocean, as well as a base in Djibouti in East Africa, strategically located at the access to the Suez Canal.
Rishi Sunak met with his Australian counterpart in the US city of San Diego
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met Rishi Sunak earlier this week.
While China has been building a formidable arsenal, the US, Britain and our NATO allies have allowed their arsenal of weapons to dwindle, in part due to a misunderstanding of global politics.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, there was a sense in the West that a permanent new era of stability had begun.
Bolstered by talk of a ‘peace dividend’, this comforting narrative was heralded by the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama as ‘the end of history’.
However, the story of modern China and its territorial ambitions was just beginning.
The existence of an independent Taiwan has been a raw sore for the CCP longer than Ukraine has been for the Kremlin. The repatriation of the island to China is Beijing’s main foreign policy goal, but it puts it on a collision course with the United States which, despite decades of “strategic ambiguity,” will defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion.
China has vigorously rearmed in preparation, and our only effective response in the West is to do the same and adopt a vigilance perspective.
Rishi Sunak’s government is starting through today’s submarine deal with the US and Australia and last week’s announcement of an additional £5bn for defence, but we and our NATO partners will have to go much further if China is to be deterred.
Some commentators try to tell us sweetly that fears of aggression from China are overblown, given that its economy is slowing. But this is an illusion.
For starters, China’s growth has only slowed from a dazzling pre-Covid rate of 9 percent to 5 percent now, a figure beyond the dreams of most Western nations.
In addition, President Xi’s huge boost to defense spending will fire the cylinders of the Chinese economy in general, particularly as much of the military production is carried out at home rather than outsourced abroad.
Xi believes he learned from Putin’s experience in Ukraine, where Russia’s reliance on foreign technology made the regime vulnerable to Western sanctions and supply shortages.
Last week, Chairman Xi Jinping, a man who has amassed personal power on a scale not seen in China since the days of Chairman Mao, delivered a bellicose speech at the country’s annual legislative meeting.
Other commentators believe that the failed nature of Putin’s invasion, for which Russia has paid a savage price in blood and money, will make China hesitate before going to war.
But the opposite may be true. Looking at the Ukraine quagmire, President Xi might think that Putin hesitated too long before launching his assault and thus allowed Britain and the US to rush in with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.
China’s leader might also feel he can use Ukraine to test the West’s resolve. He could supply Russia with weapons and pledge to back Putin in the event of a NATO attack on Russian soil.
Such a posture has other advantages. It would put Russia in debt to Beijing, a debt they will happily see repaid with cheap Russian energy and minerals, while bolstering China’s position as a global superpower and further depleting Western military supplies.
His designs on Taiwan go beyond the sentimental and patriotic: There is also a strong economic imperative for China to crush its independence.
Taiwan is a global pioneer in computing, a center of high-tech industries and, as Andrew Neil pointed out in his column on Saturday, makes 90 percent of the world’s advanced microchips. China’s deepening attachment to economic imperialism, reflected in its control of large sectors of African mining, industry, commerce and agriculture, also makes Taiwan an attractive target.
Other commentators believe that the failed nature of Putin’s invasion, for which Russia paid a savage price in blood and money, will make China hesitate before going to war.
US military intelligence believes that the threat of Chinese intervention in Taiwan will become critical “within the next six years,” a claim underscored by Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe’s bombastic statement last summer: ” China will definitely achieve its reunification.” If anyone tries to get in the way, we won’t hesitate to fight. We will fight at all costs.
That was not an idle warning. China may think the ideal time for an attack on Taiwan is fast approaching, as the West has been weakened by the impact of its logistical and military support for Ukraine.
Fragile, inarticulate and 80-year-old US President Joe Biden, meanwhile, is not the most inspiring candidate when it comes to galvanizing an allied coalition to fight for freedom. In any assault on the island nation, naval power will be crucial, which is why Beijing has placed so much emphasis on expanding its maritime forces.
Its navy will need to escort troop transports across 100 miles of sea, which means disabling any missile systems and coastal batteries, as well as the Taiwanese air force, so the landings can be made safely. To prevent the allies from sending equipment and reinforcements to Taiwan, China might well mount a blockade of the island ahead of an invasion.
While any fight for Taiwan would be daunting, the US, Britain and the other allies cannot give up the fight. That would make China the dominant force in the world, an outcome that would be calamitous for our freedoms and prosperity.
We have to be prepared, and that means putting more money into our national defense budgets, rebuilding our military after years of neglect, and standing up to our global duties.
A new and more dangerous Cold War is underway. It could easily heat up in East Asia and the flames will soon spread to the West. If Xi Jinping gambles to take over Taiwan, Putin’s war in Ukraine will seem like a sideshow.
Mark Almond is director of the Oxford Crisis Research Institute.