In some alarming remarks, U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye was reported as saying in a recent speech that "the U.S. should get ready for continued struggle with China." As relayed by Star-Advertiser columnist Richard Borreca, the context makes clear Sen. Inouye did not just mean political struggle but military struggle, for he said he has concluded over his many years of service "that war is nearly unavoidable" ("Inouye warns against U.S. letting down its guard in Asia," On Politics, June 3).
In the post-World War II era, America has fought two major wars in East Asia. They were "unavoidable" in the sense that the U.S. was determined to establish strategic footholds as close to Communist China as possible. That’s what the Korean War and the Vietnam War were about. In Korea, Chinese troops prevented us from conquering North Korea; in Vietnam the guerrillas threw us out after eight years of American aggression.
The purported U.S. aim was to "contain" China’s alleged course of military expansion. Though we failed in those ventures, we have continued to maintain scores of U.S. military bases in South Korea and Japan, gained the military cooperation of half a dozen more nations in Asia, and used the U.S. 7th Fleet to control the entire Pacific Ocean right up to China’s territorial waters. If we were to fight yet another war in East Asia, it would be due to the continued U.S. ambitions to militarily encircle China, to "struggle with China" on its periphery.
As part of this "containment," one of the functions of the 7th Fleet, from 1950 to 1972, was to prevent China from regaining control of Taiwan. This island has been part of China since 1663 except for a 50-year interlude when Japan annexed it. The Chinese civil war led to Taiwan being controlled by the defeated Nationalists. Since then, Taiwan has been kept out of the hands of mainland China.
Beijing continues to define Taiwan as part of China. Washington has come around to accepting this, which logically entails acknowledgment of China’s right to use force to prevent Taiwan from proclaiming independence. Yet Washington perennially demands that Beijing give up the right to use force against Taiwan. Beijing refuses. In response, Washington continues to sell billions of dollars of weaponry to Taiwan, and has made deliberately ambiguous threats to defend Taiwan against any possible mainland invasion.
Though China for the past 60 years has been unable to counteract potential U.S. protection of Taiwan, the day is approaching when it will have an unchallengeable capability to do so. Its DF-21D ballistic missiles, launched from China’s vast terrain, can in a matter of minutes hit American aircraft carriers 2,000 miles away; these missiles can be maneuvered during re-entry into the atmosphere so as to make evasive movements futile. No wonder Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted that the DF-21D "has the ability to disrupt freedom of movement and narrow our strategic options."
In addition China can launch supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles that skim just above the ocean surface and thus evade radar detection. Most importantly, China has recently unveiled a radar-evading supersonic stealth fighter jet, the J-20. When mass produced before long, these can have a high sortie rate from hundreds of airfields in China and can thus overwhelm with numbers the superior U.S. combat aircraft.
Under these circumstances, Washington before long most likely will decide to abandon its ambiguous commitment to defend Taiwan. Sen. Inouye’s "nearly unavoidable" war will thus thankfully be avoided.