The United States Air Force has just made a display of military hardware on Guam, in what is a clear warning in every sense except for its intended target. The target is probably the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which decided to carry out wargames off Taiwan while the world is distracted by the virus — the virus that Communist China produced, and then disseminated worldwide while disappearing doctors who tried to raise warnings about it.
The People’s Republic should take care. The United States does not need to fight a war with them to embroil them in conflicts they cannot afford — several of them, more or less immediately. The Security Studies Group (SSG) is not advocating for any of the following options being undertaken, but it is useful to explore what options there are. The PRC’s strategic position is terrible, while the United States has tremendous freedom of action.
Consider the following hypothetical. Instead of Congress passing a symbolic law supporting Taiwan, President Donald Trump could recognize the nation as an independent republic. China would have to go to war to try to capture the island, as it really is an independent republic and has been for decades. If the PRC cannot immediately assert a control over Taiwan that the PRC has never enjoyed, the end of the diplomatic fiction will remove Taiwan forever from its control. The United States need not fight in this war, though it could sell weapons to Taiwan. The PRC would have to fight it, and it is the President of the United States’ decision whether or not they have to fight right now.
At the same time, as we are withdrawing from Afghanistan, the President could order the transfer of large amounts of small arms and ammunition stored there to the Uighur tribes who live in Afghanistan. They are right across the border from the PRC province called “Xinjiang.” That name means “New Frontier,” i.e., a province the PRC is still trying to conquer from its previous inhabitants, other Uighur. The PRC has been involved in gigantic concentration camps and re-education camps aimed at the cultural genocide of these Uighur. The United States could hand over these stockpiles of arms and ammunition and then leave. Now the PRC would have a war on two fronts, both of which it would have no choice but to fight, and neither of which would we have to fight.
Once the PRC is invested by these two conflicts, fought on opposite sides of a geographically large nation, we could turn our attention to Hong Kong. The people of Hong Kong also earnestly desire independence, and have been protesting in favor of it intensely. At the moment everyone assumes that the PRC could roll tanks across the large bridge and into the city, but at the moment the PRC isn’t already fighting two wars.
Meanwhile there are a large number of economic pressures the US could bring to bear without firing a shot. One of them is food: the PRC imports a vast amount of its protein from us. Another one is oil: oil shipments from Iran could be stopped by US actions as a part of our campaign against the Iranian regime, which would have the secondary effect of hampering China’s economy.
Another is manufacturing, where we are already looking at ways to relocate our supply chains out of the PRC.
Another is in terms of debt. The Chinese own a lot of American bonds, which we could refuse to pay or insist on buying back at a sharp discount. No one would want to buy them off the PRC if they could not be redeemed. In addition to debt that we own, we could help other nations who have taken large infrastructure loans from the PRC’s “Belt and Road” program walk away from those debts.
We could do all of those things without firing a shot ourselves. The Chinese would have to decide whether or not to try to embroil us in a war by retaliating militarily, but the United States is the power with the choice of whether or not to respond to provocations. They can’t bring their army to us, after all.
The PRC would be wise to consider all of these options, and choose a less aggressive approach.