Thomas Wictor

War with China? Not a chance.

War with China? Not a chance.

For whatever reason journalists, historians, pundits, and academics are permanently convinced that the US is right around the corner from catastrophic defeat at the hands of an invincible enemy. I’ve now lived through four major conflicts that involved American forces, and I’ve studied them all. My guess is that the gore crows who tell us that we’re doomed do so for ideological reasons more than anything else.

Now it’s China. Graham Allison has written “2014: Good Year for a Great War?” In it he posits a Japanese-Chinese territorial dispute that draws in the US. There are lots and lots of reasons I don’t think this will happen. I could be wrong, of course, but let’s look at what Allison doesn’t tell you.

1. The People’s Liberation Army is corrupt.

According to one of China’s top generals, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is too corrupt to function. Nepotism and patronage—not competence—are what ensures promotion. Officers obey only the orders they want and require bribes to carry out their duties. Higher ranks are purchased, not earned. Officers live like kings because their connections enure business deals. Not only that, the officer corps is lawless.

Certain individuals exchange public money, public goods, public office and public affairs for personal gain, flouting the law and party codes of conduct, even resorting to verbal abuse and threats, clandestine plots and set ups. They physically attack loyal and upstanding officials, kidnap and blackmail party leaders, and drag in their superiors to act as human shields. They deploy all of the tricks of the mafia trade within the army itself.

This is not an armed force that could take on a First World military.

2. The People’s Liberation Army is incompetent.

The last war the Chinese fought was in 1979, when they invaded Vietnam. They lost 26,000 soldiers killed in three months. In comparison the US lost 57,000 in the Vietnam War over ten years. Since 2001 we’ve lost about 7000 troops in two wars; Operation Iraqi Freedom involved some of the fiercest fighting American ground troops had experienced since the Tet Offensive. Yet our casualties have remained low, relatively speaking.

Not only is the PLA incompetent, it lacks experience. It doesn’t matter how technologically advanced weapons are if there’s no “culture” of using them. The US has been training with tanks and aircraft carriers for almost a century. China has used tanks in battle…once. The PLA has driven tanks over unarmed civilians multiple times, but the Chinese have never faced a First World army except in the Korean War.

The much ballyhooed Chinese aircraft carrier—the Liaoning—is a Soviet-era relic half the size of its American counterparts. There are no Chinese Top Gun pilots. It’ll take the Chinese as long as it took the US to create a carrier battle group capable of laying waste to an entire nation. And by the time the Chinese are there, the US will have moved on.

Chinese ground forces receive ludicrous training. They use German-style “potato masher” stick grenades that look like a soup can with a wooden handle. To activate the grenade, you unscrew a cap on the bottom of the handle, and a lanyard falls out. At the end of the lanyard is a ring. The Germans pulled the lanyard with one hand and threw the grenade with the other. The Chinese require that the soldier put the ring on the ring finger of his throwing hand.

This is often the result.

It’s tough to throw a grenade hard enough that the lanyard is pulled, setting off the timed fuse. What happened here is that the grenade was yanked backward toward the thrower, because he didn’t use enough force. Also, the grenade-throwing station is ridiculous. Americans don’t use trenches that allow grenades to fall into them. It was only sheer luck that the grenade landed in the opposite trench. This is an American grenade range.

The Chinese also film themselves doing really idiotic, phony exercises meant to impress the gullible. This hot-potato game is worthless, but worse than that, it’s fake.

At :20, you can see the soldier on the left drop the “satchel charge” on the ground, not in the hole. Obviously explosives were pre-positioned in the crater and detonated by remote control. It’s a propaganda film.

Here the troops are firing off 107 mm rocket shells by electrical ignition.

This is an ancient trick that Third World insurgents and terrorists use. Rockets fired this way are completely uncontrollable, since they have no fins. The chance of them hitting the target are pretty much zero. At 1:18 in that video, the soldier is using the swivel joint of the mortar tube as a hammer to pound the base plate flat. Excellent way to ruin the joint. And at 2:07, holding the mortar tube at face level is suicidal.

I think the video is another fake. Here’s what American mortar squads do when firing their weapons. They duck down to avoid the blast.

3. Chinese weapons and technology are garbage.

Everyone’s made a big deal about the Chinese “stealth” fighters. Well, the J-20 has canard wings behind the cockpit. By definition, then, it isn’t a stealth fighter. Those little wings will give it the radar signature of a flying barn.

The other “stealth” fighter is the J-31. It has gaps and seams that render it non-stealthy. In other words, more Chinese fakery.

China built a main battle tank (MBT) that the PLA says can defeat the American M1 Abrams, our MBT. Unfortunately, the Chinese Type 99 has a shot trap at the lower edge of the turret front. That means any tank round that hits this area will be channeled right down into the crew compartment. Kaboom! We couldn’t have asked for a better design flaw.

Look at the instruments. All first-generation, off-the-shelf crap. How do I know that? Because some of the writing is in English! Now compare the interior of the Type 99 to the interior of the M1A2.

M1A2 driver’s steering T-bar.

Driver’s seat.


Gunner’s position.

Gunner’s fire-control system.

Commander’s station.

The Type 99 epitomizes the shoddy workmanship that the Chinese don’t care to correct. Even a project as important as the Three Gorges Dam suffers from this indifference; it’s already starting to crack. The reservoir collects three thousand tons of trash a day and has become the largest toxic-waste pool on earth. When the dam itself fails, millions will die.

Chinese spy satellites are nearly worthless. The calibration targets in the Gobi Desert are enormous, indicating awful ground resolution. All of this is right out in the open. It’s inarguable: Chinese technology and manufacturing are terrible.

4. The People’s Liberation Army can’t take casualties

Every member of the PLA is an only child. China is already facing an incredible shortage of women, since the one-child policy encourages the murder of female babies. All of those only sons are expected to carry on the family name, take over the family business, and care for their elderly parents. If the Chinese military got itself into a protracted war and began losing men the way it did during the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979, it would cause a revolution.

In 2010 there were 180,000 protests, riots, and demonstrations in China. As the country becomes more prosperous, the exact opposite of most predictions is occurring: Instead of loosening its control, the Communist Party is becoming more oppressive. Yet the government lacks the ability to maintain its iron grip if it faces a genuine nation-wide revolt. Just look at the riots in Tibet in 2008 and in Urumqi in 2009. The police response was completely inadequate.

It’s no longer 1989. To put down the Tienanmen protest, the government brought in army units from outside Beijing. These men were kept in isolation and told that they were facing terrorists and counterrevolutionaries. The troops were also shown video of dead Chinese soldiers. Even so, entire armies disobeyed their orders and refused to attack the protestors. In this day of mass, instant communication, how would the PLA deal with an uprising of nearly a billion people?

So: a full-fledged war with China? No. Technologically and qualitatively, we have a massive advantage over the PLA that it’s not likely to ever overcome, given the systemic corruption of Chinese culture. Our Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system can take out incoming Chinese nukes and intercept the Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), the so-called carrier killer that lots of uninformed people claim has brought the US Navy to its knees. In 2008 we shot down a satellite going 17,000 miles per hour. The Chinese say their DF-21 ASBM has a top speed of about 7600 miles per hour.

China, Japan, and the US will continue having little clashes here and there. However, when a nation is reduced to producing cheap propaganda such as the videos above, it means the leaders lack confidence in their armed forces’ capabilities.

There’s a lot to worry about in the coming year, but war with China shouldn’t be on your list.

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