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Project for the New Chinese Century

Ron Ecker

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East Asia Allies Doubt U.S. Could Win War with China

Insight on the News


The overwhelming assessment by Asian officials, diplomats and analysts is that the U.S. military simply cannot defeat China. It has been an assessment relayed to U.S. government officials over the past few months by countries such as Australia, Japan and South Korea. This comes as President Bush wraps up a visit to Asia, in which he sought to strengthen U.S. ties with key allies in the region.

Most Asian officials have expressed their views privately. Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara has gone public, warning that the United States would lose any war with China.

"In any case, if tension between the United States and China heightens, if each side pulls the trigger, though it may not be stretched to nuclear weapons, and the wider hostilities expand, I believe America cannot win as it has a civic society that must adhere to the value of respecting lives," Mr. Ishihara said in an address to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Mr. Ishihara said U.S. ground forces, with the exception of the Marines, are "extremely incompetent" and would be unable to stem a Chinese conventional attack. Indeed, he asserted that China would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons against Asian and American cities—even at the risk of a massive U.S. retaliation.

The governor said the U.S. military could not counter a wave of millions of Chinese soldiers prepared to die in any onslaught against U.S. forces. After 2,000 casualties, he said, the U.S. military would be forced to withdraw.

"Therefore, we need to consider other means to counter China," he said. "The step we should be taking against China, I believe, is economic containment."

Officials acknowledge that Mr. Ishihara's views reflect the widespread skepticism of U.S. military capabilities in such countries as Australia, India, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. They said the U.S.-led war in Iraq has pointed to the American weakness in low-tech warfare.

"When we can't even control parts of Anbar, they get the message loud and clear," an official said, referring to the flashpoint province in western Iraq.

As a result, Asian allies of the United States are quietly preparing to bolster their militaries independent of Washington. So far, the Bush administration has been strongly opposed to an indigenous Japanese defense capability, fearing it would lead to the expulsion of the U.S. military presence from that country.

On Nov. 16, Mr. Bush met with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. The two leaders discussed the realignment of the U.S. military presence in Japan and Tokyo's troop deployment in Iraq.

During his visit to Washington in early November, Mr. Ishihara met senior U.S. defense officials. They included talks with U.S. Defense Deputy Undersecretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs Richard Lawless to discuss the realignment of the U.S. military presence in Japan.

For his part, Mr. Ishihara does not see China as evolving into a stable democracy with free elections.

"I believe such predictions are totally wrong," Mr. Ishihara said.

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