Chinese President Hu Jintao is set to arrive in Washington, D.C., today, the first leg of a four-day trip to the United States that includes a lavish black-tie White House state dinner tomorrow night. The full “state visit” treatment that Hu will receive, including a joint reviewing of U.S. troops, is being used by the People’s Republic of China to cap Hu’s career as the PRC transitions power to Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. Beijing is hoping that this trip can celebrate Hu’s career while avoiding any real substantive issues.
For the United States, however, this outcome would be a major mistake. The U.S. has a long list of concerns about Chinese policies that reflect fundamental conflicts of interest between our two countries. Given Beijing’s interest in a smooth and uneventful visit, President Obama should press Hu on several key issues. Specifically, President Obama should seek public commitments to better policies on the economic role of the state, freedom of navigation in the western Pacific, and nuclear proliferation.
And while the public’s attention is briefly focused on China, it is also imperative for Americans to recognize that the PRC leadership has an increasingly capable military at its disposal. That is why The Heritage Foundation is producing “Dragon Week,” a week-long series of research products dedicated to understanding our security relationship with China. Each post will highlight a domain of conflict where the Chinese are advancing while the U.S. is complacent or even retrenching. The four domains are:
1. Space: In 2010, China launched a record 15 satellites, the first time since the Cold War that any state has matched the rate of American launches in a year. The Chinese Beidou navigation satellite system, a rival to the American GPS system, is steadily outpacing Europe’s moribund Galileo program. Americans must recognize that not only will the U.S. and China interact on Earth; they will increasingly do so in the heavens.
2. Air: The debut of China’s J-20 last week showed that the Chinese stealth fighter program is further along than was generally recognized. While the U.S. debates whether or not to sell F-16s to Taiwan, it is now clear that China’s air force is rapidly modernizing beyond that level. Meanwhile, we have stopped building the F-22 and have cut the F-35 program.
3. Sea: The Chinese navy has built an impressive submarine fleet. The new Jin-class ballistic-missile submarines can carry the JL-2 ICBM, enhancing the survivability and deterrence of China’s nuclear forces. Meanwhile, the continued development of anti-ship ballistic missiles raises the stakes of deploying aircraft carriers in the region.
4. Cyber: In 2003, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) announced the creation of “information warfare units.” In 2004, the PLA noted that its priority would be fighting and winning Local Wars Under Informationalized Conditions, and that information was the keystone to future wars. All of this suggests that, from China’s view, a global conflict is already underway—in the virtual world of cyberspace.
Exaggerating Chinese prowess encourages bad U.S. policy. The first step toward a coherent strategy with respect to the PRC is a better understanding of their true capabilities.