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Who wins in US-China war over the Pacific?

Dec 13, 2023


The power balance between China and the U.S. in the Pacific is in flux. As China doubles down on efforts to boost its military capabilities, the U.S. is concentrating on deterrence by strengthening ties with regional allies and updating its military presence there. Now, the two global superpowers confront the question: In a military conflict, which would emerge victorious?

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan analyzes the military capabilities of the U.S. and China in the Pacific, assessing which power holds the advantage in a potential military confrontation. Zeihan argues that, unlike his two predecessors, U.S. President Joe Biden has strategically positioned America to address both Chinese and Russian aggression.

Excerpted from Peter’s Dec. 13 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

There’s been much discussion lately surrounding the changing power balances in the Pacific – specifically the dynamics between the U.S. and China. Sure, China has numbers, but would you rather have 25 kayaks equipped with BB guns or five speedboats mounted with mini-guns?

That’s pretty much the whole story between these two powers – quality over quantity. That’s before we look at the fun new toys that the U.S. is introducing, which will only bolster their strategic advantage in places like Midway and Guam.

With the Biden administration taking a firmer stance on security measures, I expect the United States’ strategic advantage over China to grow. However, that doesn’t mean we should completely disregard the Chinese navy just yet.

Hey everybody, Peter Zeihan here coming to you from Colorado where we’re about to get a big dump of snow. So I figured I’d get on hike while I could.
Today, we’re going to talk about some of the changing power balances in the Pacific Ocean, specifically as it relates to the United States versus the Chinese. Now, everyone seems to be a little paranoid, almost a little defeatist about the concept that the Chinese have more ships in the water than the United States has based on how you count those ships had got between 370 and 620. And on the American side, again, based on how you count the ship, somewhere between 250 and 300. So you know, obviously, there’s more there.
But the bigger concern from my point of view isn’t so much the number of ships, it’s the range of the weapon systems. So most Chinese vessels are very small effect, just a couple 1000 tons things that the United States as a rule doesn’t even bother fielding because they’re too vulnerable and their range is too limited. So only about 10% of China’s ships can actually go more than 1000 miles, and very few of them have a strike capability. That’s more than a couple 1000 miles. Obviously, America super carriers are fully Bluewater, capable, and with their aircraft construct things considerable distance away, especially if they’re using standoff missiles. So I’ve never considered this a fair conversation or a fair fight in the first place. But let’s say that I was concerned that say that with the Chinese expansion of intermediate range missiles kind of in the 500 Kilometer 5000 range, that they could really hold back US naval forces. Well, if that is your concern, never really was mine. But let if that is your concern, you can have woke slick all of a sudden, you can rest easy because there have been a couple new developments in the Pacific that are going to be fully manifested by the end of next calendar year, the United States is going to be deploying two new types of weapons systems. The first is a land based intermediate range missile, something that until recently was illegal in the United States. During the late cold war, the first big arms control treaty was called the intermediate range forces or INF Treaty, and it barred any sort of land based missile with a range between 500 kilometers and 5500 kilometers. The idea is that if you remove those from the equation, then Europe is relatively immune from a blitzkrieg nuclear strike from the Soviet Union. And vice versa, the land based systems in Europe wouldn’t be able to hit the western parts of the former Soviet Union where the bulk of the Soviet population left. Well. Two things led to that treaty’s demise in 2019. First, the Russians just started ignoring it and deploying their own weapon systems. And second, the Chinese who were never a signatory started implementing these things in mass. So rather than work with the United States to expand the arms control regimen to give themselves greater security, they just decided that everybody else sucked. And they do it anyway. And apparently, they believe that everyone was else was just too dumb to follow suit. Well.
So if you think about how fast this has happened, the the treaty was abrogated in 2019. First discussions on these new weapons systems would have happened within the next year. It’s only 2023. And they’re to be implemented by 2024. So that’s, that’s pretty quick for weapons development system. The Pentagon has been pretty tight lipped about the range of the new systems, but they’re making it very clear that at the moment, they’re not going to Japan, or the Philippines. They’re only going to US territories like midway, and Guam. And of course, the Australians are there and they’re gonna Pick Me Pick Me. So they’ll probably be some in Darwin as well. And that basically allows the United States with the flick of a few buttons to launch cruise missiles with ranges in the 1000s of kilometers, to basically intersect any shipping route, and any Naval Patrol that the Chinese are currently putting out.
Although these are mostly land based, so it’s going to be more about London hack for the most part, which brings us to the second piece, there’s another new weapon system is going out primarily to the subs. And that is a version of the Tomahawk cruise missile, which
will now be able to target maritime targets. So for those of you who remember back to the Gulf War in 1992, we’re going to break here for a minute sorry about that fire mitigation crew. kind of noisy. Anyway.
See launch tomahawks
which will be able to target maritime targets. Now, for those of you who remember back to 1992. In the Gulf War, you’ll recall that they were the first of our smart weapons, basically systems that could follow a GPS map and target things from over 1000 miles away with a warhead that has about a half a ton. Now you throw something like that against the vessel. There aren’t a lot of vessels that can take more than one hit from
Something like that. The problem, of course, has been targeting remotely. Now, you can use real time, GPS information to target your missiles, the Chinese do some version of that with their ballistic missiles, which are designed to take out US Naval targets. The problem with that strategy, and one of the reasons why I’ve never been overly impressed with Chinese weaponry is unless you have active eyes on your missiles flying blind and it can’t adjust on its own. So you can program in a path kind of like what the Shaheed drones are being used for. In the Ukraine, where the Russians, they basically program in a specific point in space. So when they hit a school or an apartment complex, they’re specifically aiming for it. They’re kind of done weapons, even if they do have the degree of guidance, but ships move, and that doesn’t work. So the Chinese rely on satellite recon in order to provide placement. But the Chinese don’t have a satellite warfare system like the United States has had for 30 years. So if you remember back to our chiefs, it’s been a while, 15 years ago, maybe 2008. I think there was all this hullabaloo when the Chinese destroyed their first satellite and created that debris field. That took out a lot of stuff. Well, very quietly over the course of the next day, the United States, just to underline to the Chinese how far behind they were took out a half a dozen of rural satellites, using a half a dozen different weapons programs.
To show to the Chinese like look, you may think you’ve got a gun that can target our Navy. But if we ever get into a hot war, the first thing that’s going down is your entire satellite network. So stop it. Of course, China only became more narcissistically nationalist after that. But they haven’t fixed that underlying problem. US however, yes,
we all talk about artificial intelligence, and how the Chinese have 1.5 billion people and all the coders they want know the day to day one, that’s true. But they very tightly control the type of AI that can be developed, because they don’t want independent decision making. And they certainly don’t want anything that’s going to give people an independent means of existence independent of the state. So a lot of the things we’re seeing here, things like Chet should be T, they’re just not allowed there, because they could be used for political purposes. And that means the United States has a much more well rounded approach to AI, including its weapons systems, whereas the Chinese are mostly focused on social monitoring to keep their population under control. Well, that technology is undoubtedly in play with this new version of the tomahawk that can target surface ships, because ships move. So you now have the quietest subs in the world with the greatest range in the world.
And in addition to their normal weapons outlay, by the end of next year, they’ll also be packing tomahawks that can target naval vessels. So in the case of a hot war, you put two or three American missile submarines out there. And
you know, the Chinese don’t have a long reach Navy, because you use those systems to hit the ships that do have range, and nothing else can leave far beyond sight of the coast. So you know, done and done. Now, there is, unfortunately, a political component to this. Because if you’re looking at these technologies, I mean, medium range cruise missiles are things we stopped working on back in the late 80s Because of the INF Treaty. And the tomahawk is a weapon that was first debuted in 1992. So none of these are new. So the question is, with the Chinese becoming more jerk, like and the Russians becoming more jerk, like day by day, why haven’t these things happen faster? Well, some of this is explainable. So you go all the way back to the Clinton administration. It was the early post cold war days, we were all trained to be friends, why would you develop a weapons system to specifically target your hopefully, friends? That makes sense. Second, the W. Bush administration was when relations with the Russians and the Chinese started to turn. But the W Bush administration was more than a little occupied with things in the Islamic world. And especially when it came to the operations in Afghanistan, the more reliable partner for us, and getting equipment to our troops in Afghanistan was Russia, much more so than Pakistan. So I can understand why it was backburner then. But by the time you got to the Obama administration, or the Russians, it started invading people again, the Chinese were just shamelessly stealing everything that they could, and starting to hack into government databases. But President Obama couldn’t be bothered to have a meeting with anyone. So nothing happened for eight years. He also kind of unofficially thought of the US military as an enemy, and didn’t want to imbue it with any more power than he had to. Well, then we get to the Trump administration. Well, you know, updates to the strategic doctrine and new weapon systems. That doesn’t work by tweet
So we basically got some strategic incompetence, two administrations in a row lasting 12 years during the period, while the Russians and the Chinese, were starting to feel out how they could expand their influence. So it wasn’t until Joe Biden that we actually got firm decision making on the development and deployment of these things. So there’s a lot of reasons I don’t like Joe Biden. But one of the advantages of having a president that has been around for 170 kajillion years, is back in the 80s. When he was a full ass grown great grandpa, he remembered these systems. He remembered the dawn of the tomahawk he remembered the weapons we were working on, when the INF Treaty was adopted. For him, the context that was necessary to develop in order to make the political decisions to order these developments was already there. And so as long as he’s not a drooling mess, we’re getting a lot more robust security decision making, especially forward looking decision making, than we have had, since at least George Herbert Walker Bush in 1991. Is it enough we’ll see. But if you were the the Chinese, or the Russians, and you were counting on the general incompetence of Obama, and Trump to be the new norm for American politics, I can happily report to you that you were flat out fucking wrong and now you have to deal with it.

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