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Another ‘red scare'

BY ERIC MARGOLIS (World View) / 9 March 2008

CHINA ‘threatens the stability of Asia.’ Such was the dire warning issued by the US Department of Defense last week, as it criticised the 17.6 per cent increase in China's 2008 military budget.

China's official military budget is $58.8 billion, but the real figure is estimated at around $110 billion. Even so, Washington's warning was pretty rich coming from the sole superpower that spends ten times more on its military than China — a nation with four times the US population.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates unblushingly accused China of ‘lack of transparency’ in concealing major defence programmes. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Some 25-30 per cent of the Pentagon's trillion-dollar budget is believed to be hidden in secret ‘black’ projects, or concealed in other government departments.

Washington's constant warnings about Cuba, Syria, Iran, Venezuela and North Korea make it look like a spinster terrified by a mouse. These nations’ combined military sending is a paltry $10 billion. The US and its closest allies account for two thirds of the world's military spending. Trying to keep up militarily with the West drove the old Soviet Union to bankruptcy.

The US spends more on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq than Russia and China do on defence.

Now, the Bush Administration is trying a re-run of Reagan years by goading Russia into more military spending to justify continued high US military spending, which doubled since late 2001. Without the ‘threat’ from China and Russia, how will the Pentagon justify new generation of super expensive F-22 and F-35 fighters it wants, new tankers, heavy bombers, submarines, carriers and other surface warships?

You don't need any such fancy hardware to fight rag-tag jihadis armed with rifles and home-made bombs.

But there's a deeper issue with China. The US has yet to come to terms with China's rise as a major modern military power. The US Navy has dominated South Asia's littoral since 1944. By 2015-17, perhaps sooner, China will inevitably become the dominant East Asian power. This means US geopolitical influence will be pushed back from the Asian mainland into the Pacific.

This process will be gradual. Today, China has only around 350 modern warplanes, a weak navy, and little ability to project power more than 160kms from its coasts.

China is rapidly developing the capability to conquer Taiwan and neutralise US Navy task forces coming to its rescue by barrages of air and sea-launched anti-ship missiles, and electronic warfare. China also threatens to attack America's Achilles Heel: vulnerable space-based communications and targeting satellites upon which US forces have become dangerously dependant.

Taiwan aside, military tensions between the US and China are totally avoidable — unless stoked by neocon Republicans longing for war with China. What is even more bizarre, while the Pentagon fulminates against the dangers of China, Iran, etc, the US is helping build the military power of a huge nation that one day could become a serious strategic rival to the United States — India.

The Bush Administration is striving to conclude a deal to supply Delhi nuclear fuel, technology, and billions of high-tech weapons. Meanwhile, India is developing nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missiles and sea launched strategic missiles that might one day pose a challenge to the United States.

Why, no one in Washington is asking, does India need 7,000-mile range ICBM's, nuclear-powered missile submarines and powerful anti-ship missiles? Its current medium-range missiles cover all China. ICBM's are only needed by India to reach Europe, North America or Australia. India is unlikely to target Paris, London or Perth. But India will one day compete heavily with the US for Mideast oil, other resources and regional influence in the Gulf, Arabian Sea and even East Africa.

China will inevitably join this strategic, three-way rivalry as Beijing and Delhi's economies and ambitions grow. Washington's helping India develop strategic nuclear weapons programmes will needlessly antagonise China.

The astoundingly incompetent Bush administration is thus seeding future conflict in Asia. But that's tomorrow. Today, by creating a monstrous credit bubble, wildly printing money, and recklessly spending, the Bush White House is spreading dangerous inflationary forces throughout the world economy. That's the real danger to everyone, not China.

Eric S. Margolis is a veteran American journalist and contributing foreign editor of The Toronto Sun

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