<strong><u>Now is Not the Time to Let Our Guard Down</u></strong>

Now is Not the Time to Let Our Guard Down

© David Burton 2019

China Vs. U.S.

     Today’s relations between the United States and China are both complex and rapidly changing. “Conceived to be ‘one of tariff wars, unprecedented cyberattacks, and nuclear saber rattling,’ 2018 was a year marked by international challenges as the U.S.-China confrontation ramped up to the edge of a full-blown crisis. Next year might well be the year in which that good fortune runs out for both sides.
      - - -
     “. . . although a few experts say that the trade war is winding down and that the U.S. and China will strike and finalize a specific deal in the following months, there is still . . . considerable cause to think twice about the direction of this conflict in 2019. . .
     “. . . China persists in pushing ahead with its Belt and Road Initiative, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area, etc., attempting to group itself with other ‘emerging markets.’ . . .
     “. . . {Given} the two countries’ potential to spark an unexpected bilateral crisis, while the ongoing trade dispute between them is unquestionably eye-catching, heightened bilateral military tensions should not be neglected.
      - - -
     “. . . {Deteriorating} relations over information technology {continues to be a} concern. . .
     “. . . {Tightly} intertwined with both emerging technology and military defense, cybersecurity is a new sensitivity for both sides of the Pacific. When the U.S. Department of Defense updated its 2018 Cyber Strategy, it became a symbolic watershed for ‘defense forward.’ In the document, China and Russia have been identified as threats to U.S. prosperity and security that should be defended against with an eye toward long-term strategic competition. . . So if the Trump administration fails to contain China economically, it may endeavor to solidify its alliances to tighten rules on foreign investment in a bid to block Chinese acquisitions, and the likelihood of the issue regarding cybersecurity will be looming ever more extensive in the bilateral relationship this year.” (Ref. 1)

     When Donald Trump assumed the office of president of the United States at the beginning of 2017, I reviewed America’s military posture in the world and urged that we not lose sight of the dangers being posed around the world and that the U.S. needed to maintain a well-funded potent military that could deter any potential aggressor nation from assuming that it could militarily defeat the United States.[2] Now, some two years later, the global strategic situation remains uncertain and the military threats to America do not appear to have lessened to any noticeable degree.

     Today, the world remains in an unstable condition. It may be expected that China and other nations will continue their efforts to more aggressively increase their influence and test the United States’ international commitments. This is a time when rapid technological change is reducing many operational advantages the U.S. military has possessed since the end of World War II. Potential adversaries such as China continue to pursue new options for the deployment of nuclear weapons, develop longer range surveillance and strike weapons, and undermine the cybersecurity of U.S. government and industry information systems. For several years now, senior defense leaders have warned against the narrowing technological edge of our military forces.[3]

     Russia and China continue to be militarily worrisome, both because of the investments they are making in the modernization and expansion of their offensive military capabilities and because of the more enduring effect they are having within their respective regions. China’s provocative behavior continues to include militarization of islands that it has built in highly disputed international waters in the South China Sea. China has also adopted aggressive naval tactics to intimidate such neighboring countries as Japan and the Philippines.[4]

     China continues to pose a significant threat to the United states – in terms of economics, politics and, most importantly, militarily While most of the recent news concerning China and the United States during President Trump’s time in office have been focused on trade relations between the two nations, there are ongoing developments that are intimately tied to national defense which appear to have slipped below the public’s radar. This is somewhat unfortunate. Now is not a good time to lower our guard. We need to keep in mind several facts and remind ourselves that national security is nothing to be ignored or obscured by other factors that take precedence in the news media. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist 23: The first of the “principal” constitutional obligations of the federal government is to provide for the “common defense” of the United States. President George Washington wisely reminded us that “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.[2]

     “China is 'bar none', the 'largest threat to [US] national security' plus China has declared 'economic war' on the US, according to . . . the head of Counterintelligence (CI) for the U.S. Government.
      - - -
     “. . . They have a lot of resources they could throw at us, and they hit our academia, our industry, our research development, and obviously our government. The F.B.I. has arrested double-digit individuals in the last year or so all for spying on behalf of China.
     “. . . They have strategic plan to overtake us economically. I believe we're in an economic war with them-- they have declared that war. [emphasis added]
     “This comes as the US government has banned purchasing network video surveillance (Dahua and Hikvision) and telecommunications (Huawei, ZTE) for government use, government funds and possibly more, depending on how the law is implemented.
     “US FBI Director Christopher Wray has the same take, expressed in July 2018 . . .
     “The lesson to industry is clear. The US intelligence community considers the People's Republic of China / China Communist Party to be an enemy of the US.  . . .” (Ref. 5)

     One immediate area of concern is that of preserving America’s access to vital defense materials. This involves “China’s recent threat to limit domestic production of rare earths, those 16 elements that make our cellphones and smart bombs work. It’s the latest move in a game that began before the United States realized it was even playing, that has grown more complex than U.S. leaders realize, and that is nearing a very unfortunate ending.
     “The game began in earnest in 1980, when the United States made two moves that gave its opponent an advantage it has never relinquished. One was industrial: Molycorp, then the country’s largest rare earth mining and processing company, began transferring its processing technology to China . . . The other was regulatory: although rare earths are most easily and cheaply obtained as a byproduct of mining for other minerals, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1980 more or less inadvertently placed this activity under the same regulations as mining nuclear fuel. Within a decade and a half, all U.S. producers of heavy rare earths shut down. Today, China gets most of its rare earths as a no-cost byproduct of iron ore mining, while the U.S. runs one expensive, low-value specialty mine: the Mountain Pass operation in California.
     “Over the following two decades, China raced to cement its global dominance in the field. It established the world’s largest rare earth research facility, a development that generally escaped U.S. notice . . .. Chinese researchers filed for their first international rare earth patent in 1983; within fourteen years, the total number of Chinese patent filings in the field exceeded that of the U.S., which had been working in the field since 1950. And Beijing was using its leverage as the world’s top producer of rare earths to acquire or import U.S. technology companies specializing in metals, alloys, magnets, and integrated rare earth components.
     “Perhaps our worst blunder came in 1995, when Congress allowed China to buy Magnequench, the only U.S. producer of magnets for our most advanced guided missiles; and GA Powders, a producer of rare earth magnetic powders. . . Magnequench shut its U.S. facility seven years later, ending America’s ability to produce magnets key to missiles and other weapons.
     But the mistakes didn’t stop there. In 1998, the U.S. National Defense Stockpile sold off the last of our nation’s strategic reserve of rare earths, including all rare earths previously held by the Energy Department. That same year, Rhodia Incorporated, the last integrated U.S. producer of rare earth metals and alloys, closed its rare earth separation facility in Texas, announced plans to build a new one in China, and signed a deal with Baotou Rare Earth Development Zone to construct a metal and alloy facility in Mongolia.
      - - -
     “In August {2018}, China announced that it would reduce rare earth separation and smelting by 36 percent through the end of the year, putting it on track to produce 45,000 tons of the various elements — only enough for domestic production, with none left for export. [Emphasis mine] . . .
     “. . . ‘the U.S. military is worried about China’s dominance of the rare earths market, calling it a ‘significant and growing risk,’
     “. . . U.S. policy makers appear to be counting on a quick ramp-up of private mining operations to cover the absence of Chinese rare earth concentrates and oxides. Regrettably, mining cannot solve the problem. To start with, mine permitting and development typically takes 7 to 10 years in the United States . . .
     “But — and this is what few in the U.S. government appear to understand — China’s grip on the world’s rare earths is not limited to its 80-percent share of raw materials. It also controls almost all of the world’s processing facilities that transform raw concentrates and oxides into useful forms: metals, alloys, magnets, garnets, and the like.
      - - -
     “Congress has failed to act or even understand the underlying issues. It is time for the Administration to use its powers under the Defense Production Act to establish a fully integrated resource value chain that can guarantee our technology and defense industry delivery of rare earth metals, alloys, magnets and other value-added materials.
     “Failure to do so will help China pull our remaining tech sector into its hand and deepen our defense industries’ dependence.” (Ref. 6)

     “China’s growing anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities, ranging from an expanding fleet of modern submarines to anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles, increase the operational risk for deployment of U.S. forces in the event of conflict. China’s capabilities not only jeopardize American combat forces that would flow into the theater for initial combat, but also would continue to threaten the logistical support needed to sustain American combat power for the subsequent days, weeks, and months.” (Ref. 7)

     “The Chinese Communist Party’s foreign policy reflects its strategic objectives. The U.S. National Security Strategy states that China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model, and reorder the region in its favor as the preeminent power. China’s most substantial expansion of its military access in recent years has occurred in its near-abroad, where territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas persist, but China has also expanded its military operations further from the Chinese mainland. China seeks this presence based on its changing military focus and expanding international economic interests, which are increasing demands for the PLA to operate in more distant maritime environments to protect Chinese citizens, investments, and critical sea lines of communication.“ (Ref. 8)

     “The Department {of Defense} is concerned by actions China’s government has taken that . . . undermine the security of the United States or that of our allies and partners.  . . .” (Ref. 8)

     “Two Pentagon-sponsored pieces of research have reported China as a growing threat to US defense, targeting the country's national security through the supply of materials and new informational warfare capabilities.
     “A 150-page report, seen by Reuters on Thursday a day before its official publication, revealed there are about 300 vulnerabilities that could affect components and materials essential to the US military and recommended direct investment in critical sectors of American industry. The specific plans were listed in an appendix that remains classified.
     “China was listed as the country dominating the global supply of rare earth minerals critical for US military applications, as well as electronics and chemicals used in US munitions.
     “ ‘A key finding of this report is that China represents a significant and growing risk to the supply of materials and technologies deemed strategic and critical to US national security,’ [Emphasis mine] . . .
     “The report noted that 90% of the world’s printed circuit boards are produced in Asia, with over half produced in China alone, making it possible for Beijing to cut off the supply of the materials or to sabotage the technology.
     “ ‘With the migration of advanced board manufacturing offshore, (the Department of Defense) risks losing visibility into the manufacturing provenance of its products,’ the report said, noting that the Pentagon has been cautious about ‘kill switches’ in transistors that could turn off sensitive US systems during conflicts, and ‘Trojan’ chips and viruses infiltrating US defense systems.’ It had also discussed ‘unfair and unlawful Chinese efforts to undermine US industry’ through a host of strategies, including by subsidizing exports at artificially low prices and stealing US technology.
     “The report also examined the US shortcomings that contributed to the weakening of domestic industry, including roller-coaster US defense budgets . . .
     “Another report, cited by the Washington Free Beacon and released this week by the National Defense University talks about China’s new Strategic Support Force. The force, according to the report, combined several People's Liberation Army (PLA) advanced warfare and intelligence capabilities into a single unit in order to achieve a combined space, cyber, information warfare capabilities and intelligence and espionage forces.
     “The 84-page report, co-authored by former National Security Agency China specialist John Costello and cybersecurity expert Joe McReynolds, calls the new Chinese unit the Strategic Support Force (SSF) and says that it ‘views cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare as interconnected subcomponents of information warfare writ large.’ “ (Ref. 9)

     “China is pursuing global leadership in strategic industries through state-backed investment, as outlined in its Five-Year Plans, ‘Made in China 2025’ industrial strategy, and other national documents. China seeks to be the world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030 [Emphasis mine], for example. China is also actively pursuing an intensive campaign to obtain critical, dual-use technologies through imports, foreign direct investment, industrial and cyberespionage, and establishment of foreign research and development (R&D) centers. China additionally employs joint venture and licensing requirements that pressure companies into transferring technology, while Chinese companies do not face the same barriers abroad.  . . .
     “In 2016, China adopted the 13th Five Year Plan (2016-2020), which, among other provisions, sets focus areas for research, development, and innovation. Several of these have defense implications, including aerospace engines – including turbofan technology – and gas turbines; quantum communications and computing; innovative electronics and software; automation and robotics; special materials and applications; nanotechnology; neuroscience, neural research, and artificial intelligence; and deep space exploration and on-orbit servicing and maintenance systems. Other areas where China is concentrating significant R&D resources include nuclear fusion, hypersonic technology, and the deployment and ‘hardening’ of an expanding constellation of multi-purpose satellites. China’s drive to expand civil-military integration and international economic activity supports these goals.” (Ref. 8)

     While relations with China in recent years has been relatively cordial, in spite of recurrent eruptions of trade wars, the fact remains that China remains a potential threat to the U.S. – economically, culturally, politically and militarily. “The Trump administration has been clear about its view of China. A 2017 national security strategy document called China a ‘revisionist’ power attempting to reorder international politics to suit its interests. It’s difficult to think otherwise given Beijing’s military buildup, its attempts to undermine American influence and power, its retaliations against American allies such as Canada, and its economic actions.” (Ref. 10)

     What should the U.S. position be as a result of this? As the saying goes, we should “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” Now is not the time to let our guard down.

     We need to take note of the fact that, “The United States economy and its national security have been harmed by China’s rampant theft of intellectual property and the requirement that American companies that want to do business in the country hand over their technology. These actions threaten America’s comparative advantage in innovation and its military edge.” (Ref. 10)

     China and the U.S. are currently in another contest of strategic importance, that of being the first to implement the 5G communications systems of the future.

     Recently, China Mobile, the country’s largest mobile operator, and a local Chinese government “outfitted a 6-mile road with 5G cell towers. Since September 2018, companies have been using the connectivity to test wireless communications between autonomous vehicles and their surroundings. The 5G network transmits data from car sensors, roadside sensors, and video cameras installed above the road to a local data center, which analyzes the information and sends it back to the vehicles to help them navigate.
     How does 5G make this possible? Unlike previous generations of mobile technology, which tended to introduce a single novel feature for users . . . 5G promises a whole suite of dramatic improvements. It uses entirely new wireless infrastructure to achieve speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G and promises to nearly eliminate any processing delays. It will also kick-start the internet of things, since it was designed to connect billions of machines, appliances, and sensors at low cost without draining their batteries.
     “China knows this all too well. In its 13th Five-Year Plan the government describes 5G as a ‘strategic emerging industry’ and ‘new area of growth,’ and in its Made in China 2025 plan, which outlines its goal of becoming a global manufacturing leader, it vows to ‘make breakthroughs in fifth-generation mobile communication.’
      - - -
     “. . . China sees 5G as its first chance to lead wireless technology development on a global scale.  . . . China is leading in telecommunications rather than playing catch-up. . .
     “. . . The Chinese government views 5G as crucial to the country’s tech sector and economy. After years of making copycat products, Chinese tech companies want to become the next Apple or Microsoft—innovative global giants worth nearly a trillion dollars.
      - - -
     “The government controls all three of the country’s mobile operators (China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom) and has been ‘guiding’ them to deploy large-scale 5G test networks in dozens of cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. China Mobile claims that its tests alone represent the world’s largest 5G trial network.
     “Under government direction, Chinese companies began conducting research on 5G in 2013 and holding technical trials of related technologies in 2016. ‘Chinese operators see their job as implementing government policy, whereas most global telecom companies try to balance competitive factors and will naturally invest at a slower pace’ . . .
     “Beijing has also committed to giving Chinese operators large chunks of spectrum for 5G. That’s a far cushier arrangement than operators enjoy in the US and many other countries, where they pay regulators billions of dollars for the right to use slivers of spectrum. These radio frequencies carry wireless signals and are critical to cellular service, especially 5G, which will need wide swaths of bandwidth to provide users with superfast speeds.
      - - -
     “Early access to robust 5G networks could give China an edge in developing and monetizing services that use them—just as Silicon Valley profited from apps like Instagram, Uber, and YouTube after 4G LTE networks launched. Because the US was the first country to make 4G available on a wide scale, American firms were quick to take advantage of it and sell the resulting apps globally. China’s manufacturing center, Shenzhen, could tap 5G to connect huge volumes of devices to the cloud and become a leader in the internet of things (IoT).
     “Is the US being left behind?
     “It depends how you define the 5G race. If you count the launch of commercial service in any form, the US is in front of China. Verizon started selling its own 5G service, which is essentially a wireless version of wired broadband for homes and offices, in four US cities in October. AT&T plans to introduce mobile 5G service in 12 US cities before the end of the year. T-Mobile and Sprint say they will turn on their 5G networks by mid-2019. Chinese operators don’t plan to start selling 5G service until 2020.
     “However, if you think a country needs to roll out 5G to all its major cities in order to claim leadership, China looks likely to come out ahead. [Emphasis mine] . . .
     “In the US, the process will probably be far slower because more infrastructure will need to be built out.  . . .
     “Equipment makers expect China to be able to roll out 5G much more rapidly. . .” (Ref. 11)

     While we have been mostly focused on trade, technology, politics and political issues in recent years, we must not forget the military side of the equation, as America is wont to do when the military threat is not imminent nor obvious. It remains imperative the America keeps its military guard up. No one can predict the future. We need to remain prepared for any eventuality. We need to remain so strong that nobody would dare mistake the U.S. as being militarily vulnerable. We need to remain so strong that the outcome of any military action against the U.S. would end in America’s favor. We need to remain so strong that any threat to America remains just that - a threat and never a reality.

     “China has been developing Artificial Intelligence weaponry at a much higher rate than the U.S. [Emphasis mine] and experts say it's something that neither Silicon Valley nor The Pentagon should be turning their backs on.
     “Reports suggest that the tech and governmental sectors of China have been working together in a ‘military-civil fusion’ and . . . the partnership has become a nightmare for western governments like the U.S., which has mostly taken the opposite approach.
     “. . . China's rise over the last few decades has been synonymous with the adoption of new technologies, which its citizens have been quick to adopt.
     "The cultural difference makes it far more likely for China to quickly adopt AI for any application, including military applications," . . .
      - - -
     “{A} concern in Washington is China's ability to use AI technology developed in the West. The U.S. has . . . looked at ways to screen Chinese students and scientists who come stateside to study and do research.
     “Above all, the U.S. does not want to find itself behind China and its development of AI for military use." (Ref. 12)


  1. The Top 5 Risks for US-China Relations in 2019, Chen Dingding and Hu Junyang, The Diplomat,
    22 January 2019.
  2. Defense 2017, David Burton, Son of Eliyahu: Article 283, 23 March 2017.
  3. Pursuing New Opportunities in 2017, Sid Ashworth, Journal of Electronic Defense (JED), Page 3,
    January 2017.
  4. 2017 Index of U.S. Military Strength, index.heritage.org/military/2017/, 14 January 2017.
  5. China "Largest Threat To US National Security", Declares FBI And Counterintelligence Heads, John Honovich, IPVM, 7 September 2018.
  6. China Is Beating the US in the Rare-Earths Game, James Kennedy, Defense One, 8 November 2018.
  7. Release of the 2019 Index of U.S. Military Strength, heritage.org, 4 October 2018.
  8. New Pentagon Report to Congress: U.S. Defense Implications of China’s Expanding Global Access,
    Andrew S. Anderson, 15 January 2019.
  9. Pentagon Sees China as a Threat to US Industry and National Security - Reports, Sputnik News, 10 May 2018.
  10. China Is a Dangerous Rival, and America Should Treat It Like One, Derek Scissors and Daniel Blumenthal,
    The New York Times, 14 January 2019.
  11. China is racing ahead in 5G. Here’s what that means., Elizabeth Woyke, MIT Technology Review,
    18 December 2018.
  12. Could China Leave the US Behind in AI 'Arms Race'?, Perry Chiaramonte, Military.com, 30 January 2019.


  29 April 2019 {Article 356; Undecided_60}    
Go back to the top of the page