Just as the United States and China are poised to enter another round of trade talks no one is particularly optimistic about, the Pentagon has expressed concern that China’s military is probably training to strike the United States and its allies, Reuters reported on Friday.
The Pentagon report states:
“Over the last three years, the PLA [China’s People’s Liberation Army] has rapidly expanded its overwater bomber operating areas, gaining experience in critical maritime regions and likely training for strikes against U.S. and allied targets. The PLA may continue to extend its operations beyond the first island chain, demonstrating the capability to strike U.S. and allied forces and military bases in the western Pacific Ocean, including Guam.”
If this sounds an awful lot like the threat the United States faced from North Korea, it’s because it is. As the Trump administration is engaged in some kind of detente with North Korea (meaning Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is talking to the North Koreans about denuclearization as Pyongyang continues to develop its weapons program), it has managed to increase tensions with China.
The report also mentions China strengthening “its military space capabilities” at a time when President Trump’s “Space Force” idea for militarizing space is meeting with skepticism and pushback.
As Reuters points out, the military-to-military relations between the United States and China have been tested, and the cracks started to show in May, when the Pentagon withdrew an invitation for China to participate in multinational naval exercises.
All of this comes on top of recent reports that China is testing a hypersonic missile that could be developed to carry a nuclear warhead that can evade all current U.S. detecting systems and travel at up to six times the speed of sound (4,563 mph).
An escalating trade war
If taken at face value (rather than at attempt to ratchet support for increased defense spending and the president’s increasingly hard line on China), then the Pentatgon report sheds light on on yet another troubling development in U.S.-China relations.
Things have been nothing short of horrendous on the trade front, when in an attempt to close the trade gap with China, President Trump slapped tariffs on Chinese goods, and China responded in kind, which has so far served to hurt American businesses.
In a very clear power move, China earlier this month said that it would continue to buy oil from Iran, a country the Trump administration is trying to ostensibly sanction into regime change.
Having pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, President Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran, with oil sanctions coming into effect on November 5. The Trump administration has said it will sanction countries still buying oil from Iran — unless they can get waivers. China, being the top importer of Iranian oil, is unlikely to get one, and has already declared that it will very much continue to buy Iranian crude.
When asked about his China strategy at a dinner in early August, the president replied that he wasn’t going to “go there,” presumably because he hopes the new Iran Action Group, whose creation was announced on Thursday, will handle it.
But the man leading the team, Brian Hook, did not have much to say when asked specifically about China’s defiance of U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil. Here’s his full answer in his first interaction with the press in his new position:
“Well, our goal is to reduce every country’s import of Iranian oil to zero by November 4th, and we are prepared to work with countries that are reducing their imports on a case-by-case basis. As you know, those sanctions will come into effect on November 5th. Those will include sanctions on Iran’s energy sector, transactions by foreign financial institutions with the Central Bank of Iran, Iran’s shipping and shipbuilding sectors, among others. And the United States certainly hopes for full compliance by all nations in terms of not risking the threat of U.S. secondary sanctions if they continue with those transactions.”
In other words, China might be looking at secondary sanctions from the United States — kind of like the ones it was subjected to for helping North Korea skirt sanctions. And yet, despite all of this, China’s economy is still growing a pretty good clip.
CNBC reports that contrary to White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow’s claim that China’s economy “looks terrible, its GDP is projected to grow 6.6 percent this year — slightly lower than last year’s 6.9 percent but still considered robust. Its retail sales, which have dropped from 9 percent to 8.8 percent are also hardly ruinous, and eclipse the United State’s 6.4 percent growth.