China’s ambitions: Can a dragon swim?

China’s ambitions: Can a dragon swim?
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‘Water is fluid, soft and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.’ Lao Tzu

Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, plays his cards cautiously against China over the future of Hong Kong and the whole South China Sea. America won’t go to war against China while stricken with a virus. A virus that rather conveniently struck in the opening months of a presidential election campaign. Stalemate can’t last forever. What happens when it fizzles out? Hong Kong is full of people to do with us. Three-hundred thousand hold our passport and many more entitled to one. We agreed a treaty with China which they’ve just torn up. 

The coming era is going to see three groups of countries – those who believe in freedom of thought, word and deed; those who believe in fortress walls controlling everything within their empires; and those who don’t know which way to jump. I believe our destiny as a leading member of the first group is to encourage all those in the third group to jump into ours. Each time one does, we strike a blow for everyone’s freedom.

This is the first big test for Brexit Britain. A joint statement on Hong Kong by the United States, Australia, Britain and Canada swings the compass needle away from Europe towards the future. Brexit Britons have no wish to become a colony of a new Axis cooked up by Merkel and the Chinese Emperor.

What else can we do? The obvious move is one we can all do – stop buying anything made fully or from bits churned out in China. Xi and his court need our money to keep themselves in power, so they can threaten their neighbours. Don’t give them your money. By placing 80% duty on Australian exports that surely is not behaviour worthy of a WTO member state. Kick them out.

I am a strong believer in deterrence through strength. May I suggest that for once we ignore the chattering classes – last month was enough to last most of us for a lifetime – and start thinking about re-arming in a way that will deter China from stumbling into Armageddon through arrogance based on ignorance of their own weaknesses. 

According to the Sunday Times, this latest Tory government, yet again, wants to slash defence by ten per cent as their response to a very real increasing risk of war, and the Cabinet Secretary/National Security Adviser thinks spies are more important than nuclear submarines. 

With all due respect to the many spies I have enjoyed serving alongside, they are great people and know their jobs better than most, but fighting full scale war between states is not their forte. As a former para and sapper officer, given a choice, facing serious trouble I’d take the navy any day. 

Scrap the whole national security committee and start again. COVID has exposed the inadequacies of the present team. The idea of fourteen days quarantine for arrivals at ports and airports caused the government headaches over presentation – one of the biggest once the Border Force said it’s unworkable. Something went badly wrong with the spread of the virus through care homes. The Cabinet Office are meant to think ahead and make sure departments clear ideas and announcements throughout Whitehall. This does not appear to have happened? 

No doubt the armed forces have learnt many lessons from Coronavirus, but may I add one. Next crisis don’t be shy, tell the government that civil servants are not picked for their natural leadership or a gift for solving practical problems during a stress situation. Nor are politicians.     

There are plenty of experienced people who could form a committee and sort out with the armed forces, intelligence services and police a system of national crisis co-ordination that works. COBRA is a start. I was on it for counter-terrorism for a few years. If the government must have a national security adviser, Alan West is the model as security minister. 

Let’s ask people with real brains and experience to sort out the mess. And instead of slash and burn, learn from history. I still remember the Korea War boom changing our lives within months after Clement Atlee launched a huge peacetime re-armament as reality struck after North Korea and the China invaded across the 38th Parallel. China’s ambitions have not changed in seventy years.

Thanks to western shoppers, funds are no longer short in Beijing. China has added two carriers – one ex-Ukraine or in other words aging Russian, one new and home built. No doubt the US Navy and our own observers have a good idea of the Chinese level of competence when handling a carrier armed with modern heavy jet fighters. We too have at long last added two super carriers – roughly the same weight as the original Forrestal class of the 1950s with which America fought the Vietnam War. Ours are state of the art including their stealth fighters. 

China has bet heavily on submarine and aircraft-launched missiles to worry the Americans. One must add land launched missiles too, the so-called carrier killers and hypersonic weapons, for example rail gun technology stolen from Britain and America. That means that until our government properly arms the Royal Navy’s surface ships, they cannot defend their own or the US Navy’s major units in a full blown hostile environment. Any cruisers in the South China Sea will require an escort force that includes US Navy Aegis class destroyers and submarines capable of launching tactical nuclear warheads on the edge of space to take out the Chinese command and control systems over vast areas.

Don’t fall for offers from our recent European allies to provide escorts for our major units, that’s a very easy way to wrench control of British foreign policy. Start remembering the losses of destroyers and frigates when a task force was despatched without airborne early warning patrol aircraft. John Nott had axed them – an accountant decided the navy didn’t need air power. Hang your heads in Downing Street in memory of the hundreds killed and wounded. Then take on board that nearly 40% of Germans regard China as a closer friend to Germany than the United States. 

Yes, of course they’re mad, but you people poll what you’re going to eat for breakfast, so take it seriously. If a European government provides a ship, they can just as easily withdraw that ship. No escorts in the combat zone, no British aircraft carrier. The friendly EU governments thereby control our armed forces and our foreign policy. 

Mark Sedwill has signed Britain up for EU defence structures, Chinese 5G chips and wants us part of Galileo – the EU version of GPS. The means – unless a British system is built – by which the EU would control our ships, aircraft and tanks, even artillery and mortar rounds in flight. My personal view is that we should move forward to hypersonic rounds – controlled by ourselves and our allies. Did anyone vote for a tong of Whitehall faceless mandarins? No. Good. Let’s get on with a British space programme.

Nor should one overlook the touching faith the Chinese emperor puts in those toy fortresses made out of neighbours’ coral reefs. One particular neighbour doubtless has a plan to remove the Chinese garrisons during a moonless night, that nation has defeated one great power and two super powers during my lifetime. I mean, of course, Vietnam. We both have neighbours trying to grab our fishing grounds. Were I calling the shots, I would make friends with the Vietnamese.

There is a logical argument for tactical nuclear weapons. The Americans are experimenting with mini-nukes. However, there exist other weapons that might prove more effective without the horrendous environmental risk, to put it mildly, and I would put my money on these.

In 2003 the US Department of Defence proposed a new research mission—conventional prompt global strike (CPGS)—that sought to provide the United States with the ability to strike targets anywhere on Earth with conventional weapons in as little as an hour, without reliance on forward based forces. The most important aspect of this CPGS programme: it focussed on the delivery of conventional rather than nuclear impacts. In a nutshell, there are ways of deterring the Chinese emperor from risky adventures and to which his magicians have no answers. 

The admiral’s throw away remark about the Isle of Wight deserves serious reflexion. We have other islands and territories, some with very pleasant climates. We even could make one out of the Maplin Sands in the Thames estuary but the water is not that wonderful perfect bath of the South China Sea. Australia’s north coast offers possibilities for a harbour and at the risk of stoking up a smouldering row, I even wonder what the Hong Kong people could make out of the British Indian Ocean Territories, Ascension Island or indeed Saint Helena? Ideally, they should set up a new shop next to a continent and perhaps Africa has the greatest potential – hello Tanzania, how do you fancy the new Hong Kong on Zanzibar?

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