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Trump must stop Chinese power grab before we're at all-out war
China is preparing for war with America.
The communist nation continues to boost defense spending. The People's Liberation Army now enjoys a $151 billion budget, up from less than $10 billion in 1997. Beijing's investments have yielded fifth-generation fighter jets and hypersonic missiles capable of sinking U.S. aircraft carriers.
China also plans to wage war in cyberspace. State-sponsored hackers have carried out thousands of cyberattacks on America - often to steal military and commercial technology or probe for vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure such as electric grids. These cyberattacks cause hundreds of billions of dollars in economic damage.
The Trump administration lacks a consistent strategy to counter this aggression. One moment, President Trump extols his "great chemistry" with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The next, he rage-tweets that China is doing "NOTHING for us with North Korea" and threatens tariffs.
Fortunately, it's not too late for Trump to prioritize and increase our military and cyber capabilities to deter future aggression.
President Obama promised - but failed - to do so. He famously vowed to "pivot" U.S. military resources from the Middle East to Asia. Obama touted new security partnerships with the Philippines, said he would help Japan defend the East China Sea, and met with Southeast Asian leaders. But he never actually followed through.
In other words, he spoke loudly while carrying a small stick.
The result? China felt emboldened to occupy and militarize islands in the South China Sea that are claimed by multiple countries.
Beijing has given "nation building" a whole new meaning - by piling sand, rocks, and cement onto sea reefs to create 3,200 acres of manmade islands in the South China Sea. Three recently completed islands include runways, aircraft hangers and surface-to-air missile shelters.
China has also mastered the art of "salami slicing" - claiming chunks of territory bit by bit, just enough not to spark international conflict. One-third of global trade shipments pass through the South China Sea. By militarizing these newly-claimed outposts, China could bully other East Asian nations into submission by choking off trade. And the outposts would enable Chinese forces to keep the U.S. military away from the Chinese mainland.
The communist nation enjoys a home-field advantage. While the U.S. military must plan to win an offensive war anywhere in the world, China only has to defend its East Asian interests well enough to force the United States to preemptively back down or sue for peace in any future conflict.
China is poised to make such a war prohibitively bloody. It has "the most active ballistic-missile program in the world," according to RAND, one of the leading think tanks on defense issues. Plenty of those missiles could neutralize U.S. aircraft carriers and cripple U.S. bases in Japan and South Korea. The country also possesses 260 nuclear weapons.
The United States needs to strengthen its military capabilities to beat China at its own game - and make any potential conflict so costly that Beijing avoids future aggressions.
Establishing this balance of power requires doing the opposite of what Obama did. Rather than shout about how we are going to raise hell, we should quietly gear up to raise hell if we're forced to.
That means major new investments in aerial surveillance and satellites to maintain an intelligence edge. It means developing better sensor technology and missile defenses to keep Chinese missiles from sinking our aircraft carriers. And it means boosting cyber capabilities to thwart Chinese hackers and hit back with retaliatory attacks.
China is on the verge of making the entire South China Sea its own lake. Left unchecked, this aggression poses a threat to America's primacy in the region and its long-term superpower status. It's time for Trump to channel his inner Teddy Roosevelt - by humbly building up a much more formidable stick.
Todd J. Stein is a principal of Braeside Capital, L.P., a Dallas-based private investment partnership.