Credit where credit is due


Epoch Times carried a story (click here) this weekend about last week’s flurry of China-related congressional hearings, including the Thursday U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission panel on which I was honored to serve. Exposure is always welcome, but I do have to give credit where credit is due: the reporter quoted me as saying China will have the world’s largest navy by 2020, measured by raw numbers of combatant hulls. And so it will, and indeed I did say that.

But I was quoting from the estimable Rear Admiral Mike McDevitt of the Center for Naval Analyses—as is clearly annotated in the text and footnotes. (I double-checked.) During the Q&A one of the commissioners also ascribed the quotation to me, and I made sure the credit went to Mike then as well.

Two quick points. One, it is amazing how often this sort of thing happens: people latch onto some slogan or catchphrase, develop lockjaw, and drag it around. It’s similar to editors’ eternally reaching for the headline that will lodge in folks’ brains and bestow lasting impact on the article. Washingtonians appear peculiarly prone to sloganeering, which is why cutesy phrases—”frenemies,” “sharp [soft, sticky, smart] power,” “Thucydides trap,” and on and on—sluice through political and foreign-policy commentary.

And two, making Mike’s quotation the banner for my remarks undersells my views of the scope of the China challenge. I put the thesis to the USCC that a fraction of the U.S. Navy will face off against the whole of the PLA Navy backed by PLA Air Force warplanes and the PLA Rocket Force, on China’s ground and far from American ground. The PLA Navy, then, is only part of the much bigger problem of joint Chinese sea power. We had better ensure we retain a heckuva advantage in material quality and combat prowess to offset increasingly forbidding strategic circumstances.

Do we still command such an advantage, and if not, how do we get our mojo back?