China’s treatment of Australia today sheds light on Beijing’s plans for other countries, including the United States, Colby said: “Australia is the perfect example of what the future holds. I constantly use Australia as an example. They demand that you change your law freedom of speech, your internal political system, and that is the future, if we let it happen.
“But Australia has America as its backstop. But if we let China get to the point where China can subordinate America, then we and those who are allied with us are done – we have no America.”
But Colby wrote the 2018 National Defense Strategy as a Pentagon official in the Trump administration. How does the Biden administration view this?
A clue. Joe Biden says America is “competing with China to win the 21st century”.
Another track. While US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was engaged in intensive negotiations to avert war in Ukraine, he made the long flight to Melbourne two weeks ago to the Foreign Ministers’ meeting of the four Indo-Pacific Quad nations – Australia, India, Japan and the United States.
His visit to Australia in the midst of the Ukraine crisis “only reinforces the point that for us, as a Pacific nation itself, we see the future, we see it here, and you have to stay focused on the core, even as you deal with the challenge of the moment. “Blink told me. So for Blinken, Russia is the moment. China is the future.
A third track. The Biden administration’s interim national security strategy guide says China “is the only competitor potentially able to combine its economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to launch a lasting challenge to a stable and open international system”.
OK, so China is uniquely dangerous to the United States, the Trump and Biden people agree. But is not Russia a frightening superpower? China may be the long-term danger, but is not Russia the immediate threat?
Russia’s economy is ranked number 11 by GDP at around USD 1.65 trillion, using market prices. This is smaller than South Korea’s or Canada’s and only slightly larger than Australia’s 1.61 trillion USD. China, on the other hand, is three-quarters the size of the United States and 10 times the size of Russia. Moscow has a formidable nuclear and conventional military, but it is aging and cannot keep up with the pioneering powers of the United States and China.
Colby says China is once again unique, “the largest economy that has emerged in the international system since the United States itself. There is an implicit tendency to reject China, saying it is not as real as the numbers suggest. But if China reaches the same per capita income level as Japan, they will be something like three times the size of our economy.And many Chinese are well below the middle income level at the moment, so they have plenty of opportunities to catch up. . “
As for the short-term threat versus the long-term one: “People say China is a long-term problem,” Colby says. “My answer is: It’s a long-term problem just like acute heart disease. Of course it’s long-term and you have to change what you eat and your exercise plan, but if you do not solve the blockage now, you will still be killed before you. is able to worry about the long term. “
By comparison, Russia is only “a pale shadow of China given the size of their economy”.
But does the United States not have the capacity to deal with both Russia and China? The days of overwhelming American power are over. China’s main adviser to the White House, Rush Doshi, the National Security Council, wrote this before being called up for government service: “Larger size suggests that Beijing – unlike the Soviets – may eventually generate and use more [his emphasis] resources on competition than the United States. “
In his book from 2021 The Long Game: China’s Great Strategy to Displace American OrderDoshi made it clear that the United States is now on the defensive: “The United States cannot compete with China symmetrically – that is, dollar-for-dollar, ship-by-ship or loan-to-loan – in part because of China’s pure relative size . “
In other words, America will not defend Ukraine because it is gripped by the all-consuming urgency to defend itself.
Peter Hartcher is an international editor.