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U.S. Must Signal Military Strength to China

Former ambassador to Beijing and former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has some useful points to make in the Wall Street Journal about how America must deal with China. But his prescriptions are curiously incomplete.

He argues, convincingly, that “the U.S. must deal with China from a position of strength”; “we should be pursuing free trade agreements with Japan, Taiwan and India, and allowing American businesses to enter Burma”; “we should renew our ties to key allies, focusing on joint endeavors that hedge against some of the more difficult contingencies we could face in the region from an aggressive China and People’s Liberation Army”; and we must make clear that, while “values matter,” “in today’s China those values we share are found mostly among people like Mr. Chen, and not in the Communist Party or the government.”

What’s missing here? Any mention of military strength. Huntsman is right that we need to get our economic house in order (presumably by reducing the burden of government on the economy and reducing the ridiculous federal budget deficit). But we also must make clear to China that there is no sense in a military challenge to the U.S. and our allies because we will be strong enough to resist any Chinese adventurism. That deterrence is in the process of being lost today, unfortunately.

As former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman pointed out in a previous Journal oped, a bipartisan commission chaired by Stephen Hadley and William Perry determined that the Navy needs at least 346 vessels in the future. But today, the Navy has only 286 ships, and it is shrinking. Based on the present trajectory, it will be down to 240-250 ships at best. That is hardly a signal of strength to China at a time when its own military is expanding at breakneck pace.

The fact that Huntsman makes no mention of this important expression of national power is a reminder that he ran for the Republican nomination as a quasi-isolationist–and reason to be thankful his campaign gained so little traction.

 



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