No matter what the foreign policy scenario is that our government is dealing with, it’s always vital that government officials understand the goals and ambitions of whatever nation they’re dealing with. Debate is no different. When you’re acting as an advisor (comparable to a government official) in policy debate rounds this year, it’s absolutely paramount that you understand the nature of the PRC.
That’s why in today’s NCFCA backgrounder we’ll be analyzing the PRC’s goals and how they relate to US interests as a whole beginning with everyone’s favorite: the economy.
Area 1: Economic
When it comes to the economy, China’s hasn’t been doing so hot as of late. Though it did have a fairly large economic boom in 2010, China’s unprecedented economic expansion has been starting to slow in recent years, and it’s personal goals are changing to reflect that. Just how much has China’s economy been struggling?
It’s been struggling a lot.
Gross domestic product expanded by only 6.9% in 2015, its slowest pace in 25 years and a hair slower than the government’s 7% target. The PRC recognizes that they have a problem and it’s trying to do something about it, but it’s going to be pretty difficult for things to get back on track. Economic troubles in China begin with the goals set by the government. The PRC has long term goals to both grow economically and to restructure industries afflicted with overcapacity, two goals that shouldn’t really coexist. Additionally, the Chinese government is battling waning manufacturing activity and overcapacity in traditional industrial sectors
So what is China doing about it? To begin with, the government is trying to shift away from dependence on manufacturing and debt-fueled investment toward the services sector and consumer spending (just earlier this year 1.8 million coal and steel jobs were cut). Furthermore, the PRC has changed their goal setting tactics. Instead of setting a specific growth target, China (beginning this year) has turned to a range system, lowering their growth target to 6.5%-7% for 2016. This was the first time since 1995 that Beijing had released a target range for economic growth instead of a specific number, possibly demonstrating a full realization of the massive problem at hand.
Despite what are obviously major issues, the Chinese government is committed to maintaining at least the bottom end of their 2016 range. Last November, premier Li expressed that the economy would need an average annual growth rate of at least 6.5% over the next five years to meet the government’s goal of building a “moderately prosperous society” by 2020.
So how does this affect the United States? For starters, a Chinese slowdown is bad for global markets as a whole. As CNN put it, “Uncertainty over the outlook for the Chinese economy, a key driver of global growth, roiled international markets at the start of this year. China isn’t buying as many commodities as it once did…” Although the US mostly imports from China, the PRC is one of our biggest trading partners when it comes to exports. A continually devalued Yuan (Chinese currency) and less buying power isn’t exactly great news for the United States.
How can you apply this newfound knowledge? It’s simple. Like almost everything else, you can just apply it to sanctions. Here’s the simple truth: sanctions harm economies. For better or for worse (that’s up to you), whenever a team is placing sanctions on China, they are placing sanctions on an already collapsing economy. If you’re NEG, great. You can talk about the human impact of sanctions, like increased pollution from companies cutting even more corners, or you can talk about the negative diplomatic impact. If you happen to be AFF, great. The PRC’s economy is very important to it, and it’s already on a downhill path. China will probably make whatever changes are necessary to get high sanctions off it’s back.
Okay. We’re done with the economy. Hooray. Let’s move on to a much more interesting and simple topic: China’s military goals.
Area 2: Military
Comparatively, China’s military outlook is surprisingly simple: the PRC’s main goals are to establish dominance through regional maritime sovereignty and to stay at peace with the world while slowly increasing their militaries’ reach. With an army of 2.3 million active service members, (compare to the US’ 1.4 million), China’s pure manpower is nothing to sniff at, and though technologically the US is far ahead of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China’s cyber hacking abilities are also a serious cause for concern.
Let’s start with that first goal. How much does China desire to achieve regional maritime sovereignty, and how do they plan on achieving it?
Military Goal 1: Maritime Sovereignty
According to a recent Pentagon report, China would be willing to “tolerate higher levels of tension in pursuit of its maritime sovereignty claims.” To put it another way, the PRC’s main military goal is to be the #1 sea power in Asia, even if this makes all the surrounding countries angry. Why do they want maritime control so badly? The PRC is dealing with a lot right now. Between the economic collapse and the fight over Taiwan, General Secretary Xi Jinping has been having a difficult time achieving his “China Dream”. Since increased maritime power will help on every front, Xi Jinping decided it was a necessity for China to gain as much regional sea control as possible.
What does this goal look like? Though it’s mainly manifested in the South China Sea Conflict, it certainly doesn’t end there. Maritime power goals for China include a large and effective coast guard, a capable merchant marine and fishing fleet, a globally recognized shipbuilding capacity, and the ability to harvest or extract economically important maritime resources.
How soon will they achieve it? A paper by CNA Strategic Studies estimates that because China already has a fairly strong navy, the world’s largest fishing industry, and a market leading shipbuilding sector, China could reasonably fully achieve its maritime goals by the year 2030.
How does this affect the US? Well, it affects us in a lot of ways. The thing is, China views the US as the main threat to its maritime goals. The PRC believes (and rightly so) that the US is the only country able to prevent it from achieving maritime sovereignty in Asia. For China to complete the maritime power objective, it has to be able to defend all of its maritime interests in its seas in spite of the U.S. military presence and alliance commitments. For better or for worse, the US military position in the region will be the deciding factor in whether or not the PRC achieves its maritime goals.
Military Goal 2: Increased International Influence
This goal is much simpler. Though China’s main focus is at home, the PRC is still continuing to broaden its international militaristic influence. Recently it’s met a series of milestones, including launching its first overseas military facility.
Going forward, China plans to slowly broaden its strength while still maintaining a “low key” operation. Because it’s so focused on it’s own waters, the PRC doesn’t really want any sort of overseas conflict. For now, it’s content with improving relations while steadily increasing the scope of its power.
In all honesty, this shouldn’t be too large of a concern for the US as long as the PRC stays within this stated goal. The simple truth of the matter is that on the international stage, China’s military strength is nothing in comparison to ours. Despite some legitimate military concerns, unless something radically changes in the next year China’s gradual expansion onto the global stage isn’t a big concern of ours, and certainly regional issues are much larger.
That’s it for part one, but next week we’ll take a further look at China’s goals and ambitions as we look at sections 3 and 4: environmental goals and foreign policy as a whole.