17 October 2021

Interviewed by ANI News: “China Exploits the ‘Decade of Danger’”

China Exploits the ‘Decade of Danger’,” ANI News, 12 October 2021.

… This period where China’s military and strategic power grows to the point that …war becomes possible, and with the USA and allies [currently at risk of being perceived as] unprepared to properly deter, is described as “the decade of greatest danger” by Andrew Erickson, a Professor of Strategy at the US Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute.

Erickson told ANI: “The ‘decade of greatest danger’ is already upon us; the US and its allies and partners must weather the ‘window of vulnerability.’ Conflict may be avoidable, but not friction and crises. The climax is likely to erupt before 2030—at the apogee of Xi, the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] and People’s Republic of China’s [PRC] relative power—in the form of the maximum threat of a kinetic conflict over Taiwan. The People’s Liberation Army’s [PLA] meteoric rise in capabilities to coerce Taiwan—both absolute and relative to its Taiwanese and American counterparts—represents an extreme microcosm of the decade of danger.”

Erickson elaborated, “Here US and allied success, or failure, will be fundamental and reverberate for the remainder of the century. Given the ambitious goals of Xi, the CCP he leads, and the PRC they control, their default impulse will be to make a major move against Taiwan by the late 2020s—following an extraordinary ramp-up in PLA capabilities, and before the power and grasp of Xi or the party-state has ebbed or Washington and its allies have fully regrouped and rallied to the challenge.” This “decade of greatest danger” is thus very real and very serious for the whole world, if China seeks to fulfil its military ambitions.

Erickson warned: “Only the most formidable, agile American and allied deterrence can kick the can down the road long enough for a PRC slowdown to close the window of vulnerability. Truly dramatic revelations of world-class PLA progress and selective superiority over the next few years will shock and awe citizens and influencers in Taiwan, America’s allies and America itself. Recent public revelations about a paradigm-shifting build-up of nuclear weapons and associated hardening and delivery systems—in extreme contrast to prior PRC history, doctrine and messaging—are but one manifestation of this sudden, sweeping and startling build-up.” …

ANI asked Erickson to assess the PLAN’s capability. “Over the past two decades, the PLA has achieved a rapid hardware build-out in quantity and increasing quality; together with sweeping reforms to address ongoing weaknesses in organization, coordination, sophistication and training. China has already arrived as a great power. It has the world’s second largest economy and defense budget, and the world’s largest standing ground force.”

Referring specifically to Chinese maritime power, the American professor added: “Its three sea forces are each the world’s largest by number of ships. It has the Indo-Pacific’s largest air force, the world’s largest sub-strategic missile forces, and arguably the world’s largest and most sophisticated surface-to-air missile forces. In some measures of shipbuilding, land-based ballistic/cruise missiles and integrated air defense systems, it has even surpassed the United States in overall capacity.”

Already, Chinese naval shipbuilding eclipses that of the USA. Indeed, “PRC sources display confidence that PRC naval shipbuilding has advantages over its American counterpart.” There are limits to China’s naval growth, though. Erickson pointed out, “Nearby, near-term progress doesn’t transfer well across space or time. Indeed, China may have already reached its peak growth rate and mobilization ability. Looking forward, PRC naval shipbuilding is slowing down and faces mounting maintenance and overhaul requirements.” …

Professor Erickson again reminded of the need for a concerted defense against Xi’s callous pursuit of Chinese dominance in this decade of danger: “Only well-prepared and well-explained US government answers will stem a riptide of stunned defeatism and prevent Xi from ‘winning without fighting.’ ‘Holding the line’ is likely to require frequent and sustained proactive enforcement actions to disincentivize full-frontal PRC assaults on the rules-based order in Asia-Pacific. PRC probing behavior and provocations must be met with a range of symmetric and asymmetric responses that impose real costs.” (ANI)