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Sailing Toward a Storm in China: U.S. Maneuvers Could Spark a War

Quietly and with minimal coverage in the U.S. press, the Navy announced that from mid-July through August it would hold exercises dubbed Operation Summer Pulse '04 in waters off the China coast near Taiwan.

This will be the first time in U.S. naval history that seven of our 12 carrier strike groups deploy in one place at the same time. It will look like the peacetime equivalent of the Normandy landings and may well end in a disaster.

At a minimum, a single carrier strike group includes the aircraft carrier itself (usually with nine or 10 squadrons and a total of about 85 aircraft), a guided missile cruiser, two guided missile destroyers, an attack submarine and a combination ammunition, oiler and supply ship.

Normally, the United States uses only one or at the most two carrier strike groups to show the flag in a trouble spot. In a combat situation it might deploy three or four, as it did for both wars with Iraq. Seven in one place is unheard of.

Operation Summer Pulse '04 was almost surely dreamed up at the Pearl Harbor headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Command and its commander, Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, and endorsed by neocons in the Pentagon. It is doubtful that Congress was consulted. This only goes to show that our foreign policy is increasingly made by the Pentagon.

According to Chinese reports, Taiwanese ships will join the seven carriers being assembled in this modern rerun of 19th century gunboat diplomacy. The ostensible reason given by the Navy for this exercise is to demonstrate the ability to concentrate massive forces in an emergency, but the focus on China in a U.S. election year sounds like a last hurrah of the neocons.

Needless to say, the Chinese are not amused. They say that their naval and air forces, plus their land-based rockets, are capable of taking on one or two carrier strike groups but that combat with seven would overwhelm them. So even before a carrier reaches the Taiwan Strait, Beijing has announced it will embark on a crash project that will enable it to meet and defeat seven U.S. carrier strike groups within a decade. There's every chance the Chinese will succeed if they are not overtaken by war first.

China is easily the fastest-growing big economy in the world, with a growth rate of 9.1% last year. On June 28, the BBC reported that China had passed the U.S. as the world's biggest recipient of foreign direct investment. China attracted $53 billion worth of new factories in 2003, whereas the U.S. took in only $40 billion; India, $4 billion; and Russia, a measly $1 billion.

If left alone by U.S. militarists, China will almost surely, over time, become a democracy on the same pattern as that of South Korea and Taiwan (both of which had U.S.-sponsored military dictatorships until the late 1980s). But a strong mainland makes the anti-China lobby in the United States very nervous. It won't give up its decades-old animosity toward Beijing and jumps at any opportunity to stir up trouble — "defending Taiwan" is just a convenient cover story.

These ideologues appear to be trying to precipitate a confrontation with China while they still have the chance. Today, they happen to have rabidly anti-Chinese governments in Taipei and Tokyo as allies, but these governments don't have the popular support of their own citizens.

If American militarists are successful in sparking a war, the results are all too predictable: We will halt China's march away from communism and militarize its leadership, bankrupt ourselves, split Japan over whether to renew aggression against China and lose the war. We also will earn the lasting enmity of the most populous nation on Earth.

Chalmers Johnson's latest book is "The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic" (Metropolitan, 2004).

Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times

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