And now, we have China threatening ‘a large-scale war’

China's one and only aircraft carrier, which they bought used./U.S. Navy

China’s one and only aircraft carrier, which they bought used./U.S. Navy

Or rather, we have state-controlled media doing so, which is a signal I think we have to take seriously:

The US risks a “large-scale war” with China if it attempts to blockade islands in the South China Sea, Chinese state media has said, adding that if recent statements become policy when Donald Trump takes over as president “the two sides had better prepare for a military clash”.

China has controversially built fortifications and artificial islands across the South China Sea. Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, said China’s “access to those islands … is not going to be allowed”.

China claims nearly the entire area, with rival claims by five south-east Asian neighbours and Taiwan.

Tillerson did not specify how the US would block access but experts agreed it could only be done by a significant show of military force. Tillerson likened China’s island building to “Russia’s taking of Crimea”.

“Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories,” said an editorial in the Global Times, a Communist-party controlled newspaper….

I’m not disagreeing with anything Tillerson said, mind you — and it’s not all that different from the policy followed by the Obama administration — but the current situation is fraught.

On a previous post about Nikki Haley, Phillip Bush said:

That’s going to be a tough job, representing the views of the United States to the United Nations and the world when your own Administration is going to be one squabbling, Tweeting, contradictory, capricious, incoherent mess, especially on foreign policy. Her greatest challenge will come not from fellow delegates at the UN or on the Security Council, but trying to sort out and gracefully convey the day-to-day contradictions emanating from the government she is appointed to represent….


One of the main narratives of this week has been that Trump’s nominees are not toeing the Trump line, particularly on foreign policy. Which in one way is encouraging (the nominees’ take is usually far wiser and better-informed), but in another way can lead to chaotic, incoherent policy, an unstable situation in which an unstable personality (hint, hint) can trigger an international crisis, perhaps even war, with a phone call — or a Tweet.

I have little doubt that Nikki Haley will conduct herself “gracefully,” but I do worry quite a bit about a diplomatic novice representing us on the Security Council without expert supervision and direction. That said, in a crisis, Nikki would be the least of my worries. And of course, the new POTUS would be my greatest.

What if, sometime after next Friday, Chinese state media issues a blustering threat like that, and includes some less-than-flattering reflections on Trump himself? How do you suppose he’ll react? And who will be able to contain him? And will they be in time?

65 thoughts on “And now, we have China threatening ‘a large-scale war’

  1. Richard

    That Chinese aircraft carrier is using 1950’s technology. I don’t believe they’ve attempted a launch or recover yet on that carrier. I’ll put a US Navy pilot over a Chinese Navy pilot every time. If Obama wouldn’t have pulled ever carrier out of fleet service (yes, for the first time ever we have no carriers at sea) we’d be able to do more about this situation. With a carrier in the area, I’d say it’d take us about 30 minutes to sink that carrier, without a carrier in the area less than a day.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      No carriers at ALL. How did I miss that? That is deeply shocking.

      I read that it was a temporary situation lasting a week earlier this months, but still — how many do we have at sea now? One? Two? To cover the whole planet? And where are they?

      1. bud

        No carriers at ALL. How did I miss that? That is deeply shocking.

        In what tangible way does that make us less safe? And please don’t launch into some eye-rolling screed about how this shows weakness or fecklessness or whatever the latest neocon blather is being spouted. Just say in concrete terms how not having an aircraft carrier floating around on the high seas makes us less safe? If you can’t then the term “deeply shocking” is just nonsense.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          “In what tangible way does that make us less safe?”

          How do I begin to answer that? How about, “In the most tangible possible way?” There are few things more tangible than an aircraft carrier when you have one where you need it — and more often than not, you don’t know where you’ll need one until you do.

          I realize that in the universe in which you live the United States is a tiny, unassuming nation with no entanglements or obligations abroad, and that nothing that happens on the other sides of the oceans matters a bit to us. The industrial revolution hasn’t happened yet, and we are all yeoman farmers who produce everything we need on our own land, and if there’s trouble, all we have to do is get the musket down off the wall from over the fireplace.

          I live in a different universe from that, one in which that Jeffersonian notion never actually existed, as Jefferson himself had to realize when he had to send the Navy and Marines after the Barbary pirates…

          1. bud

            We didn’t scrape the carriers. We can still move them to where we “need” them. Since there is no current threat to any vital national interest there is no danger in them sitting idle. Seems like an over reaction to a non problem.

    2. Bob Amundson

      I have no doubt that a Virginia class fast attack sub is lurking near the Chinese aircraft carrier, and the Chinese have no clue as to its exact location

    3. Juan Caruso

      Recently, China claimed its aircraft carrier “Liaoning” andon-board J-15 fighter jets carried out exercises including taking off and landing air-combat tactics, air refuelling, and other drills to assert its the combat capability’.

      While weak and timid liberal-minded Americans get hysterical over China’s current saber rattling, the latter had better hope Trump improves our Mexican ties before the Chinese are permitted to dock the Liaoning (draft of only 29.4 feet) at a Pacific coast port. Chinese financing of a port at Punta Colonet or of improvements to the existing Lázaro Cárdenas deepwater port could be truly horrible. You see China, since Carter’s giveaway of the U.S. built Panama Canal, manages all traffic through it including U.S. subs.

      1. Richard

        All aircraft trials likely done while anchored in calm harbor water. I’m interested in seeing how this ship holds up in a storm, likely hold up for one or two then turn into a submarine. The ski jump is already generations old technology, as is the gas turbine propulsion system. I suspect their arresting gear is also primitive in design. I take this thing about as serious as I do the North Korean ICBMS’s. Good for show but likely not battle worthy.

        1. Bryan Caskey

          In this NavyTimes piece, here are some criticisms of the Chinese carrier:

          1. It’s smaller than the Nimitz class carriers we have. The Liaoning can carry 24 fighter aircraft, whereas the Nimitz class can carry more than twice that number with ease.

          2. Looks like the Liaoning is a bit of a slug with an operational speed of 20 knots, whereas the Nimitz can make over 30 knots. Even if the Liaoning set all available canvas aloft, and really cracked on, she’d probably have to start pumping her fresh water over the side to make any similar speed.

          3. The ski-jump style launch system requires the aircraft to use more fuel in the launch, thereby limiting their range and payload. Accordingly, a US carrier could stand off at a distance and be safe from the Liaoning’s aircraft. (Obviously, this doesn’t take into account other naval assets China might have.)

          4. Most importantly, it doesn’t appear that the Liaoning can launch/recover aircraft at night, which means they’re limited to conducting combat in daylight hours only. War doesn’t always wait for clear skies and smooth seas.

          All of this said, I imagine the Chinese aren’t looking to compare their Naval forces to ours. However, I’m sure it’s quite intimidating to it’s smaller neighbors in the reigon. (Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, etc.)

            1. Richard

              So what bud is saying, in 20 years the Chinese navy will be up to 1942 standards. Another 15 years and they’ll have a working steam catapult and start ripping the nose gear off jets.

              1. Jaun Caruso

                Richard, were the Liaoning ever to dock in a Mexican port, calm seas would be fairly irrelevant. Proximity in itself would be a humiliating projection of power for which Trump would not stand, unlike his “lead from behind”, suspend his own redlines predecessor.

                1. Richard

                  You’re forgetting if there were even an attack or threat, those planes in the air wouldn’t have a deck to land on when, or should I say if, they returned.

                  Besides, would Mexico ever risk allowing them to sail in Mexican water?

                  I doubt Trump will bow down to foreign leaders as much as Obama did.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Yes, I’m sure it is.

            It’s surprising sometimes to realize how backward the Chinese and even the Russian navies are. Not long ago, we were talking about the Russian carrier in the Med, and I got the impression that they don’t know how to replenish from an oiler while under way. Routine stuff for our Navy.

            Rather shocking, really…

    1. Juan Caruso

      Ambassador Max Baucus says, “I think that the level playing field is so unlevel – it is tilted so much in favor of Chinese companies – that it’s time for the United States to do a little bit more, see.

      Would never have guessed NPR would publish a transcript agreeing with Trump has said all along. Not as divisive as the MSM which never informed Brad about the current C-in-C emptying the Pacific of our CVNs.

      1. Scout

        NPR reports what people say and lets listeners make of it what they will. Sorry if you had some other idea.

        He also made the point that Tillerson announcing this position publicly like he did was not the best way to get it done, knowing China – that if you tell them privately, they generally comply.

        Personally I’m concerned that awareness (or lack thereof) of these diplomatic nuances, like knowing when to say things publicly or privately, is what may potentially get us all killed. Trump has one style – loud and in your face. He can’t help himself.

        1. Jaun Caruso

          My idea of what NPR does has been framed by years of listening to the left-leaning biases of Bill Moyers and Charlie Rose without the slightest hint of balance.

          Both did excellent jobs of filtering facts and abusing reality, as if still practicing law, the vocation for which both were educated. You see, freedom of speech trumps the “whole truth” oath except in court. However, the performances of both these lawyers were excellent when it came to adherence to “politically correct” leftwing dogma.

          Somehow, Scout, it is difficult to recall a rightwing lawyer who has ever hosted a regularly running NPR program dealing with politics.

          1. Scout

            Perhaps its different if you are talking about a specific political program. I am talking about the news. Bill Moyers and Charlie Rose are not on Morning Edition or All things Considered. In fact, they are both TV people, if I’m not mistaken, not radio. I still say, the news reporting that I hear on NPR (R as in Radio), seems pretty fair to me. For the most part they present information, often from multiple viewpoints, and let the listener draw their own conclusions about it.

            1. Doug Ross

              I’m sure those who are Fox News devotees also think they are fair and balanced. How much time is NPR giving to pro-Trump messages?

              1. Scout

                I’m sure they do think that. I think a side by side comparison would show otherwise, personally.

                I have heard lots of interviews with Trump supporters on NPR. They often leave me mystified, but they are there on the Radio. They do present both sides.

                1. Doug Ross

                  There are liars on all sides.

                  John Lewis “forgot” that he also skipped W’s initial inauguration due to not recognizing him as a legitimate President after stating that Trump’s would be the first he missed. The truth always s somewhere in the middle between the two sides.

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              Scout, the quality of news reporting on NPR is astounding. Ever since I started listening back in the ’80s, I have often been amazed at how thorough, professional and articulate their reports are. As I was driving to work in the morning to the newspaper, I would reflect on how polished the words they were reading were, even in reporting things that had happened overnight, or were breaking at that moment. The quality of their reports sounded like something they’d had a week to prepare, not just minutes.

              And they’re still that good.

              They soar above all other broadcast media in the quality of their reporting, and match the very best print outlets in the world.

              I marvel at what they’re able to do.

              And you know, I’ll never understand people who judge news outlets by their editorial positions, or by what they IMAGINE to be their editorial positions.

              My two favorite newspapers in this country are The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post (I might have listed the NYT as one of them at some point in the past, but I’ve fallen out of the habit of reading it, except for a story here or there). Yet there are millions out there who won’t read one or the other because the first is “too conservative” and the second is “too liberal.”

              My favourite British publications are The Economist and The Guardian, even though one is way libertarian and the other despises anything this country does in the national security sphere, and is Edward Snowden’s cheering section.

              Who cares about that stuff, when they do an excellent job of reporting the news?

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Bud, Rachel Maddow is a more extreme version of the phenomenon I was talking about with people who won’t read the WSJ or the Post — only people who agree with her tend to watch her.

                  I haven’t been exposed to her that much, since I don’t get those cable channels (and don’t miss them). But when I have, I’ve been impressed, ever since she interviewed me about 10 years ago (when she was still doing radio — I had never heard of her at the time).

                  I’ve only seen her on MSNBC a couple of times. But when I have, I’ve tended to a) admire her intellect greatly, and b) completely disagree with her…

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Speaking of not getting those cable stations — I’m about to cut the cord completely.

                    For years and years, we have only paid for a level of cable that most people don’t even know exists: the broadcast tier, which is far below “Basic.” You just get local broadcast channels — no CNN, no Fox News, no MSNBC, no TBS, no ESPN, and so forth. The only cable channel I have missed at all in that time was AMC — but if you wait a bit, great shows like “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead” and “The Night Manager” come out on Netflix.

                    A couple of months back, I got an HD antenna, which gives me all the local broadcast stations, in HD, for free.

                    I’ve been meaning to give up the cable I have through AT&T and just keep the internet connection, through which I watch Netflix and Amazon Prime via Apple TV and Roku.

                    I’m going to — soon. I haven’t yet, for five reasons:

                    — I called once just to find out what internet-only would cost me, and ended up losing what seemed like an hour of my life going around and around with a person with limited English skills about what I wanted, and wouldn’t I prefer to upgrade? The conversation was decidedly non-linear. I’ve just been dreading the final conversation.
                    — I know I’ll have to deal with the hassle of getting the two converter boxes back to AT&T, and I anticipate it being inconvenient. You might not consider it inconvenient to have to take something to the UPS store or whatever, but I have a low threshold. If it can’t be completed online, if I have to physically pick something up and take it somewhere, I balk.
                    — I’ll miss the DVR part of the box, and am not inclined to go out and buy one for myself.
                    — I’ll miss the Guide to what little is on those local broadcast stations.
                    — Now that we’re in the digital universe, I won’t be able to get anything on my old analog TV upstairs where I work out, without investing in a converter box, which seems wasteful. I keep thinking it will quit on me and I can get a replacement, but it never does. Drat that RCA quality! (But this is not a huge factor — I mainly use it for streaming services, and occasionally to watch a DVD.)

                    Don’t take anything I said above as a slap at AT&T. They’re great folks, and I’ve been happy with my service. There would be inconvenience (such as taking the box back, and dealing with the call center) with Time Warner or anyone else, I’m sure.

                    But it’s time. And at some point, it doesn’t matter how good the cable service is if you no longer want cable…

                    1. Bryan Caskey

                      One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to cut the cable since I just hated paying for something I used so little. We now have Amazon, Netflix, AppleTV only.

                      We haven’t had any actual television in 2017. I don’t even have the basic over the air HD antenna, though I guess I could/should get one. I have to say, I haven’t really been missing it. There’s plenty of movies, stuff for the kids, and I find myself not drawn to just sit down and watch tv as much – which is a good thing.

                    2. Brad Warthen Post author

                      Alas, I fear that I won’t watch TV less, since so little of what I watch currently is on broadcast TV — and in fact, the HD antenna gets me MORE channels than the cable broadcast tier does. For instance, I get three ETV channels, and three through WIS.

                      I just watch the occasional thing in PBS — such as Victoria Sunday night. And I’ll go back and watch “Sherlock” sometime before the week is out — on the Apple TV app, of course.

                      Other than that, it’s Netflix and Amazon…

                    3. Brad Warthen Post author

                      Oh, and Saturday Night Live. That’s the other broadcast thing I watch, and I usually DVR it, which I will miss being able to do. But you know, if you just watch the cold open on the Web the next day, you’ve pretty much seen the best of the show…

                    4. Bryan Caskey

                      SNL is so infrequently funny, it’s more the exception rather than the rule. I never watch it, and if there happens to be something funny, someone will tell me.

                    5. Brad Warthen Post author

                      Well I have to check it out, at least the cold open.

                      SNL had been a decade or two without being good when all of a sudden in 2008 it gave us THIS, which was worth waiting for.

                      And of course there hasn’t been anything that good since, but you never know. And sometimes something other than the cold open is good. I occasionally enjoy the “Black Jeopardy” skits.

                      And they have a writer there — I have no idea whom — who enjoys puncturing the silliness of conventional political correctness. I got a mild chuckle or two out of this skit about a presentation involving robots that happened to be programmed to be gay. Casey Affleck plays the one guy in the audience dumb enough to ask, “Why a gay robot?” — meaning, of course, how does that attribute contribute to the machine’s functionality? And the reaction is, “Why NOT a gay robot? What’ YOUR problem? This is 2016!” As the presentation proceeds and the robot basically has nothing to say that doesn’t bear on its attraction to men, Affleck can’t help questioning it, and… everyone backs away from him, even though you can see they’re wanting to ask the same question.

                      Very oblique humor. So, they can be creative still…

                    6. Bryan Caskey

                      Less TV means more reading. Not only do I have to read for myself, (currently 30% through Reverse of the Medal in Aubrey-Maturin) I’m also finding that with a five-year old, there’s lots of reading that I’m doing with him in our push to get him reading. With little kids teaching them anything seems to require doing it often for short periods. No one ever learned to read watching TV.

                    7. Bryan Caskey


                      By the by, a complaint was filed in South Carolina federal district court last week seeking to have the court rule the 2016 election results are “null and void”. I’m going to pull it up on PACER and check it out tonight. If anyone else wants to, the case file is 7:17-cv-00107. Should be good for a laugh.

                    8. Brad Warthen Post author

                      OK, but if we so disturb the space-time continuum so that Trump loses, could that mean the Cubs don’t win the Series?

                      And can we go back a bit further and get Joe Biden to run?

                    9. Brad Warthen Post author

                      Also, just pushing things back a mite more…

                      Could I go back and exercise my Knight Ridder stock options when the stock hit 80, instead of my holding them until they were worthless? And instead of buying McClatchy at $39, could I use my KR profit to wait and buy it at 39 cents — and then sell when it gets back to around $4?

                      That would be nice.

                      Yes, I’ve given a good bit of thought to what I would do with time travel…

                    10. Brad Warthen Post author

                      If I go back that far, I’d have to have a plan to invest in Polaroid, and IBM. And to get out at the right moment.

                      Here’s the problem with getting rich through time travel — it’s transporting wealth back with you. What little money I have is ones and zeroes in computers somewhere. I can’t convert it to cash — a modern $100 bill would look like crazy Monopoly money in 1955. And gold is WAY too expensive today — heavy and dense, too, which might be a problem depending on the time travel device and how it works.

                      The simplest and quickest way to get REALLY rich would be to go back and cycle through the same events over and over. I just explained above how I’d get, more or less, to a million dollars. If I cycle it through about three more times, I’d have a billion. And I’d be happy to stop there.

                      But how to transfer the wealth back so that it’s negotiable? And after I’ve done it a couple of times, how do I explain having all that money to invest with? How do I avoid calling attention to what I’m doing?

                      And if I’m going to have great wealth, I’d like to do so discreetly, not make a spectacle of myself. I’m Trump’s opposite in this, as in so very many things.

                      Basically, the only way to do it is to spread it out over lots of investments in different times and places. And that further complicates the task of transporting the wealth back — I’d have to work out many such movements, not just one big one.

                      Then there’s the problem of recruiting people to make the investments for me — especially if I go back to a time before easy electronic trading, when I might (I think) have to work with a broker — a broker who has questions?

                      Yeah, I could recruit my younger self if we keep it in the last couple of decades (I was 2 in October 1955, so forget that). Then there’s the problem that I would have known all these years about all that money that Future Self gave me to invest, and that it’s growing like crazy. How would that affect the way I lived over the last couple of decades, or my kids or grandkids, or even whether they would exist as the individuals they are? Could I trust even myself to hang onto the investments until the appropriate moment — because former me, not I, would be in the driver’s seat. Would I have to go check in on myself every day?

                      It’s SO complicated.

                      It might be easier to make the billion the old-fashioned way…

                    11. Brad Warthen Post author

                      Oh, and here’s the biggest problem with the whole scheme (which I’ve thought a lot about as a potential sci-fi movie): Being as ignorant as I am about business and the markets and the technical aspects of investing now and in the past, I’d have to ask around for advice. And some of the questions I’d have to ask would sound very screwy, and would arouse suspicion….

                2. Doug Ross

                  Can’t watch her in even small doses. So full of herself. So smarmy and condescending to anyone who doesn’t share her very biased views. She’s a perfect example of the type of person who is totally disconnected from mainstream America.

                  I watched a montage video on Youtube last week of Maddow making all her predictions before the election. She was having such a laugh at trying to even find 150 electoral votes for Trump. It was a complete lock in her enlightened view. Then to watch her implode on election night was classic She was even fighting with Chris Matthews.

                  Just desserts…

                3. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Oh, you mean Rachel Maddow…

                  I can easily see how she’d grate on a lot of people. But I’ve only experienced her in small doses, so I guess I haven’t run out of my ability to tolerate her yet.

                  Here’s the only thing I can remember that I’ve heard her do. It was a number of years back — five or six at least. She was presenting, at great length and in detail, her arguments for why we needed to withdraw entirely from Afghanistan right away.

                  Her argument was brilliant, and, since I enjoy listening to smart people display their intelligence, enjoyable for me.

                  And I disagreed entirely. Basically, the whole argument, beautifully constructed as it was, stood on an unsound foundation of unacceptable assumptions.

                  Other than that, though, it was awesome…

                4. Doug Ross

                  You understand that your decision to cut the cord on cable is no different than my decision to stop subscribing to The State years ago, right? It’s a question of value. The State has lost any advantage it had in being the voice for the people. They got lazy and didn’t adapt.

                5. Richard

                  The only time I’ve enjoyed seeing Rachel Maddow was the day after the election. Total meltdown. I’m sure it’s on YouTube.

              1. Doug Ross

                Until they figure out that producing and distributing a hardcopy newspaper is a losers game, they will continue the march to irrelevance.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Doug, I’ve explained this to you a number of times. There is much more profit in print ads than in online. Newspapers can’t get by without print ad revenue, however much they might like to…

                  At least, it was that way when I left, and I don’t think the equation has changed…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              I haven’t seen Moyers in a bunch of years. Of course, I haven’t much liked anything he’s done since maybe the ’70s.

              Charlie Rose is an excellent interviewer, but I don’t think I’ve watched him enough to intuit his political views.

              Here’s the thing for me…

              I’m an opinion guy. I’d almost rather get information from a source unabashedly presenting it from the perspective of one who has reached conclusions as from someone who is conventionally “objective.” The reason for that is that if it’s good commentary (whether I agree with it or not), it will take me deeper into the topic and help me understand it more fully. I’ve gone into why that is in the past. It’s complicated. (If you care, I’ll try to find links to when I’ve explained it.)

              Of course, I’m talking about GOOD commentary, regardless of whether it’s from the left, right or center. If it’s commentary that sneers contemptuously at people who disagree, or if it conveniently ignores facts, or if the conclusions are just completely unsupported — all of which is very true of a lot of stuff out there — then it’s worse than useless, a waste of time…

  2. Phillip

    I know we’re all flush with macho-ness around here after the Clemson national championship win, but before we get carried by how much bigger our, um, weaponry is…let’s remember—while the Chinese are in violation of international law, it is the claims of the Philippines and Vietnam that are being violated, and it can only be an international effort to negotiate/pressure the Chinese. If the Chinese have no claim to the disputed waters, the US has even less, and a unilateral military action by the US would have no supportable basis unless and until an ally were to be actually attacked. China is flouting international rulings by ignoring the Hague decision, but all the major powers, Western ones included, do the same thing. The US famously ignored a ruling by the International Court against it in the case of mining Nicaraguan harbors in the 1980s. Let’s hope that Tillerson’s words are just trying to establish a tough negotiating position.

    Of course, Tillerson’s hard line couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Exxon/Mobil has huge deals with Vietnam for drilling in some of the disputed waters, whereas it does not have such deals with China? Nah.


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