Address to the Mosman Park Geopolitical Society: China
by David Archibald
15 February 2023
An admiral in the US Navy, preparing for China’s war, said recently the Chinese are not ten feet tall. I agree.
The world’s most eminent geostrategist, Edward Luttwak, recently wrote:
Deluded over the centuries by their great material superiority over the nomads, mountaineers, and jungle dwellers who lived around them, educated Chinese became convinced — and still are — that all foreigners are stupid, naïve, greedy, and easily deceived, and that all it takes to defeat them in war are clever tricks.
Luttwak had coined the term ‘great state autism’ to describe China. China has the mentality of an autistic child. Who sees the world as they want to see it and can’t comprehend how others think.
Let’s go on from talking about feelings to talking about facts.
China has a lot of structural problems that make it a fragile state, a frail state and even potentially a future failed state.
Mao left a time bomb in China’s demographics. Back in 1959 the President of Beijing University had suggested that China adopt population control to keep the country’s population at 600 million. Mao believed that history favoured the big battalions. China had to wait 25 years until Mao died before trying to bring their population growth under control. So their population is now fourteen hundred million.
But what do all those people do? About three hundred million live in the few coastal provinces that make things and trade with the wider world. It will be those three hundred million we will be fighting, not the whole fourteen hundred million.
Another four and twenty-five million are agricultural workers. So your average Chinese agricultural worker only feeds himself and two other people.
Bear in mind that in Western countries about 2% of the population is in agriculture and feeds the other 98%. Recently I visited a farm in Western Australia that produces 40,000 tonnes of wheat per year with three full time staff. So each of those workers feeds about 25,000 other people. That’s productivity, and the potential for a high standard of living.
Almost the entirety of the Chicom rice crop of 145 million tonnes is planted by hand. And a lot of that is in terraces that can’t be mechanised. So the Chicoms have the choice of either keeping a great chunk of their population in poverty, planting grain by hand, or have their grain production fall by a third.
And they don’t produce enough to feed themselves as it is. Last year the Chicoms imported 147 million tonnes of grain and soybeans in order to put meat on the table in the form of chicken and pork. Those imports will end when their war of choice starts, and China will revert to being a nation of involuntary vegetarians. China with a population of 600 million would have a lot more free cash flow, and be a lot more dangerous, than the China we face with near two and a half times that number.
The 300 million we will be fighting have to divert a lot of their effort to make sure the other 1,100 million are fed and clothed, and don’t riot.
Over the last thousand years there has been a correlation between cold periods, crop failures, and insurrection in China. Global temperature peaked in 2016 and the planet is now cooling three times faster than in warmed in the late 20th century. So even the weather is ganging up on the Chicoms.
A couple of years ago Xi rescinded China’s one child policy in order keep their population at a seemingly formidable 1.4 billion. Big mistake, based on a false world view. He is locking them into a low standard of living and state fragility. If, that is, the Chinese people respond to his directive by breeding to order.
Secondly, the Chicom industrial expansion was based on cheap and abundant coal, which powers just about everything. In energy terms their current coal consumption rate is equivalent to 55 million barrels per day of oil. And in getting this far, this fast, they have burned through half their original coal endowment.
According to resource depletion theory, once you have extracted half of your reserves of something then operating costs start rising inexorably. The cost of power from coal plants in China used to be four US cents per kilowatt hour. It is now eight US cents per kilowatt hour. The energy cost advantage of the Chicom economy is fading fast.
And what have the Chicoms traded tens of billions of tonnes of coal for? The free cash flow generated by their economy was converted to apartment blocks. And those apartment blocks might have a life of fifty years. Like the solar panels we are installing, they will be obliged to tear them down at the end of their lives and convert them to landfill. So that coal endowment will leave little of lasting value.
Like Putin in Russia, Xi in China yearns for their Stalinist past and is taking China backwards in state control of industry, which is a big productivity killer.
One of the biggest productivity killers in China would be his directive for all party members, students and military to spend half an hour per day studying Xi Jinping thought. And those studying his inane insights can’t fake it. There are questions at the end of each online study session. The life of a party member should be long lunches and unbridled corruption. Those study sessions would be taking a lot of the joie de vivre out of it. If there is an uptrend in suicides by party members, the culprit would be the compulsory study sessions.
China’s third big problem is their felt need to attack other countries and take control of the planet.
There is a parallel with Japan’s opening up after Commodore Perry’s visit to Japan in 1853. Ten years after that visit, the Japanese cabinet discussed invading Korea. And began their first attack in 1875. Which was a scant 22 years after the Perry visit. There has also been 22 years since China’s industrial modernisation began.
The Japanese world view was that the Emperor had a divine responsibility to rule everything under heaven. The Chinese version of that is called Tianxhia. Under which they rule the whole planet and foreigners send them lots of free stuff.
But all that moral theorising is just an excuse. At its simplest, their real casus belli is that, for the Chicoms to be able to feel better about themselves, they need to attack another country and kill a lot of foreigners. Let’s step back a bit and look at China’s problem of which country to attack first.
If they attack Russia, as the Japanese did at Khalkin Gol in 1939, the Russians will whack the invading forces with nukes.
That leaves invading Taiwan by sea or Vietnam by land. Neither of which is a good choice.
The best sort of country to attack is one with a long border and plenty of flat, grassy plains for tanks to maneuver on — like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
The Chicom’s biggest problem is that the evolution of electronics over the last 20 years has favoured the defence. China has built a big navy but the cost of a sinking a naval vessel using missiles launched from aircraft is just five percent of the cost of building the ship. The Chicoms can’t go anywhere without putting their troops in metal containers — ships and aircraft — which are easily tracked on the modern battlefield.
To sink the Chinese fleet you don’t need to build your own fleet or have tens of thousands of naval personnel. You go asymmetric on them and overmatch with cruise missiles fired from aircraft launched from island bases. After all, nobody feels the need to set foot in China.
Thus, realistic war games of a Chicom invasion of Taiwan result in China losing and the Chicom navy sunk — all of it. But for that to happen we do have to make the necessary investments in asymmetry.
The US Marines were the first to come to that conclusion and have parked up all their main battle tanks in favor of small detachments on islands flinging missiles at the approaching Chicom warships.
But the Chicoms haven’t laid a single cubic meter of concrete for an invasion of Taiwan. Not even one new helipad on the coast opposite.
However, they have laid plenty of concrete for another invasion of Vietnam, which they have been invading since 111 BC. This includes artillery pads right on the border and a big complex of sheds and barracks just 10 km from the border.
Chicom military strategy puts a big emphasis on deception and a surprise attack to start a war, which they call a defensive pre-emptive strike.
Also consider the Chicom situation in the South China Sea. They claim all of it but there are 30 Vietnamese bases in the Spratleys, which make a mockery of the Chicom claim.
So their plan will be to move armoured divisions up to the border at night and keep them out of sight of satellites in the new warehouse buildings, conduct a glorious quick thrust into Vietnam, and then refuse to withdraw until the Vietnamese have given up their bases in the South China Sea.
It will be Vietnam that will bear the brunt of Chicom military aggression. In 1946, Ho Chi Minh, in discussing the Vietnamese strategic situation, said that it would be better to smell French shit for five years than Chinese shit for one thousand years.
That is our choice too. It is not a difficult choice to make, either morally or in execution. But we do have to make the necessary investments to ensure that victory, and our freedom.
David Archibald is the author of TheAnticancer Garden in Australia