Is China gearing up to start World War III?

Summary:America's relationship with China is a fascinating look at dysfunctional geopolitics.

Back in the day, I sailed on a couple of Pacific cruises with the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). A special shout-out to my shipmates on the Chuck Boat.

America's relationship with China is a fascinating look at dysfunctional geopolitics.

On an economic level, our fortunes are tightly intertwined. As far back as 18 months ago, I reported about how, while China is America's largest creditor -- and we're their largest market -- China also been developing modified Dong Feng 21 missiles capable of extremely long flight. The potential of threat to Americans and American interests certainly didn't go unnoticed by our government.

China has also shown itself to be a cybersecurity threat on both the industrial and military fronts. China has conducted numerous penetration tests against U.S. computer systems and networks.

We also know that China has a relatively active, organized cybercriminal community, with large groups of people conducting phishing attacks against Americans. Of course, the People's Republic of China (mainland China) isn't the only China phishing on Americans, so is the Republic of China, better known these days as Taiwan.

But it's the PRC that concerns us most. There are a few important things to keep in mind when you think about mainland China -- and if you don't think about Zh?nghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó, it's time you started.

The first thing to think about is the country's amazing population. China has 1.3 billion people, more than four times America's population. China gives birth to more babies each year than Canada has people -- and that's after China's incredibly draconian jìhuà shengyù zhèngcè policy, the policy where China only allows one child per family.

The second thing you need to know is that China has become an economic powerhouse, growing its GDP by about 10% per year. This year, China blew past Japan to become the world's second largest individual economy, after the U.S.

China also consumes a tremendous amount of energy. In How To Save Jobs I did some mathematical modeling and showed that China's cows, alone, will be consuming more than one seventh of the world's oil supplies within 10 years. Just their cows. That's not counting what their 1.3 billion people need.

There's more. I wrote:

China consumes slightly more than we do, at about 2.6 billion tons of go-juice. What makes China particularly interesting is that they’re consuming more and more each year. While our demand increases only 0.34% annually, China’s demand is increasing at 8.68%. Even the rate of increase is increasing. Back in 2000, China’s demand only increased by 2.46%.

I did a lot more math in How To Save Jobs, but one calculation stood out. China has made it a national priority to push more and more of its citizens into a middle class. But if China manages to "middle class" most of its citizens, China alone would then consume 10.1 billion tons of oil equivalent per year, or 78% of the world’s total output.

If India were to grow at the same rate (and India is growing fast, as well), China and India combined would consume 1.5 times the world's total energy supply. In other words, those two countries, alone, will need more oil that the world actually has. This could be a problem.

The Chinese government is aware of all of this. The more they build, the more they consume. This is why China has become frenemies with the United States. We provide a market for their goods and a source of money for all that energy they consume.

But there's one more important fact about China you should know. China absolutely hates that Taiwan isn't part of the PRC. They absolutely, viscerally hate that the United States has been defending Taiwan and has been standing in their way to repatriate Taiwan, to bring Taiwanese citizens under mainland control.

In fact, to many PRC government minds, Taiwan is now part of mainland China. It's just that America is blocking their rightful governance.

So, put it all together. China has four times our population. They have an economy going gangbusters, but will likely need more oil than exists on the planet, and they have an irrational anger at us for our role in keeping Taiwan out of their clutches. Plus, we owe them trillions of dollars.

It makes for a potent and volatile cocktail, doesn't it?

Next: China, aircraft carriers, and World War III »

There are 21 aircraft carriers in service today. Of those, America has 11 -- more than half of the world's total. In addition, we have one in reserve and three more under construction, which will give us a total of fifteen to vs. the rest of the world's ten.

Russia has the Admiral Flota Sovetskovo Soyuza Kuznetsov and India has the Viraat. China has no carriers. None. Of course, they're trying to remedy this. They recently bought the Kuznetsov-class carrier Varyag from the Ukraine at an auction (seriously) for a mere $20 million. Although shrouded in secrecy and originally thought to be intended as a floating casino, it appears the Varyag is being prepared for actual service as a carrier.

In today's world, carriers are the embodiment of military might. Carriers are what allow a nation to project force across the world. Our carriers are -- even more than our nukes -- what makes America the world's sole remaining superpower.

All of this brings us back to China and the original subject of this article, whether China is gearing up to fight World War III.

See, here's the thing. According to the French news agency, Agence France-Presse and reported in Yahoo News, China wants to develop some carrier-killer missiles.

Before we look at what that means strategically, let's look at this from the point of view of human life. A typical American carrier ships out with 6,000 souls. Any missile intended to kill a carrier would kill a horrifying number of people -- substantially more than died in the events of September 11.

AFP reports that an editorial appeared in the Global Times, a Chinese state-run press organ. As translated by AFP, the article states:

China undoubtedly needs to build a highly credible anti-carrier capability. Not only does China need an anti-ship ballistic missile, but also other carrier-killing measures.

Since US aircraft carrier battle groups in the Pacific constitute deterrence against China's strategic interests, China has to possess the capacity to counterbalance.

Here's what you need to keep in mind. Unlike, say, when I write something here at ZDNet, when an article appears in the Chinese Global Times, it -- by definition -- has state approval. So this is not just some writer saying China should be able to kill carriers, this is the Chinese government saying it.

Interpreting the tea leaves of Chinese government actions is always a dark art. However, it's clear that an article like that wouldn't appear in a publication like the Global Times if it wasn't intended to be read internationally.

So what is China trying to say? What are they trying to accomplish? Is China planning to start World War III?

My take on it is the same as it was in that CNN article I wrote 18 months ago. Everything I've seen in modern Chinese government strategy has reflected a constant awareness of future potential and needs.

Without a doubt, especially if you factor in some of China's enormous construction projects, like the creation of Shenzhen city and the building of the Hangzhou Bay Bridge, China is more interested in economics than war.

But there are nagging issues, like the fact that within a decade or so, China will need more natural resources than exist on the planet, that America owes China a lot of money, and -- always, always, always -- the sore spot that is Taiwan.

My take on this is that China's latest foray into international threat-mongering is indicative of two factors: a desire on the part of the Chinese government to be prepared for any eventuality -- and that could include war -- and a desire to warn the West that they're willing to be prepared for any eventuality -- and that could include war.

No matter what, China will -- in many ways -- factor into the lives of all Americans.

What do you think? TalkBack below.

Topics: China

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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