Is China gearing up to start World War III?

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.

Topic: China


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Is China gearing up to start World War III?

    Stick to being a geek until you've read some history. Your country's history of invading countries around the world makes the PRC look like the Vienna Boy's Choir by comparison. If anyone is likely to start WW3, my money's on the U.S. Heed ubergeek Einstein's warning: "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
    • Whatever


      You are full of BS if you don't back up what you claim.
      • RE: Is China gearing up to start World War III?

        I believe he has, and you haven't. USA is the most powerful, most widely endorsed, and most widely acclaimed terrorist in human history.
    • spoken like a true idiot

      liberation and invasion are very different things. you dont invade unless you plan to occupy and retain. it costs too much in both political and real capitol to take only to give back. Every country we've liberated we left a better place and germany, japan korea, vietnam, kuwait, the balkans, and now iraq and afghanistan have all begged us to stay long after
      Johnny Vegas
      • Yes Johnny,

        @Johnny Vegas

        However those facts will fall on deaf ears. Always does.
      • Yeah, because liberation at gun point is always warranted...

        @Johnny Vegas... Spoken like a true neo-con.

        During the Revolutionary War, did France come in and say "oh here, let me liberate you from King George? No, the Colonies and the continental congress requested the assistance.

        The Iraqi people made no such request, we just felt the need to stick our nose in where it doesn't belong, kicked over the hornets nest, and now they want us to stay for the next decade, fueling their rebuilding with American Capital.

        By all means go in and kill Osama, and wipe out Al Queda if we can, but don't take it upon ourselves to restructure other countries governments, no matter how much we may disagree.

        And last I checked Germany with the Axis Powers started WW1 & 2, we didn't liberate, we decimated Japan with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

        Time to go back to school and relearn your history.
      • Not quite


        I have video footage of Iraqi people asking for help. Before, during, and after the Kurds were gassed. Just because Saddam and his Baath party didn't ask for help does not make our efforts there pointless or wrong.
      • RE: Is China gearing up to start World War III?

        @Johnny Vegas

        Don't count mine (Dominican Republic) as one of those as you say. And we have been invaded 2 times by the USA.
      • better places for true idiots?

        @Johnny Vegas
        If you had ever lived in an occupied country, you could understand how ridiculous your statement sounds "Every country we've liberated we left a better place..." (..similiar things have been told to us by Adolf in former times..)
        and "germany, japan, korea, vietnam, kuwait, the balkans, and now iraq and afghanistan have all begged us to stay long after". As I remember Japan suffered a nuclear attack, Germany was a divided country, Korea is still a divided country, the balkan states are now diveded countries after 40 years of peace between so much ethnic groups, Vietnam was a great flop for the US and begged for nothing, not even reparations. And what happens with Iraq and Afghanistan is in my opinion a tragedy and an outrageous injustice.
        And if you say they begged us to stay long after, what the heck do you expect from vassals governments? They always are begging the invaders to stay longer. While our government in West Germany begged the US to stay, the government in East Germany begged the Russians to stay. Neither the one nor the other has been the will of the people. What happens, if you try to fool a nation for years or decades?
        I can tell you: they are still waiting for someone from their own ranks who tells them that he will give them back their dignity. The end of the story is very well known.
      • Chinese been destroied from Western Emperor, the Chinese always independent

        @Johnny Vegas
        Roland Huang
      • It's ironic, isn't it, that our strongest allies ...

        @Johnny Vegas ... are those we defeated in W.W.II (Japa and Germany). We liberated france and they have no use for us. <br><br>I disgree about Iraq and Afghanistan. Not because of our intentions but because of the fact that neither the people of Iraq nor the people of Afghanistan have the WILL to throw off their shackles. (The Soviet Union fell because the Poles said NO MORE! The Iron Curtain fell because the Germans said NO MORE!) <br><br>No population can truly be oppressed against their will! <br><br>There were not enough people in the Chinese army to have stopped the Tianemen Square uprisings had the population understood the power they had within reach. In the end, the economics of capitalism will liberate them, just the same.
        M Wagner
      • RE: Is China gearing up to start World War III?

        @Johnny Vegas

        also Haiti, Guam, Puerto Rico, Panama, the Philippines... does it count if they're "occupied"? In that case, Philippines again, France, Kosovo, Mexico. How far back are we going? On the list of invaded but did not improve, Cuba, Florida, and Canada? Not that we had anything against Canada; we just wanted to stick it to England.
      • Sure Mexico was liberated from 1/2 its territory

        @Johnny Vegas :

        Did you like the kool-aid they served at indoctrination school?

        If you care, you could read Eduardo Galeano's "The open Veins of Latin America" and get a bit more informed with the perspective from the invaded side.

        Trivia question: How many countries has the US liberated by imposing dictators friendly to US interests? (you can count Iraq, before Sadam turned on them).
      • RE: Is China gearing up to start World War III?

        @Johnny Vegas
        What an out & out muppet you are. I'm sure the vietnamese begged you to stay. Admit it idiot, they whoopped your arse good and propper.
      • RE: Is China gearing up to start World War III?


        Really? The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed 1 in 10 of Japan's population? That after all is what to decimate means -- an old fashioned Roman idea of punishment where you executed 10% of the group. Hmmm.. 135,000 deaths says total population of Japan at the time of bombings was 1 million, 350 thousand. Oddly, population numbers from that era suggest a population more in the 80 million mark. Oh, and don't forget that quite a few of the casualties were Korean slave labourers.

        Perhaps you should mention the bombing of Tokyo with conventional weapons on Mar. 9010, 1945 in which 100,000 civilians died. This comes close to matching the total deaths from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

        You might also want to ask what the total numbers of deaths -- both Allied and Japanese -- would have been had the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki not occurred?

        Or perhaps moving on to Europe, the number of deaths from the firebombing of Dresden. But, hey, that wasn't nukes so you would have no problems with that.
      • RE: Is China gearing up to start World War III?

        @Johnny Vegas
        You talk more rubbish than the drunken bum by the same name. The sad thing is you probably believe this tripe you've written. Germany was never under occupation to be liberated and I doubt if the others were either (apart from kuwait) but can't be bothered to look into it.

        Why do Americans feel the need to instill their brand of economic politics around the world? Why can't others just live under their own values and sort themselves out?
      • RE: Is China gearing up to start World War III?

        @Johnny Vegas
        I'd tickle myself to laughter at your stupidity, weren't it for the fact that you symbolize the average American. You morons actually think you're god's gift to the world. you've NEVER liberated any darn country or people. If the Japs'd not attacked Pearl Harbour, you wouldn't have even been in WW II.
      • RE: Is China gearing up to start World War III?

        @Johnny Vegas <br>Yeah, Hitler was also "liberating" Europe from Jews, Russians, Polish... Now Pindostan (aka USA) are "liberating" the rest of the world, which, thanks to them, will end pretty soon.

        No other country used so much nuclear (Japan, Iraq, Yugoslavia), biological (Cuba) and chemical (Vietnam) weapons as Pindostan did.

        Check your facts, you democratic moron. In Iraq alone, more than 1 million people died due to "liberation' as opposed to only a couple of thousand with Saddam.
      • RE: Is China gearing up to start World War III?

        @Johnny Vegas,

        I don't think so. You need to read your history better.

        Germany, WWI was left bankrupt which lead to the rise of Hitler and WWII. WWII left Germany as fractured country split with families on one side separated from those on the other. Hardly better place.

        Japan was nuked. Hardly a better place

        Korea, still at war today under cease fire. Not a better place.

        Vietnam was huge failure and the place suffers from unexploded armaments to this day. Unknown explosive mines still kill people Not a better place.

        Kuwait and the Balkans I agree, better place.

        Iraq not so much.

        Afghanistan, well they aren't beheading girls in stadiums now for reading a book. I'd say better place.

        3 out 7 is not good rating. That loses you the Cup in hockey.

        Of course I'm not saying these wars aren't justified. Just that war doesn't leave a country a better place.
    • Easy to dismiss your statements

      @paul@... Your lack of respect for anyone, clear lack of manners or etiquette means any words you spew out through your keyboard is wasted, pointless and has no merit. Nice waste of your time.