Chinese President Xi Jinping on July 30 presided over a massive military parade from an open-topped jeep, declaring, “The world is not peaceful, and peace needs to be defended.”
And as China’s show of force demonstrates, Beijing may have the will and the strength to replace the US as the world’s defender of peace.
“Our heroic military has the confidence and capabilities to preserve national sovereignty, security, and interests … and to contribute more to maintaining world peace,” Xi said at the parade, one day after US President Donald Trump lashed out at Beijing for its inaction regarding North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
China’s massive military modernization and increasing assertiveness have irked many of its neighbors in the region, and even as the US attempts to reassure its allies that US power still rules the day, that military edge is eroding.
China showed off new, mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles that it says can reach the US in 30 minutes, along with its J-20 stealth interceptor jets. And Xi inspected thousands of troops drawn from the 2 million-strong People’s Liberation Army on its 90th anniversary.
The historian Alfred McCoy estimates that by 2030, China, a nation of 1.3 billion, will surpass the US in both economic and military strength, essentially ending the American empire and Pax Americana the world has known since the close of World War II.
But China could achieve this goal patiently and without a violent struggle. China has employed a “salami-slicing” method of slowly but surely militarizing the South China Sea in incremental steps that have not prompted a strong military response from the US. However, the result is China’s de facto control over a shipping lane that sees $5 trillion in annual traffic.
“The American Century, proclaimed so triumphantly at the start of World War II, may already be tattered and fading by 2025 and, except for the finger pointing, could be over by 2030,” McCoy wrote in his new book, “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power.”
China’s J-20 jet also most likely borrows from stealth secrets stolen from the US through a sophisticated hacking regime. Though China hasn’t mastered stealth technology in the way the US has, the jet still poses a real threat to US forces.
Meanwhile, the US is stretched thin. It has had been at war in Afghanistan for 16 years and in Iraq for 14, and it has been scrambling to curtail Iranian and Russian influence in Syria while reassuring its Baltic NATO allies that it’s committed to their protection against an aggressive Russia.
Under Xi, who pushes an ambitious foreign policy, China’s eventual supremacy over the US seems inevitable.