Why this global superpower is set to crush Australia
A former top Pentagon official has warned China is set to become the most powerful country in the world.
Former deputy assistant secretary of defence, David Ochmanek, has warned that the US is at risk of losing the confidence of key allies in the Indo-Pacific, including Australia.
At the same time, China is pouring trillions of dollars into its army, military equipment and schemes squarely aimed at expanding its global influence.
If these trends continue, it could change the course of the world.
And yet, while the West has all the resources we need to stay ahead of the game, it's not using them like it should be.
WARNING ABOUT CHINA'S RISING POSITION
China and the West have been moving in two very different directions for a long time.
On one hand, the Chinese Communist Party is making massive advancements to gain influence and power across Eurasia.
The country is projected to spend approximately $US1 trillion on its Belt and Road Initiative over the next decade - an ambitious project that will see the power at the centre of a new global trade centre.
Critics have described this as a "debt-trap strategy", where China ends up getting basing rights if the country fails to pay off its loans, thus further cementing its power.
Over the same period, China will spend another $US2 trillion on its armed forces, which are engaging in international deployment and exercises at an "unprecedented" rate.
According to the Lowy Institute's latest Asia Power Index, China is set to surpass the United States in economic size, to become the most powerful country in the Asia-Pacific region by 2030.
This rise didn't come out of nowhere. According to Mr Ochmanek, China's military modernisation over the past two decades has been "nothing short of remarkable".
"China under Xi Jinping has demonstrated its readiness to exploit doubts and concerns that other states may have about US reliability and intentions," Mr Ochmanek told news.com.au.
From a military perspective, this is concerning for a number of reasons.
"First, and most importantly, China is fielding a set of capabilities that, together, have the potential to frustrate US and allied efforts to defeat aggression by China in the Western Pacific," he said. "Key elements of this challenge are China's large force of modern ballistic and cruise missiles, sophisticated means for targeting those systems, advanced air defences, and threats to US and allied military satellites and means for command and control.
"Second, China is beginning to develop a network of relationships and bases throughout the Indo-Pacific that one day may give them the ability to project military power throughout the region."
He said that - without increased efforts to address these challenges on America's part - its credibility would be questioned and peace and stability would be undermined.
AMERICA IS DESTROYING ITS WORLD STANDING
A key problem with China's rise is that the US is moving in a dangerously insular direction.
It may sound promising that the country's defence budget includes a 9.3 per cent increase. But Mr Ochmanek said most of this will go towards maintenance and training rather than being used to stay ahead of China and Russia.
At the same time, the current administration is embroiled in internal squabbles and an obsession with domestic issues like immigration and taxation, pushing America's international relationships to the side.
Part of the problem, according to Mr Ochmanek, is President Donald Trump's demeanour on the world stage.
He described the leader's statements and actions as "erratic", saying they've "done damage to US standing in the world".
"Statements and actions by the Trump Administration regarding the future US role in the Indo-Pacific and globally have been inconsistent," he said.
"On the one hand, the Administration has declared its readiness to engage in a long-term strategic competition with China and Russia. At the same time, it has taken actions that raise questions about its commitment to the alliances that form the bedrock of US security."
Mr Trump has a strong network of supporters within the walls of his own country. But a Pew Research Centre poll conducted in 2017 found that globally, only 22 per cent of people expressed confidence in the US leader to do the right thing internationally.
For comparison's sake, authoritarian leaders Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping scored at 27 and 28 per cent respectively.
"Because Trump seems to lack an appreciation for the importance of allies and international institutions, it is easy to imagine how greater damage could yet be done to our strategically important global relationships," warned Mr Ochmanek in a recent United States Studies Centre report.
He said the US will have to work hard to keep its edge over China. Even so, monetary woes may be inevitable due to the Republicans' passing of tax cuts last year that put the US budget in the red by $US1 trillion ($AU1.37 trillion) each year by 2020.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR AUSTRALIA?
To understand Australia's perspective on the China-US war, we only need to look to Scott Morrison's response to the tumultuous APEC summit.
Over the weekend, regional leaders failed to issue a formal joint statement for the first time ever, because the US and China had been unable to agree on its wording.
"The entire world is worried," said Peter O'Neill, the leader of host country Papua New Guinea.
But without taking sides, our own Prime Minister took a carefully optimistic stance.
Playing down tensions, Mr Morrison said: "I think there is a lot more pragmatism going on here than people have been prepared to acknowledge in the commentary. There's a lot of movement under the water."
Australia continues to walk a fine line between China, our largest trading partner, and the US, a long-term security ally.
But Mr Ochmanek says our longstanding relationship with the latter may be under threat - and could impact the whole region.
"(Americans) now face two such adversaries - China and Russia; and war gaming and analysis show that US forces today are not well prepared for either of these challenges," he said. "Unless these trends can be reversed, the consequences for US interests and for the stability of the Indo-Pacific and Europe could be stark.
"Should US allies and partners lose confidence in the ability of American forces to project conventional power into their regions, and to deter intimidation and defeat aggression, an important part of the glue that has held together the coalition keeping the peace and advancing common interests will be lost."
In other words, the united Western alliance against authoritarian Russia and China could collapse if we don't work harder to preserve our status.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE?
Mr Ochmanek says the West needs to work hard to maintain an edge over China.
This includes modernising its anti-ship missiles, radar-jamming systems to protect its aircraft, land-based missile defence and increasing its military communications against cyber attacks.
The good news, he says, is that we're already capable of doing what needs to be done.
"We - the United States, Australia, our other allies and partners in this region and globally - have the resources, technical know-how, operational savvy and, in the long run we hope, the societal advantages to preserve our influence globally and, hence, our way of life. It is a question of will and wisdom," Mr Ochmanek said.
He noted our existing fleets of long-range bombers and submarines, providing protective shelters for our aircraft, fuel bladders and cruise missile defences, and an upgrade to new longer-range missiles and improved electronic jamming systems as among some of the measures we could - and should - be taking to gain ground on the battlespace.
"Fielding capabilities such as these can make our current and planned force much more effective and need not cost huge sums of money.
"A modest increase in US defence spending, if sustained over the next decade and focused on the right kinds of investments can significantly bolster deterrence of aggression by the most capable adversary states, including China," he said.
Now, he says, it's just a question of whether we'll muster up the collective will to do it.