News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 1, 2006

Pete Chalos: China poised to become next big economic, military power


“If the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition onto the target zone on China’s territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons. … If the Americans are determined to interfere, we will be determined to respond. … We Chinese will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all of the cities east of Xian. Of course, the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese.”

This statement was made a few months ago to members of the press by General Zhu Chenghu of the People’s Liberation Army, also a professor at China’s National Defense University, concerning U.S. opposition to China’s threats to invade Taiwan.

Napoleon once warned about China, “Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will shake the world.” China’s economy, growing at a rate of 9 percent a year, is expected to replace that of the U.S. as the largest economy in the world within two decades. Rapid military modernization across the board and an estimated conventional force exceeding 2.5 million professional soldiers and 1.2 million reservists positions China to overtake the U.S. as the dominant superpower within 50 years, if not sooner. This giant is not only awake, it’s hungry.

Some claim that China’s military, though huge, is not modern enough to pose a challenge to the U.S. In actuality, experts estimate that China has at its disposal more than 10,000 tanks, more than 2,000 light tanks, 4,350 military aircrafts, more than 20 destroyers, 37 frigates, and 400 nuclear warheads. In addition to this, China has plans to purchase aircraft carriers and is developing nuclear submarines. China may not match the U.S. in military hardware or technology but the nation would certainly pose a formidable challenge in a military conflict.

If our current military can’t stabilize a region as small as Iraq, how could we hope to fulfill our promises to established democracies like Taiwan, Japan or South Korea if China became determined to move its borders outward? Even worse, what if China and North Korea (with it’s 1 million man army) formed an alliance? The balance of power in our world may be shifting in the coming decades. One thing is for sure, we are not alone at the top of the food chain anymore.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, Americans breathed a sigh of relief. No longer were we being threatened with nuclear war. The potential for World War III had been averted. Our rival in countless skirmishes across the globe had been defeated. The Cold War was over. America was alone at the top. Since that time, what has happened to bring us once again into a position of potential rivalry with a communist nation?

If you want to know how China paid for those 10,000 tanks then just start walking around your house looking at the labels on your clothes, toys and dishes. Then walk outside and take a look under the hood of your car. Many times, you’ll find that the labels say, “Made in China.”

During the presidency of the man most often credited with ending the Cold War, Ronald Reagan, China was made eligible for special trade status. This allowed China to flood American markets with cheap products while keeping their markets restricted. Countless American jobs were lost in the process.

Then came NAFTA and CAFTA. Then the U.S. opened up free trade with Indonesia, India and countries across the globe. This policy is currently called “globalization” and is based on the concept that free trade sparks economic growth in underdeveloped countries, creating a larger market abroad for American goods.

It doesn’t seem to be working out that way. It might have worked out well for us if we limited free trade status to one or two nations but we’ve allowed an endless stream of cheap labor from a number of countries to drive our own labor force out of business. American workers, the consumer base that drives the American economy, have seen their wages drop and their pensions fly away. No growth in a foreign market can make up for losing your consumer base at home. As our wages decrease, our retail sales go down. As our retail sales go down, our manufacturers go out of business.

The foreign markets we are developing are not creating enough business for American companies to make up for the business we are losing. The economy is crumbling.

Big business took advantage of the free trade agreements to exploit foreign labor and, in doing so, exploited American labor right along with them. Countries like China took advantage of free trade agreements, spurring their own economies at our expense. We’ve created our own rivals for the 21st century by our own poor economic policies.

To continue down this road would be irresponsible. I’d like to, once again, urge our leaders to abandon free trade for fair trade. Support the American working man. Demand a fair playing field with salary and benefit regulations that gives our workers a chance to compete with the slave labor offered abroad. Share our wealth with other nations from a position of excess rather than taking food from the mouths of our families to give to families abroad.

Pete Chalos, a longtime teacher, coach and public servant, was mayor of Terre Haute for 16 years. Send

e-mail to pchalos@netscape.com.