Lyle Goldstein, research professor at the Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute, said the US would likely lose a first fight with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Washington and Beijing have repeatedly raised tensions with naval drills in disputed Asian waters over the past year, with China enraged over the US’s support of Taiwan and presence in the South China Sea.
Mr Goldstein warned it is “very plausible” the US has “no guarantee of victory in the first phases”.
While the expert accepted China and US conflict scenarios vary wildly, he added all of them are “extremely challenging” for Washington.
Mr Goldstein argued “the situation is actually considerably darker” for US troops beyond the opening rounds of a potential conflict.
He added: “I think China now has adequate forces, including air, missile, electronic warfare, spec ops, naval, undersea and nuclear to likely prevail in the first phase and perhaps in subsequent phases too.”
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Speaking to Newsweek, Mr Goldstein said China’s weaponry is “quite important” in giving an edge over the US.
But he said Beijing mainly has an upper hand over the US because of “1) favorable geography (and thus interior lines), 2) greater will (‘core interests’), and 3) a willingness to strike first”.
The expert then referenced flashpoints of US/China tension, including Taiwan and the South China Sea.
In regards to Taiwan, Mr Goldstein suggested a conflict over the island “exaggerates all these advantages for China”.
James E. Fanell, a retired US Navy captain who served as director of Intelligence and Information Operations for the US Pacific Fleet, also told Newsweek China has caught up with US military power.
He said: “Over the course of the past two decades the PRC has changed the military balance of power across the Indo-Pacific.
“Beyond out-producing the US Navy in the number of warships at a rate of four to one, the PLA Strategic Rocket Force has put US aircraft carriers at risk with the fielding of the DF-21D and DF-26 anti-carrier ballistic missiles.
“The PLA’s ‘counter intervention’ strategy, just a concept two decades ago, is now a reality within the Second Island Chain, and continues to expand at an alarming rate across the rest of the region.”
US President Joe Biden has promised to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty and to challenge China’s aggression in the South China Sea.
In February, the guided-missile destroyer USS Russell steamed within 12 nautical miles of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, almost all of which Beijing claims as its sovereign territory.
Lt. Joe Keiley, a spokesman for the US Navy’s 7th Fleet, said in a statement: “This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan.”
A spokesman for the PLA warned in a report the operation “seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, gravely undermined regional peace and stability, and deliberately disrupted the good atmosphere of peace, friendship and cooperation in the South China Sea”.
China regards Taiwan as part of its mainland territory, and has threatened to reclaim the island by force.
But the Chinese Defence Ministry’s Information Bureau said in a statement on Monday it will not take any more land in response to a question on China’s national defence strategy.
They said: “We cannot lose a single inch of the lands we inherited from our ancestors, and we would not take a single cent of others’ possessions.”
It then added: “Never expanding and never seeking spheres of influence are the distinctive features of China’s national defence in the new era.”