Kate Hudson looks at how US plans to ring China with missile systems reflects Washington’s strategy for containing growing Chinese economic power.

US MissilesFor a long time now, Washington’s number one strategic concern has been China. This has been obscured by the ‘war on terror’ rhetoric, but the fact is China has enjoyed the fastest economic growth in the world for three decades.

If China’s growth continues – and all the signs are that it will – the size of its economy will exceed that of the US. Washington has no intention of allowing that to happen. The US didn’t devote billions of dollars to defeating the Soviet Union only to see another superpower rival emerge.

US moves to put weapons in space, to develop a national ‘missile defence’ shield, and to work up a similar system with Japan in Asia over the past few years, can all be seen as the beginning of a nuclear arms race against China. The goal is the same – to maximise US military superiority and to force China to stall its economic growth by devoting more and more resources to arms. China is a nuclear power, but of relatively limited capacity, and is certainly incapable at the present time of destroying the US.

But current US actions seem designed to provoke China into confrontation and rapid military growth.

So far the controversy around the US’s missile defence system has been played out with Russia. Bush’s version of the system involved a radar base in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland. The claim was that this would defend the US from potential missile strikes from Iran. Of course no one believed that, particularly not the Russians, who saw quite clearly that this system finally enabled the US to achieve nuclear primacy – the capacity to launch a first strike against them and mop up any retaliatory strike with the system’s interceptor missiles.

No more balance of terror. Obama abandoned that iteration, but has subsequently annoyed Russia by moving a version of it further east to Romania and perhaps Bulgaria.

Now missile defence is being turned on China. For some years the US has been pursuing an Aegis sea-based interceptor missile system with Japan, Australia and South Korea. This is now centre stage following the completion – after weeks of protest by China – of a $6.5 billion weapons transfer to Taiwan, including 200 advanced Patriot anti-ballistic missiles. It is also providing Taiwan with 8 frigates which can be equipped with the Aegis system to carry missile interceptors.

Adding Taiwan to the Aegis system is a considerable provocation to China. Not surprisingly, China Daily observed that the weapons deal with Taiwan ‘is the key part of a US strategic encirclement of China’.

Where Russia has clearly been encircled by US and NATO bases for decades, China is now getting the same treatment. But while some Chinese analysts see this as a result of the US setback in Europe last summer, in actual fact it is clear that the US is vigorously applying the same strategy to both Russia and China, and that has been its intention all along.

As China pushes further ahead economically, the US is playing a dangerous game – unless it is literally prepared to fight, promoting US nuclear primacy to prevent Chinese economic primacy.

Kate Hudson is Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament