America's understandable preoccupation with terrorism and Iraq may have obscured the gathering threat of China as a formidable adversary.
At an Asian security conference in Singapore, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Friday delivered what some have called an unusually blunt critique of China. Rumsfeld said Beijing's military spending threatens Asia's delicate security balance. Instead of spending so much on weapons, Rumsfeld said, China should emphasize political freedom and open markets.
''Since no nation threatens China,'' Rumsfeld said, ''one wonders why this growing (military) investment?'' The answer is that rather than feeling threatened, China intends to threaten others, especially the United States.
In a brilliant new book by the late Constantine Menges, Ph.D., titled ''China: The Gathering Threat,'' the former special assistant for national security affairs to President Reagan and national intelligence officer at the CIA soberly outlines the threat China already has become and persuasively argues how America can use its economic and moral weapons to stop the world's biggest nation without a shot being fired.
Menges writes that China has defined America as its ''main enemy'' and can now launch nuclear weapons at the United States that are capable of killing 100 million of us. China's effective espionage operation in the U.S. has managed to steal the designs of nearly all nuclear warheads and other military secrets, he says.
China has threatened to destroy entire American cities if the U.S. helps Taiwan defend itself against a military assault or invasion, Menges writes. China also buys weapons from Russia that are designed to sink U.S. aircraft carriers. It controls more than $200 billion in U.S. debt and sells more than 40 percent of its exports to America, using the profits to strengthen its economy and advanced weapons systems aimed at the U.S.
Until recently, American policy has been to give China access to U.S. markets in hopes that might reduce tensions and hasten democratic reform. It has done no such thing. Menges argues it is time to try another approach.
First, he says, the U.S. must finish development of a reliable missile defense system that can be easily expanded should China, Russia or any nation attempt to overwhelm us by building additional missiles. Menges says the cost of expanding a missile defense system is far less than building new missiles and such cost will be prohibitive to enemy nations once they realize the U.S. can't be successfully attacked.
Without a working missile defense system, he writes, the increased number of warheads and missiles now available and under construction will make the Chinese threat substantial; he estimates by 2008, China will have more than 400 warheads capable of reaching U.S. territory.
Menges believes in ''the importance of forthrightly informing the world about U.S. interests and actions. Truth is indeed the best policy.'' In his view, the United States often fails to respond to allegations by China and Russia that America seeks world domination.
He says we should be telling the world it is China and Russia that are spreading weapons of mass destruction and China's actions ''demonstrate that while pursuing active commercial diplomacy to enhance its economic development and mostly avoiding visible conflict, China is also an expansionist, coercive, manipulative dictatorship.''
As anyone who has bought anything can attest, the United States is fulfilling one of Lenin's doctrines by purchasing the rope with which the communists plan to hang us. Too many things sold in America are made in China, and too many corporations have moved their plants and operations to China, undermining the U.S. domestic economy and helping a nation that seeks to destroy us.
One of many countermeasures recommended by Menges is the expulsion of all companies that function as fronts for the Chinese People's Liberation Army or other military or intelligence-related entities in China, Russia or any other nonallied state. Investigative reporter Kenneth R. Timmerman estimates there are hundreds of such front companies in Southern California alone.
Rumsfeld's remarks and Menges' book reveal China's commitment to expanding its empire by intimidation and force, and how the U.S. had better take China's seriousness seriously if we are to confront and repel it.
Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist and a host on Fox News Channel. Readers may leave e-mail at www.calthomas.com . His column appears on Tuesday and Thursday.