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Like Russia’s leaders, China’s leaders often talk of peace and announce their non-threatening intentions. But we should not believe their words. We should instead examine their deeds. In recent months China’s top leaders have attempted to deny they are planning anything against Taiwan in the immediate future. They insist there won’t be trouble for a few more years. Meanwhile, with Russia’s help China prepares for war not only against Taiwan, but against the United States.
Should we believe official statements about peaceful Chinese intentions in the near term?
It is fairly unusual for a hostile country to announce — years in advance — the timetable of its aggression. Much like Imperial Japan, the Chinese prefer to strike suddenly when they use force. Even when the Chinese threaten to intervene, as in the Korean War, they know enough to make these threats sound like bluffs. This is a subtle and useful method of deception, which preserves one’s honesty while duping the enemy.
Warning rival powers of an impending attack is not a good idea. To be effective a military strike should be unexpected. It is therefore not surprising that leading Asian powers have begun military operations with sudden and unexpected moves. In 1941 Japanese aircraft and submarines attacked Pearl Harbor without first declaring war. In 1904 Japanese naval forces surprise attacked Russian warships at Port Arthur.
Using the method of a surprise attack does not mean attacking without an increase in tensions. It does not mean attacking without threatening to attack. Surprise in the military sense is an operational achievement. It means striking a powerful blow in an unexpected way. Certainly President Roosevelt knew the Japanese were going to attack the United States in late 1941. In fact, warnings were issued to U.S. forces that war was approaching. But even if Roosevelt knew the Japanese could reach Pearl Harbor, he could not have known the effectiveness of Japan’s carrier strike group. In other words, the essence of surprise is that nobody guesses the strength of the blow you are able and willing to deliver.
Surprise is often achieved because one is underestimated.
In 1962 India’s leader, Jawaharlal Nehru, was humbled when China suddenly attacked in force across a disputed boundary. This attack was brilliantly conceived, since it coincided with the height of the Cuban missile crisis. America was busy with Russia and could not even think of intervening to support India. The Indians lost 7,000 troops and the Chinese picked up a chunk of territory.
But the classic example of China’s military ingenuity comes from the Korean War. After Communist North Korea attacked South Korea on June 25, 1950, China’s Fourth Field Army — numbering 600,000 men — marched to the Korean border. When U.S. forces crossed north of the 38th parallel at Kaesong in mid-October, troops from China’s Fourth Field Army began infiltrating into Korea.
U.S. military experts seriously underestimated the Chinese at the time, much as we underestimate the Chinese today. After all, the Chinese soldiers of 1950 were mostly illiterate. They had no radios, little motor transport and no air power. Their arsenal was mostly small arms and light artillery. But the Chinese generals were masters in the art of war. They had been taught the art of war in Russian military schools and the Whampoa Military Academy.
According to T.R. Fehrenbach’s history of the Korean War, U.S. intelligence was unable to accept reports that hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops had slipped into Korea in October and November, 1950. According to Fehrenbach, “Neither MacArthur nor Willoughby believed the Chinese would intervene in force; both believed the Chinese threats were purely diplomatic blackmail.”
Does this sound remotely familiar?
In 1950 the Chinese spoke as if they were bluffing. This helped to masked actual preparations for a major offensive. But the masking also involved careful troop movements, night marches, and tremendous troops discipline. American military experts, accustomed to thinking of armies in terms of masses of heavy equipment with long logistical tails, couldn’t conceive of massive Chinese armies crossing rivers and difficult terrain unobserved. Such armies, after all, would be worthless trash. Right?
It also seems that MacArthur believed his air support could destroy the Chinese if they dared attack. But this assumption was wrong. Most of our assumptions in Korea were worthless. The Chinese forces marched in the dark of night and hid during the day. U.N. aircraft flew over the Chinese troops many times and saw nothing. As Fehrenbach aptly points out, no Western army could have matched this Chinese feat.
Tremendous pains were taken by the Chinese to disguise the size of their forces and the aggressiveness of their plans. Yes, the American generals knew that some Chinese forces were present. They knew the Chinese government was making threats. The question was, how effective could the backward Chinese be? How many troops had been concentrated, where were they deployed and what was their intention? On these questions the best and brightest within the U.S. military — including Gen. MacArthur — made a serious mistake which cost many American lives.
In late October, 1950, the Chinese attacked the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division. They surrounded a battalion of the division’s troops. The fighting, at one point, was hand-to-hand as the Chinese overran the battalion command post. The Americans lost 600 men from that battalion. Only 200 men, with 10 officers, managed to escape. This sort of fighting was repeated throughout Korea, and forced the U.N. forces into retreat.
Today China is said to be backward. But its forces are far in advance of what they were in 1950. The Chinese military concept for defeating the United States in a future war is called “defeating the superior with the inferior.” The idea is to use inferior equipment in clever and innovative ways to defeat superior equipment. As the example of the Korean War shows, this is not a new Chinese idea. It is, in fact, time-tested and workable.
Today is the last day of August, and tomorrow the dreaded month of September is upon us. It is the month, say some intelligence sources, that China is contemplating a blockade against Taiwan. Over the summer, war preparations have continued in China, including air raid drills in Shanghai, one of China’s largest cities. According to a Taipei Times story, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has recently been engaged in major amphibious exercises involving thousands of marine troops. China’s amphibious landing fleet, which U.S. military analysts scoff at, has been concentrated in the South China Sea.
Meanwhile the Chinese have deployed their first Russian-built Sovremenny class guided missile destroyer in the East China Sea. This warship was designed to attack and destroy U.S. aircraft carriers. Since July the number of air incursions by Chinese warplanes into Taiwan’s air space has greatly increased. In other words, even as it talks of peace Beijing continues to test Taiwan’s defenses.
Even more intriguing was the London Telegraph’s recent story,
suggesting that the Chinese have 700,000 troops in Sudan (which is just below Egypt in that part of Africa which adjoins the Middle East). Of course, it sounds absurd to say there are 700,000 Chinese troops in Sudan. In fact, it’s almost as absurd as saying that 180,000 Chinese troops could sneak past us in Korea.
The Chinese method is to infiltrate their soldiers into strategic areas. Chinese soldiers might enter any country as workers, security guards or even refugees. But if they are given rifles and bullets and food these “workers” can be formed into regiments and divisions. Perhaps this method, which was so successful in Korea, has been applied to Sudan.
Perhaps it will soon be repeated in Panama.