13 thoughts on “The Yellow Menace”

  1. “”In a lot of the areas of space it is not at all clear that they are far behind or even that much behind,” Cheng said. “We should be very careful about assuming they’re behind us.””

    This is true and what we did in the past really doesn’t matter. For the last 15-20 years, we have been far too complacent and there is no guarantee that our recent developments will continue. China having a space station isn’t the threat, it is one of many capabilities they are developing that as a whole make them a threat. Considering the events of the last year, they have moved from mere competition to a threat to our existence.

    1. Complacency has nothing to do with it. Mere observation suffices nicely. When the Chinese were on their upswing, they did little in space. China is doing a bit more now that it has peaked, but even maintaining that is going to grow increasingly problematic as China once again recedes and the PRC implodes as the USSR did before it.

      All this Yellow Peril crapola is being indulged in by various sorts of rent-seekers looking to batten on inflated fears of a Chinese space hegemony that’s never going to happen.

      China – or the PRC regime at least – certainly does constitute an existential threat to the U.S. But that has been true, to a steadily growing degree, for several decades. Chinese activities, and big-talk plans, in space constitute only part of said threat and manned activities in space constitute none of it.

      Our attention to China needs to be almost exclusively terrestrial going forward. We’ve been flubbing the dud on that for far too long.

      1. You think the PRC is going to implode before the US? I wish I could be that confident.

        1. See my reply to wodun below.

          If there are any additional particulars about either the U.S. or China that worry you, trot them out and we’ll talk.

      2. “Chinese activities, and big-talk plans, in space constitute only part of said threat and manned activities in space constitute none of it.”

        We can’t deal with them on Earth without dealing with them in space. This is the same thing they think about us. Having a space station isn’t THE thing but it is a thing to be concerned about because it is part of a larger effort. They are serious competitors and we can’t be dismissive of any of their spheres of activity. Underestimating adversaries is a great way to get surprised.

        I’ve seen some recent articles about the imminent collapse of China but I think that is just wishful thinking. Their form of government is secure and while their economy will have ups and downs, it doesn’t look like that will collapse either.

        When I speak of complacency, it isn’t just complacency toward China but also in our own activities. We have been complacent in the retardation of our own activities. We have/had a lack of urgency and competence. We might be digging our selves out but with so many Americans with power wanting to emulate the Chinese method of governance, nothing about our future is certain.

        1. Overestimation of one’s adversary can be as bad as underestimation. It saps morale if one imagines – wrongly – that every single one of the enemy are 10 feet tall and covered with rank hair. Your comment strongly indicates that your own morale has been sapped by absurd overestimation of the Chinese.

          Even the PRC leadership, for example, disagree with your notion that “their form of government is secure.” If Xi Jinping agreed with you he would not be moving at flank speed to re-establish and elaborate all the police-state impedimenta of the Mao era.

          The “security” of a dictatorship can evaporate in an eyeblink. The late Nicolae Ceausescu went from iron-fisted power-of-life-or-death ruler of a significant nation to bullet-riddled corpse in a matter of hours. And his fate was a walk in the park compared to those of other one-time top dogs. Najibullah, late ruler of Afghanistan, and Muammar Ghadaffi, late ruler of Libya, come readily to mind.

          Xi Jinping certainly understands how quickly he can go from God-King Emperor to unlovely corpse even if you do not.

          The Chinese economy of the next 40 years is not going to be a minor gloss on the Chinese economy of the past 40 years. China achieved its erstwhile successes by throwing more bodies into the breach. It could do that because its working-age population grew during that interval. That has now stopped. From here on, the Chinese working-age population will shrink every year.

          This matters because, while China has four times our total population, our labor productivity is 6.5 times higher than China’s. China is now, thus, in a long-term Red Queen’s race in which gains in labor productivity need to at least match the rate of shrinkage in its workforce just to maintain GDP at current levels. It seems unlikely China will manage that trick. A chronically stagnant or shrinking economy will lead to political unrest as the PRC regime is increasingly unable to keep up its half of the Faustian bargain it made with its own people 40+ years ago – obedience in return for growing prosperity.

          Turning to the subject of space, I fail utterly to see why we should quake in our boots upon beholding the wonder that is Tianhe. The Chinese have had two 3-man overgrown milk-can space stations before. Now they have a third.

          Or is our abject trembling to start only when said station’s next two modules are launched and attached? It will still be a 3-man station even when three overgrown milk-cans in size. It will also be occupied, even at that mingy level, only part-time.

          But “it’s part of a larger effort,” you whine. So is ISS. The larger effort here is Artemis. For China, the “larger effort” is a parking lot of small landers and rovers that is to be briefly visited by humans no earlier than 2036. In the face of that we should all be losing voluntary sphincter control?

          1. “The “security” of a dictatorship can evaporate in an eyeblink. ”

            The world can end at any moment but that doesn’t mean that it will. What does it mean when a totalitarian government keeps acting totalitarian? I don’t think you can conclude that their fall is imminent. Is there any sign that the Chinese populace is displeased? Maybe someday this will change but I haven’t seen any indications yet.

            “Overestimation of one’s adversary can be as bad as underestimation. ”

            I don’t overestimate the Chinese. All I ever say is don’t be dismissive and to take them seriously. I don’t know why such mild statements get turned into something they clearly aren’t.

            “Turning to the subject of space, I fail utterly to see why we should quake in our boots upon beholding the wonder that is Tianhe.”

            Who is saying we need to quake in our boots? No one.

            “But “it’s part of a larger effort,” you whine. So is ISS. The larger effort here is Artemis. ”

            Sure, the Artemis Accords are a larger effort but these are rather recent developments and while I am optimistic, there are no guarantees how things play out in the future. A couple months ago Artemis was in serious danger of getting axed. And where would we be without SpaceX? I think our system allows for things like SpaceX to happen, which is a great advantage over China in the long run, but it is rather fortunate Musk decided he wanted to go to Mars rather than any number of other things. We are also rather fortunate that the economic conditions existed that allowed Musk’s success to take place. These conditions are not guaranteed in the future, economic misfortune, war, or a government that views space as off limits are all possibilities.

            “In the face of that we should all be losing voluntary sphincter control?”

            Again, all I said was not to be dismissive, to treat them seriously, and that we should look at everything they are doing. Will they be doing any virus experiments on their new space station? Maybe we should be concerned about that. To bring it back to Earth, they have the capability to severely damage our country and have been building their military up specifically to counter our strengths. Will they attack us directly instead of indirectly as they have been?

            I don’t know but I do know that whether or not we come to the aide of Taiwan or any other country in the region is an open question that becomes more open every year with the advancements China is making. On one hand, war looks likely with China if we were to stick up for Taiwan but on the other, it looks less likely as we might choose not to get involved because it would be too damaging to our military and economy. What would war with China mean to our economy and our endeavors in space?

            Maybe the answer is just to stick to our own business and ignore what goes on in the rest of the world but there is the possibility that we don’t get to choose.

            As far as the pejorative of “Yellow Scare” it reminds me a lot of conversations about the threat of Marxism these past decades with people tossing around “Red Scare” and accusations of paranoia. How did that turn out for our country? Argument by insult isn’t very effective when the last time those defensive insults were so wrong and especially when our social elite view China as a role model for how to run society.

            I don’t think we really disagree with each other but it is fun to argue over nits.

  2. Remember the voyages of the Chinese explorer Admiral Zheng He (1405-1433)? The Chinese Emperor abandoned the project and insular Chinese could very well abandon voyages into the “barbarian lands” again.

    1. The abandonment of the Zheng He voyages were for two reasons:
      1. They weren’t trading voyages, they were the equivalent of “flags and footprints”
      2. Politics in the court back home – the ones getting prestige from the voyages threatened the court eunuchs. The eunuchs responded in order to keep their power.

      Do either of these apply today? It’s true that their space station seems to be F&F, but it’s an open question as to whether this threatens their established power centers.

      1. ” It’s true that their space station seems to be F&F,”

        They are learning and engaging in incremental development. Whatever their goals are, they identify what they need to learn and implement programs to solve those riddles. I think they are concerned with prestige but that is not their sole goal. IIRC, a lot of their party leaders come out of their space industry, so it seems unlikely that their efforts in space will be abandoned especially since space is so important militarily.

  3. Manned space is irrelevant to national security both now and the future as long as it’s confined to a bare handful of guys riding low orbits in cans. What matters is intelligence resources and band width and increasingly band width rules all.

    As long as bandwidth is funneled through a few military and commercial satellites, it’s vulnerable. Here again, it’s SpaceX that’s transformed the landscape beyond recognition. If their constellation is vulnerable to anything it isn’t asats.

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