20 years ago White House officials were concerned regarding China while tensions with China were growing.
The 1st of April 2001 the Chinese fighter aircraft collided with an U.S. EP-3 radar aircraft off the coast of China, causing the Americans to fly an emergency landing on Chinese territory. The Chinese were able to detain their U.S. crew for 11 days, and then carefully examined the advanced aircraft prior to handing the plane over. Washington has accused the Chinese pilots of flying recklessly. Beijing has demanded an apology.
The incident affirmed the Bush administration's opinion that China was the future major adversary.
On the morning of September. 11th, al Qaeda extremists hijacked four airliners, and crash-landed three into World Trade Center in New York as well as the Pentagon in Virginia. The attention of the United States suddenly turned toward"the "war on terror."
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan and the Middle East, and the problem that China posed China was put aside for more than two decades.
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"It was an incredible geopolitical gift to China," said Kishore Mahbubani who was Singapore's former U.N. ambassador.
"It was a huge mistake for the United States to focus on the war on terror because the real challenge was going to come from China," said Mahbubani an outstanding student of the National University of Singapore.
China's GDP increased up from $1.2 trillion back in the year 2000, and will reach $14.7 trillion by 2020.
"While you were busy fighting wars, China was busy trading," said Mahbubani who is the creator of "Has China Won?"
While when the U.S. was bogged down fighting Islamist militants in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere the Chinese's military and economic power increased exponentially. Beijing expanded its arsenal of missiles, widened its reach into the South China Sea by constructing artificial islands as well as stealing intellectual property on a huge size and engaged in illegal trade practices according to experts.
"After 9/11, China very quickly realized that Washington's strategic focus would be shifting 3,000 miles away, away from the East China Sea, away from the Taiwan Strait and into Afghanistan," said Craig Singleton of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank. "It was an opportunity to quietly develop very coercive military capabilities that were all designed and intended to expand its power in East Asia."
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The 9/11 attacks didn't change China's intentions, but it did provide an opportunity to close the gap to a rival who was distracted from"the "war on terror," said James Lewis, a senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think institute.
"They were doing the same things all along and we slowed down," Lewis stated. U.S. officials at the moment believed the notion that "we could put the China problem on the back burner, while we brought democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan," said Lewis who worked on national security issues during several administrations.
The United States spent an estimated $8 trillion fighting that took place in Afghanistan, Iraq and other fronts of combating terrorism according to a study by the Costs of War Project at Brown University.
Lewis stated that money could have gone in research and development as well as modernizing the nation's infrastructure, and building advanced guns "and all the things we could have done over the past 20 years."
Be prepared for the wrong adversary
As China increased its defense expenditures on ship-killing missiles within the west Pacific and added navy vessels and navy, the Pentagon overhauled its U.S. Army to take on militants within the Middle East armed with AK-47s as well as it was during this time that the Air Force grew accustomed to flying with complete air supremacy.
"We gave them 20 years, and we retooled our military for a fight totally irrelevant to the principal security challenge of today," said Evan Medeiros, the Penner Family Chair in Asia Studies at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service.
Following the attacks of 9/11 The Bush administration changed its policy towards China to win its approval in the U.N. Security Council for the fight against al Qaeda, easing pressure on Beijing regarding human rights, and urging Taiwan to delay the possibility of a referendum on independence. On Beijing's behalf, in 2002, the U.S. declared an obscure Uyghur organization, called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, as a terrorist organization