February 3, 2012

Minxin Pei [“5 myths about China’s power,” Outlook, Jan. 29] set about dispelling “several misconceptions that dominate Western thinking” about China’s power — diluted American influence in Asia, leverage from ownership of U.S. debt, a controlled Internet, a bought-off middle class and a constantly growing economy.

But the real problem is not that some in the West think China is 10 feet tall in those areas; Mr. Pei correctly showed it is not. The danger lies in what important elements in the Chinese political and military establishment think about their own power — what Henry A. Kissinger has called a growing “triumphalism.”

Mr. Pei’s assessment of China’s rise as largely benign does not address the threat of a major miscalculation and confrontation, though he acknowledged that China’s “military modernization has made the People’s Liberation Army a more lethal fighting force.” China’s potent new anti-access/area-denial weapons systems, such as attack submarines and anti-ship ballistic missiles, complicate a U.S. response to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea or Taiwan Strait. A downsizing U.S. Navy could tempt Beijing into dangerous adventurism.

James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has said that China poses a “mortal threat” to the United States. And that is not a myth.

Joseph A. Bosco, Washington

The writer was China country desk officer for the office of the secretary of defense from 2005 to 2006.