When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel steps aboard the Liaoning, China’s Soviet-era aircraft carrier, one wonders what exactly the captain and crew and other assorted dignitaries will show off to him. China must be proud of their not quite new flagship carrier; it took ten years and a whole heck of a lot of Yuan, one imagines, to bring the former Ukraine vessel up to scratch. The problem is, how much of the embedded weapons systems aboard that ship have an uncomfortable similarity to those made in the USA?

Nearly a year ago, China reacted angrily to a leaked US Science Board report that suggested that Chinese cyber spying had compromised two dozen major US weapons systems and thus gained considerable “combat advantage” for the communist regime’s military. Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yangsheng huffily dismissed the report because, in his words, “it both underestimates the Pentagon’s defensive security abilities and the Chinese peoples’ intelligence.” This is hardly a vigorous denial of possible – make that likely – hacking by the Chinese security apparatus. So the question remains, how much of the Liaoning’s weapons systems are, in fact, made in the USA?

National Security requires accelerating technological innovation and, yes, massive investment to ensure America maintains a competitive advantage where such an advantage can mean life or death for its citizens as well as many others around the globe. How does the USA play its cards in East Asia where allies like Japan and South Korea, not to mention Taiwan, are more than a little concerned over China’s geopolitical ambitions? One imagines that Secretary Hagel clearly understands that his visit is political and diplomatic theatre but one hopes that President Reagan’s words to Gorbachev in 1985 – Let me tell you why we don’t trust you – are not far from his mind as he views America’s main rival’s prized navy vessel. Let’s also hope that somewhere else in this Administration, those words are still remembered as well; as unlikely as that may seem.