Politics & Policy

China’s Long Road to Dominance

(Pool Image/Getty)
The Communist country is slowly working to replace the U.S. as the world’s major superpower.

In reflecting on relations between the United States and China, Henry Kissinger in his 2011 book, On China, notes that since he and Richard Nixon ventured to Beijing more than 40 years ago, “Eight American presidents and four generations of Chinese leaders have managed this delicate relationship in an astonishingly consistent manner, considering the difference in starting points.”

Kissinger diplomatically avoids saying that almost every presidential candidate over the years has campaigned against the Nixon-Kissinger policy and is perhaps taking pride in the fact that every president has continued it. Forty-plus years is a long time for a democracy to have maintained the same controversial policy.

Too long a time, says one of those elite Americans who has managed that policy in both Republican and Democratic administrations, for the policy is based on false premises and could lead to disasters a generation from now. That’s the message of Michael Pillsbury, in his new book, The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower.

This represents something of a conversion experience for Pillsbury, who not only subscribed but contributed to the dominant policy of “constructive engagement” with China for many years. He, like many others, assumed that increased economic ties with the West and the resultant greater prosperity would move China inevitably toward capitalism, human rights, and democracy. That has been the hope of the last eight presidents, from Kissinger’s boss Richard Nixon on to President Obama today.

But it doesn’t seem to have worked out in practice. China’s economy, Pillsbury argues, is still very much controlled by and directed toward the interests of its state-owned enterprises. Capitalism maybe, but not free-market capitalism.

As for democracy, Pillsbury mocks former colleagues who have hailed China’s local-government elections. They’re a sham, he argues. Control is still in the hands of Communist-party leaders in Beijing and with the shadowy hardliners, especially in the military, behind them.

He doesn’t doubt that the demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in June 1989 sought real democratic advances. But they were mowed down by the hundreds or thousands on the orders of Deng Xiaoping, and there have been no such risings since. More than twice as much time has passed since Tiananmen until now (25 years) as between Deng’s initial economic reforms and the massacre (eleven years).

Hopes that China would become a cooperative force in the world have also faded. Instead, China is threatening its neighbors over islets in the East and South China Sea and adapting U.S. technology to build asymmetric weapons to render U.S. forces ineffective.

Americans like to believe others think and act as we would. But China’s leaders think like Chinese, Pillsbury says, and their models for statecraft come from China’s Warring States period (475–221 B.C.).

Chinese strategists prize, in Kissinger’s words, “subtlety, indirection, and the patient accumulation of relative advantage.” Chinese leaders have been pursuing what Pillsbury calls a “hundred-year marathon,” patiently trudging toward a goal of replacing the United States as the world’s dominant power — “hegemon” — by 2049, 100 years after Mao Zedong’s victory in the Chinese Civil War. So far, 65 years down, 35 to go.

In the meantime, “we don’t know we are losing the game.” In 2049, he says, China could have an economy three times the size of ours, could suppress dissent and squelch democracy not only in China but abroad, could export pollution and proliferate weapons without serious opposition.

Pillsbury doesn’t address the arguments that China’s rise may slow; that with an aging population it may get old before it gets rich; that with a smaller and more expensive work force it may sink into a static and deflationary economy like Japan’s. Nor does he grapple with predictions that China’s difficult language and subtle culture may prove less attractive than America’s more accessible English and popular culture.

He would presumably argue that it’s foolish to rely on such contingencies. Better, he says, to try to encourage China’s potential reformers and hope they overcome the hardliners who seem even more dominant today than under Xi Jinping.

How to do that? Develop a competitive strategy and quit supporting China in acquiring technology. Support Chinese dissidents as Soviet and Eastern Bloc dissidents were supported in the Reagan years. Target Chinese corruption, censorship, and pollution.

Most important, recognize that China’s leaders want not only to surpass but to suppress us and our way of life. A warning to take seriously.

— Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner. ©2015 The Washington Examiner. Distributed by Creators.com

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. © 2018 Creators.com

Most Popular

Film & TV

Hillbilly Elegy: Ron Howard’s Inverted Mayberry

Hollywood knows two registers when it comes to the white working class (WWC): sentimentalizing and condescending. WWCs are either cute, neighborly, and folksy, or they constitute a tawdry, alien life form. There are 130 million WWCs in our country, and yet nobody in Hollywood has the slightest grasp of them. With ... Read More
Film & TV

Hillbilly Elegy: Ron Howard’s Inverted Mayberry

Hollywood knows two registers when it comes to the white working class (WWC): sentimentalizing and condescending. WWCs are either cute, neighborly, and folksy, or they constitute a tawdry, alien life form. There are 130 million WWCs in our country, and yet nobody in Hollywood has the slightest grasp of them. With ... Read More
History

The 1620 Project

On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower arrived on the eastern coast of North America. She had weathered the slings and arrows of maritime misfortune for almost ten weeks at that point, but the passengers thought the discomfort of crossing a small price to pay for passage to the Promised Land. After all, these were ... Read More
History

The 1620 Project

On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower arrived on the eastern coast of North America. She had weathered the slings and arrows of maritime misfortune for almost ten weeks at that point, but the passengers thought the discomfort of crossing a small price to pay for passage to the Promised Land. After all, these were ... Read More
History

Thanksgiving Is Not a Lie

We live in a time of heedless iconoclasm, and so one of the country’s oldest traditions is under assault. Thanksgiving is increasingly portrayed as, at best, based on falsehoods and, at worst, a whitewash of genocide against Native Americans. The New York Times ran a piece the other day titled, “The ... Read More
History

Thanksgiving Is Not a Lie

We live in a time of heedless iconoclasm, and so one of the country’s oldest traditions is under assault. Thanksgiving is increasingly portrayed as, at best, based on falsehoods and, at worst, a whitewash of genocide against Native Americans. The New York Times ran a piece the other day titled, “The ... Read More
U.S.

Raise the Entrance Fees for Our National Parks

In my role as your go-to purveyor of unpopular opinions, I offer this: We should jack up the entrance fees for our national parks — a lot. One of the many disappointments of the Trump administration is that in spite of his DGAF posturing, Donald Trump has always been a slave to public opinion, which made his ... Read More
U.S.

Raise the Entrance Fees for Our National Parks

In my role as your go-to purveyor of unpopular opinions, I offer this: We should jack up the entrance fees for our national parks — a lot. One of the many disappointments of the Trump administration is that in spite of his DGAF posturing, Donald Trump has always been a slave to public opinion, which made his ... Read More
Culture

On Being Grateful

My mother always enjoyed making Thanksgiving dinner. She took a traditional Southern woman’s pride in being a good cook, following her mother’s recipes, and my family made a rare display of kindness by declining to inform her that she was a fairly dreadful cook, one whose kitchen alchemy on the electric range ... Read More
Culture

On Being Grateful

My mother always enjoyed making Thanksgiving dinner. She took a traditional Southern woman’s pride in being a good cook, following her mother’s recipes, and my family made a rare display of kindness by declining to inform her that she was a fairly dreadful cook, one whose kitchen alchemy on the electric range ... Read More
The Economy

The New York Times Sells Envy

A product always sure to sell, even on Thanksgiving, and especially amid a pandemic, is envy. So I can hardly blame New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo for capitalizing on a bull market. Lamenting that the portfolios of America’s richest men and women have made a quicker recovery from the ... Read More
The Economy

The New York Times Sells Envy

A product always sure to sell, even on Thanksgiving, and especially amid a pandemic, is envy. So I can hardly blame New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo for capitalizing on a bull market. Lamenting that the portfolios of America’s richest men and women have made a quicker recovery from the ... Read More