As news reports circulated of the PRC’s decision to oust Carrie lam, I was joined by Michael Pillsbury, author of “The Hundred Year Marathon,” and considered by President Trump to be the country’s leading authority on the PRC:
HH: I’m joined now by Michael Pillsbury, director for Chinese strategy at the Hudson Institute. He’s author of one of the most riveting books I’ve read in the last many years, The Hundred-Year Marathon, which is subtitled China’s Secret Strategy To Replace America As The Global Superpower. Michael Pillsbury has been called by President Trump the leading authority on China. Now I’m going to quibble a little bit. I went up and had a couple hours with Dr. Kissinger two weeks ago, Michael Pillsbury, so I’m not going to go necessarily with the President. But I’m going to go with the top three. Welcome, and great to have you on the program.
MP: Thanks. I’m glad you liked the book. It’s kind of a memoir of how we got here based on newly-declassified materials.
HH: It is terrific, because you are very honest that you got fooled. That’s why, by the way, the credibility of Hundred-Year Marathon is so intense is because you were one of the China hands who thought the end of history had arrived, and they were on our path.
MP: Yes, and I’m waiting for Dr. Kissinger to join me.
HH: (laughing) Look, I’m not going to hold my breath on that. I won’t, we had an off-the-record conversation, but I will say I read your book after that. And so you can draw your own conclusion. Tell me what people need to know, first of all, about the breaking news that Carrie Lam is being replaced by President Xi Jinping if the Financial Times is correct. How important is that, or not at all?
MP: Well, China’s already denied it. And the Financial Times has a history of running with single-sourced stories. So this may not be true. Carrie Lam is kind of a wooden politician. She’ not able to inspire confidence. She can’t negotiate with the demonstrators. There’s a lot of downside to her style. But the key thing is that China has delegated the problem of the demonstrators to Carrie Lam. They want her to take the fall, if you will. So whether the demonstrators will be happy to see her replaced is another story. They want structural reforms in Hong Kong. They want direct elections of the leader and not have the Chinese government preview and just pick out the top two or three pro-China candidates and have the vote be about which of those three wins. That’s the way it is now. So…
HH: Now Michael, tell me if I have any, as I listened to your book, I grew increasingly pessimistic. And by the way, I listened to it after listening to Graham Allison’s Destined For War, and after rereading Dr. Kissinger’s On China. And I have become a total pessimist. And some people say no, no, no, no, it’s not over. We haven’t lost. Your grandchildren don’t have to learn Mandarin. But I said really, I’m beginning to think they do. There’s 30 left in this hundred-year marathon plan begun in 1949 that Michael detailed. It’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s not a, you know, the Chinese are everywhere taking over. I don’t want people to be prejudiced against Chinese-Americans. It’s just that they’re disciplined, and they’re authoritarian.
MP: Well, one of the key things is education. A lot of Americans are still very pro-China. They think China is our friend. Whenever you hear the word China-basher, or China-bashing, that implies that there’s nothing wrong with that…mentally ill, if they say anything critical of China. That kind of education is underway in our country, but it hasn’t gone very far. The NBA crisis seems to be going back and forth over whether the NBA should or should not say things critical of China in Hong Kong. So I’d be pessimistic if I thought that the education is still very slow. Actually, I am pessimistic. I think the trends, one of the trends I’m most worried about is the so-called Make In China 2025 program. We used to have almost all the companies on the Fortune 500 list, they were American companies. China had zero as recently as 2000. China just this year, Hugh, surpassed us in the number of companies on the Fortune 500 list. That’s really shocking when you think about it.
HH: That is. Now let me give you…
MP: We used to have…
HH: …two counterexamples…
MP: …by far the most billionaires. We had the most billionaires. Now, China surpassed us last year. China has more billionaires than America. People don’t understand how much we’ve been feeding Chinese growth uncritically, without often any restraints. Our government still helps China. Our largest embassy in the world is in Beijing, 2,300 staff helping Chinese economic growth. If China’s our friend, then no problem. This is all a great policy. But if China is not our friend, we’re feeding a monster. That’s what President Nixon ended up saying. I think you’ve probably seen the quote.
HH: Yeah. I do. I know it. We have created a Frankenstein. Let me tell you the headline also in the New York Times that makes me both a pessimist and optimist. Optimist – Google claims a quantum breakthrough that could change computing. Google said on Wednesday it had achieved a long-sought breakthrough called quantum supremacy which could allow new kind of computers to do calculations at speeds that are inconceivable with today’s technology. That’s the good news. The bad news is I don’t think that story should be in the newspaper, because every PRC industrial espionage person that’s already inside of Google will be down there trying to steal it.
MP: Well, that, you’re exactly right. You are what I call an educated person about China. So you understand how deeply-penetrated our society is by the Chinese. So when we have a huge technological breakthrough, they’re usually either already ahead of us, or they quickly get it. One of the things that’s most interesting to me is that trade used to be goods. It used to be toys or soy beans or something physical. Now, trade in data is more valuable than the trade in goods. This is the area where China’s pulling ahead. They’ve now got the world’s fastest data processing software. It used to be Oracle for the last nine of ten years. We were the leader in the data processing software. China announced just last month, they’re very proud of this, Hugh, they said we’ve got something called Ocean Base. It comes out of the Ali Baba corporation. We are now four times faster than the Americans at Oracle in data processing. So this is the future, the world of digital data, internet, artificial intelligence. It’s in quantum. These are the areas China’s pulling ahead of us.
HH: Now the good news, Mark Zuckerberg gave a speech at Georgetown last week…
HH: …in which he declared quite firmly that we can either have an American values-driven internet or a Chinese values-driven internet, and he’s for the former. That’s important to me. Do you believe Silicon Valley agrees with his assessment of the binary choice in front of us?
MP: I think Mark Zuckerberg has changed his mind. Remember, he was learning Mandarin. He tried to be friendly with Xi Jinping at a reception a few years ago. He was trying to get Facebook into China. He failed. The Chinese won’t let him. So he is now sort of like my own book. I admitted I was naïve and gullible and wrong. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t quite use those words, but I read that speech as he is saying look, I got it wrong. There’s going to be two internets in the world – the American-led and the Chinese-led.
HH: He absolutely said that, yeah.
MP: And I am giving up.
HH: He absolutely said that.
MP: He said I’m giving up. Well, he doesn’t think he can get Facebook into China anymore. He’s learned the hard way he can’t.
HH: And so Michael…
MP: Other companies are going to learn this.
HH: I want you to come back a lot in the next few months, because I’m changing. Whereas I used to follow Islamist terrorism, and asked people if they’ve read The Looming Tower, I’m going to start asking them if they’ve read The Hundred-Year Marathon. My question, who should people be reading, because as you point out in the book, a lot of people who hold themselves as being Chinese authorities can’t even read the language. And if you can’t read the language, you can’t read what they write. And if you can’t read what they write, you don’t know what they mean by the China dream or China rising, or national security with Chinese characteristics. Who besides you do you think people should be reading to accurately understand the PRC and the possibility of co-evolution peacefully?
MP: Well, there’s two things everybody can do. One is Newt Gingrich has a new book that comes out today called Trump V. China. And he tells his story of how he came around to see China quite differently. Newt Gingrich has in his book called Trump V. China, he has a lot of specific recommendations for what we should do. He also describes what he thinks China is doing. The other thing everybody can do, you’ll think this is weird, but it’s true. For $55 dollars a year, you can subscribe to China’s propaganda newspaper. It’s called China Daily. It could be delivered to your house very morning for free. If you learn to read between the lines, this China Daily newspaper tells you a lot. I’m reading today’s edition. It’s got all kinds of technological breakthroughs China has just achieved. So reading the Chinese materials directly is often better than trying to read a scholar who, as you say, doesn’t necessarily know Chinese. Those are two recommendations.
HH: I went and saw the movie My People, My Country. It’s a brilliant piece of propaganda. It’s two hours and forty minutes of brilliant propaganda by the party.
HH: I try and do that, but are there other Americans who analyze with the same degree of authority and skepticism that Michael Pillsbury brings to it? You know, I’ve known Peter Navarro for years. God bless Peter Navarro. He doesn’t know anything about this stuff. He wrote a fun book, but he doesn’t. You do. Who else is there?
MP: There’s, the most famous China expert for me has had five of his, he’s a professor of philosophy in France. Five of his books are so good, they’ve been translated into English. His name if Francois Julienne. He goes deeply into the role of deception in Chinese strategy and how Westerners, if you look at, if you go to the cafeteria at West Point, it says duty, honor, country, especially honor. Westerners don’t like deception. It’s only used rarely, let’s say the Normandy landing. But in Chinese culture, their novels, their poetry, and certainly their approach to business is based heavily on deception – outsmarting the other guy.
HH: And you made that argument. But here’s a key last question. How do we avoid, and we don’t want a new McCarthyism era directed at Chinese-Americans, how do we both have security and freedom towards our fellow citizens who are of Chinese descent?
MP: They’re not the problem, I would say. More and more of the FBI announcements of Americans caught spying for China are white people. So it’s not Chinese-Americans. That was, that may have been the case 10 or 20 years ago. But the most recent cases, there are almost 60 on the FBI website of economic espionage cases or just outright espionage. And they’re increasingly not Chinese-Americans. They’re white people doing it for money.
HH: That’s good. I mean, it’s not good that they’re doing it, but it’s, that’s a great argument to prevent the McCarthyism I’m afraid of. Michael Pillsbury, author of Hundred-Year Marathon, keep coming back. I look forward to talking to you when I’m back from vacation. I appreciate your time this morning.
End of interview.