For many years now, the US Department of Defense has been engaged in a “war on terror.” Particularly since the September 11 attacks, the US military has spent much blood and treasure in an attempt to develop plans to deal with this threat, with some success and some failures, as mentioned in recent articles in the Washington Post documenting the failure of US efforts in Afghanistan. But with the publication of the National Security Strategy by the Trump administration last year, the emphasis has now shifted toward a return to great power conflict, targeting by name Russia and China, labeling them as “rivals” and “revisionist powers,” and gearing defense spending in keeping with this shift.
Since the declaration of this policy, the attempt to paint China as a major “opponent” to the US has become something of a whole-of-government affair. It is highly ironic that this occurs at a time when you have an elected president, whose explicit goal had been to create a working – and friendly – relationship with both China and Russia. But US President Donald Trump’ s unfortunate focus on trade as the key to reviving the American economy has unfortunately contributed to this as well.
Others in the administration – and outside of it – intend to maintain a permanent stance of rivalry toward China, and to box in the president from ever changing that policy. The latest salvo in the anti-China propaganda campaign was the recent 324-page report from the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, a “watchdog” group set up to monitor Chinese “behavior.” The report presents a cavalcade of Chinese “abuses,” covering the issues of trade, technology, human rights and labor conditions.
In addition, there is a growing hysteria about Chinese “technology theft” which has led to the closing down of many Confucius Institutes at universities, instituting closer surveillance of Chinese students studying in the US and effectively shutting down the “open door” to Chinese scholars, who would regularly visit their counterparts in US think tanks and universities in order to maintain an ongoing dialogue on issues of importance.
Shutting the door to such exchanges can only serve to strengthen the “false narrative” about China which is spewing forth from the anti-China crowd and is dutifully propagated to the general public by a corrupt media.
In the Pentagon, of course, and in the Trump administration generally, this has been fueled by the great popularity of the Hudson Institute’s Michael Pillsbury’s book, The Hundred Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as The Global Superpower. The phony thesis of the book gains credibility by the fact that Pillsbury, who has had a long profession as a “China watcher,” is fairly knowledgeable, albeit terribly biased, about China.
Pillsbury, however, was a protégé of Andrew Marshall in Marshall’s notorious Pentagon Office of Net Assessment. Marshall, who died in 2019, made a career of examining and fueling new analyses about the “Soviet threat,” and when that threat disappeared in 1989, he turned his attention to China on the thesis that the US cannot exist without an “enemy image.”
While Marshall retired from the Pentagon at the ripe old age of 94 in 2015, Pillsbury has helped filled the gap left by the nonagenarian Cold Warrior.
Granted, the Chinese leadership does have, and has had, a 100-year perspective.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call for China’s rejuvenation also involves China taking its rightful place on the world stage. Can a country composed of over a 1.4 billion people and quickly becoming a major engine of growth in the world economy as a whole be relegated to playing a minor or negligible role in the international community? Hardly.
But does this mean that China wants to become a “world hegemon” or replace the traditional role of the US as “world policeman?”
This contention is strongly denied by Xi and certainly does not fit into traditional Chinese thought patterns, which are more inclined to harmony than discord.
China has experienced astounding growth during the last few decades, and that growth has naturally led to an increase in military strength. China’s “neighborhood” has not always been friendly and the US continues to patrol China’s borders as if it were [as it was for a time during the Cold War] a hostile power.
But none of this should be a cause for the type of McCarthyite hysteria we have seen over the last year. The US is not in decline. It remains a very powerful and technologically capable military force. The US economy has been in a long period of stagnation over the last few decades, due to outsourcing, increased profiteering by the Wall Street crowd, and the hollowing out of our industrial strength through a policy of neglect by several administrations and by Congresses, and not by trade with China. The revival of the Artemis space program in going back to the Moon – as well as a much awaited “infrastructure program” – could easily push the country back in the right direction. A continued trade war cannot.
The rapid “rise of China” has been an eye-opener for the US. But China has not become an enemy simply because it has become a major power. It is simply looking for the recognition and respect that it deserves after moving the majority of its 1.4 billion people from poverty to prosperity, a prosperity which it is prepared to share with the rest of the world through projects like the Belt and Road Initiative.
And the world is no longer in 1989 when the Soviet Union disintegrated, leaving the US as the remaining “great power.” Russia is no longer on its knees economically, but is making great progress, thanks to a fellow by the name of Vladimir Putin.
And China is now a major economic power, military power and space power. The problem for the US is to find a means of cooperating in a situation in which it is no longer the “big guy on the block.” In that respect, treating China as a potential collaborator on terrorism, on the economy, on peace-keeping, and on international financial reform, just might provide a way out of any self-imposed “Thucydides trap.” But if we treat China as an enemy, it will have a hard time not becoming one.