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July 2001

China and American Self-Deception

By Brian T. Kennedy

During the recent stand-off with China over a downed American reconnaissance plane, political analysts often described China as an ancient civilization with an immature political culture. What else could explain the decision by Communist Chinese officials to harass the plane in the first place, "detain" the crew for 11 days, and disassemble the aircraft in clear violation of international law?

In their naivetŽ, the Chinese have also bought a small fleet of Russian-made, Svormeny Class destroyers. Those ships come equipped with Moskit supersonic cruise missiles, the newest and most sophisticated of their kind, designed specifically to destroy US aircraft carriers and the much-touted US Aegis cruisers. Strange, too, that this "inward looking" people dispatched Premier Jiang Zemin to Latin America, at the height of the EP-3E standoff, to establish trade ties, secure oil concessions in Venezuela, and provide the communist government in Cuba with $336 million in trade credits.

Two new books dispense with the pundits' conventional wisdom about China and cast a critical light on the current state of U.S.-Sino relations. One is by Washington Times national security reporter Bill Gertz, who has put his fellow journalists to shame with his outstanding coverage of military and intelligence issues. The other is by China scholar Steven W. Mosher, who has produced another in a fine series of volumes that someday will form the definitive modern history of the People's Republic of China.

Gertz's The China Threat dissects the organized China lobby operating in the United States today. He details a network of operatives, both overt and covert, who permeate our intellectual, business, political, and media elites. Gertz describes the extensive efforts, dubbed "The Plan," by Chinese intelligence, to influence the US. during the Clinton administration, following the policy of openness in diplomacy and trade begun during the Reagan and elder Bush years. Through these new diplomatic, business, and military channels, Peking used espionage to obtain sensitive strategic and political information, and deployed a well paid cadre of apologists and public-relations men to deflect charges of aggression.

Gertz condemns the "sage" advice of old China hands such as Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig. Both men, we learn, have consulting businesses in China and have used their Republican foreign-policy credentials to persuade Congress and the press that China poses no real threat to American interests. Gertz shows that a blind devotion to free trade, in fact, has already disarmed congressional oversight of US national security interests. He points to the lack of opposition to the transfer of the Panama Canal, even after US intelligence had strong evidence that China was preparing to take control of the canal through agreements between Panama and Hong Kong-based Chinese companies.

If there is a weakness to Gertz's presentation it is his assumption that his fellow journalists will forgive his patriotism. Gertz is a man who obviously loves his country and cannot hide his desire to warn his fellow countrymen of impending danger.

In Hegemon, Steven Mosher has a different task. An expert in Chinese languages, Mosher provides a careful and detailed analysis of Chinese strategic thinking using their own military and political writings. The result is a clear and very readable overview of the historical and political origins of China's current policies.

Mosher shows how Chinese strategic designs operate on a 3,000-year-old principle that China is the Middle Kingdom and that it must serve as the world's "hegemon," lest some other nation seek hegemony over it. There is nothing new or uniquely Communist about this. It amounts to nothing more than a Thucydidean understanding of world politics mixed with the strategy of Sun Tzu.

Mosher sees a rise of "nationalism, ultrapatriotism, traditionalism, ethnocentrism and culturalism" or what he calls, "Great Han Chauvinism." With the intellectual foundations of communism failing, Chinese leaders have substituted a brand of racism that they hope will unify the Chinese people and prepare them for the sacrifices ahead.

Hegemon is not a rosy account. Most distressing is Mosher's comparison of students in China today with those who marched for democracy just over a decade ago in Tiananmen Square. Today's students are "steeped in the glories of China's imperial past." Mosher believes that 1989 was the highpoint, sadly, of China's modern efforts toward democratic reform.

Anyone interested in an analysis of the prevailing strategic myths about China, along with a strategic assessment of their military capabilities, will find in Hegemon a compelling and thoughtful treatment. It offers a sober reminder of the realism that should guide US policy toward Communist China -- and a sharp contrast to the naivetŽ that has marked US statecraft for the last decade.

Brian T. Kennedy is Vice President of the Claremont Institute and director of the Institute's missile defense project. This article is excerpted from the Spring 2001 issue of the Claremont Review of Books. To read the full text, you will need to become a subscriber. To subscribe to the Claremont Review of Books, visit the Claremont Institute's website at www.claremont.org or send an e-mail to [email protected]

Copyright (c) 2001 The Claremont Institute

 

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