China’s goal is to replace the current world order with a new one, dominated by China and serving China’s interests.
In recent decades, China has emerged as a principal adversary of the United States.
China’s New Colonialism
As China’s clout in the world has increased in recent years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has engaged in ruthless suppression of freedom and military and economic expansionism. China’s actions include:
- The brutal suppression of dissent and the quashing of democratic freedom at home;
- The imposition of a mass surveillance society with rewards and punishments for Chinese citizens who support or resist government dictates;
- Massive theft of foreign intellectual property and military technology;
- Domestic currency manipulation to ensure China’s monopolization of foreign trade and domestic production;
- Bribery of foreign government officials in order to “buy” pro-Chinese policies;
- Unfair foreign trade practices, for example, taking advantage of open Western markets to sell Chinese goods and services, while closing Chinese markets to foreign businesses;
- Purchasing equity stakes in key foreign businesses to influence the policies of those businesses and to quash criticism of China’s abuses;1
- Coopting foreign companies by requiring they sell an equity stake to the Chinese as a condition for selling to the Chinese market;
- Construction and financing of foreign infrastructure projects. These projects often result in debt default by borrowing countries, followed by Chinese demands for equity stakes in vital sectors of these countries, such as transportation and communications;2
- Price competition to ruin foreign producers, thereby forcing foreign countries to depend on China for essential goods and services. (This has become clear during the Corona virus epidemic as Americans discover that they are dependent on the Chinese for vital goods such as medicines and medical equipment.);
- Using state enterprises to combine economic and military expansionism to extend China’s control of the world.
- Construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea and installation of military infrastructure on those islands. This has gone hand-in-hand with new Chinese claims of sovereignty over this large sea mass, with the accompanying military might to back these claims.
A Strategic Narcissism Policy
China’s goal in all this is to replace the current world order with a new one, dominated by China and serving China’s interests.
What follows is based in part on a book soon to be released by former US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster: Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World.3
When Western policy makers attempt to understand a foreign adversary, they may view that adversary through a lens of strategic narcissism. This view assumes that our adversary holds values similar to our own and sees the world much as we do. It assumes that our way of ordering the world is so clearly superior to those of our enemies that once exposed to our ideas, our enemies will believe and act the way we do.
The traditional Western approach to China goes something like this: Despite China’s abuses, we should allow it to develop. Once China becomes a fully developed country, it will moderate its behavior. If we welcome China into the international and political order, it will become more prosperous and more like us. It will respect the human rights of its citizens and liberalize its political and civil institutions. It will privatize its economy and open its markets to foreign investment. It will play by the rules.
But this has not happened.
McMaster argues that the West’s policy toward China has been ineffective because it is based on the West’s strategic narcissism.
Strategic narcissism leads our policy makers to a dangerous error: the assumption that we are the key actor in foreign relations and that our actions will determine the future. But it may be the actions of our adversaries that determine the future.
A Strategic Empathy Policy
McMaster presents an alternative to strategic narcissism: strategic empathy. He believes this approach will be more effective in restraining China. In this view, Western leaders understand China from the Chinese point of view. This requires knowledge of China’s three thousand year history.
Before the modern era, China was a great regional power. The rulers, based in the Forbidden City in Beijing, ruled an empire of subservient or tributary states. In later years, particularly during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the West advanced technologically, while China fell behind. This allowed Western colonial powers to dominate China and to extract painful concessions. The leaders of today’s China view this as a great humiliation.
Knowing this history will help Westerners to understand the current global motivations of the CCP. China’s leaders seek to restore the glory of the Chinese empire and its dominance over the region. Over time they aim to extend this dominance to the world.
This became shockingly clear during President Trump’s 2017 state visit to China. On that visit, Chinese president and Communist Party chairman, Xi Jinping, gave a speech that was remarkable for the honesty with which it portrayed China’s intentions. In that speech, Xi argued that, as a result of China’s industrial development and technological achievement, it no longer needed the United States. He belittled US concerns about China’s unfair trade and economic practices. Then he delivered the core of his argument. As paraphrased by McMaster,
…..the U.S. role in the future global economy would merely be to provide China with raw materials, agricultural products, and energy to fuel its production of the world’s cutting-edge industrial and consumer products.
The Way Forward
No amount of Western accommodation will moderate China’s behavior. China will continue to consolidate its domestic power by abusing the human rights of its citizens. It will continue its ruthless and predatory international trade practices; its economic take-over of other countries; its military expansionism; and all the rest.
If China succeeds in its mission, the world will be a darker place than it is today. A Chinese world order will mean more repression, less freedom and more human rights abuses for the world. It will mean that the overlords in Beijing will impose this model on the world because they will have the means to do so.
What can the Western democracies do? They can begin by understanding China’s motivation by seeing the world through China’s eyes.
After that, a long period will follow in which the Western democracies must unite in order to resist the new world order that China seeks to impose. Western leaders must stand up to China. They must insist that it play by the rules of fair trade, and that it respect human rights and all the requisites of an open society.
It is a tall task. The alternative is far worse.
- An example of this was an international controversy that erupted in 2019 when Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team, tweeted his support for Hong Kong’s anti-China protestors. This displeased China.
Mr. Morey was forced to issue a shameful apology as a result of pressure from Chinese business sponsors and commercial partners. For example, Chinese state company CCTV threatened to stop broadcasting Houston Rockets games in China. This would have represented a large financial loss to the Rockets. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta quickly tweeted that Morey did not speak for the team and one player went so far as to apologize to China.
The team’s capitulation and kowtowing could not have been more rapid or demeaning.
See: Daryl Morey Backtracks after Hong Kong Tweet Causes Chinese Backlash. BBC News. October 7, 2019. Retrieved April 21, 2020 from:
- As just one example, Chinese government owned businesses have invested over $20 billion in a wide range of Israeli businesses and infrastructure projects that represent vital Israeli interests. Examples of some Chinese investments: the Gilon and Carmel Tunnels; Tel Aviv’s Light Rail; the new Ashdod Port and the operation contract for the Haifa Port; and the Alon Tavor Power Plant.
China has purchased Tnuva, Israel’s largest food company. Chinese Venture Capitalist firms have invested in Israel’s hi-tech firms and start-ups. The Israeli agricultural chemicals manufacturer, Makhteshim Agan has merged with a Chinese company.
See: Katz, Y. Why is Israel Outsourcing its National Infrastructure to China? Jerusalem Post, August 2, 2019.
- McMaster, H.R. How China Sees the World: And How We Should See China. The Global Atlantic, May, 2020. Excerpt from the forthcoming book, H.R. McMaster, Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World, HarperCollins, to be published May 19, 2020.
Retrieved April 21, 2020 from: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/05/mcmaster-china-strategy/609088/