For all the bloodcurdling horrors inflicted daily by the Islamic State (ISIS), and with all the high-stakes drama of the nuclear negotiations with Iran, it’s easy these days to forget what may well be this generation’s most important foreign policy challenge for the United States: dealing with the rise of an ever-more-powerful China.
For decades now—going back to China’s historic opening under Deng Xiaoping—the prevailing notion in the United States has been that Washington and its allies must help China incorporate itself into the world’s existing structures (its security arrangements, trading system, dispute-settlement organizations, multilateral institutions, etc.). As Beijing grew ever larger economically (and thus more powerful geopolitically), it needed, in other words, to find a home in a system drawn up and largely led by the United States in the wake of World War II.
For a brief time, after economically successful East Asian countries like South Korea and Taiwan made a successful transition from authoritarianism to democracy, a new conceit among the foreign policy establishment emerged: Given enough time and space, China, too, would shuck its authoritarian government (of the Communist variety) in favor of democracy. That proved a fantasy, a product of wishful thinking not intellectual rigor—and fewer and fewer foreign policy professionals believe it these days. What we’re left with is the task of making China’s rise as smooth as possible, something that surely the grown-ups running Beijing must want too, we all assure ourselves. (The most thoughtful recent rumination along this line came from Henry Kissinger, author of the historic opening to China under Richard Nixon, in his 2011 book, On China. Kissinger argued that Beijing and Washington could avoid outright conflict and reach a state of “combative coexistence.”)
Now along comes Michael Pillsbury, whose intention is to shred the U.S. foreign policy establishment’s conventional wisdom. He’s the author of a new book, The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower. Pillsbury’s been a China watcher his entire professional life, as a former Pentagon official who also served as a staffer on Capitol Hill. (He’s now the director of the Center on Chinese Strategy at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank.) And as you can deduce from the title of his book, he has no patience for anyone who thinks China is simply going to slip into a U.S.-dominated world order and eventually coexist benignly as one of two superpowers. Continue Reading >>
Written by BIll Powell on March 16, 2015 for Newsweek.