China’s rising economic status has not been a surprise nor was it unexpected. From 2013, Lord Charles Powell argued that the 21st century would belong to China which stirred an intense debate about the role of China’s new leadership on the global stage.
Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who during the President Bush era of multiple foreign interventions that lead to the disastrous Iraq War of which depleted the American economy, has said of China:
“China is a strategic competitor, not a strategic partner and will do what it can to enhance its power, including stealing nuclear secrets and bullying Taiwan.” - Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice
(source: US-China Relations in the Twenty-First Century: A Question of Trust by Michael Tai)
Whilst during the Bush Eras, the United States had been preoccupied in multi-trillion dollar foreign interventions, enriching the 1% war profiteers at the cost of the American people, China was re-inventing itself, by focusing on their domestic infrastructure plans. However, it wasn’t until President Xi Jinping announced in 2017 that China would begin to develop a “world class military” on par with the United States that the alarm bells started ringing for the West.
This became a distressing wake-up call for many of the 1%ers on Capitol Hill who had spent the last five decades heavily invested in the military industrial complex and it gave China the perfect opportunity to showcase its diplomacy on the global stage by launching their One Belt One Road Initiative, with their plans to develop trading routes connecting continents all around the world.
The United States was not sleeping whilst China was developing its plans, our leaders were ultimately engaged in an obsessive quest for control of oil resources that we put aside our main priorities, allowing the understudy to take centre stage. As China’s population climbed out of poverty and their middle class grew, ours began to fall into poverty, our middle class became weakened and our major cities started to deteriorate into crime and homelessness. As China was focused on investment into their economy, our leaders in the US were focused on enriching war profiteers.
It was no surprise then that China began developing their own military. The current propaganda war against China has many parallels with the Cold War that began in the 1940s. The demonisation on each side will inevitably lead to a revival of McCarthyism, not only in the United States but of all its ally nations if it is not stopped at the inception.
“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
- Benjamin Franklin
The McCarthy Era was a dark period in US history when many top intellectuals, artists, researchers and military advisers left the US due to the targeting of Americans by Senator McCarthy in his “Red China” campaign of the 1950s. A pervasive fear within the American population led to a halt in academic research and technological development and instead there was a focus on a witch hunt that led to the mass exodus of many Americans into Europe.
The United States is currently in a precarious position, as a declining superpower that is faced with the rising, economic power of China. There is a strong possibility that the kind of protectionism that will lead to a New Cold War with China will not only alienate the US in many trade deals and agreements by forcing all of the US allies to choose China, but it will also revert the United States back into an antiquated manufacturing centre, where its greatest assets will not be its technological and research centres, but a nation that in the future, will be environmentally devastated by fracking, overrun with toxic superfund sites and poverty, and a place that only produces AI robots and mobile phones, whilst China becomes the energy leader in the world.
China has seen the future, and it has understood that energy diversification is the key to becoming the global leader. If the United States wants to move away from its bleak future of becoming a mere manufacturing centre for AI robots and mobile devices, then it must swiftly change its strategy from a New Cold War with China, and instead continue to compete with China on all levels in the economic, financial and infrastructure development arena.
Currently, China has a significant advantage over the US in its leadership role at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The AIIB is seen as a competitor to International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Due to the fact that all of US’ allies have joined the AIIB, minus Japan, it puts the US in a position of consequential disadvantage and alienates the US from its allies. By setting aside ego and looking onward towards the future with a rational mindset, it is clearly to the advantage of the US to take a leadership role in AIIB by surpassing China’s voting shares in the investment bank.
“The policy of the United States is not directed against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the existence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.” -Secretary of State George C. Marshall, June 1947
The Marshall Plan or the European Economic Development Plan was the key factor in spreading democracy in Europe and overcoming communism, that would eventually lead to the fall of the Iron Curtain some 30 years later. China has implemented the One Road, One Belt Initiative modelled after the Marshall Plan because it has seen how infrastructure development in Europe was the key in winning the Cold War and attaining global influence after WWII. Contrary to popular belief, President Ronald Reagan was not responsible for the end of the Cold War, he only witnessed the result of decades of work in action, when the Marshall Plan had been first implemented in 1948 to rebuild Europe, this was the key decisive action that popularised democratic ideology and American influence in Europe over that of communism.
Hence, China currently has another advantage on the world stage, because they are presenting the plan that will ultimately lead to their domination, not only in politics and influence, but by building the transactional infrastructure to connect Asia with Africa and Europe in the One Road, One Belt Initiative.
Instead of seeing this plan as a threat to be stopped in its tracks, the US could take on this challenge and offer the world a better alternative: The Technology Road Initiative. Iconic American tech leaders could come together to dismantle the competition, building up anticipation for a global infrastructure plan that has a more pragmatic and realistic plan of action than the current excitement over Elon Musk’s desire to build a colony on Mars.
One advantage that the US has over China and many other nations is its inherent ability to market and promote an idea. The One Belt, One Road Plan will not be able to compete with a potential American Technology Road Initiative. Whereas many of China and Russia’s neighbours fear their presence in the possibility of their plans to annex surrounding nations through a power grab of land, the US has built a cult around the American Dream and has been the number one immigrant destination of the world since its inception in 1776. Whereas the People’s Republic of China has put ethnic people into concentration camps, and critics of their government have “disappeared” along with their human rights activists who end up dying in mysterious circumstances in government facilities, the US has long had a history of embracing “civil disobedience”.
“Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is in prison...Anyone in a free society where the laws are unjust has an obligation to break the law.”- Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience” 1849
“Civil disobedience”, when Henry David Thoreau first wrote his essay in 1849, would set a precedent for the kind of political philosophy in how the US embraces its own citizens: the individual need to prioritise one's conscience over the dictates of laws. Americans are well-known for criticising their own social institutions and policies, most prominently slavery and war profiteering, and that hasn’t changed much since the inception of the US as an independent nation in 1776.
But here, we also need to acknowledge the dark past of US history and its actions against Native American people, to our own citizens when after WWII, Americans of Japanese descent were unjustly put into concentration camps and also rectify prison camps such as Guantanamo Bay, which have also come into sharp focus under human rights abuses.
What differs from the US vs. China is that the US has not erased its history nor denied such wrongdoings, nor have prevented people from speaking out about it, but instead have fully admitted its mistakes, including the oversight of power that led to the Iraq War. In this way, critics of these practices after time, as part of its system of “civil disobedience” become the checks-and-balances when a system becomes corrupt. This is something that the People’s Republic of China inherently lacks. What will happen to China after Xi Jinping? Who will become his successor? The problems with an authoritarian government, and that which promotes a monoculture and oppression of other ideologies and religions, and that which also imprisons its critics will inevitably become corrupt over time.
A nation without faith in its justice system, and without the checks-and-balances of a free press, will eventually be led down the blind path of corruption and cycle through uprisings and revolutions, until a similar or worse system of governance eventually replaces it. Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin may have had the best of intentions in promoting equality amongst the feudal society they were subject to, but their best intentions did not construct a fail proof system of governance that would lead to these ideologies. Instead, men like Josef Stalin and Lavrentiy Beria would take power and instigate a paranoid and fearful climate of genocide that would lead to the execution of 20 million of their own citizens in gulags, a system far worse than the feudal society they had risen from.
“Without freedom of speech, there is no modern world, only a barbaric one.” -Ai Weiwei
President Xi Jinping, whose own father was seized and beaten by the Chinese Communist Party must integrate a philosophy of embracing “civil disobedience” in order for China to gain acceptance and respect from its neighbours across the sea. The Chinese Dream is the collective hope for restoring China’s greatness and ancient origins in its literary and intellectual history. China does not need a world class military in order to achieve these ends; on the contrary, the development of a military will further lock the US and China into a prolonged New Cold War, which has negative long-term consequences for both nations.
If we examine the consequences of a New Cold War, President Xi Jinping has devoted much of his energy into domestic infrastructure plans, and the eradication of poverty. The refocus on building a military could potentially end those achievements, and instead has lead to increased global tensions, in which, after his successor takes over, China in 2060 could be very different from the one that exists now, when the Chinese Dream is alive and the potential revival of its ancient origins is about to take place. Instead, the Chinese Dream could be replaced with the dystopian society of Orwell’s 1984, when the expenditures of the military become the primary focus of the 3 superpower nations, who utilise propaganda and genocide as a means to keep people in perpetual poverty. Mr. Xi could be the idealistic Lenin of today, whose successor, a Stalin type figure, alters China into an unrecognisable China of the future, which has been lost to perpetual conflict and genocide of its own people.
When I think of China’s illustrious, magnificent history, I think about the Qing Dynasty, its era of technological innovation and openness towards Western culture under Empress Cixi.
A controversial figure of her era, Empress Cixi, had futilely worked to alter the old belief systems of the elitist men of Manchu nobility who had discriminated against the Han Chinese as she had foreseen those actions would only end up in uprising and would lead to the end of the great Chinese Imperial Empire. China, along with the UK, is the only nation that has had a long history of female rulers. Women such as Lu Zhi, Jia Nanfeng, Zhangsun, Wei and even the infamous Wu Zetian defined Chinese society and led the way towards innovation.
In contemporary China, I also think of iconic artists such as Ai Weiwei and Ren Hang. I think of entrepreneurs such as Jack Ma and Zhang Xin. Although the 18th and 19th centuries revealed many injustices in the previous empires, there is no doubt that Imperial China had been tolerant of ideologies and had an open philosophy of adoption which fueled many of its technological advances. Ancient Chinese history is filled with many colourful stories, its long history of Traditional Chinese Medicine, creativity and philosophy. Hence why it is to China’s advantage to continue to focus on the beauty and the art of the Chinese Dream, and not of its military ambitions.
Soft power, or cultural influence has no national borders when people are tolerant of those who are different from them. It is the oppression of these voices that lead to uprising and chaos. It is the lack of civil disobedience that leads to instability and revolution. It is the intolerance of those who are different from us that lead people into mass exodus. A New Cold War will ensure that both China and the United States will fall into a trap in which as Sun Tzu has wisely stated in the Art of War: no nation has ever benefited from a prolonged conflict.
The last Cold War lasted 50 years. This one could last 100 years. In that dark era of paranoia and hyper surveillance of the first Cold War, it was the ordinary citizen who had suffered. It was the ordinary people who lost their liberty, who had been unjustly targeted, who had been put into a position of powerlessness and people perpetually lived in a state of fear.
Although Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice saw China as an adversary, the simple truth is that China and the US are in a tightly-woven economic marriage, and in a marriage, each couple has different needs. It would be more advantageous for each nation to focus on the true enemy of the people: poverty and ignorance, rather than being in a prolonged propaganda, economic and military spending war for dominance in which the consequences could be as grim as the dystopian world in 1984.
A great nation cannot exist in a monoculture, and a great nation cannot be built on censorship of its own critics. Hence, although China is a growing economic superpower, it suffers from an inherent weakness in its adherence to a political philosophy that is at odds with contemporary liberalism. The US has been criticised to practice democracy at home but not abroad, and this is an area where the US could benefit from China’s influence in achieving power through the development of a global Technology Road Initiative that rivals the One Belt One Road Initiative. Both nations are in much need of marriage counseling, and prolonged divorce proceedings will only further work to damage both parties.
Therefore, it is necessary to move away from the Bush Era warhawks of looking at every nation as a potential threat and enemy, and for China to focus on its cultural, artistic and philosophical heritage instead of on its military presence, and the two nations could then begin the process to focus on the beneficial outcomes of partnership from an economic and cultural point of view and be united in its fight against the true plagues of our era: poverty and ignorance.
By Sierra Choi