It’s no state secret that China’s Xi Jinping is a bad guy. His Communist values differ wildly from democratic ones. He holds a dangerous grudge trying to correct the so-called “century of humiliation” caused by foreign powers going back to the First Opium War between 1839 and 1842. If you think Vladimir Putin, the current enfant terrible, is the most evil-minded, immoral, soulless authoritarian on the planet, you haven’t seen Xi yet.
Xi rules as singlehandedly as Putin rules Russia, but wears a silk glove hiding his iron fist. He is outwardly pleasant and talks a good game, but he directs an unwavering country that has enormously more economic and military power than Russia and, focused on achieving world sovereignty, is a far greater danger to the future of the United States and all who might oppose that quest.
Much of Xi’s ruthlessness occurs within China’s accepted or declared borders, or involves shadowy behind the scene offenses (espionage and intellectual property theft, cyber aggression, etc.). But on the international stage he is far smoother — more patient, strategic in thinking, long-term goal oriented — than Putin, whose bald international actions (Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine) are in-your-face aggression. Furthermore, China is not only many times the economic force that Russia is, but is on track to soon overtake the United States, which has been the world’s largest economy since 1871, and that makes all the difference.
China’s GDP is $13.4 trillion, with an average growth between 1989 and 2019 of an astounding 9.52%, ranking second to the United States’ $20.49 trillion GDP. Russia is No. 12 among nations, with $1.67 trillion GDP — about one-eighth of China’s — and its economy is failing, its population of 145.8 million is declining, its future is uncertain. China, on the other hand, with its upwardly mobile population of 1.48 billion people, is assiduously following a grand plan to become the world’s dominant economic (and military) power by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the Communist conquest of China. As things stand, that date will be achieved years earlier. While Xi doesn’t flatly state it, his body language and actions show he is adamant that the new Chinese empire must be the world’s No. 1, to which all must bow.
The trend of Chinese ascendancy and U.S. decline from its present primacy is understood by a number of American military analysts, intelligence sources, public officials, private think tanks and academics. Much has been publicly revealed about Chinese military advances with land, sea, air and space forces, and the comparative decline of American forces. Less appreciated is the way that China has developed a highly effective hybrid system, marrying capitalism and communism into an awesome unified authoritarian statism. Everyone and everything operate for the benefit of the state, which exercises tight control. Businesses, academics, workers, foreign programs, cultural matters — you name it — are all matters of state, controlled by the state, and subject to the state’s bidding. There is simply no such thing as separation of public and private beliefs and actions. It is a monolith, China Inc.
China’s ambition and attention are tied to economic might and resources to win World War III. It was economic might and resources that won World War II, and they will also win the next one, which is both sure to come (it can be argued we’re already in it or very close to it) and might not be a “shooting” war at all. Militarily applicable scientific advances and technologies, enabled by economic might and resources, can validate Thucydides’ famous account of the Athenians making an ultimatum to the Melians: Surrender and pay tribute, or be destroyed. No arguing over the morality of the edict. Might makes right, and “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”
China’s economic prowess, fueled by enormous trade surpluses from the United States and other countries, has led to an estimated $26 trillion Asia-to-Europe Belt and Road initiative when completed, whereby dozens of countries — with population totaling 4.6 billion people — provide their land and natural resources, harvested by Chinese workers, in return for aid and loans that turn the nations into debtors beholden to China, the creditor. China, which has put about $1 trillion into the pot to date, is masterful in combining “soft power” (influencing and co-opting) with hard power (coercion).
The United States and other western democracies may well lose not only their influence in the world, but their ability to protect it from figurative rape and literal pillage. The free world may face the fate of the Melians.
This is an election year. It behooves voters to insist that candidates for Congress explain how they plan to counter the Chinese juggernaut and maintain American independence and world leadership. It will be costly and painful — weaning off from unfavorable trade that funds China, creating alternatives to the rare earth minerals that China dominates, countering Chinese spying activities, working closer with other nations, shifting budget priorities, and other measures. Politicians, and voters, don’t like costly and painful measures. So, if we don’t appreciate that eternal vigilance really is the price of liberty, we may fade into the sunset of great nations.
It took Pearl Harbor to have an epiphany in World War II. What will it take for World War III?
A Montgomery native, Maj. Gen. A. Bowen Ballard, USAF (Ret.), managed the planning, directing and setting of policies for all Air Force intelligence activities as the assistant chief of staff for Intelligence and worked with the National Security Agency, among his assignments. He now is a consultant in defense matters and is CEO of Ballard Realty Co.
This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Economic might and resources are keys to battling China