Thomas Jackson, American Renaissance, February 2001
Hegemon: China’s Plan to Dominate Asia and the World, by Steven Mosher, Encounter Books, 2000, 193 pp.
China, says Steven Mosher, is by far the most dangerous foreign power we face. It is a militarist, expansionist dictatorship that resents America, and makes no secret of its desire to be the dominant power in Asia if not the world. It aspires, in short, to be a hegemon, to exercise the far-flung authority it took for granted for several thousand years. Mr. Mosher, who is president of something called the Population Institute, makes a good case for this view and may even be right about how the US should deal with China, but the book’s tone of outrage borders on the hypocritical and naive. China is simply a great power not yet shorn of the vigorous racial nationalism that characterized Western nations until only a few generations ago.
Mr. Mosher worries, for example, that “racial pride, an innate sense of cultural superiority, and a long history all tell the Chinese that the role of Hegemon properly belongs to China and its rulers.” He also frets about “the ongoing certainty of the Chinese that they are culturally superior to other people,” and fears that China thinks of itself “not as a nation-state . . . but an all-encompassing civilization.” But is any of this different from the way the British felt up until the First World War or the way all Europeans used to view the rest of the world? Mr. Mosher’s analysis of the Chinese mentality is doubtless correct, but it is only to Westerners who no longer understand what it means to have a sense of national destiny that China is incomprehensible or seems abnormal.
Tradition of Despotism
There are, of course, important differences between Chinese and Europeans, and in these multi-culti times it takes backbone to point them out. Mr. Mosher notes that Chinese history is a chronicle of almost pure tyranny, and that Chinese have submitted to nearly 4,000 years of it with hardly a murmur. “China’s ‘oriental despotism’,” he writes, “gave an emperor far more authority than any Western monarch, however absolute. There is nothing resembling a Magna Charta to be found anywhere in the long stretch of Chinese history . . .” Nor, he points out, can there be found anywhere in Chinese thinking the idea that government derives its powers from the consent of the governed.
Mr. Mosher regales us with vivid accounts of the mass murders, mutilations, book burnings, and enslavements that were for the emperors mere tools of good government. Confucianism, with its emphasis on submission to authority, was the perfect imperial creed, and helped embed despotism in “China’s cultural DNA.” Mao Tse Tung was just another emperor under a different flag, and the Chinese easily transferred habits of absolute submission to the emperor to absolute submission to the Great Helmsman. In fact, Mao boasted about how many more people he had put to death than did the bloodthirsty emperors of old.
But weren’t the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations a turning point in Chinese history? Were they not a sign the Chinese would no longer submit? Mr. Mosher confesses that he, like many other China-watchers, thought they were, but Hegemon makes a strong case that this was a mistake.
The Chinese authorities crushed the 1989 demonstrations with a vigor no European government could have mustered, and Mr. Mosher claims that “the Chinese Communist Party now has a firmer grip on power than ever.” There is no question that Deng Xiaoping introduced limited free enterprise and greatly improved the economy, but Mr. Mosher points out it is wrong to confuse an end to central-planning with an end to one-party rule. Even the leaders of Falung Gong, a Buddhist exercise group, ended up in jail when they began to get a substantial following. “[G]reater economic openness,” writes Mr. Mosher, “was never an end in itself — though it is viewed as such by many foreigners and some Chinese — but merely the means to an end: a wealthy and powerful Chinese state.”
The most successful entrepreneurs are the “princelings,” the children of old-line Communists, who have used family and party connections to build personal fortunes, with the result that “China is today governed by an elite that controls the state sector directly and the private sector, or at least its most profitable areas, indirectly.” Since the new millionaires are also the party elite, “the beneficiaries of the new wealth reinforce the existing regime.” Mr. Mosher writes that there is also a nascent middle class, but that it is vastly more interested in money than politics. No one in the ruling class, he writes, has the slightest interest in European-style democracy. In fact the party believes, with some reason, that it was the chaos of democracy that destroyed the economies of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and the leaders have no intention of making the same mistake.
At the same time, no one in China any longer pretends to believe the old Communist moonshine about a classless society or the withering away of the state, so what justifies one-party despotism? In fact, Chinese don’t need much justification for despotism, “because Communism was always just an updated version of Chinese autocracy, [and] its death will leave these autocratic traditions intact.” At the same time, Mr. Mosher offers the interesting theory that China’s rulers have made a conscious decision to “replace the decaying myth of communism with a robust, race-based chauvinism, [and to this end] the vanguard of the proletariat is reinventing itself as the protector of the Great Han Race, its culture, and its traditions.” Mr. Mosher says the plan is working. Of the generation of Chinese born in the 1970s and 1980s he writes:
“ [T]heir political education has veered away from ideology in favor of nationalism: they have been made familiar with the glories of China’s imperial past, and with the history of her humiliation at the hands of the Western powers. They have been taught, and have come to believe, that America is denying China her rightful place in the world.”
Mr. Mosher writes that “a kindergarten-through-college curriculum has been custom designed to breed young patriots.” It deliberately promotes what has become a modern continuation of the view that “for over two thousand years the Middle Kingdom was the center of the universe, a huge, self-satisfied continent of people whose elite, wealthy and cultured, had only disdain for the barbarians living on its periphery.” Non-Chinese, he writes, have no idea how deeply Chinese still resent the humiliations of the Opium Wars and the near-colonization of China by Europeans and Japanese in what has otherwise been a long and glorious history of unrivaled dominance. The current emphasis on empire and Han chauvinism means that “the generation of Chinese now coming of age is in fact more patriotic, more resentful of the US and more favorably disposed towards the current Chinese leadership than the generation of Tiananmen.” This is exactly the reverse of what the “experts” predicted.
It is easy to imagine the foreign policy that follows from nationalism, though as Mr. Mosher puts it, “strictly speaking, the Hegemon has no foreign policy other than one of continuous aggression against and absorption of neighboring states.” He argues that American bases in Asia are a particularly galling insult: “From Beijing’s perspective, the continued US military presence in Asia is an unhappy accident and anachronism, the tail end of a century and a half of Western domination over a region that properly belongs within its own sphere of influence.”
The Chinese used to think that if the Americans pulled out of Japan, Korea, and the Philippines, a rearmed Japan would become a threat. Now, with Japan in what seems to be a permanent slump and showing no signs of militarism, the Chinese want American troops out. According to Mr. Mosher, their three immediate foreign policy goals are: “Taiwan should be recovered, Japan neutralized, and the US driven from Asia.” It is the Americans who protect Taiwan and reinforce Japan, so “from China’s point of view, all of its major security concerns arise from the present American dominance on the world stage.” [Italics in the original]
The Chinese see Americans as irreconcilably different from themselves, and have no illusion about the possibility of happy accommodation. Nor are they likely to respect the status quo in Asia: “China still seems to classify her ‘neighbors’ into one of two categories: tributary states that acknowledge her hegemony, or potential enemies.” Mr. Mosher argues that Chinese think any piece of land that was ever under their rule is rightfully theirs and that even territory they never occupied will benefit from the imposition of a superior civilization. The result has been constant border tension: “In the few short decades of its existence, the PRC has intervened in Korea, assaulted and absorbed Tibet, supported guerrilla movements throughout Southeast Asia, attacked India, fomented an insurrection in Indonesia, provoked border clashes with the Soviet Union, and instigated repeated crises vis-à-vis Taiwan.” He notes elsewhere that China has also invaded Vietnam.
The Chinese clearly hope to absorb the Soviet Far East. Illegal Chinese immigrants have been pouring into Siberia, and the Russians do not have the will to keep them out. Mr. Mosher suspects that should there be a crisis of central authority in Russia, China could appropriate a substantial piece of territory. The Chinese have their eyes on Mongolia, too, and are determined to keep India from becoming a regional power. Mr. Mosher concludes: “In the old — and enduring — Chinese view of the world, chaos and disorder can only be avoided by organizing vassal and tributary states around a single, dominant axis of power. And if there is to be a Hegemon, Chinese history and culture combine to say, then it should be China.”
One of the necessary conditions for hegemony is armed power, and China is probably second only to the United States in military spending. According to Mr. Mosher, it is the only major power actively expanding its forces. He also writes that it was primarily in order to build up enough wealth to support an ever-bigger arms industry that the Communists unhobbled the economy in the first place. China has since bought one aircraft carrier from the Russians and is likely to get another. It is working on ballistic missile submarines and is ready to deploy neutron bombs. Chinese are buying all the Soviet technology they can get their hands on, and want nothing short of full equality with the United States.
Mr. Mosher thinks China will soon have the capability to hit the US with nuclear weapons and would have few scruples about using them. He quotes the well-known exchange between Mao and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev back in the 1950s, when the Soviets were thinking of giving China the bomb. Mao talked about nuking America right away, but Khrushchev reminded him Americans had nuclear weapons, too. “So what if we lose 300 million people,” replied Mao. “Our women will make it up in a generation.” Khrushchev did not hand over the weapons.
Mr. Mosher’s policy prescriptions are not surprising: Keep military technology out of China’s hands, keep our soldiers in Asia, and stop importing billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods. He also wants a nuclear missile defense system that could be extended to cover Japan and Taiwan. He thinks there is some chance we could force China into a crisis as we did the Soviet Union, by spending huge amounts on more weapons.
In any case, he predicts that the great diplomatic and perhaps military struggle of the new century will be between China and the US, and that China will not reform spontaneously. “China will change only if we don’t try to change it,” is how he describes the misguided policies of the appeasers, among whom he counts William Clinton. The Democrats, he writes, have a pathetic record of “preemptive concessions on a wide range of trade and security issues in return for nothing more tangible than the hope that China will be nice.”
His own hope is that China will be subverted into democracy because democracies don’t make war. He thinks Taiwan, just across the straits, is the best possible advertisement for democratic reform, and for this reason we must defend Taiwan to the death.
There are, of course, other things we could do. Mr. Mosher points out that one of China’s great strategic advantages is millions of expatriates who practically run the economies of Southeast Asia and who serve as agents of Chinese interest. He also mentions — just once and briefly — military technology stolen from the US. It therefore follows that we should not let Chinese immigrate or take high-tech jobs, but Mr. Mosher manages not to think of that.
Also, he has learned nothing from China’s successful nationalism. He wants us to be ready to fight the Chinese — but with a mish-mash army of women, homosexuals, and every nationality under the sun including Chinese? Except for technology, the People’s Liberation Army has every advantage: homogeneity, racial consciousness, patriotism, pride in the past, and a sense of conquest and destiny. Unless Americans can conduct a casualty-free war from 30,000 feet up, they are not likely to have the stomach for a fight, certainly not with an enemy willing to take — and inflict — millions of casualties.
Mr. Mosher doesn’t seem to realize that China is behaving like a healthy, 19th-century world power, while the West thinks patriotism is undignified, and Europeans are preparing to abandon even the nation-state. When there were still real nations in the West, they could assess military threats sensibly, and had the mental stamina to fight if they had to. No longer. No country in which the burning political issues are free drugs for old people and whether to sue HMOs is capable of fighting a sustained ground war. Mr. Mosher’s real hope is that China will become “democratic” and go soft like us, but his book is full of reasons to think it will not. It is all very well for Mr. Mosher to tell us to keep our guard up against China but he would do well to think about just what it is we are supposed to be fighting for and whether we have what it takes to fight at all.