The China Threat and How to Resolve It

The China Threat Is Real, the Solution Is Democracy

OPINION By BILL GERTZ

May 14, 2007 —

A fundamental lesson of the 20th century is that democracies cannot coexist indefinitely with powerful and ambitious totalitarian regimes.

Sooner or later the competing goals and ideologies bring conflict, whether hot war or cold, until one or the other side prevails. This central lesson must be learned before we can even begin to understand the threat posed by the People's Republic of China. Unfortunately, the current political leaders and elites are slow learners.

To learn more about the Intelligence Squared-US Debate series, and its May 16 debate about China, go to http://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/

Nazism and Soviet-style communism were the ideologies that guided the past century's dictatorships, and they were discredited only when their brutal regimes were destroyed at fearful cost in human life and material wealth. The great threat of the 21st century ??? to the United States and the world ??? is "socialism with Chinese characteristics," as the unrepentantly violent rulers in Beijing beguilingly call the Marxist-Leninist theory and practice that oppresses the 1.3 billion inhabitants of the People's Republic of China.

The China threat is not an illusionary theory, as Beijing's rulers want the world to believe. It is real and growing stronger under misguided policies of a coterie of China specialists, inside government and especially within intelligence agencies, as well as in the academic world and the business community. Successive U.S. administrations share the blame, with the liberal Democratic administration of President Clinton accelerating the problem through a series of missteps, fumbling and outright appeasement that is in a class by itself. The result has been that the United States is actually helping to create a new superpower threat to world peace and stability in the decades to come.

China today is ruled by a small collective dictatorship of Communist Party policymakers and has repeatedly shown itself prone to miscalculations on a staggering scale ??? miscalculations that have cost tens of millions of its own people's lives. A 1999 assessment put the death toll under Chinese communism at between 44.5 million to 72 million people through repression, famine, executions and forced labor.

Bill Gertz is a reporter and columnist for The Washington Times. His most recent book is "Enemies: How America's Foes Steal Our Vital Secrets ??? And How We Let It Happen." (Crown Forum)

Since dictatorships by their nature are prone to miscalculation, there is a very real possibility China's rulers could make the same kind of catastrophic miscalculation that Japan's dictators did in attacking Pearl Harbor. Serious internal problems ??? widespread corruption, social unrest and economic instability ??? might combine with their longstanding ambition to dominate the Pacific region and tempt Beijing into the dictator's historic strategy: military aggression, whether against Taiwan or to secure needed energy resources in the Russian Far East or Southeast Asia.

China also could collapse and fragment, Soviet-style, raising new dangers about the loss of control of the small but growing strategic nuclear arsenal. Corruption throughout China is rampant and instability is growing as tens of thousands of small-scale protests and demonstrations against central authorities are taking place annually.

Pro-China analysts insist Beijing will not be able to challenge the United States militarily for decades. But the recent anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon test shocked the world by revealing China is not seeking to match U.S. military power directly. It is building niche weapons with one goal: arming to defeat the United States in a future conflict. Realist U.S. officials now say the Chinese will have the capability of destroying all strategic low-earth orbit satellites by ??? a blow that would be devastating in a future conflict with China over, say, Taiwan.

Perhaps the greatest failure of the continuing appeasement policies toward China is a moral one: They betrayed the long-suffering Chinese people. Their true aspirations emerged with tragic results in the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations. The protesters looked to the United States as the beacon of freedom and hope. We learned from survivors of the Soviet Empire that it was the United States, by its very existence, that kept their hopes of freedom alive. Thus, while the Beijing regime is a threat to the United States, our nation by its very existence is a threat to Beijing. Any strategy designed to counter the China threat must include persistent exploitation of America's status as a model of democracy and a symbol of hope for the oppressed Chinese people.

Bill Gertz is a reporter and columnist for The Washington Times. His most recent book is "Enemies: How America's Foes Steal Our Vital Secrets ??? And How We Let It Happen." (Crown Forum)

China's communist rulers have a strategy that stretches over the next several decades. They rightly regard the United States as their main enemy and the primary obstacle to China's achieving world status and Pacific domination.

The China threat is real and growing. The solution is not trade but democracy. But China's rulers have made clear that their current modernization plans exclude democratic reform. Resolving the China threat will require patience and clear-headed strategy. It will require studying the People's Republic of China, understanding its strategy and tactics and forming alliances with democratic states that share democratic values.

Most important of all, the United States must maintain and build up its military power, following the same strategy adopted by President Reagan that left the Soviet Union in ruins: peace through strength.

Bill Gertz is a reporter and columnist for The Washington Times. His most recent book is "Enemies: How America's Foes Steal Our Vital Secrets ??? And How We Let It Happen." (Crown Forum)

To learn more about the Intelligence Squared-US Debate series, and its May 16 debate about China, go to http://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/