During the recent stand-off with China over a downed American reconnaissance plane, political analysts often described China as an ancient civilization with an immature political culture. What else could explain the decision by Communist Chinese officials to harass the plane in the first place, “detain” the crew for 11 days, and disassemble the aircraft in clear violation of internal law?
In their naïveté, the Chinese have also bought a small fleet of Russian-made, Svormeny Class destroyers. Those ships come equipped with Moskit supersonic cruise missiles, the newest and most sophisticated of their kind, designed specifically to destroy U.S. aircraft carriers and the much-touted U.S. Aegis cruisers. Strange, too, that this “inward looking” people dispatched Premier Jiang Zemin to Latin America, at the height of the EP-3E standoff, to establish trade ties, secure oil concessions in Venezuela and provide the communist government in Cuba with $336 million in trade credits.
Two new books dispense with the pundits’ conventional wisdom about China and cast a critical light on the current state of U.S.-Sino relations. One is by the Washington Times national security correspondent Bill Gertz who has put reporters to shame for his outstanding coverage of military and intelligence issues. The other is by China scholar Steven W. Mosher, who has produced another in a fine series of volume that someday will form the definitive modern history of the People’s Republic of China.
Gertz’s The China Threat dissects the organized China lobby operating in the United States today. He details a network of operatives, both overt and covert, who permeate our intellectual, business, political and media elites. In the spirit of his previous book, Betrayal, Gertz describes the extensive efforts, dubbed “The Plan,” of Chinese intelligence to influence the U.S. during the Clinton administration, following the policy of openness in diplomacy and trade begun during the Reagan and elder Bush years. Through these new diplomatic, business, and military channels, China used espionage to obtain sensitive strategic and political information, and deployed a well-paid cadre of apologists and public-relations men to deflect charges of aggression.
Gertz is famous in Washington for his high-level intelligence sources. He brings those sources to bear in his effort to separate alleged acts of espionage and treason from merely misguided policies. One could accuse of Gertz of looking under beds for Chinese communist spies, but he is careful not to overstate his case. For example, he describes a failed attempt by the FBI to ferret out a U.S. intelligence analyst who had been turned by the Chinese. A key suspect was a senior analyst of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Ronald Montaperto, who, after being questioned by the FBI, left his position at the DIA only to become an analyst at the National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies. At NDU, Montaperto is responsible for the “strategic assessment’ of China. Gertz passes not judgment on Montaperto’s innocence or guilt; he notes simply that the NDU assessment of China is now embarrassingly soft.
Gertz is much less kind in his assessment of the “sage” advice of old China hands such as Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig. Both men, we learn, have consulting businesses in China and both have used their Republican foreign policy credentials to persuade Congress and the press that China poses no real threat to U.S. interests. Their overriding message is that China is a great untapped market for trade, and with trade may someday come democracy and a respect for human rights. Gertz is not unsympathetic to this argument. But he objects that a blind devotion to free trade has already disarmed Congressional oversight of U.S. national security interests. Here Gertz points to the lack of opposition to the transfer of the Panama Canal, even after U.S. intelligence had strong evidence that China was preparing to take control of the canal through agreements between Panama and Hong Kong-based Chinese companies.
If there is a weakness to Gertz’s presentation it is his assumption that his fellow journalists will forgive his patriotism. Gertz is a man who obviously loves his country and cannot hide his desire to warn his fellow country men of impending danger.
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In Hegemon, Steven Mosher has a different task. An expert in Chinese languages, Mosher provides a careful and detailed analysis of Chinese strategic thinking using their own military and political writings. The result is a clear and very readable overview of the historical and political origins of China’s current policies.
Mosher has personal knowledge of just how ruthless China’s foreign and domestic policies can be. He was one of the first Americans allowed into China following the Cultural Revolution. When he described the harrowing conditions of a Chinese village in the ’80s, he was denounced as a spy and deported. After serving many years as the Director of the Asian Studies Center at the Claremont Institute, Mosher now heads the Population Research Institute in Virginia.
Mosher shows how Chinese strategic designs operate on a 3,000-year-old principle that China is the Middle Kingdom and that it must serve as the world’s “hegemon,” lest some other nation seek hegemony over it. There is nothing new or uniquely Communist about this. It amounts to nothing more than a Thucydidean understanding of world politics mixed with the strategy of Sun Tzu.
Mosher takes care not to read too much into the writings of Chinese leaders. Their words speak for themselves. Mosher sees a rise of “nationalism, ultrapatriotism, traditionalism, ethnocentrism, and culturalism” or what he calls, “Great Han Chauvinism.” With the intellectual foundations of Communism failing, the Chinese leaders have substituted a brand of racism that they hope will unify the Chinese people and prepare them for the sacrifices ahead. As Mosher points out, the Chinese view themselves today, as they have for more than three millennia, as “the highest expression of civilized humanity.”
Hegemon is not a rosy account. Most distressing is Mosher’s comparison of students in China today with those who marched for democracy just over a decade ago in Tiananmen Square. Today’s students are “steeped in the glories of China’s imperial past.” Mosher believes that 1989 was the highpoint, sadly, of China’s modern efforts toward democratic reform.
Anyone interested in an analysis of the prevailing strategic myths about China—along with a strategic assessment of their military capabilities—will find in Hegemon a compelling and thoughtful treatment. It offers a sober reminder of the realism that should guide U.S. policy toward Communist China—and a sharp contrast to the naïveté that has marked U.S. statecraft for the last decade.