The Chinese have Executed a Historic ‘Flip-the-Script’
By Bob MacGuffie, co-author of The Seventh Crisis
Are events over the past decade revealing one of the most ingenious geopolitical reversals of position and fortune in modern history? In just fifty years, have the Chinese, under Communist rule, gone from the world of rickshaws and bicycles which greeted Nixon and Kissinger in 1972, to the putative masters of the relationship? Indeed, the current news flow from the far east seems to be filling in a picture where the leverage has clearly shifted to the former junior partner. Has a reversal of fortune, of which none in America’s ruling elite dare speak, been realized before our very eyes?
If such a dramatic big-picture shift has been engineered by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) without going kinetic, it was accomplished through tenaciously playing a coordinated effort at small-ball in thousands of separate lines of attack and subversions since the mid-twentieth century.
Mao Zedong’s successful Communist revolution in 1949 was the watershed event, which CCP leadership marks as commencing a 100-year plan to raise China to global preeminence. With the plundering of China during the Opium Wars in mind, Mao proclaimed that “no imperialists will ever again be allowed to invade our land” and hailed the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Mao’s goal throughout his lifetime was to consolidate Communist power and lift the country from decay and devastation.
The United States had backed the Nationalist Government of Chiang Kai-shek during China’s civil war, but by 1949 that government was hopelessly confined to the island of Taiwan. President Truman did not recognize the Communist “People’s Republic of China,” and set out to strategically surround China to contain its Communist expansion. The strategy immediately led to America’s military involvement in both Korea and Vietnam over the ensuing two decades.
Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968 with the U.S. basically stalemated both in Vietnam and its titanic Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union. Seeking to avoid a united Russia-China communist bloc, Nixon and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger sought to avoid that combination. They had reason to suspect a wariness of Russia’s military on China’s part and thought China would be receptive to an entreaty that promised an accelerated recovery from the economic devastation of the failed Cultural Revolution.
Their assessment was correct, and Nixon’s historic visit to Beijing in 1972 was generally hailed in the West as a strategic geopolitical breakthrough. Nixon offered access to modern technology and financial markets to accelerate China’s economic development, while China offered endless cheap labor to reduce the cost of an ever-widening array of consumer goods for the American consumer…and ultimately a massive developing Chinese consumer market. Meanwhile, without ever having to be spoken, China naturally pulled away from the Soviet orbit.
The plan was that over time there would be continual economic exchanges and cultural interchanges and enrichments that would strengthen the ties, serving to calm the geopolitical adversarial relationship…and leave Russia as an orphan to the deal. The hope within the U.S. leadership class at the time was that growing interactions and familiarity over the years would expose the Chinese people to the Western free societies, and press the Chinese government to evolve toward democratization. Kissinger realized that the relationship would require consistent nurturing and reaffirming, and made it his personal business to visit China regularly for these purposes over the ensuing decades.
Though at the time, Kissinger demurred to it being characterized as a partnership, preferring instead the novel term – co-evolution, there was no mistaking that China was the junior partner of the relationship. And U.S. leadership, no doubt, could not imagine it ever being anything else. China’s GDP in ’72 was $114 billion, while the U.S. was eleven times larger at $1.3 trillion. And though a nuclear power, its conventional military capabilities were equally unimpressive.
As America advanced from the initial stages, its strategy was “engage but hedge,” a prudent approach when dealing with a Communist behemoth led by a dictator responsible for more deaths than Hitler or Stalin. For the first decade, it generally hewed to its wisely determined approach. However, the “junior partner” always harbored a larger vision.
China’s objective for over a century since the end of the Opium Wars had been “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Their “re-ascendence” meant not only transforming the old China but also the end of the American-led world order. It had been stated repeatedly by a succession of its rulers. China’s long-term strategy was to secure hegemonic global power without awakening the West until it was too late. But its growth rate in the late ‘70s was not achieving its goals – hence the rise of Deng Xiaoping.
Deng rejected all the failed Soviet Communist economic orthodoxies. He favored consumers over industrial goods and believed the people must be given a stake in what they produced. He believed in the liberation of the farmers, the introduction of modern technology, and education abroad for its best students, that the CCP needed to become less intrusive, and the government had to become decentralized. In the 1980s Deng Xiaoping implemented all of it, and the people and their economy responded.
One of Deng’s favorite maxims was “Hide your brightness – bide your time.” He instituted a new social compact with the people, as China’s wealth and power grew. And his economic reforms became increasingly market-driven, generating strong economic growth while the CCP kept an iron grip on the government apparatus and the political system. By the end of the ‘80s the Chinese people, particularly its youth, had a real taste of economic freedom and were demanding its corollary – political freedom.
For a few weeks in May of 1989, the world watched, as many of us thought the entire Chinese communist system might implode under the weight of nationwide “Democracy” protests, led by China’s students and youth. But the tanks rolled through Tiananmen Square, and in one bloody night eviscerated the beating heart of the nascent movement. In the words of Deng to George H.W. Bush, “the CCP paid the price of 20 million lives to rule China; if the students want this power, they have to pay the same.”
Yes, it was Bush-41, supplicating himself following Tiananmen, who provided the first glimmer to the Chinese leadership that they could one day become the senior partner. Within a month Bush sent his National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft, to meet with Deng, who immediately put Scowcroft on the defensive by posturing that the entire catastrophe was a result of U.S. efforts to encourage the student demonstrators. That the Americans were the principal source of the “counter-revolutionary rebellion” and that it would be up to the U.S. to “untie the knot.” Deng turned the tables on Scowcroft, sending him back to Bush with the burden of responsibility to initiate action to heal the relationship.
With Nixon and Kissinger literally in his ear, Bush did not hide his desire to preserve the U.S.-China relationship at virtually all costs. Bush thought he was choosing the side of national interests over moral indignation, or pressuring the CCP to the point of collapse – for he thought that if he held an even keel, the democratization of China was inevitable. He stated at the time that “as people have commercial incentives, whether it’s in China or other totalitarian systems, the move to democracy becomes inexorable.”
In a stunning misread of the geopolitical forces at play that fateful year, Bush and his leadership team were more concerned with losing their China gambit in the old triangulation play against Russia, while in a matter of mere months the Communist grip on the Eastern European bloc would melt, as the Berlin wall fell on live international TV. Bush couldn’t perceive the crouching tiger before him, rendering his concept of the long-term interests of the United States fatally flawed. Indeed 1989 mirrored 1914 as a bookend to the century. An opportunity beyond evaluation had escaped our grasp, as a fateful gate of history closed behind us.
With the rebellion behind them, the Chinese then entered what party leaders called a “period of strategic opportunity” described by CCP leader Xu Jian as “the duration of time during which the comprehensive national strength, international competitiveness, and influence of a country are expected to rise consistently.” And all this critical strategic development was designed to occur without drawing international criticism.
The Chinese hewed to the strategy for the next decade, kept their heads down, and were rewarded with membership to the World Trade Organization (WTO), facilitated by President Clinton. Clinton was so deluded that he announced “Economically, this agreement is the equivalent of a one-way street.” He failed to mention which way the street ran…..
Meanwhile, U.S. corporations had just spent the ‘90s outsourcing jobs and offshoring entire factories to China. While those corporations were cutting costs, fattening their bottom lines, and marooning U.S. workers, they were developing an entire middle class of skilled workers and a robust consumer marketplace in China.
As the new century dawned, astute observers realized that with a sustained growth rate two to three times faster than the U.S., China was emerging as a significant economic power – the U.S. economy was then eight times the size of China, but by 2010 China’s economy would be a third of the U.S.
The Beijing Olympics was a watershed coming out illuminating to the world, China’s broad strengths – and just weeks later the ’08 financial crisis exposed the great financial weakness of the West. Meanwhile, China’s emerging military capabilities were reshaping the Asia-Pacific region. Finally, the whispering part was being spoken out loud – China was ascending and the U.S. was in decline. But patriotic Americans were saying, “How did this happen?”
It happened through the tenacity and industriousness of the Chinese people, given some economic freedom by their CCP overlords. But it was complemented and propelled by the brilliant application of an insidious strategy to subvert the elites of America and the West, to accelerate and cement the replacement of U.S. hegemony with China as the rising global hegemon. The latter practice of subversion is referred to as “elite capture.”
Elite Capture has proven to be a critical tool of China’s success, and it has been on unvarnished full display in America in the past several years; witness the activities and statements of Zuckerberg of Meta, Cook of Apple, Dalio of Bridgewater, Gates of Microsoft, James of the NBA, and the Bush, Pelosi, Biden, and Trudeau families – just to cite the most prominent examples. The approach aligns with the Maoist assessment that America’s elite, and Western cultures generally, are soft, self-centered, and easily corrupted. The strategy is that by tempting Western elites with money, access to China, and favors you soften them to appreciate China’s perspective and interests. Over time the elites are moved to see their interests intertwined, or even aligned with the Chinese. A decades-long corruption of American leaders in academia, finance, technology, pharmacology, sports, entertainment, and more have now alarmingly blossomed before the eyes of the American public.
When interviewed, the business titans tell us they are simply pursuing business opportunities offered by the Chinese market – after all, they are leading international companies. The political elite tells us that by further integrating with China they are building China’s stake in the U.S., which will cool any hardline passions to treat America as an enemy. But the objective reality is that we have become beholden to the CCP for our important medicines, hi-tech products, consumer and industrial goods, rare earth minerals, debt purchasing, and more.
The patriotic American is forced to bear witness while: top U.S. university scientists do the bidding of the CCP, then hide their payoffs in their luggage upon return to the U.S; Intel apologizes to the CCP for adhering to American sanctions; Amazon takes down negative reviews of Xi Jinping’s books; American Big-Tech pursues joint-ventures and outsources to CCP enterprises; American universities tolerate and perpetuate the suppression of free speech about China’s totalitarianism, on U.S. campuses; sports stars support the CCP’s policies while the fans support the Chinese people; movie stars apologize for the CCP.
China’s ambitious president, Xi Jinping believes the historical timing is such that he can rise to be the fourth “great man” in modern China’s history after Sun Yat-sen, Mao Zedong, and Deng Xiaoping. To achieve it he must indisputably raise China to a global power, while finally integrating Taiwan into the People’s Republic of China. China’s widely observed and discussed “Belt and Road” strategy is Xi’s signature foreign policy and global power initiative. It’s a grand-scale infrastructure and port-building project through which Xi has stepped into gaps in power and ability first in the Asia-Pacific region, then around the Indian Ocean, then Africa, and Latin America. China can now project and flex power to varying degrees around the globe.
Meanwhile, the Biden Administration prefers accommodative talk to action, with Secretary of State Blinken recently stating the U.S. is dedicated to “defending and, as necessary, reforming the rules-based order that should benefit all nations.” Now we’re going to “reform” the elite’s precious and deeply flawed “rules-based order” to accommodate the inexorable rise of China? All while whispers of “managed decline” continue to waft from the salons of our decrepit, and now subservient, ruling elite.
Even Kissinger has publicly acknowledged this spring that the Taiwan issue, if mishandled, could slide the major powers into a World War I situation with dramatically worse consequences. Perceiving that events could get beyond the control of Xi Jinping and American “leadership,” Kissinger now soberly counsels for regular and continuing real, not posturing, discussions between the two global powers. That’s the best he can offer.
China’s ascendency to global hegemon is only inevitable if the current “captured” ruling elite continues their hold on the levers of American power. Though the impending ’22 and ’24 elections may well loosen that hold, an electoral win must be coupled with a heroic reversal in policy and action to avoid that fate…and some real sacrifice on the part of average Americans to preserve the republic. The time of painless choices is long past. The CCP can read polls too, and perceive the window of opportunity is indeed finite – which makes the next two years a treacherous period for our country.
Recordings of recent CCP planning sessions have leaked to the West, and indicate China is being quietly transitioned to a war footing. Should the CCP deploy a naval blockade of Taiwan, among many critical ramifications, the American middle class would suffer a monumental hit to its standard of living, as our elites have left us completely dependent on Taiwan’s silicon chip manufacturing industry.
National security expert and author, Graham Allison, has studied sixteen examples of an ascendant power rising to directly challenge the preeminent established power of its era, going back to the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and the rising Athens in 431BC. By his count, major war was only avoided in four of those confrontations. It appears the United States and China are following script as they spiral to a showdown. Will the hand of providence again take the tiller as our republic faces the most challenging seas in our history? At this late hour, we might need a miracle.
Bob MacGuffie is co-author with Antony Stark of the book “The Seventh Crisis – Why Millennials Must Re-Establish Ordered Liberty,” www.seventhcrisis.com which examines and illuminates the historic crisis we currently endure.