In some ways this book is as fantastical as “The Travels of Marco Polo.” It’s a disturbing account of the Chinese Communist Party’s obsession with displacing the Unites States as the world’s leading economic and political power by 2049, the 100th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s China takeover. According to the author, becoming the world’s number-one power is China’s dream, and the goal of “The Hundred-Year Marathon.” Only China’s dream could become the United States’ nightmare, because of the way China is going about it, which is through deception on a tall order: stealing technology rather than creating it themselves, embracing mercantilism rather than free trade and a free-market economy, demonizing America in Chinese school books, and poisoning their own environment and that of their neighbors with dangerously high levels of toxic pollutants. In a world where image is everything, China is carefully crafting an image of friendliness and cooperation; as being something of a victim of centuries of abuse by outside nations (Western Europe, Japan, the U.S.), and in need of a helping hand with modernization and of becoming a viable world economy and friendly U.S. ally. China wants America to give-and-give-and-give, while offering nothing of substance in return. Reading this book I couldn’t help thinking of Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope technique to beat a younger and stronger boxer (George Foreman). That seems to be China’s plan for overtaking the U.S.—to rope-a-dope America into complacency. By the time Washington’s leaders have figured out what China’s doing it will be too late; they will have achieved their ultimate of goal of becoming the world’s leading power. And, irony of ironies, we will have helped them do it.
Sound far-fetched? Michael Pillsbury makes a compelling case. He knows his subject well, having been a China observer since the 1960s, an advisor to presidents Richard Nixon to Barrack Obama, as well as serving in senior positions for the Defense Department, working in conjunction with the CIA, and being a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Pillsbury’s book comes at a time when China’s paramount leader Xi Jinping has been perhaps too candid, admitting he regrets the fall of the Soviet Union, his disdain for an independent Chinese judiciary, free speech, individuality, and human rights. He sees the Chinese people as grass that will bend in whatever direction he should expel his breath. Indeed, the thread that runs throughout Pillsbury's book is fear: fear of the West, fear of China becoming democratic, fear of criticism, fear of being deceived, and most of all fear of China’s one-power rule being deposed. Indeed, one gets the feeling that the Chinese Communist Party leaders are jealous, selfish, petty, churlish, and childish. They are not about to release their grip on absolute power and have been cracking down since Xi Jinping took power in 2013. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (“The Coming Chinese Crackup” — March 7, 2015), the endgame of communist rule has begun, and Xi’s campaign against dissent and corruption is only bringing the country closer to a breaking point.
I suggest reading the last chapter first (chapter 11—"America as a Warring State") then proceed to the Introduction and read from there. The last chapter contains the author’s step-by-step advice on how to deal with China in an effective and constructive way while insuring America’s place as the world’s leading power. A better title for the chapter would have been, “Fighting Back.” It’s the good news in a book that’s filled with relentless pessimism, which at times I found a bit much. Having said that, the book is strong medicine that’s foul-tasting but necessary to keep the patient—us—in robust health and out in front, as a paradigm of democracy and fair-dealing.
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