TOM PLATE WRITES – In coming months look for broad gripes and bright anti-red stars over the land of the free, not to mention the home of the brave. The “Committee on the Present Danger: China” – cliché bombs bursting in the media air – begins its anti-communist show in the U.S. capital this week. The self-mustered panel includes not only former military and intelligence officials, some barely disguised front-men for the U.S military-industrial complex, but also political personalities of the more entertaining kind, such as Republican Newt Gingrich, a past House Speaker and once-college professor who is as colorful as he is sometimes unbalanced.
Even so, the propaganda attack against “PRC’s ominous trajectory” (CPDC’s phrase) is well timed. Sino-U.S. relations, while not ever light and lively, are a downright downer these days. Right now there is more civility in an angry Hong Kong couple pacing back and forth in a 200-sq-meter flat with no terrace view than in the Beijing-Washington odd couple.
Firing up issues that include South China Sea naval-gazing of the macho kind and trade negotiations of the tendentious kind, the ‘Present Danger Committee’ says it will have no trouble finding material to engage in its perilous fight. The CPDC says it aims “ … to help defend America through public education and advocacy against the full array of conventional and non-conventional dangers posed by the People’s Republic of China. As with the Soviet Union in the past, Communist China represents an existential and ideological threat to the United States and to the idea of freedom—one that requires a new American consensus regarding the policies and priorities required to defeat this threat… “
This prospect chills one down to one’s peace-loving bones. Recall previous Red Scares in Washington. We suffered through the notorious low-IQ McCarthy era of 1950-54 that proposed to expose severe Soviet Communist infiltration in the government (but few Commies were found). Then, in the late 1990s, a Republican-controlled Select Congressional Committee sought to discredit the Democratic administration of President Bill Clinton for being “soft” on China. Its final 1999 report – titled ‘The Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People’s Republic of China – alleged Chinese serial spying in the U.S. Picked apart by many experts that looked at it carefully, it garnered little traction politically. But here we are, ten years later: If one doesn’t succeed at first, cry cry again.
So I order a martini at my favorite L.A. bar for my favorite ‘former’ U.S. intelligence official to ask frankly what we sane Americans are to make of the CPDC red-scare: “I think it’s threat-mongering,” he said, very carefully, adding “which isn’t helpful…. If everything China does is a threat, then nothing is.” No panda-hugger, though, this savvy intel-pro warns against smug complacency about Beijing’s aspirations – they are hardly always those of the U.S., nor, in many instances, those of China’s Pacific neighbors. “I’m still seeking some steadiness in my own view,” he admitted. China, he always emphasizes, is complicated. Tell me about it!
But doesn’t everyone just know, as does the CPDC, that China’s long-range objective is total world domination? Of course, how this will be achieved and/or when it will become the global destiny is not at all clear. Yet ‘certainty’ seems to pop up when blithely equating Communist China with the former Soviet Union, the Communist superpower whose existence as an empire was for so many years an indisputable pain of geopolitical life. So if the USSR was expansionist, so too is or will be the People’s Republic of China.
Is it that simple? Actually it is not. If anyone inside the government or the party of the People’s Republic of China is seriously thinking of world domination, his head needs to be examined. Ask the British; ask any elderly Soviet Communist. World domination is one tough gig. Throughout history empires have risen and fallen on the conceit that they did not have enough and needed more – territory, space, religious converts, whatever. World domination wouldn’t be so hard, one supposes, as long as the world is more or less okay with being dominated. But with so many of its people to house, feed, educate and otherwise keep loyal, the People’s Republic of China has a great deal of work to do inside the borders of China before the Peoples Liberation Army gets locked and loaded for stirring marches into Montenegro, Monaco and Minneapolis on the world domination tour.
No question, China will indeed aim to dominate transnational economic sectors it views central to its survival (energy, commodities, technology, especially) – as well as to beg, borrow, steal — and if necessary invent — every last piece of needed technology. Perhaps in this sense we can agree that its DNA might someday hover over the globe, along with that of others. But the world has changed greatly since the dizzying days of the Middle Kingdom at its greatest width and length. The good days of old are long past and they won’t be anything like the good days ahead.
The Chinese elite, at least, must know that. Over a recent dinner in Hong Kong, trying hard to keep a straight face, I ask a former foreign minister from Asia, well respected by Chinese as well as American diplomats of all stripes, about China’s campaign of world conquest. A short pause, then we both laugh, saying as if one: “China is not dumb enough to try!.” World domination is a crown that weighs heavy on headquarters. Just ask the British. Or the French. Or the Turks. Or even Americans for that matter – perhaps especially us Americans.
‘Giants of Asia’ book series author Tom Plate is the distinguished scholar of Asian and American studies at LMU in Los Angeles, and vice president of the Pacific Century Institute.