China will not use nuclear weapons on the United States. That, by itself, displays a major difference between the Cold War conflict between the USA and the USSR, and the present rivalry between the U.S. and the P.R.C. As I observed in yesterday’s article, Communist China walked a different road to get here than the one involving Lenin, Stalin, and the KGB. That’s hardly to say that the Ministry of State Security (MSS) is a kind and understanding establishment, but the threat is of a different order.
First, the military plane. If the Soviet Union was a Rottweiler, the Red Army of China is a bad-tempered Shih Tzu. The Chinese defense forces are formidable, so it’s not a case of insulting their structure and planning, but there is, by modern American standards, essentially no offensive capability. The PRC can invade a second-tier country, which gives them ambitions towards Taiwan if the U.S. could be persuaded to ignore the rape of that island, but in a major conflict against U.S. forces, China has no hope of mounting a successful offensive. They have no long-range bombers, no deep-water navy beyond a few missile cruisers, certainly no operational aircraft carriers (though China has been trying to acquire some of the old Russian STOL carriers, and even contracted to refit a conventional-wing carrier). They have relatively few nuclear missiles, certainly not enough for a functional first-strike. But most of all, China has never been in a multi-theater conflict, as an all-out war with the United States would be (because the Russians and other Pacific nations would join in, if for no reason beyond their self-interest to prevent a Chinese hegemony). Fortunately, the Chinese Politburo understand this basic fact very well.
This, among other things, is a factor in the Politburo’s concern about dissidence. While many people are aware of the 1989 uprising which led to the brutal response at Tienamen Square, most do not reaize that it was preceded by uprisings to various degrees in 1976, 1979, and 1986. In each case, Chinese citizens simply demanded rights and reforms; there was no demand to overthrow the government, but to improve it. The repression came from the simple need by the Politburo to assert control. That Chairman Deng pursued many of the requested reforms later, in the guise of his own initiative, is a move which should not be misunderstood. The Politburo will do things on its own terms, no matter what.
The Chinese do not understand the United States. This is hardly surprising, given the fluid nature of American culture, but the Chinese also make the mistake that many nations do, of assuming that what makes sense to them will be what we do. As a result, the American rebuilding of Japan was originally seen as a military strategy by China, and the NATO/SEATO alliances were seen as posturing for a future conquest. The Gulf War in 1990-1991 and the present War in Afghanistan and Iraq, are generally considered by China to be reasonable attempts to secure control of the distribution of oil from the Middle East; the notion that we are there for moral reasons is laughed at by the Chinese, and so the success enjoyed in most of the ventures has stunned the Chinese. The Chinese Politburo for the most part believes that George W. Bush has concealed his motives and intentions well. The Chinese have no idea at all, what Dubya plans next.
The United States has had considerable difficulty penetrating the Chinese structure for intelligence purposes, but the Chinese are in a worse position. This is, in large part, due to the fact that not only are far more Chinese coming to the United States as immigrants than there are Americans going to China, the Chinese often assimilate, to such degree that Chinese Intelligence agents are deliberately misled by Chinese living in the United States.
An area where China has enjoyed far greater success, is in espionage. This is partly due to poor decisions regarding sensitive metals and technology during the Clinton Administration, allowing China to make gains their own research would have taken decades to claim. But also, China has been able to take advantage of cover companies, to glean knowledge from American companies, especially communications and aeronautic firms. As a result, while Chinese fighter jets are no match for American fighter jets, Chinese industry is rapidly closing in cellular technology, automotive and commercial aircraft production. The Chinese are even learning 3rd-Wave inventory tactics, allowing start-up firms to compete immediately in international commerce.
Fortunately, the best efforts of China to compete as a peer in business and technology also work to make Communism less appealing than market forces. The special conditions allowed to the Autonomous regions in Hong Kong and Macau demonstrate the need China has discovered, to copy Western practices where there is no Communist equivalent. However, in the end the contrast between Communism and Success will force the modern Chinese citizen to think about the course of his nation, and the force of History suggests that while the new world in Asia will not be American in flavor, it may well be American in character.