Zhongguo, the Chinese name for China, means “middle kingdom.” For millennia, China was the largest and most powerful nation in East Asia. Surrounding states would visit the Chinese emperor, the “Son of Heaven,” to pay tribute and beg friendship. The Chinese considered their country, with its large population, advanced science, and Daoist-Confucian-Buddhist culture, to be the leading land and people on earth. European traders and diplomats coming to China in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries were considered to be the same as other “barbarians” from the surrounding states. They were treated as suppliants, not as peers.
In the 19th century, Europe had surpassed the rest of the world in military, informational, economic, and some would say cultural power. The United Kingdom humbled China in the First (1839-1842) and Second (1856-1860) Opium Wars and Japan defeated its larger neighbor in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). Other nations from France to Russia embarrassed China during this period. Chinese weakness culminated in the Second World War (1939-1945). Chinese Nationalist and Chinese Communists call this era their “Century of Humiliation.”
Mao Zedong inherited a large but backward nation when the Communists defeated the Nationalists in 1949. He ruled China with an iron fist until his death in 1976. Mao masterminded the “Great Leap Forward” (1958) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), which together devastated China and killed millions. Deng Xiaoping’s market reforms, continued by his successors, have made China into the second most powerful nation on earth, after only the USA.
Despite the trials of the past, the worldview of China has never changed. Chinese President for Life Xi Jinping and his nation have no intention of settling for second best. They want global hegemony, and are doing whatever it takes to achieve it. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) locks participating nations such as Pakistan into impossible debt while expanding Chinese power across the world. Simultaneously, the BRI provides communication, transportation, and bases for Chinese troops from Afghanistan to Djibouti to Equatorial Guinea.
China conquered the free nation of Tibet (1951), fought the UN in Korea (1950-1953), and has attacked India and Vietnam on multiple occasions since then. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), navy, and air force are expanding islands in the South China Sea and building air and naval bases there. The Chinese continually threaten Taiwan. Occupying and fortifying the South China Sea will give China huge undersea oil, natural gas, and mineral wealth. It will also make China capable of blocking shipping through the South China Sea and isolating Japan, Korea, and many Southeast Asian nations.
China is attacking the United States in every possible way short of flying bullets. Government-led hackers break into sensitive databases of companies like Lockheed and Boeing, stealing secrets to advance the Chinese war machine. Hackers attack financial institutions, government files, power grids, and transportation hubs of the US, but also Australia, India, and other nations. Chinese money is funding groups with Communist leanings like Black Lives Matter and Antifa. China recently launched a satellite designed specifically to destroy other satellites, threatening the entire satellite-based economy of the world. Zhongguo is building hundreds of launch sites for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), auguring a potential nuclear war.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Western companies and governments invited China into the world economy, hoping for huge profits from the vast Chinese population. They expected that Communists to join the community of nations, follow the rule of law, and become more democratic. Incredibly naïve, these hopes were dashed. China is the most powerful autocracy in the world. It openly berates democracy and the Western world.
Since Bretton Woods at the end of World War II, the US has led the international system, upholding the rule of law, free shipping lanes, free trade, and democracy. For all our mistakes, we have led the era with the greatest peace and prosperity in human history. No nation has ever done better. If China gains global hegemony, the gains of the past 100 years will be lost. The earth will enter a dark and dangerous age.
The US can maintain its leadership in the world if we choose to do so. Capitalism and democracy are far better than communism and tyranny, but we must strengthen our own system. Americans must regain our hard working, optimistic spirit, and our courage to face challenges and overcome. Living a life of freedom and responsibility, marrying and having children, and supporting our communities will give us unbeatable demographic, cultural, and economic strength. We need academic freedom, creativity, and a willingness to be wrong and start over. With these, we can stave off the Chinese menace and ensure peace and justice to our world.