While America Slept:  China’s Not-So-Long-Term Strategy To Supplant Us – Book Review

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2021/08/11/while-america-slept-chinas-not-so-long-term-strategy-to-supplant-us-book-review/

The Hundred-Year Marathon:  China’s Secret Strategy To Replace America As The Global Superpower
By Michael Pillsbury

428 pages


It is hard not to notice how China has changed in the past half dozen years. China has cracked down on the country’s 80-plus million Christians, persecuting many, and expelling thousands of foreign-based missionaries living in China. It has unilaterally abrogated the Hong Kong treaty it signed with the United Kingdom in 1984 in multiple ways, disallowing the democratic electoral process enshrined in the treaty and imprisoning Hong Kong citizens for demonstrating and protesting the violation of their rights.

More recently, the Chinese Communist Party has flexed its muscles against a number of its largest and most successful companies in the social media, gaming, and educational sectors, resulting in the loss of over one trillion dollars to global investors in these stocks.

Even more provocatively, 18 Chinese fighter planes and four bombers flew into Taiwan’s airspace on April 18, 2021 — the biggest incursion in years. This action came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was concerned about China’s “increasingly aggressive actions” towards Taiwan. Then, a month ago, the Japanese deputy foreign minister stated publicly that Japan would join the United States in defending Taiwan if China invaded, arguing that it would amount to “a survival-threatening situation” for Japan.

What is going on here? Why is the Chinese Communist Party acting in this way?

The best way to understand the Chinese Communist government’s game plan is to read Michael Pillsbury’s outstanding book The Hundred-Year Marathon. Published in 2015, the book is amazingly prescient, outlining the geo-political strategies that Chinese Communist hawks have been following for decades in their efforts to see their country reclaim what they believe is China’s rightful place as the world’s leading global superpower.

Pillsbury, who served in senior U.S. national security positions for decades starting in the 1970s, is an expert on China. He has been a key U.S. figure responsible for analyzing Chinese strategies and policies in both Democratic and Republican administrations.

The Hundred-Year Marathon is all the more important to read, because Pillsbury previously believed strongly, as many of us did, that the Chinese brand of capitalism would most likely cause China to move gradually toward democracy and friendly competition with the United States rather than to adopt an aggressive and belligerent approach.

In the book, Pillsbury confesses that he was one of the leading proponents of the U,S, government’s strategy of constructive engagement with China, which took place for decades across eight Republican and Democratic administrations, starting with Richard Nixon. The U.S. foreign policy over these years has been uniformly one of engaging with China and facilitating its rise from a desperately poor, backward country in 1971 to a wealthy and prominent member of the world’s leading nations. But in his book Pillsbury admits that he was wrong — and he explains why most of the West’s assumptions about China have been dead wrong.

In the foreign policy and defense establishments of most countries, there are “hawks” and “doves.” Hawks prefer aggressive foreign relations to achieve expansionist goals and aren’t averse to war. Doves prefer peace and prosperity. Pillsbury shows in great detail how the United States indulged in wishful thinking over many years, believing that the doves in China, perhaps best exemplified by Deng Xiaopeng (1904-1997), controlled the Chinese Communist Party, which governs the country — when, in fact, the hawks generally had the upper hand. A good example of this misunderstanding is what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989, when the apparent widespread longing for democracy among Chinese people represented by the month-long student demonstrations was crushed by the Paramount leader, Deng Xiaopeng, who  ordered the military to do whatever was necessary to end the uprising.

Pillsbury describes how the Chinese nationalists, who call themselves ying pai, meaning “hawks” or “eagles,” have consistently chartered the course of the Chinese Communist Party with the long-range goal of supplanting the United States as the leading global economic, political, and military power. And these generals, admirals, and Communist Party ying pai hardliners over the recent past have increasingly gotten the upper hand – especially since Xi Jinping was elected president of the People’s Republic of China in 2013. In the intervening eight years, President Xi has consolidated his hold on the Chinese Communist Party, as no other leader has done since Mao Zedong. Xi is also the general secretary of the party and chairman of the Chinese Military Commission – effectively the commander-in-chief of all Chinese military forces. And unlike previous leaders who followed Mao and retired when their term of office expired, President Xi appears to have taken steps to hold these offices for life.

There seems to be no doubt that President Xi is a ying pai hawk – based on China’s policies toward Taiwan, in Hong Kong, and in the South China Sea over the past half dozen years.

What is so interesting and vital to understand is Pillsbury’s description of how the teachings and lessons of traditional Chinese statecraft, going back more than 2,000 years to the Warring States period in China, have been used by modern-day ying pai hawks to confound the United States. The critical lessons from this period which the Chinese have employed is how to use apparent economic and military weakness strategically in ways that will ultimately lead to victory.

One of the chapters in the book is titled “The Assassin’s Mace.” It describes a weapon in Chinese folklore that ensures victory over a more powerful opponent. Pillsbury explains the tactics which the generals and military strategists in the People’s Liberation Army are developing to defeat the United States by using asymmetric weapons, such as cyberwarfare and hacking, and developing missiles that can knock out satellites upon which most modern U.S. weapons systems depend.

A tactic in the arsenal of the Assassin’s Mace is pretending friendship and cooperation with an opponent in order to gain much-needed technological and economic weapons, An example of this is when China during the 1990s persuaded President Bill Clinton and his administration to transfer to China secret and critical military missile technology. U.S. strategists clearly thought that our policies of cooperation in this sphere would lead to more friendly relations between the two countries. But Pillsbury demonstrates how it was merely a Chinese tactic to use their weakness to make the U.S. believe that there was no downside in giving away military secrets to a supposed ally.

On the economic front, U.S. stock market analysts and investors have watched in amazement as the Chinese Communist Party has brought low top Chinese companies over the past 18 months. Last fall Jack Ma was the richest man in China, and the most famous living Chinese person (according to polls). He was poised to crown his career with a triumphant initial public offering for his company, the Ant Group – a hugely successful Fintech company. His business empire, founded on Alibaba, which is the Amazon of China, was valued at over one trillion dollars. He was an entrepreneur, an innovator, author, and charismatic spokesman for Chinese capitalism.

Then Ma gave a speech in Shanghai in October 2020 in which he was highly critical of the  Chinese financial regulatory authorities. Within days, the Chinese Communist Party responded, killing the Ant initial public offering. Ma was then called to Beijing for “regulatory interviews,” and he has rarely been seen since.

That was just the beginning. Since Ma’s silencing, the “regulators” – that is, the Chinese Communist Party — have attacked TenCent, the giant Chinese video gaming, social media, and venture capital company listed on the Hong Kong Exchange. The regulators also have gone after two high successful Chinese educational companies, TAL and New Orient, by publicly “suggesting” that their business model was hurtful to Chinese culture and society and that the country might be better served if they became non-profits. In days, investors lost almost $70 billion through what would effectively become the nationalization of the companies. It now appears that the Chinese Communist Party might target any Chinese company that has an American Depository Receipt that allows its shares to be traded in the United States.

Why would China take such draconian steps against these Chinese companies which are some of the best-known and most profitable companies in the world? It appears as if President Xi wants to diminish the standing and power of any company or institution that poses as a potential alternative source of power to the Chinese Communist Party. Xi’s government demands to stand alone as the only legitimate political, economic, and cultural power in the country.

China has indeed charted a course which threatens not only countries in South Asia and East Asia, but also, and especially, the United States. China appears to be charting a course to supplant the United States as the leading global superpower. We have seen this movie before, and it does not end well. During the past 250 years, when a country has transformed itself from a backward and weak nation and to a strong economy and military power, it has often meant devastating disagreements followed by widespread war. Think of these examples: Napoleon’s France, Germany in World War I, Japan’s imperial adventures during the 1930s, Germany in World War II, and Russia and the Cold War. 

Michael Pillsbury’s The Hundred-Year Marathon is a cautionary tale – and it’s a must-read for those who deal with China or who wish to understand what is happening in China. In 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed in Tiananmen Square the creation of the People’s Republic of China. The ying pai hawks, who seem clearly in control of the Chinese Communist Party at the moment, have set their sights on 2049, as the date by which China will overtake the United States as the leading global superpower.

This is a different kind of struggle from the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Unlike the Soviets of decades ago, China has posed as a friend of the United States. But its actions belie this posture. China is not a friendly competitor. China means to use the Assassin’s Mace to overtake the United States. Political, defense, and business leaders in America need to drop their wishful thinking about China and establish policies that strengthen America’s ability to compete with China in the decades to come … or see China achieve its goal even before 2049.


Robert H. Bradley is Chairman of Bradley, Foster & Sargent Inc., a $5.4 billion wealth management firm that has offices in Hartford, Connecticut and Wellesley, Massachusetts. Read other articles by him here.


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