A Very Dangerous Time to Fight With China

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Chinese soldiers march in formation pass Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City during a military parade on September 3, 2015 in Beijing, China. China is marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and its role in defeating Japan with a new national holiday and a military parade in Beijing. (Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

 

It is possible, senior administration officials said last Friday, that President Obama will sanction China for cyber theft as soon as this week—that is, just before its President Xi Jinping comes to Washington later this month. Most likely not; Chinese hacking wouldn’t be seriously affected by sanctioning a half dozen officials, and so most likely Obama will wait until after the visit, and use the dangling sanctions as bargaining power to try to get Xi to rein in his thieves.

For China’s Communist Party, economic growth is existentially critical. Since the exposure of communism as a bankrupt political philosophy, the party has rebuilt its legitimacy on the twin pillars of economic prosperity and kind of a blunt nationalism. Or sometimes not so blunt: certainly, the rows of troops, tanks, ceremonial flyovers and new anti-carrier missiles looked pretty sharp at China’s World War II anniversary parade last week, and a far cry from the human wave attacks that drowned US forces in Korea in 1950.

All regimes, of course, depend in some part on a healthy economy and a sense of nationhood. But democratic states have an pressure valve. If the economy is bad, the rulers are replaced. No such valve exists for China. If the economy is bad, the government is only left with nationalism and its grievances.

We know, and so does Xi, that someday, the other shoe will drop. Someday the economy will dip, if not crash. And as China’s military has grown bigger and bigger, and its behavior more assertive, waiting for that day has become more fraught.

The tricky thing is that China is naturally the dominant power in Asia, and has been for most of its history. At some point, in some form, China will assume that role again, the same way that the largest and richest state in Europe—Germany—is assuming its natural leadership position on the Continent. But in Germany’s case as a democracy, and Statsbürger of the current rulebook.

The jury is still out. But it is worthwhile to remember that no authoritarian state has become a Great Power or superpower without challenging the world order, usually through war. China is unlikely to be the first. And so we levy the sanctions, in the midst of China’s worst slowdown in decades, and we wait for the other shoe to drop.

Full article: A Very Dangerous Time to Fight With China (NY Observer)

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