Mon, Jan 14, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Ian Easton on Taiwan: America’s China shock

Last year, following decades of intense denial, the United States government made a shocking admission: It is locked in strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China. So now what? Since competition is all about winning, how can this be won?

To be successful, Americans (and allies like Taiwan) must first understand the fundamental nature of the game. They must be able to answer the interlocking questions of what they are competing for and when and where the struggle is worth the effort and expense required. Only then will they be able to know what they should do. There are few, if any, easy answers to such core questions. It is essential we explore and debate them nonetheless.

By now it should be obvious that the conventional wisdom with regards to China has been falsified by events. In “Competing with China” Professor Aaron Friedberg argues that none of the things that were generally assumed would happen after Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) reform and opening have actually occurred. American goodwill has not changed China. Instead it has inadvertently served as a prop for the Chinese Communist Party.

Mainstream analysis of China’s future will continue to make assumptions that will be falsified by events. The Chinese Communist Party has invested a significant portion of its newly won wealth in the acquisition of narrative dominance, the ability to shape and manipulate both elite and popular opinion around the world, and especially in those places which matter the most to Beijing.

While distressing, it must be recognized that it is perfectly normal for countries to make historically bad assumptions about their strategic rivals. In Winston Churchill’s masterpiece The Gathering Storm, he describes how every major power in the world got a rising Nazi Germany wrong. Even after the Nazi invasions started and global conflict was joined, few leading actors made decisions that would not come back to haunt them. Imperial Japan presented its own lethal surprises.

The consequences of these poor judgments were immense. Tens of millions of lives were lost or ruined. Economies were shattered. Entire cities were bombed and burned to the ground. Discrimination and hatred ran amok. Minority groups in Europe were categorized and gassed by the millions. In Asia, innocent civilians were enslaved and destroyed with equal vigor, the barbarism different only in terms of method. The civilizing lights of democracy, free markets, rule of law, and public debate were almost extinguished. Mankind came close to sinking into a new dark age.

After the Allies prevailed, the menace of ultra right wing Fascism was swiftly replaced by that of ultra left wing Communism. This time the industrialized democracies of the world, especially the United Kingdom and the United States, were quick to recognize the peril and prepare accordingly. The tremendous misery wrought by World War Two resulted in a certain seriousness of thought and appreciation for strategic competition. However, strategic mistakes were still made during the Cold War.

In the book Successful Strategies: Triumphing in War and Peace from Antiquity to the Present Professor Thomas Mahnken argues that the strategic competition with the Soviet Union was plagued by four bad assumptions. These assumptions were deeply held by most national security elites, and they guided US policy until 1981, when President Ronald Reagan came into office and called them into question. All were subsequently disproven by Reagan’s successful approach to strategic competition, which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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